A Glossary of Basic Chess Variant Terms
We now have a variety of chess-variant terms that have been more or less accepted by the greater chess community. There are a number of others, however, that are still being tried and tested. Perhaps sometime within the next decade, a few dozen terms will have earned the popularity they need to merit an official lexicon. This is how new terms become a part of a common language. The only problem that I have with this process is that we could use that lexicon now! It is for this reason that I have jumped the gun, so to speak, and assembled the following terms into a modest CV glossary. These terms include...
- Those most frequently used on The Chess Variant Pages.*
- Those used by D. B. Pritchard in The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants.
- Those used by Anthony Dickens in A Guide to Fairy Chess.
- Those used by Edward R. Brace in An Illustrated Dictionary of Chess.
- Those included to facilitate definitions taken from the above sources.
- Those included to satisfy an obvious need for completion.**
It is assumed that the reader is familiar with standard 8x8 chess, as its more basic terms are not included
here. Neither are the names of specific pieces, whose proper place is the Piececlopedia.
The names of specific variants are also omitted, with the exception of small shogi
and xiangqi, which have gained such a following that some believe that they
should be included under the heading of orthochess.
Please review this page and let me know if there are any terms that you object to or any key terms that I might have overlooked. If we can agree on a basic nomenclature, we may encourage others to use it and perhaps eliminate some of the ambiguities that plague CV submissions. Please send your comments and recommendations to (email removed contact us for address) ssvariants.com.
*My thanks to David Howe for determining the frequencies of the 5,535 different words occurring on the Chess Variants Pages.
**Two tables, A Table of Noun and Verb Forms and A Table of Opposites are provided as reference guides. They also serve to illustrate the degree of self-completeness and structural freedom offered by this set of terms.
- A -
adjacent squares - n. Squares that share a common side or a common corner. (Compare distant squares.)
air squares - n. Those squares (either vacant or occupied) that a leaper passes over en rout to an arrival square.
Alfil - n. (Arabic for 'the elephant') An elemental piece. Leaps over a diagonally adjacent square to the square beyond. Sometimes referred to as a 2-2 leaper.
area - n. (See field.)
army - n. All of the pieces belonging to a given player.
array - n. The initial arrangement of pieces on a chess board.
arrival square - n. The square whereon a piece ends its move. (Compare departure square.)
attack - 1. v. To move a piece to a position from where it can capture an enemy piece within a single move. 2. n. under..... The state of lying within the capture zone of an enemy piece.
augmented piece - n. A familiar piece that has been given an additional move option.
- B -
bare King - n. A King that remains after all friendly pieces have been captured.
bare King rule - 1. n. In orthodox chess, a draw may be claimed when (1) one's King is bared and (2) each player has made 50 consecutive non-Pawn moves without making a capture. 2. n. In some historical variants, a bare King loses the game. A supplemental rule: if a newly bared King immediately bares the enemy King, the game becomes a draw.
board - n. (See chess board.)
board move - n. Any move that does not introduce a new piece to the board. (Compare drop.)
board square - n. A square on a chess board.
- C -
Camel - n. An elemental piece. A 3-1 leaper.
capture - v. To legally take possession of an enemy piece by removing it from the board.
capture by displacement - v. To perform a displacement capture.
capture custodially - v. To perform a custodial capture.
capture in passing - 1. v. To capture an enemy piece prior to completing a move. 2. n. The act of capturing an enemy piece prior to completing a move.
capture leap - n. A leap to a square that is necessarily occupied by an enemy piece, which is captured. (Compare passive leap.)
capture move - n. A move to a square that is necessarily occupied by an enemy piece, which is captured. (Compare passive move.)
capture square - n. For a given piece, a square that may be entered only to make a capture. [e.g.: The Pawn's forward-diagonal squares.] (Compare passive square.)
capture zone - n. For a given piece, those squares on which it has the ability to legally capture a piece should the opportunity arise. This may include squares with nothing on them that it may presently capture. What matters is that if an enemy piece did move to a square, the piece could capture it. See threatened.
castling - n. An orthochess rule that serves to secure the King by moving it to the far side of either Rook. This rule is adapted to chess variants in the following way: (1) if the number of squares between King and Rook are even, both pieces move an equal distance; (2) if the number of squares between King and Rook are odd, the King moves one square less than the Rook. (Compare free castling.)
cell - n. 1. For a 2-D board, a single board square. 2. For a 3-D board, 6 board squares assembled into a cube having 6 faces, 8 corners and 12 edges.
checker piece - n. (See overtaker.)
chess 1. - n. A game played on a two-dimensional array of cells, each player having an equal and opposite set of pieces that have various powers of transfer and nullification. Each side has a primary piece whose continued function is necessary for the continuation of the game. The strategy of the game is to gain an advantage by transferring one's pieces to cells so positioned that the opponent's pieces become nullified. The object of the game is to nullify the opponent's primary piece while maintaining the function of one's own. 2. - n. A chess variant.
chess board - n. A graphic representation of a two-dimensional array of cells that is used as reference points for the relative positions and move options of chess pieces.
chessman - n. Another name for a chess piece.
chess piece - 1. n. A theoretical entity employed in a chess game as a nexus point for various assigned powers of transfer and nullification. Each unique piece is characterized by a unique name being associated with unique move options. 2. n. A chessman. 3. n. A counter or marker used to represent a chessman.
chess variant - n. Any chess-like game inspired by orthochess.
citadels - n. Equal and opposite areas of a chess board wherein different rules apply. [e.g.: The 3x3-square citadels of Korean chess or the one-square citadels of Tamerlane chess.]
colorbound - adj. Describes a piece that can see only a single board-square color. [e.g.: Ferz, Dabbaba, Alfil, Camel, Bishop.]
column - n. Within a 3-D board, a complete upright shaft of cells. (See file.)
combined piece - n. Another name for a compound piece.
compound piece - n. A new piece that is created by combining the move options of existing pieces.
control- v. To hold a board square within the capture zone of a friendly piece (or pieces) in a manner that makes it disadvantageous for an enemy piece to enter that square.
coordinal plane - n. Within a 3-D board, any plane which lies parallel to two axes and, necessarily, lies perpendicular to the third. (x & y, x & z or y & z)
counter - n. A object used to represent a chess piece on a chess board.
crowned - adj. Having the additional move of a King.
custodial capture - n. A type of capture that is made by flanking an enemy piece with two friendly pieces which complete a straight line of three adjacent squares.
CVPhile - n. One who frequents the Chess Variants Pages.
cycle - n. In English Progressive Chess, a single iteration of the democratic system for moving pieces, whereby every mobile piece moves once before it can move a 2nd time; every mobile piece moves twice before it can move a 3rd time; and so on.
cylindrical chess - n. Chess played on a board that is rolled into a cylinder, allowing either its two outer ranks or its two outer files to be joined. Movement around the board is thus continuous, as the the board's axial borders are now eliminated. (Typically played on a flat board with the wraparound rule.)
- D -
Dabbaba - n. (Arabic for 'war machine') An elemental piece. Leaps over an orthogonally adjacent square to the square beyond. Sometimes referred to as a 2-0 leaper.
defend - v. To hold a friendly piece within the capture zone of second friendly piece (or pieces) in a manner that makes its disadvantageous for your opponent to capture it.
departure square - n. The square from which a piece begins its move. (Compare arrival square.)
development - n. The coordinated movement of chess pieces toward board positions that are intended to further tactical or strategic goals.
diagonal direction - n. A direction that passes through two opposite corners of a space. On the chess board, these are at 45 degree angles to the ranks and files, and if the board is treated like a map, these correspond to the northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest directions. (Compare orthogonal direction.)
diagonally adjacent squares - n. Squares that share a single common corner. (Compare orthogonally adjacent squares.)
displacement capture - n. A means of capture whereby the capturing piece moves to an enemy-occupied square and removes the enemy piece from the board.
distant squares - n. Squares that share neither a common side nor a common corner. (Compare adjacent squares.)
drop - 1. v. To place a captive or reserve piece on the board to subsequently be used as one's own. (Compare board move.) 2. n. A captive or reserve piece that may be placed on the board to subsequently be used as one's own.
drop piece - n. (See reserve piece.)
drop zone - n. For certain shogi games, an area of the board where drops are allowed.
- E -
elemental piece - n. A chess piece having of a single move option that is kaleidoscopically reflected over eight equal facets. Examples of elemental pieces are the Wazir, the Ferz, the Dabbaba, the Alfil, the Knight, the Camel, the Zebra and the Giraffe.
endgame - n. The last stage of the game wherein there are relative few pieces remaining on the board. The primary concern of the endgame is to subdue and checkmate the opponent King.
enemy piece - n. Any piece belonging to a given player's opponent. (Compare friendly piece.)
en passant capture - n. An orthochess rule than can be adapted to chess variants as follows: A Pawn making an initial multi-square advance may be captured by an enemy Pawn, if the advancing Pawn passes through a square that is guarded by the enemy Pawn. To capture, the enemy Pawn moves forward diagonally to the vacant passed-though square and removes the advanced Pawn from the board.
en prise - n. The condition of a piece being under attack in such a way that its loss would be disadvantageous.
exchange - n. Consecutive captures whereby each player wins material.
- F -
fairy chess - n. A system of heterodox chess pieces, boards and rule variations created by British chess columnist T. R. Dawson in the second quarter of the 20th Century. The system was initially used to compose chess problems and eventually became the foundation of the heterodox chess movement.
Ferz - n. (Arabic for general) An elemental piece. Moves to a diagonally adjacent square.
FIDE Chess - n. Another name for orthochess.
field - n. Any portion of a chess board that has been delineated for special consideration.
file - n. A complete vertical column of squares on a chess board. (Compare rank.)
finite mover - n. A piece that cannot move beyond a fixed distance from its departure square, regardless of board size, board position or the availability of vacant squares. [e.g.: The Knight, the King, the Pawn.] (Compare infinite mover.)
flip piece - n. A heraldic piece displaying different identity symbols on each side. The piece may be flipped over at the close of a move (or as a move in itself), and assume its alternate identity.
forward diagonals - n. Figuratively, the northeast and northwest directions considered collectively. (Compare rearward diagonals.)
free castling - n. A rule variation that allows more leeway in castling: (1) the King moves outward to any square up to and including the Rook's home square; (2) the Rook moves inward to any square up to and including the King's home square.
friendly piece - n. Any piece belonging to the player in question. (Compare enemy piece.)
funny notation - n. A simple notational system, created by Ralph Betza, for describing the move options of chess pieces. (See Betza's funny notation.)
- G -
Giraffe - n. An elemental piece. A 4-1 leaper.
great chess - 1. n. A term used in the Middle Ages to describe a number of large chess variants. 2. n. A modern variant created as a tribute to one of the large variants of the Middle Ages.
guard - v. (See defend.)
- H -
hand - n. One's cache of reserve pieces. (Such pieces are said to be "in hand.")
heraldic piece - n. A flat shield-like chess piece that displays a move diagram or an identifying symbol on its face.
heterodox chess - n. A term sometimes used to denote chess games other than orthochess. (Compare orthodox chess.)
hex - n. A six-sided cell of a hexagonal chess board.
hexagonal chess - n. Chess played on a board tiled by hexagons rather than squares. The moves of the pieces are amended accordingly. (See Hexagonal Chess.)
home square - n. The square that a given piece occupies in the initial array.
hop - v. To fly over a screen as a hopper.
hopper - n. A type of piece that must leap over a screen in order to move/capture.
horizontal direction - n. Figuratively, the east and west directions considered collectively. (Compare vertical direction.)
- I -
in hand - n. (See hand.)
initial position - n. (See home square.)
initial setup - n. (See array.)
intervening piece - n. A piece residing on an intervening square.
intervening square - n. For a given piece, a square that lies on the path between its departure square and arrival square.
infinite mover - n. A piece that has no natural limit to the distance that it can move from its departure square. This limit is determined solely by (1) board size, (2) board position and (3) the availability of vacant squares. On an 'infinite board', with no intervening pieces, an infinite mover could theoretically move on forever. (e.g.: The Bishop, the Rook, the Queen, any rider.) [Compare finite mover.]
- J -
jump - v. (See leap.)
- K -
Kings leap - n. A rule variation that allows a King to make a once-per-game leap, the nature of which is prescribed by the rules of the game.
Knight - n. An elemental piece. A 2-1 leaper.
- L -
lame piece - n. A piece whose move is impeded by one or more pass-through squares. [e.g.: The xiangqi Elephant.]
leap - 1. v. To move directly to a distant square. 2. n. The act of moving directly to a distant square.
leap option - n. A move option that may be performed by leaping.
leaper - n. A piece that moves directly to a distant square, thereby avoiding intervening pieces. Commonly denoted as X-Y leaper, where X is the number of squares leaped in an orthogonal direction, followed by a 90 degree direction change and Y squares leaped to the destination square.
leap passively - v. To leap without capturing. (Compare leap to capture.)
leap square - n. For a given piece, a square that may be accessed by leaping.
leap to capture - v. To leap to a square that is necessarily occupied by an enemy piece, which is captured. (Compare leap passively.)
line move - n. The move of a line piece.
line piece - n. A piece that moves successively through adjacent squares without leaping. [e.g.: Queen, Rook, Bishop.]
- M -
man - n. A chess piece.
marker - n. An object used to represent a chess piece on a chess board.
material - n. A collective name for one's game pieces that is used in statements concerning their relative values. [e.g. usage: "White lost material on that exchange."]
middlegame - n. That stage of the game that begins after initial development is more or less completed. The primary concern of the middlegame is to pare down opponent pieces and to establish strong board positions.
move obliquely - v. To move to an oblique square. (Compare move radially.)
move option - n. Any of the unique mobility or capture privileges that a given piece enjoys.
move passively - v. To move without capturing. (Compare move to capture.)
move radially - v. To move in either the diagonal direction or the horizontal direction. (Compare move obliquely.)
move to capture - v. To move to a square that is necessarily occupied by an enemy piece, which is captured. (Compare move passively.)
move zone - n. For a given piece, those squares to which it can legally move.
Murray - n. H. J. R. Murray, author of A History of Chess.
- N -
neighboring squares - n. Another name for adjacent squares.
neutral piece - n. A piece that can be moved by either player.
non-capture square - n. (See passive square.)
- O -
oblique move - n. A move to a square that cannot be reached via a radial move. [e.g.: The moves of the Knight, Camel, Zebra and Giraffe.] (Compare radial move.)
oblique square - n. For a given piece, a square that cannot be
reached by via a radial move. [e.g.: a1-c2, a1-b4, a1-c4, a1-b5.]
(Compare radial square.)
opening - n. The first stage of the game commencing from home squares.
option - n. (See move option.)
orthochess. - n. The game of chess popularized during the Italian Renaissance. Orthochess is played on a 8x8 board with a King, a Queen, 2 Rooks, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights and 8 Pawns per side. (a.k.a.: orthodox chess, FIDE chess, orthodox chess, occidental chess, traditional chess, orthodox chess.)
orthodox - adj. Describes items or concepts which apply to Orthodox Chess.
orthodox chess - n. Another name for orthochess. (Compare heterodox chess.)
orthogonal direction - n. One of the directions a piece may go while moving along the same rank or file. When ranks and files are at 90 degrees to each other, these are the vertical and horizontal directions. If a board is treated like a map face, these correspond to the north, south, east and west directions. On other types of boards, orthogonal directions are those that pass from space to space through shared sides. (Compare diagonal direction.)
orthogonally adjacent squares - n. Squares that share a common side. (Compare diagonally adjacent squares.)
overtake - v. To capture a piece by leaping over it in the manner of a checker or draughtsman.
overtaker - n. A piece that captures by leaping over an enemy piece in the manner of a checker or draughtsman.
- P -
palace - n. See citadel.
pass - v. To voluntarily forfeit one's turn.
passive leap - n. A leap that may not be performed concurrently with a capture. (Compare capture leap.)
passive move - n. A move that may not be performed concurrently with a capture. (Compare capture move.)
passive piece - n. A piece that cannot capture.
passive square - n. For a given piece, a square that may not be entered concurrently with a capture. [e.g.: The Pawn's straight-forward square.] (Compare capture square.)
pass-through square - n. For certain line pieces, a square that must be passed through in order to proceed to subsequent squares. A piece may neither stop nor capture on a pass-through square. [e.g.: The first diagonal square of the xiangqi Elephant's move.]
perimeter - n. A locus of squares lying equidistant from a departure square.
The 1st perimeter - those 8 squares adjacent to the departure square.
The 2nd perimeter - those 16 squares lying just beyond the 1st perimeter.
The 3rd perimeter - those 24 squares lying just beyond the 2nd perimeter.
The 4th perimeter - those 32 squares lying just beyond the 3rd perimeter.
piece - n. (See chess piece.)
piececlopedia - n. A CV Page describing a number of chess variant pieces. (See Piececlopedia.)
pocket piece - n. Describes a single once-per-game drop piece that is allowed in certain games.
points - n. The intersections of lines on a chess board. Some variants, such as xiangqi, require that pieces be played on the line intersections (points) rather than on the actual squares. Other more exotic variants require that pieces be played on both the points and the squares.
position - 1. n. A piece's relative location on a chess board. - 2. n. The collective locations of one's chess pieces with respect to how they confer strategic advantages or disadvantages. [e.g. usage: White has a positional advantage in this game.]
postal chess - n. Chess played by mail whereby each player posts a single move per mailing. Postal chess was popular throughout most of the 20th Century, but is now being supplanted by e-mail chess.
powers - n. The general abilities of pieces. (See move options.)
Pritchard - n. D. B. Pritchard, author of The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants and Popular Chess Variants.
progressive chess - n. A type of game wherein white moves one piece, black moves two pieces, white moves three pieces, etc., increasing the number of pieces moved by one after each player's turn. See also: Progressive Chess Page
promotable - n. A starting piece that has an option to promote upon reaching a certain rank .
promote - n. To upgrade a piece's move options upon its reaching a certain rank.
promoted piece - n. A more powerful piece that is created by promoting a starting piece. (Compare starting piece.)
promotion zone - n. A predesignated portion of a chess board that a starting piece must reach in order to receive a promotion.
properties - n. (See move options.)
proprietary game - n. A chess variant that is developed and marketed for profit. Copyrights to the artwork and printed matter of a proprietary game are the property of the inventor and/or licensing company. Although the rules to a game may never be copyrighted (nor patented), the particular wording of the rules is usually copyrighted. Furthermore, any unique mechanism included with the game may be protected by a patent.
- Q -
- R -
radial move - n. A move in either the orthogonal direction or the diagonal direction. [e.g.: The move of the Bishop, Rook or Queen.] (Compare oblique move.)
radial square - n. For a given piece, a square that can be reached by moving either orthogonally or diagonally. [e.g.: a1-a2, a1-a3, etc.; a1-b2, a1-c3, etc.; a1-b1, a1-c1, etc.] (Compare oblique square.)
range piece - n. A piece that captures by shooting rather than by displacement, overtaking or some other means. [e.g.: The pieces of rifle chess.]
range capture - (See shot.)
rank -n. A complete horizontal row of squares on a chess board. (Compare file.)
rearward diagonals - n. Figuratively, the southeast and southwest directions considered collectively. (Compare forward diagonals.)
relative value - n. The exchange value of a given piece with respect to other pieces.
reserve piece - n. An off-board piece that may be dropped onto the board to subsequently be used as one's own.
rider - n. A piece that serially repeats a single move option in the same outward direction.
river - n. On the Xiangqi board, a central horizontal space, devoid of vertical lines, which serves as a promotion rank for Pawns and a barrier for Elephants.
rotating piece - n. A heraldic piece that may rotate at the close of a move (or as a move in itself) in order to realign its move zone and capture zone by an angle of 45°. (e.g.: A Bishop rotated 45° moves as a Rook.)
row - n. (See rank.)
round chess - n. Chess played on a round board whereon the "squares" are delineated by radial lines and concentric circles.
royal piece - n. A piece that must be captured or checkmated in order to win the game.
- S -
Schmittberger - n. R. Wayne Schmittberger, author of New Rules for Classic Games.
screen - n. A single intervening piece that a hopper must leap over in order to move/capture.
see - v. To be able to reach. [e.g. usage: A Bishop can see half of the board, whereas a Dabbaba can see only one-quarter.]
sequence - n. In Progressive Chess, the series of moves that each player makes in a turn: White makes 1 move, black makes 2 moves, white makes 3 moves, and so on.
set - n. All of the pieces required to play a given game.
setup - n. (See array.)
shogi - 1. n. The most popular of Japanese chess variants, played on a 9x9 board and allowing drops. (See small shogi.) 2. n. Any chess game that allows drops. 3. n. The Japanese word for chess.
shoot - v. To capture without leaving the departure square.
shot - 1. n. A capture that is made without leaving the departure square. 2. v. The past tense of the verb shoot.
side - n. Either of the two armies competing in a chess game.
species - n. A class of all pieces having the same move options. [e.g. usage: White Knights and black Knights are of the same species.]
spherical chess - n. Chess played on a spherical board whereon the "squares" are delineated by longitude and latitude lines.
stalemate - n. A position characterized by a player's king not being threatened, while at the same time, the player is unable to make a legal move.
standard move - n. A move to a standard square. (Compare passive move, capture move.)
standard square - n. With respect to a given piece, a square that may be entered either (1) when it is vacant, or (2) when it is occupied by an enemy piece, which is captured. (Compare passive square, capture square, target square.)
standard piece - n. A piece having only standard move options. [e.g.: Knight, Bishop, Rook, Queen, King.]
starting piece - n. A piece that is a part of the initial array. (Compare promoted piece, reserve piece.)
starting square - 1. n. A home square. 2. n. A departure square.
straight-forward - n. Figuratively, the due-north direction. (Compare straight-rearward.)
straight-rearward - n. Figuratively, the due-south direction. (Compare straight-forward.)
- T -
take - v. Another word for capture.
target square - n. A square within the capture zone of a range piece.
threatened adj. With respect to the player who is moving, a space is threatened if moving a piece there would allow an enemy piece to capture it, or, if it is a royal piece, expose it to check.
3-D board - n. An arrangement of 2-D boards used for playing 3-D chess. Typically, a number of 2-D boards are stacked vertically, with sufficient space between them to set up and manipulate the pieces. Some players, however, prefer the 2-D boards to be laid out on a flat surface--especially if the game is quite small.
3-D chess (three-dimensional chess) - n. A chess variant played on a 3-D board with pieces having additional powers that allow them to move three-dimensionally. (e.g., Raumschach.)
3-D diagonal - n. In 3-D chess, two or more cells, joined serially at their further-most corners. (e.g., the path from Aa1 to Ee5 in Raumschach.)
trade - v. Another word for exchange.
transport - v. To move a piece to a position outside its normal move zone by utilizing a special rule.
two move rule - n. A rule variation that allows each player to move two pieces per turn in the opening stage of the game, in order to facilitate initial development. A player loses his two-piece privilege upon capturing.
2-D board - n. An ordinary two-dimensional chess board, as opposed to a 3-D board. (e.g., the orthochess board.)
- U -
unit - n. Another word for a chess piece.
orthodox chess - n. Another name for orthochess.
- V -
values - n. (See relative values.)
variant - n. (See chess variant.)
vertical direction - n. Figuratively, the north and south directions considered collectively. (Compare horizontal direction.)
- W -
Wazir - n. (Arabic for vizier) An elemental piece. Moves to an orthogonally adjacent square.
wraparound - n. A rule variation that allows pieces to exit the board on one side (or end) and re-enter the board on the opposite side (or end), in a continuous move, as though the board were rolled into a cylinder. (See cylindrical chess.)
- X -
X-Y leaper - n. (see leaper).
xiangqi - n. The worlds most popular chess variant, originating in China. (See xiangqi.)
- Y -
Yahoo! chessvariants club - n. A news-posting and chat utility for CVPhiles. (See Yahoo! club.)
- Z -
Zebra - n. An elemental piece. A 3-2 leaper.
Zillions of Games - n. A generic game-playing engine that is popular with CVPhiles. (See Zillions of Games.)
A Table of Noun and Verb Forms
|Verb - present tense
|Verb - past tense
|capture in passing
|capture in passing
|captured in passing
|leap to capture
|leapt to capture
|move to capture
|moved to capture
A Table of Opposites
|diagonally adjacent squares
|orthogonally adjacent squares
|leap to capture
|leap to capture
|move to capture
|move to capture
|orthogonally adjacent squares
|diagonally adjacent squares
|passive move or capture move
|passive square or capture square
|reserve piece or promoted piece
Written by John William Brown.
WWW page created: March 6, 2000. WWW page updated: 18 Oct 2001