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Tabletop Game: Chess

"Of chess it has been said that life is not long enough for it, but that is the fault of life, not chess."
William Ewert Napier (1881-1952)

This article is about the game. See Chess for The Musical.

Chess is a Turn-Based Strategy tabletop board game, and is one of the most influential games in history. It is Older Than Feudalism at very least; it has more scholarship and study devoted to it than any other game, with only Go coming close; it contains more possible directions a match can go than there are atoms in the entire universe; and it has a play named after it.

The game of chess is thought to have originated in India, possibly as a teaching tool for educating royalty in the practice of leading an army. Its exact origins are Shrouded in Myth; at least one legend attributes the very first game of chess as a reenactment of an actual battle. Whatever its exact origins, the game quickly spread westward into Persia, and from there (with a little help from Islamic invaders) to the Middle East and Europe. The game as it exists now came into being in the 15th century, when the game was overhauled to increase the maneuverability of the pieces and reduce the amount of time it took to play a single game. The most notable changes were the Queen changing from being able only move one square at a time diagonally to being the strongest piece on the board, Pawns being able to move two squares on their first move, and Bishops now able to move any number of squares diagonally rather than being limited to exactly two (an incredible limitation which restricted it to only 8 squares on the whole board, even if it did leap over an intervening piece of either colour).

Chess is played on a checkered board with 64 squares in an 8-by-8 arrangement. The initial setup is literally a Mirror Match; Black's setup is the reverse of White's, so that the respective Kings and Queens appear to be facing one another. (The simple mnemonic is that the Queen is fashionable and "her dress matches her shoes", meaning she should always start on a square of her own color.) Another mnemonic is that Dames are set up on D squares (algebraic notation). The board is orientated so that both players have a white square at the bottom right of the board from their perspective ("white on the right") - getting this wrong is indicative of either a complete beginner in Real Life or a Critical Research Failure in media (unless depicting complete beginners).

The King is the heart of the player's force. If he is ever in "check," a position in which he can be captured on the next turn, his player must take action to protect his King; it is literally against the rules to leave the King in check. He must either move the King out of the line of fire, interpose another piece between King and attacker, or capture the attacker. The King is also not allowed to move into or through check. This is how victories are accomplished in chess: you trap the opponent in a situation where his King is not only in check, but all the (otherwise legal) moves available to him result in him still being in check at end of turn. This situation is called "Checkmate" and the first player to lock down the opponent's King in this way wins the game.

Pieces include:
  • Pawns: Representing infantry, each player starts with eight of these, filling the entire second row forward from each side. They move one square forwards at a time, except for an optional two squares when moved for the first time; when capturing another piece, they must move one square diagonally forward to do so. Beginning players tend to write them off as useless and obstructive, but players of skill know they are one of the most critical parts of the game. If a pawn makes it all the way to the farthest row on the board, they're instantly upgraded into any other piece of their player's choosing apart from the king, usually a Queen. note 
  • Rooks: Two per player; famously shaped like castles. Originally representing war chariots or siege towers. They can move any number of squares forwards, backwards, left, and right.
  • Knights: Two per player. The horses; probably the most recognized board game piece in the world. Represent armoured cavalry. They move two squares forwards, backwards, left, or right, and then one square at right angles to that move. They are the only pieces that can jump over othersnote , and the only ones that can threaten a queen without putting themselves in danger.
  • Bishops: Two per player. Have a top shaped like a bishop's miter. They originally represented war elephants, but such were unknown in Europe (Hannibal Barca notwithstanding) and the imagery eventually aligned to the environment. Can move any number of squares diagonally.
    • In French, they're called fou (the fool, or jester). In German, they're Läufer (runner). And in Russian, slon (elephant). In Finnish, lähetti (messenger/courier). Go figure. On the other hand, in Spanish, they're called "alfil" (derived from Arabic, derived in turn from old Persian "pil", meaning "elephant"). In Hebrew, they're called "ratz" (runner/messenger), similar to the German and Finnish versions (which is understandable, seeing as most of the early Israelis were German born). In Croatian, they are called "lovac" (the hunter). In Romanian, they are called "nebun" (the madman) for some reason.
  • Queen: One per player. Usually the second largest piece, and tends to have a small knob on its coronet-shaped top. Can move any number of squares left, right, forwards, backwards, or diagonally, thus combining the powers of rook and bishop.
  • King: One per player. Traditionally the tallest piece, with a Creepy Cool Cross on top. Can move a single square forwards, backwards, left, right, or diagonally. Again, your goal as a player is to make it impossible for your opponent to prevent his king from being captured. If neither side can accomplish this, the game is a draw. A weak piece in the beginning and middle of the game, but surprisingly strong in the end game.

The analytical and strategic nature of chess has led to the popular assumption that being good at chess is a sign of unusual intelligence. The Chessmaster gets his name from his ability to manipulate people and events as if they were pieces on a chessboard as well as his ability to "think three moves ahead." Shows with a rather cerebral and complex plot may employ Chess Motifs to abstract the details of the unfolding story. Finally, it just so happens to be the preferred game of The Grim Reaper (except in the Discworld, where he can never remember how the little horse-shaped pieces move).

There is a great deal of scholarship on how to play chess, including ideas on the best way to respond to to a kingside pawn, a rook, the Nimzo-Indian Defense, or an opponent who's just had a cheeseburger. Without boring you, there are several basic ways to figure out who's winning at any given moment. The player with the material advantage has, simply, more or better pieces ("material") to his name. The player with the positional advantage has more control of the board. The player with better development has more pieces in position to strike or defend, an important consideration when your stronger pieces start way back at home row and (even worse) have their movement options limited by your own pawns. And the player with "initiative" is the one trying to win, while the other is trying to not lose—he's struggling to keep up and avoid becoming their opponent's Unwitting Pawn. (Or make their opponent into one...)

Here's where the real insanity comes up: advantage in one area can make up for disadvantage in the others. Worse, in some cases, having any of these advantages can actually be a disadvantage: there are situations in which you lose because you have an extra pawn, or because it's your turn. So you gotta pick and choose — especially since it's difficult to have an advantage in all these areas at once (unless you're way better than your opponent). That said, chess has an Unstable Equilibrium and once a side gets too far behind, they can only hope their opponent blunders the game away. Accordingly, experts frequently resign before an inevitable checkmate.

Chess gives us the oft-misunderstood word "gambit". In chess parlance, a "gambit" is an opening strategy in which material is offered in exchange for positional advantage. While all strategy is about taking risks, a gambit has nothing to do etymologically with something being a gamble. It's actually derived from an Italian wrestling term, dare il gambetto, which describes a type of leg tripping motion. A gambit is a strategy which exchanges a disadvantage of one type in exchange for an advantage of a different type — and not a bet, wager, or crazy stunt with a Million to One Chance of success. In games that start out as a Mirror Match, a gambit instantly makes the situation highly asymmetrical, but it remains unclear which player's advantage will ultimately prove stronger. If a plan gains a clear overall advantage for one player over the other, that's not a gambit, it's just a mistake on the part of the losing player and/or superior play from the winner.

More info 

There are, of course, many other tactics. Others include forks (where a one piece, often a knight, attacks two pieces or more without being attacked himself, so if you save one, you lose the other), pins (when a piece cannot move as if it did a better piece behind it would be captured), skewers (a variation of a pin where a valuable piece is attacked and forced to move out of the way, leaving room for an attack at a less valuable piece behind it) and sacrifices (gambits Up to Eleven in where a strong piece, even the Queen, is given away for a decisive advantage, usually for an attack against the enemy King), which generally take advantage of overloading and interference among the opponent's pieces. Chess strategy has a language all of its own.

Though the modern game has long been dominated by players from the former USSR, and there are still many strong players from Russia, there is (as of 2014) a wide variety of nationalities among the world's top players. At present, the current World Champion is Norwegian Grandmaster Sven Magnus Carlsen, who also has the highest Elo rating in history. But note that 2005 was the last year any human was able to beat the best chess-playing computer in the world.

Related games include Shatranj, Xiangqi, Janggi, Makruk, Sittuyin, and Shogi.


The game provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: The queen.
  • All There in the Manual: Chess literature is, to put it mildly, extensive; because of its marquee status as the canonical strategy game, it's one of the most studied games in the world.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us / Storming the Castle: Breaking in your opponent's home row can allow you to do some serious damage.
  • Alternate Universe: High-level analysis of completed chess games consist entirely of explorations of what would have happened if different moves had been made in critical positions. In fact, there is a near-universal convention, when games are analyzed in print, that moves in bold are those that actually took place, while those in normal typeface are the alternate possibilities.
    • Correspondence chess, in where the players may take several days, or weeks, to select a single chess move, is all about checking different "timelines", about the alternate possibilities that would appear from the current position, both from oneself and the opponent. And "transpositions", when the same position is reached by a different move order, is like jumping from one Alternate Universe to another.
  • Always Second Best: The FIDE Rankings often induce this. For example, Vladimir Kramnik was Classical World Champion for seven years (2000-2006), and World Champion for a year afterwards (2006-2007), and yet he wasn't first in the rankings once during that time. Ironically, he only became #1 after he lost the championship, and even only then by playing more games than the #2 player (Anand), who he lost the World Championship to.
    • Former World Champion (and Kramnik's successor) Viswanathan Anand was 8th in the FIDE Rankings when he lost his title to Carlsen in November, 2013.
      • And Carlsen only won the right to challenge Anand by winning more matches in the Candidates' Tournament - compared to Kramnik, who finished second.
    • The Russian national team at the Chess Olympiad - likely due to how the Soviet Union broke up, with the best Soviet players coming from all of the other Soviet republics.
    • GM Paul Keres even got the "official" nickname The Eternal Second. Mostly because, despite being one of the top players of all time (and over a staggering thirty-year period), he never won the world title - he won the legendary AVRO tournament, began negotiations with Alekhine in 1939, but, yeah...
      • And then he came second in the Candidates' Tournament four times afterwards.
  • Amazon Brigade: If you stop to think about how pawns can promote into not just queens, but also any of the other pieces besides the king—knights, bishops, and rooks—you start wondering if maybe the king is the only actual male on your force, if promoted pieces are indistinguishable from initial pieces.
  • Anachronism Stew: The correspondence chess championship 1995 was won by the Soviet Union. East Germany finished third. (The tournament started in 1987)
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Caïssa, goddess of chess. Yes, chess players have even invented their own goddess. Really.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Some players adopt this as their plan, organizing an attack on enemy king before developing all of their pieces and careless about weaknesses in their position. Games of such players usually last short number of moves, whether they won or lost.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Openings. "Start with a conventional Ruy Lopez, and if Black moves into the Cordel Defence, take the game into the Benelux Variant. If they opt for an Open Defence, try to press them into using the Riga Variation rather than the main line, though the Dilworth Attack also leads to an interesting endgame..."
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: A piece's rank is roughly equivalent to its value and its power on the board. Subverted in the case of the King, however; while he's the most important piece, he has less movement-per-turn range than any other piece save the pawn. Until the final part of the game in which he becomes a double subversion.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Any fork that threatens three or more pieces, instead of just two; only one can be taken anyway.
    • Subverted in the fact that the forked player has a tougher decision, or whenever one of the forked pieces is the King.
    • Potentially subverted in the rarer but notable positions where the target for capture is not, between the targets eventually remaining, the one which has the highest material value, or when further forced moves enable the capture of both pieces.
    • The queen is the most mobile (and valuable) piece on the board (and can even end the game within 2-4 moves versus a terrible opponent). She usually doesn't join the action until some of the early carnage has settled down or a favorable pawn structure has developed, as having her being chased around by lesser pieces tends to be counter-productive.
    • Also see all the stunning 3D-chess tables like the one above that is found in computer chess games. Everyone still just uses 2D view due to visibility.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Pawn promotion.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Good players are good because they can analyze all the possibilities and see several moves deep, as well as predict what their opponent will do.
  • Badass Normal: There are some powerful Pawn attacks available, position permitting.
  • Batman Gambit: Most actual chess gambits (in which material is given up for a strong attack) are examples of this. A computer might be able to find the winning line for the defender easily, but good luck trying to fight through the pressure over the board...
    • Possibly the epitome of this trope in chess would be the "swindle". A player at a severe disadvantage (in a seemingly "lost" position) makes a clever move that, if misinterpreted, can allow him to draw the game or even win.
  • Battle Couple: The King and the Queen.
  • Battle of Wits: The game basically consists of two players trying to outwit each other.
  • Big Bad: Your opponent's king.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The words "check" and "checkmate" come from the Persian Shāh and Shāh Māt, meaning "The King" and "The King is Helpless" respectively.
    • "Zugzwang", from the German "compulsion to move". A situation where the player would be best served by skipping his turn as every single option at his disposal would make things worse, but the rules state that a move must be taken.
    • "Zwischenzug", from the German "intermediate move". An unexpected move inserted into an otherwise predictable sequence, confusing the player on the receiving end and resulting in a situation worse than he expected after the sequence.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Unless it's a draw, the game ends this way. The king has no way to escape, but you'll never see him getting captured.
  • Bond One-Liner: "Checkmate."
  • Broken Pedestal: Bobby Fischer helped get a lot of kids playing chess in school. It's pretty sad that the man later turned out to be a) viciously antisemitic (despite having Jewish ancestors himself!) and b) overjoyed at what happened to America on 9/11.
    • Considering that Fischer was convinced to his death that the Soviet Union had had a tracking/recording device implanted in one of his teeth sometime during the early 1980s (in revenge for his taking the World Championship from Boris Spassky), he stands as the modern benchmark for a disturbing pattern of everything from paranoia to complete psychological breakdown prominent in the lives of more than a few of the history's better players. See Nightmare Fuel in the YMMV tab for this page.
  • Calling Your Attacks: What the announcer stereotypically does in tournament play.
  • Character Death: Any piece that gets captured stays off the board for the rest of the game.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Certain pieces inevitably end up this way, especially pawns. Their positioning early on can determine whether a match is a win, loss or draw.
  • The Chessmaster: You, if you're good enough. Naturally, it's the Trope Namer. The world regulatory body, FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) has several rankings for extremely high quality players. The best known is "Grandmaster" generally indicating that you've either been World Champion or very, very good.
  • Child Prodigy: Almost a requirement now. The current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, became a grandmaster at the age of thirteen. Sergey Karjakin - the runner-up in the Candidates Tournament - became a grandmaster at 12.
  • Church Militant: The Bishop.
  • Computers Are Fast: While chess computers don't cheat by breaking the rules of the game, they are capable of analyzing millions of positions per second, which allows them to beat humans with ease.
  • Confusion Fu: Some players (especially pros) develop novelties, which are unique patterns that seek to throw an opponent off because they've never seen it before and don't know how to respond.
  • Cool Horse: The Knight.
  • Crazy-Prepared: At least at Super GM level, it's necessary being this for the opening.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: The vulnerability of the rook and bishop to attack diagonally and horizonally, respectively.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Checkmate in less than ten moves tends to feel like this. (Keep in mind that there are only a few ways to lose in that short a time, and most of them require you to either be Genre Blind, be carrying the Idiot Ball, Too Dumb to Live, or flat-out playing to lose.)
    • Or a very new player against a more experienced one. Even capable rookies can fall for a four or five move mate if they haven't seen it before.
    • In a complex game, checkmates can come out of seemingly nowhere, it really is possible to lose a game before the action started. Of course, less complex games can also fall victim to this; see also Scholar's Mate.
      • Quicker (and more humiliating still) is the Fool's mate, ending the game in two moves.note  Falling victim to this one is a mistake few players ever make, and only once in a lifetime.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Matches can be horribly one-sided with one player casually slaughtering the other's pieces before finding (or if they're cruel or lack the killer instinct, exploiting) an opening for a checkmate. Especially common between lower-level players with enough skill to exploit an obvious blunder but not always to avoid making one.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Most sets are black and white, or just plain dark and light.
  • Denial of Diagonal Attack: Rooks can only attack vertically or horizontally, but they can travel any number of squares in that direction. Inverted by Bishops and Pawns, who can only attack diagonally.
  • Diagonal Speed Boost: Averted for the bishop since it can't turn while moving so it takes two turns to get to a position that the rook could reach in one. Played straight for the king and queen.
    • Played straight for the bishop since it can reach a position in one move that would take the rook two. Also, for the rook to hit its top speed a file has to be cleared of friendly pawns; it is much easier for a diagonal to be cleared for the bishop.
    • The King also has more options when moving diagonally. Richard Reti wrote an endgame study invoking this.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Losing one piece can lead to a chain reaction of losing a whole bunch more, especially when checks are involved. The queen is good at this.
  • Discard and Draw: The Bishop's range was greatly increased, but it lost the ability to jump over pieces.note 
  • The Dragon/The Lancer: The Queen, depending on which side she's on.
  • Epic Fail: The fool's mate has a player lose in two moves. One has to be either extremely inexperienced or playing to lose for it to happen.
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: In algebraic notation, dubious moves get a ?, and highly dubious moves get ??. However, ?! means a move just might be Crazy Enough to Work.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Mobile turrets?!
    • Siege towers are mobile, of course. Which doesn't stop some people depicting them as stone towers.
      • But siege towers are to clumsy to be used in battles. They are used in sieges which is why they are called siege towers. Of course they could be the little structures that used to be built on war elephants as some antique models have them.
  • Executive Meddling: Legend has it that Byzantine Chess was created because Pope Sylvester II, some time around 1000 AD, decreed that chess, being of "Muhammedan origin", was unholy and thus forbade priests from playing. In reaction, they redesigned the board so that it was circular, the circle being a holy symbol of God's perfection, and kept right on playing. Scholars have proven that this is nonsense (people have been playing chess on a round board for almost as long as they've been playing chess on a square one), but its still a cute story.
  • Expansion Pack: There are a cavalcade of Chess variants, some more (or less) bizarre than others. Some examples include:
    • "Fairy" Chess — Chess with a bigger board and additional pieces, such as an Archbishop (a Knight/Bishop combo), and a Chancellor (a Knight/Rook combo)
    • Fischer Random Chess Chess-960 — where the starting positions are randomized through some kind of means (dice rolls, computer, etc.), but maintain some basic elements; e.g. Bishops must be on opposite colors, the King must be between both rooks)
    • Kung-Fu Chess — You can move any time you want to as long as your hands are fast enough.
    • Hexagon Chess — Combines chess with a hexagonal board.
    • Shahmot — Multiplayer chess on a diamond board (free-for-all or team variants available)
    • Three-Dimensional Chess: started out as a "futury" background prop on Star Trek, later had rules codified for it and became fairly popular in Real Life. Consists of three main boards on different levels with two small 2x2 "attack boards" which may be shifted with a piece on them to another position in lieu of a normal move.
      • Less popular fictional chess variants include Discworld's Stealth Chess, which has two "assassin" pieces whose exact position is always uncertain.
    • Chessboxing (which is both Crazy Awesome and probably requires Crazy Awesome people to participate!). Alternating rounds of speedchess and fisticuffs. Victory is given to the first to check mate the opponent, by points, or by knockout.
    • Geo-Chess: Chess played on a donut-shaped board with three players. Each player has twice as many of each piece except the king and queen. Pawns can move forward/back and left/right one square at a time, and there are six grey rectangles the size of two squares that allow bishops to change colors. Optional rules allow for each player to respawn each piece once. Picture here: http://www.abstractstrategy.com/geo-chess.html
    • Bughouse: a two-on-two variant where your teammate plays the opposite color. When you capture a piece on your board, you give it to him and he can spawn it on his board, anywhere. Hilarity Ensues.
    • Byzantine, or Round Chess: Played on a circular board with sixteen sectors and four concentric rings. Simulates making the board into a cylinder.
    • Cold War Chess: Played on a standard board in standard configuration. No captures are allowed until one of the kings has been placed in check.
    • Four Man Chess. Two teams of two people, each controlling one side of the board. The twist? You are not allowed to discuss the game, even in code, with your teammate. Leads to a lot of frustration if your partner can't read the board or your mind.
    • Kriegspiel: Chess played blind. Two players play on separate boards, each not seeing the other. They have to deduce the layout of their opponent's pieces with the help of a referee who tells them whether the move they just made was legal or not, and/or if it captured an opposing piece!
    • Dunsany's Chess is an unusual asymmetrical variant invented by Lord Dunsany in which Black has the normal pieces, but White has nothing but pawns...thirty-two of them, in fact, filling their side of the board. White has the normal goal of capturing the King, but Black's goal is simply to capture all the pawns.
    • Great, huge list of them, the "Recognized Variants" section contains the best ones for the most part: http://chessvariants.org/Gindex.html
  • Face Palm: Considered very bad form when baiting a trap.
  • Fearful Symmetry: Some moves are just duplicating the opponent's move, especially in the opening part of the game.
  • Field Promotion: Pawn promotion. Not many armies would "promote" you all the way to Queen just for getting behind enemy lines intact...
  • Five-Man Band: Since it's about perspective, your white chess pieces can be sorted out into one of these.
    • The Chick: The Queen is the Token Girl. But she's the opposite of useless.
    • The Lancer: The Knight.
    • The Smart Guy: The Bishop.
    • The Leader: The King. Depending on the player, he could be a type 1 directing from the rear, a Type III leading the battle, or a type 4 figurehead that does nothing. Without him, the band falls apart.
  • A second interpretation:
  • In a black piece Five-Bad Band the roles line up a bit differently:
  • Five Temperament Ensemble
    • The Queen is Sanguine
    • The Rook is Choleric
    • The Bishop is Melancholic
    • The King is Phlegmatic
    • The Knight is Supine
  • Freaky Is Cool: One of the most popular areas of chess theory, for everyone from amateurs to Grandmasters, has been to explore and experiment with truly bizarre openings, and discover if there are viable possibilities for success among them.
  • Gambit Pileup: This is how many strategies end up, especially on the advanced levels of play.
  • Gender Bender: For some reason, the pawn's sex is flexible enough for it to promote to a queen or a bishop. (Or a stone tower).
  • Gender Flip: The Queen was originally a vizier or royal advisor in the Eastern version of the game.
    • Based on the official Polish names for chess pieces, it is incorrect to call it the "queen" rather than the "hetman" (the "general", roughly speaking). Most casual players still say "Queen".
    • In Hungarian, the name of the Queen is still "vezér", however non-professional players call it queen. (This tendency can be observed with other pieces, the knight is officially a hussar, but often called horse, and the pawns are infantrymen, but called peasants)
    • in Russian, the Queen is called "ферзь"(Ferz), from Persian word "ferzin" - vizer, and referred to as male.
  • Glass Cannon: The Queen and the Rook.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Russians love good game chess, as everybody knows.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!
  • Guide Dang It: While most people can tell you the general rules and basic advanced moves of chess like castling, there are some moves that very few nonprofessional players know about or bother to remember, chief among them the En Passant maneuver, where a player with a pawn in position to capture an enemy pawn if it moves forward one space, and the opponent moves it two spaces forward to evade the capture, the offensive player may move his pawn as if the defending player only moved forward one space. It's a move guaranteed to have a casual player cry foul and be appropriately embarrassed when they find out that it's perfectly legal.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Why are you trying to capture all of the enemy's pieces? Because they're on the other side, of course!
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: As mentioned above, pawns are some of the most important pieces in the game. This is because of two factors; Their ability to become any piece other than a king if they cross the length of the board, and the aforementioned fact that every piece is captured in one shot. Because of the number and general lack of value of pawns, people are therefore quite obviously loath to place their significantly more versatile pieces where pawns can threaten them. Thusly, the position and placement of pawns, known as pawn structure, dictates where and how the game is played. The "father of modern (actually strategic; modern means something different now) chess", Francois Philidor, famously said that "Pawns are the soul of the game. They alone create attack and defense, the way they are deployed decides the fate of the game." Seriously, villains. Don't go up against Philidor.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Most gambits involve this. Also, during the midgame, players will sometimes make spectacular piece sacrifices to get at the king.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    Mikhail Botvinnik [on Anatoly Karpov]: The boy doesn't have a clue about chess, and there's no future at all for him in this profession.
  • House Rules: Many, many variants exist, the most famous of which is probably "Ultima".
  • Idiot Ball: Has been given a technical name of amaurosis schacchistica, chess blindness. Even Grandmasters carry it from time to time. Such moves are typically given double question marks (??) after the move.
    • A famous example of a Grandmaster holding the Idiot Ball: During the 1956 Candidates — a tournament of the best Grandmasters to determine who would challenge the sitting World Champion — Tigran Petrosian (later a World Champion himself) blundered away his Queen during a match.
    • A recent and extreme example was top player Vladimir Kramnik's blunder against the computer program Deep Fritz in the Man vs. Machine event. After some excellent play on both parts, the game looks set to be drawn. Fritz makes a blatant but easily defeated mate threat, knowing that however Kramnik responds it can force a draw. Cue Kramnik not doing anything about it at all and getting checkmated immediately.
    • There are also those who resigned when they were winning. Someone collected over 30 such examples here, aptly calling them 'the ultimate blunder'. Even worse is resigning if you had a mate in one. It actually happened before. Just as aptly called 'the ultimate ultimate blunder'.
    • You pretty much have to be holding this (or else be very inexperienced) to be checkmated in two moves. It's called "Fool's mate" for a reason.
  • I Have Many Names: The pieces go by various names in different languages, and even within the same language (eg. "horse" and "knight", "castle" and "rook").
  • In Spite of a Nail: It is very possible for someone to dominate the vast majority of a game only to lose/draw to a superior end game player.
  • Indy Ploy: "I see only one move ahead, but it is always the correct one." – Jose R. Capablanca
    • Also, swindles. These are a class of tactic used late in a losing game to turn the tables by tricking the stronger opponent into making a blunder and giving away a win or a stalemate.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Technically, only the back-rank units (King, Queen, Bishops, etc.) are called pieces. The pawns are called, well, pawns.
    • In addition, in Spanish it's wrong to use the terms "pieza" (piece) and "trebejo" interchangeably. The latter refers to the actual (wooden or plastic, etc.) shaped physical thing that's used as a piece or pawn in the game. A computer-based chess program, for example, would have "virtual" trebejos.
    • Anyone referring to the "horse" or "castle" is quickly corrected. Though, interestingly, those are the correct names in some other languages. For example, in Spanish, the Knight is called "caballo," which means horse.
  • Instant-Win Condition: Your opponent might have ten pieces on you, but it doesn't mean a damn thing if you put him in checkmate.
    • In a timed game, if you run out of time, it doesn't matter if you have been curbstomping your opponent, and are a few moves away from delivering checkmate.
      • That depends. Playing to run out your opponent's clock is against the rules, and the Arbiter can penalize a player for doing so. But if your opponent's playing normally when you time out, yes, you're done.
  • Insufferable Genius: A few of the more notable masters. Bobby Fischer is one of the most famous examples:
    "I like the moment when I break a man's ego."
    "There are tough players and nice guys, and I'm a tough player."
    "There's no one alive I can't beat."
    "I add status to any tournament I attend."
    —Bobby Fischer, 11th World Champion of Chess
    • And this isn't even getting into his assertion that he could play a knight down against any woman and still win.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The entire point of a gambit.
  • It's Up to You: One of the most extreme handicaps in chess is that you have to checkmate with a particular chessman, denoted by placing a ring around it if it's a piece (ringed piece) or a hat on its head if it's a pawn (capped pawn odds). If that chessman is captured (or promoted, if a pawn), the odds-giver loses. If the odds-giver checkmates with another piece, the odds-giver loses. This handicap is considered equivalent to playing without a queen.
  • Joke Character: Underpromotion of a pawn (to something other than a queen). It's usually done when promoting to a queen would allow stalemate, or when it's crucial to cause check on the promoting move.
    • See the end position of this game for an example, starting on move 221. (Note that the underpromotion to bishops in this game was largely a matter of showing off; promoting to queens would not have forced stalemate and would have ended the game much more quickly.)
    • Underpromotion to a knight has some definite tactical advantages, in that a knight can create forks which a queen cannot. The only reasons to underpromote to a bishop or a rook, instead of a queen, is if a queen would cause an immediate stalemate, or if you were trying to force stalemate yourself to salvage a draw in a losing position.
  • Keystone Army: Once the king is captured, the game is over. It doesn't matter if you have the material advantage or not, you still lose.
  • Knight in Shining Armor
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: There's just no way I can stop your Pawn from queening, and then the new Queen takes my passed Pawn. After that, checkmate's only a matter of time. *turns King sideways*
  • Lethal Joke Character: The pawn; see Heart Is an Awesome Power above. Also, the knight; it may move in a somewhat absurd pattern (and with a limited range too), but it can be used to create some really nasty forks, taking away high-value pieces like the queen and rooks.
    • Significant underpromotions (i.e. underpromotions with a useful purpose) can also be this.
  • Light Is Not Good/Dark Is Not Evil: If you're playing black. Also in general, seeing as how White always begins the conflict.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Queens and Rooks.
  • Magikarp Power: "I swear to God when my pawns reach the end of the board I am going to kill you all!"
  • Metagame: The game has been analyzed exhaustively for at least the past five hundred years. Almost definitely the Trope Maker.
  • Metaphorgotten: Pretty much all these attempts to compare chess directly to warfare or personify the pieces. As Edward Lasker wrote, "it is quite unjustifiable to assign to the Knights the functions of scouts, and to say that Rooks should stay in the background, as heavy artillery, and so on. Such pronouncements would not have the slightest practical value."
    • There is a school of thought that prefers to see chess as a game that represents politics rather than a direct conflict between two armies since Queens and Bishops aren't usually on the battlefield but influential in more subtle ways.
  • Mexican Standoff: So, your opponent is threatening your queen and it is impossible to save her? Respond by threatening his queen and maybe two or more pieces with it.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Called a patzer.
  • Mirror Match: As noted above.
  • Mook Promotion: Pawns, if they get across the board, can become queens, bishops, rooks, or knights.
  • Morton's Fork: Usually known only as "a fork," in which two of your pieces are threatened with capture by the same opposing piece. As the person who just got forked, your only choice is which piece you lose, since you usually can't save both of them in one turn... and, if one of the pieces being threatened is your king, you don't even get to choose. In higher-level play, key squares may be forked as well, forcing the defender to choose between material disadvantage and positional disadvantage.
    • There's also skewers and pins, where a piece comes under threat, but moving it will expose another piece to capture by the same opposing piece. The difference between the two situations depends on the value of the pieces threatened.
      • Especially cross-pins, where moving a piece under threat exposes two or more of your other pieces to capture. And if one of said pieces is your king...
    • And, to round out the list, discovered attacks, where a move attacks one piece and at the same time uncovers an attack on another piece.
  • My Death Is Only The Beginning: Sacrifices are a common strategy.
  • Nice Hat: The bishops, king, and queens all have nice hats.
  • No Ending: These days, the checkmate and stalemate are virtually extinct in high-level play. Nearly all master-level games end with a resignation or agreed draw (often leaving beginners in the dark about why the winner was winning, or why the draw was inevitable).
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Kind of a given, since positions and variations are named after players from all over the world. Probably the most commonly misread names are the Pirc Defence ("peerts") and the Lucena position ("loo-thay-na").
  • Non-Action Guy: The King. Though he gets better in the endgame, he's still slow.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Your opponent's king.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: The "same rank" rule of castling (curing a Good Bad Bug). Also, the 50 move rule, which at one point, was itself patched, patched again, and then finally unpatched.
    • You used to be allowed to promote a pawn to one of the other player's pieces or leave it as a Pawn. You could also move into triple check (only check and double check counted as check) and checkmate with an illegal move.
    • En passant is itself an Obvious Rule Patch to the two-square initial pawn move.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Any piece can capture (or, in the case of the King, check or mate) any other piece with a single attack. Rank doesn't matter; a pawn can capture a queen just as readily as a queen can capture a pawn.
  • Out-Gambitted
  • Overly Long Gag: Averted. The entire point of the threefold repetition rule (as well as the fifty-move rule and the insufficient material draw rule) is to prevent or at least mitigate this.
    • Of course, the players have to claim the draw for it to count (except in the case of insufficient material, which is automatically a draw), otherwise we get situations like this (go to the Longest unclaimed repetition section).
  • Play-by-Post Games: Mail chess has been around for centuries.
    • Also known as Correspondence Chess. It may take months to finish a game like this. The Internet can speed this up significantly, though.
  • Player Tic: Most players will announce resigning a game by knocking their own king down. This is unnecessary, as simply announcing your decision is sufficient but has become part of the collective mannerism of the chess world.
  • Press Start To Game Over: The Scholar's Mate ends the game in only four moves—the shortest checkmate that happens with any regularity. There is one that's shorter, though, that requires one side to play like a complete idiot: The Fool's Mate. Because White moves first, White can accomplish this in three moves, Black in only two.
    • This joke chess problem. It is literally impossible for Black not to lose, even if White were the worst chess player there is.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Pawns get one if they manage to cross the board unscathed.
  • PVP Balanced: Of the "both sides are identical" variety.
    • Well, not exactly. Although they start off symmetrically, white has one advantage over black: it has the first move. This enough to provide it with a small but significant winning percentage over black, although it's debatable if this advantage exists (or if it's amplified!) outside of top-level play.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Ever tried to give mate with just king, knight, and bishop versus king? Their asymmetrical natures are the main staple of the material point scoring system in chess. Rooks are each worth five points and bishops and knights three each, because while a king and one rook alone can checkmate an enemy king, a king and one bishop or knight alone cannot.
  • Redshirt Army: Averted. Even though "pawn" is often used in a metaphorical sense for a member of a Redshirt Army, you will almost never hear a halfway-decent chessplayer use the term in this way. That's because chessplayers are well aware that games are often decided by a single pawn. While pawn sacrifices are not infrequent, those sacrifices are not made lightly, since the player knows the loss of that single pawn can eventually spell disaster if he does not achieve some significant advantage from the sacrifice.
    • Indeed, losing a single pawn without some sort of compensation in high enough level of play can be reason enough for a player to resign. It might even be expected as a courtesy, if the situation is hopeless for the person a pawn down.
    • When and when not to sacrifice pawns is the direct subject of one main branches of chess theory, the gambit.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Captured pieces can be "resurrected" by promoting a pawn. Interestingly, this was an actual rule in the past, where you could not promote to, say, a queen, if you already had one on the board. Philidor in particular did not like the possibility of a king having 2 queens.
  • Retool: It's been subject to more than a few over its history.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The queen fulfills this throughout the game, while the king tends to become this in the endgame; next to the queen he looks like a Non-Action Guy, but once the enemy's at his doorstep...
    • What's more, in your typical endgame, the king is of vital importance for picking off enemy pawns, and protecting your own pawns from being picked off by the other king.
  • Sadistic Choice: Forks force a player to choose which piece is captured.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: The king and queen.
  • Serious Business: When entire lives have been dedicated to mastering the game as much as is humanly possible, you better believe chess is very serious business.

    "It's easy to get obsessed with chess."
    —Magnus Carlsen, highest rated player in history

    • Part of the Soviet military's strategic training regimen consisted of ensuring that their generals were all competent chess players.
  • Show Some Leg: Going all The Thomas Crown Affair on your opponent is against the laws of chess. See Article 12, sections 12.1 and 12.6.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Averted and played straight depending upon the player in question.
  • Spanner in the Works: Too bad that beautiful attack on the enemy's king you had planned ended up failing because you didn't see that knight check, or passed pawn, or unavoidable fork.
  • Straight for the Commander: This is the whole objective, via taking out the enemy king. Taking out the enemy pieces doesn't matter, although it makes life easier for you.
  • Stone Wall: The playing style of Tigran Petrosian could be described as this. He put safety above all else, and put more effort in hindering his opponent's attacking plans than executing his own. While this approach gave him quite a few draws that could have been victories, it gave him lots and lots draws that could have been losses. Because of this defensive style, he's generally regarded as the hardest player to beat in his prime. Earned him the nickname "Iron" Tigran. note 
    • "They say my games should be more 'interesting'. I could be more 'interesting' — and also lose."
    • There's even a chess formation called the Stonewall (usually used by Black in the Dutch.)
    • More generally, pawn chains.note  Used properly, they can effectively lock out the opposing player from a large chunk of the board, and are really hard to take apart without the enemy having to sacrifice something of their own.
  • Stop Copying Me: A frequent tactic by people who don't know what they're doing. It generally ends in disaster.
    • The Russian opening is all about this. If the black side merely copies white without ever deviating, white will deliver a devastating check that black will not be able to mimic.
    • That said, copying can safely go on for several moves in some openings. For example, the aptly named Symmetrical Variation of the Symmetrical English opening, 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O, is a perfectly respectable opening for both players.
    • Some "lateral thinking" puzzles describe a story where a rookie challenges an experienced player to a two-game match, playing as white and black on the two different games, claiming to either win one game or draw both of them. The presented solution was that the less experienced player copies the moves made by the veteran. However, tournament players know how to counter that, claiming the rule about using outside assistance (FIDE rule 12.3), or that the beginner isn't actually playing chess and merely moving pieces around.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: Called an unsound sacrifice. Often an attempt at a Heroic Sacrifice that fails for some reason or another.
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: In some situations, a player will make their own position worse no matter which move they make, and would in fact be better off by simply not making a move... but by the rules of chess, said player must make a move when it's their turn, or else end the game (usually by resigning). This situation is called zugzwang.
  • Stupidity Inducing Attack: A strong attack on, say, the opponent's king can cause them to panic and end up losing material.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver/Tomato Surprise: Pawns that become Queens.
  • Take a Third Option: If two of your pieces are under attack, you are usually forced to give up one of them. In some situations though, you can get away with it by moving one of those pieces to put the opposing King in check, and then move the other piece to safety on the next move.
  • Taking the Bullet: One way of protecting the king is to move a piece between the king and the piece giving check.
  • Taking You with Me: Called "desperado", where a piece goes off the rails and tries to take as much material with it as it can before getting taken itself.
  • Teen Genius: Many World Champions were child (or teen) prodigies, such as Boris Spassky and Mikhail Tal, but Jose Capablanca is probably the iconic case. He learned chess by 4 years old by watching his dad playing and by the age of 12, he had already beaten the Cuban Chess Champion.
    • Joshua Waitzkin, the subject of Searching for Bobby Fischer and face of the game series Chessmaster, was one of these.
      • Bobby Fischer himself was one, winning the United States Chess Championship at the age of 14.
    • Magnus Carlsen was one, reaching the number one according to the FIDE at the age of 19. And World Champion by 23...
  • Timed Mission: Most organized competitions give each player only a certain amount of time to make all of their moves. If a player's time runs out, that player automatically loses.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Because of the extreme power of the Queen compared to the other pieces, losing the Queen in exchange for any piece other than another queen (e.g. losing the Queen but taking a Knight) is a downgrade. Additionally, blundering away your queen hurts you more than blundering away any other non-King piece. As a result, players must be especially careful with their Queens to ensure they do not lose them without a sufficient gain in material or position to make up for the loss.
  • Too Dumb to Live: White in the Fool's Mate: 1. g4? e5 2. f4?? Qh4# 0-1
  • Took a Level in Badass: The Queen was once even weaker than the king, and could move only one square at a time diagonally; when the game was first retooled to make her the most powerful piece on the board, the "variant" was referred to as "mad chess" (as in, "A powerful woman? Madness!")
    • The bishop was also weaker in the past (only two squares at a time diagonally).
    • Also, pawns when they get across the board.
    • The King goes from "vulnerable, protect at all costs" to "Authority Equals Asskicking" as the board starts to open up in the endgame.
  • Total Party Kill: It's possible to lose every piece but the king, and then get checkmated.
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty:
    • Some players consider "swindling," or tricking an opponent into a blunder when they're winning, to be in bad taste; if you're about to be ground into a paste, resigning is seen as more dignified than trying to set a trap. On the other hand, at least one long-running U.S. Champion made his reputation on pulling off artistic swindles.
    • Trying to swindle by blatant psychological games is seen as doubly skeevy. A commentator on the 1952 Helsinki Olympiad wrote about one game where a player played a gambit and then, through body language such as clutching his head, tricked his opponent into thinking that he'd blundered. The player won, but the commentator indicated that that was not ethical play.
  • Updated Re-release: The "New Chess" rules adopted in the 15th century and currently in use.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Since a pawn could upgrade into a queen upon reaching the other end, it makes one wonder...
  • Unstable Equilibrium: Since captured pieces are removed from play permanently, it is very difficult to stage a comeback once you're outnumbered.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Necessarily present because chess is a two-player game and the objective is to beat the other player. But if you end up with only a king left, then you cannot win, because the kings can never be in range of one another. If you have no pawns and only a knight or bishop left (but not both; see Quirky Miniboss Squad above) as well as the king versus a lone king, the game is a draw; you can't put the king in check and cover all the escape squares with a king and one of a knight or bishop.
  • We Cannot Go On Without You/Decapitated Army: As noted above, if the King is ever placed in checkmate, the game ends.
  • We Have Reserves: Though more central to checkers then chess, a player with enough material advantage should feel free to win through attrition. This is also a common checkmate theme—a few pieces sacrifice themselves to weaken the defenses around the opponent's king; the reserves rush through what's left to deliver checkmate.
    • Inexperienced players often apply this trope to their pawns.
  • World of Badass: The chessboard. Any piece can potentially capture any enemy piece (even Pawns can kick ass under the right circumstances). There are only a few minor exceptions:
    • Capturing a king is not a legal move (as per the Bolivian Army Ending mentioned above).
    • Since a bishop can only ever move to squares of the same color as its starting square, a light square bishop can never capture a dark square bishop, and vice-versa.
    • Because pawns start on the second row and can only capture diagonally, there are pawns that can never come into contact with each other. For example, there's no sequence of moves that would allow a rook's pawn (pawn that starts in front of a rook, on one edge of the board) to capture the opponent's rook's pawn from the opposite flank (the other side of the board).
  • Would Hit a Girl: Any other piece can capture the queen.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Any move that puts the opponent into zugzwang (see Stupidity Is the Only Option above).
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Literally. The point with the game is to plan several plans at time into like plan F or something.
    • Especially when you're playing actual speed chess.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: No matter how good you are, you will make some mistakes in a good chunk of your games. Those mistakes could be anything as blatant as letting your queen get captured to something as subtle as a pawn move that weakens your pawn structure. (Even one of the best players in the world isn't immune.)
  • You Keep Using That Word: The word "gambit", as mentioned above.
    • Also Rook/Castle.
    • "Stalemate" is another one. It's often used in general language to mean an impasse between two equally powerful forces; but in chess, stalemate means the side whose turn it is has no moves, which usually requires one side to be much more powerful than the other.
      • In other languages, the meaning of the equivalent to "stalemate" is closer to the general one - for example, in Spanish it's «ahogado» ("suffocated"), which does convey the power disparity.

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