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Tabletop Game / Chess

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White to move.

"Of chess it has been said that life is not long enough for it, but that is the fault of life, not chess."
Irving Chernev

This article is about the Tabletop Game. See Chess for The Musical.

For the rules of the game and definitions of the most common terms, see the useful notes.

Chess is an Abstract Strategy Game, and is one of the most influential games in history. It is Older Than Feudalism at the 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 for a match to go than there are atoms in the entire universe; and it has a play named after it.

The game of chess originated in ancient India, likely in the 6th Century, 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 then to the Islamic Middle East, with several changes made to the rules along the way. From there, the game spread further west to Europe. The game as it exists now came into being in the 15th Century, when it 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 being able to move any number of squares diagonally rather than being limited to exactly two (a debilitating limitation which restricted it to only 8 squares on the whole board, even if it leaped over an intervening piece of either colour).

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 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 forced to react to their opponent's plans and threats—he's struggling to keep up and avoid becoming his 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 trades an advantage of one type for an advantage of another 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.

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There are, of course, many other tactics. Others include forks (where one piece, often a knight, is in a position to attack two pieces or more without being threatened 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 while there are still many strong players from Russia, there is (as of 2020) a wide variety of nationalities among the world's top players. At present, the current World Champion is Chinese Grandmaster Ding Liren; the previous champion had been Norwegian Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, who also has the highest Elonote  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 (draws have still been managed on occasion, although even that is getting rarer).

Related games include Xiangqi, Makruk, and Shōgi. See Queens Puzzle for a Stock Puzzle that consists of arranging eight queens on a chessboard so they can't capture each other.


Shatranj or Persian Chess is considered the predecessor to chess. The rules have the following differences:

  1. The Queen (called Fers) moves one square diagonally.
  2. The Bishop (called Pīl) moves two squares diagonally, jumping over the square between.
  3. The Pawn (called Baidaq) cannot move two squares on the first move. When they reach the eighth rank, they are promoted to Fers.
  4. There is no castling.
  5. The player who initiates a stalemate wins.
  6. Capturing all the opponent's pieces except the King results in a win (unless your opponent can capture your last non-royal piece on the following move, in which case it's a draw).

The game provides examples of:

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  • Abstract Strategy Game: Play is set on a plain grid as players alternate moving pieces in a pre-defined manner. Though pieces bear a slight resemblance to kings, castles, and such, the theming is overall very light.
  • Action Girl: The queen is the strongest piece on the board, able to move both orthogonally like the rook and diagonally like the bishop.
  • Anyone Can Die: Even the queen can easily be captured by the pawns, the king or the opponent's queen if the player is careless.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!:
    • While gambits in general tend to lead to sharp attacking lines, the Danish Gambit, Halloween Gambit and Fried Liver Attack exemplify this trope, as they usually leave White's position hopeless if the attack fails.
    • Novices tend to give pointless checks solely because they can, under the impression that they're pressuring the opponent when in fact they're not advancing the game state at all.
      • It's also not uncommon for novices that actually know the en passant rule to always seize the opportunity to capture en passant, without first considering if it's beneficial for them to do so.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Chess openings are given names. For example, the game might open with the Queen's Gambit, leading to the Slav Defense, then the Exchange Variation, and so on.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • The queen is generally the most powerful piece on the board, but she is at risk of being harassed by pawns and minor pieces if she is brought out too early.
    • Choosing to promote to a queen instead of underpromoting to another piece when underpromotion would have won an otherwise drawn game, drawn an otherwise lost game, or (in some cases involving knight underpromotion) won an otherwise lost game.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: A pawn gains a crown, along with significant power, upon promoting to a queen.
  • Batman Gambit: Chess players often try to bait their opponent into playing a bad move. A swindle is when a player pulls off such a gambit from a losing position.
  • Bolivian Army Ending:
    • Checkmate causes the game to end in this way. The king has no way to escape being attacked, but you'll never see him getting captured.
    • Formerly averted in certain circumstances under previous blitz tournament rules: One was once allowed to capture the king (and win immediately) in blitz tournaments if one's opponent put or left themselves in check.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Pawns. Not as exciting as the other pieces, but pawn positioning is very important, to the point that whole schools of strategy have been made on optimal use of pawns to control the board. As individual pieces, they cost very little material-wise for being able to deny (usually) two squares and are often important for protecting other pieces. They are also the focus of endgame play due to the ability to promote being so strong that even low level chess players who manage to do a promotion while avoiding a major blunder will commonly win the game, and in high level games once a player calculates they can't stop a promotion, a resignation will often follow.
    • The standard design, material and color of chess sets used in serious competition is all about practicality. Boring practicality. The exact opposite of the fancy, flashy, elaborate chess sets you generally see in fictional media or those that are sought after by art collectors.
    • Queening as opposed to underpromotion. The latter is sometimes better than the former, but in practice, underpromoting is usually done just to show off when a queen promotion would've been at least as strong.
  • Calling Your Attacks:
    • In some amateur-level competitions, it is considered mandatory to announce checks. However, this is not a rule in tournament play; in fact, it's considered rude to do so because it implies your opponent is too stupid to see it, and it can actually be seen as a form of annoyance, which is prohibited.
    • Blindfold chess is played by announcing one's moves. The same applies to correspondence games played remotely via Snail Mail, email, over the phone, or the like. An example of this playing style can be seen in an early scene of Blade Runner.
  • Changing Gameplay Priorities: In the opening and middlegame, it's important to keep the king protected, to avoid being checkmated. However, in the endgame, when there aren't enough pieces left to checkmate, it's important to get the king active, to chase down enemy pawns/support the advance of one's own pawns.
  • Character Death: Any piece that gets captured stays off the board for the rest of the game.
  • Color-Coded Armies: The factions use the same pieces for both sides but in different colors to distinguish whom they belong to. Traditionally, they are "black" and "white".
  • Cool Old Guy: Many strong chess players continue to compete into their 60s, 70s and even 80s, such as Korchnoi, Smyslov or Lasker.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: The main reason the bishop is weaker than the rook. While both can move as far as they like along one set of directions (rows and columns for the rook, diagonals for the bishop), bishops can only ever move to squares of the same color as they start the game on, and thus can't threaten opposing pieces stationed on an opposite color square. This makes it very difficult to use them to finish off an opposing piece that can move onto such a square. They can breakout onto the field faster than the rook, and are formidable when one side retains both of them aka "bishop's pair". Together they are stronger than a single rook, but losing one, leaves the piece weaker than the knight.
  • Decapitated Army: Checkmate means an instant loss for the receiving player, independently of any advantages they might have at the moment.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: A valid tactic to use against overly aggressive players, as pieces that become isolated from support are vulnerable.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: The game is notoriously difficult to learn and play well, but it’s one of the most famous games of all time for a reason.
  • Digital Tabletop Game Adaptation: The game has numerous digital implementations, both in dedicated games and as a Mini-Game. The preferred platforms for digital chess are and its open-source competitor Lichess.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: The queen is the most powerful and active piece on both sides of the battle. It has the most dangerous, dynamic and far-reaching moves, and its capture can be a brilliant coup by the opposing player. Still, the game is not over nor lost until the relatively passive king surrenders or is immobilized via checkmate.
  • Dub Name Change: As chess has spread around the world, regional differences between the pieces' names have appeared:
    • Pawns are also known as peons, peasants, or farmers.
    • Knights are also known as horses, jumpers, or donkeys.
    • Uniquely among the pieces, the bishop has a different name in almost every language:
      • In French, it's called fou, which means "jester" in the game's medieval context.
      • In German and Dutch, it's respectively called läufer and loper, which mean "runner".
      • In Italian, it's called alfiero or ''alfiere'', which means "flag bearer".
      • In Russian, it's called slon, which means "elephant".
      • In Finnish, it's called lähetti, which can mean "messanger" or "courier".
      • In Spanish, it's called alfil, which is derived from the old Persian pil, meaning "elephant".
      • In Hebrew, it's called ratz, which can either mean "messenger" or "runner".
      • In Croatian, it's called lovac, which means "hunter".
      • In Romanian, it's called nebun, which means "madman".
      • In Greek, it's called axiomatikos, which means "officer".
      • In Polish, it's called goniec, which means "messenger".
    • Rooks are also known as towers, castles, fortresses, ships, bulwarks, chariots, or elephants.
    • In French, the queen piece is called the dame, which means "lady".
  • Epic Fail:
    • Losing to Fool's Mate or Scholar's Mate where you're checkmated in two or four moves, respectively. Also, even high-level chess players are not immune to game-losing blunders, including ones that result in them immediately being checkmated or losing their queen.
    • Forty minutes of thought--for a colossal blunder!
    • It's entirely possible to blunder when you are one move away from checkmate and set your opponent up to checkmate you on the next turn at the same time. One player managed to take this even further by putting their opponent in a position where their only legal move was to deliver checkmate.
  • Escort Mission: Even though pawns are the weakest pieces on the board, because of the potential of a pawn promotion, many chess games becomes an exercise in both sides trying to protect their own pawns while capturing their opponent's pawns.
    • Middlegame is where this first becomes apparent, since at this point both sides' non-pawn pieces are active, and the kings are likely safely hiding behind a couple of pawns. Meaning the bishops, knights, rooks, and queens can worry less about protecting their own king and start hunting/protecting pawns.
    • Notice that in the case of the pawns protecting a castled king, the king is ALSO protecting the pawns.
    • Because pawns can protect adjacent pawns that are diagonally ahead, the pawns that most need protecting are the ones at the back of the formation, known as "Backward Pawns". Expect to see someone protecting these guys somewhere, somehow.
    • This is even more obvious for a special type of pawn, the "Isolated Pawn". This pawn no longer has neighboring friendly pawns to protect it, so now only the non-pawn pieces can help it. This can both be a strength and a weakness. When the Isolated Pawn still has all its minor pieces allies, it becomes much easier to protect because there are more hands on deck, and the pawn being isolated means it's easier to reach. But once there are only two minor pieces left it becomes much more difficult to keep an eye on the Isolated Pawn.
    • In the endgame, where there isn't enough pieces to easily threaten checkmates (since not even a queen can checkmate an opposing king without aid), it is now the king's job to escort their own pawns forward. In many cases kings are even the best at this. Since while kings are slow, so are the pawns, so no one is slowing anyone down. And because a king protects all adjacent squares it can very easily protect a couple of pawns all by himself.
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: In chess annotation, ! and ? symbols mark good and bad moves (sometimes with !! for amazing/game winning moves and ?? for blunders/game losing moves), with ?! specifically meaning "dubious but not completely bad." However, !? has the general meaning of "interesting," which usually means that the annotator can't figure out whether it's good or bad, but it is interesting. One grandmaster joked that it's the mark of a lazy annotator who doesn't want to work out whether the move was good or bad. (It's also sometimes used for Crazy Enough to Work plans in a losing game, which is not quite this trope.)
  • Excuse Plot: The game has light war theming, but it has little to do with the actual gameplay, and mostly serves as an excuse for the gameplay (and to make the pieces more memorable).
  • Failed a Spot Check: Frequently novices (and sometimes even experienced players) will declare checkmate... only to notice a distant bishop that hasn't been moved in dozens of moves that can snipe the attacking piece.
  • Field Promotion: Pawn promotion: a pawn that reaches the opposite side of the board is promoted to any same-colored non-king piece of the player's choosing. Naturally, most players take advantage of promoting to a queen. Anything else is designated "underpromotion". Underpromoting is sometimes taken as a grave insult, since it implies you don't see your opponent as dangerous enough to bother with a queen promotion.note 
  • First-Player Advantage Mitigation: The game has a well-documented first-player advantage. Tournament matches get around this by giving each player an equal number of games as White and Black rather than changing the game, but there's an exception for Armageddon rules, which are designed to force a decisive result and can't go this route. Instead, they give both sides a bonus, with Black's draw odds being stronger than White's time advantage to compensate for White's first-move advantage.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Pawns can promote and become much stronger. They can even become queens.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: God save us from the enemy's queen, the most powerful and dangerous piece on the board. Taking her head-on is usually a death sentence for any piece foolish enough to try.
  • Godzilla Threshold: One of the basic rules. If the king is threatened, it must be protected at all costs.
  • Golden Snitch: Some variants do this. Three-check chess has the additional win condition that the first player to deliver three checks wins. King of the Hill chess has the additional win condition that the first player to get his king onto one of the four center squares wins.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Some chess terms are borrowed into other languages without a translation, such as Zugzwang (see Stupidity Is the Only Option below).
  • Gratuitous French: English chess terms in particular borrowed quite a bit from French, including en passant ("in passing") and en prise (under attack).
  • Guide Dang It!: Many chess-teaching resources fail to mention certain rules, and while the FIDE Handbook is the official standard, few beginners refer to it. Common omissions in said resources include:
    • The en passant ("in passing") capture occurs when a pawn captures an enemy pawn that just moved past the pawn's capture zone by moving to the square the enemy pawn passed. This rule is omitted commonly enough that many novices are unaware of its existence.
    • The "threefold repetition" rule—that either player may declare a game drawn if the same position occurs for the third time—is often misinterpreted. The rule refers to a position, rather than a move, repeated three times. At this point, a draw may be taken (this normally happens when moves are repeated but doesn't have to). There have been a few high-level cases where a player has unintentionally let this happen.
    • If 50 moves are played without a pawn move or a capture, either player may declare the game drawn. It was thought when this rule was added that all such positions must truly be drawn, but computer analysis showed that there are positions that are forced mates requiring more than fifty moves. This lead to the rule being adjusted multiple times with 75 and 100 moves allowed. As computer power found ever larger move counts, the idea of specific positional move counts became ridiculous and the rule went back 50 moves and has stayed that way since 2001.
    • Fivefold repetition (which automatically draws the game after a position repeats five times) and the 75-move rule (which automatically draws the game after 75 consecutive moves without any pawn moves or captures), both added in 2014, are among the most obscure rules relating directly to the game itself.
    • In at least two cases, actual grandmasters playing in a tournament asked the referee whether they can castle when the rook they want to use for castling is under attack. Yes, they can.
    • Because the United States decided it needed its own set of Chess rules, players need a guide to compare the differences between FIDE and the US Chess Federation rules. The differences include very different rules regarding claiming draws or them being automatically drawn with no claim required, USCF having less types of illegal moves and being less punishing when they happen, USCF defaulting to players being allowed to arrive up to an hour late while FIDE rules default to no lateness allowed, FIDE disallowing any electronic devices on penalty of forfeit while USCF only needs them switched off and doesn't automatically forfeit a player if it happens to ring anyway, USCF allowing the proxy of an upside down Rook to count as a Queen when a pawn is promoted while FIDE would force the arbiter to turn it back to the right way and have it play as a Rook. The biggest differences involved what counts as insufficient material when a game ends via timeout, USCF having a rule that allows castling after touching the rook first and not requiring moves to be made one handed except in blitz. Those differences created a storm in 2015 when Hikaru Nakamura's muscle memory caused a technical break in the FIDE rules by rook first, double handed castling, which is legal in America, in a FIDE rules Armageddon game vs Ian Nepomniachtchi.
  • Highly Specific Counterplay:
    • The castling move was specifically developed to counter the threat created by having the critical king jeopardized when the central pawns are deployed to control the board's center. This leaves the king vulnerable to diagonal pieces such as the bishop or queen. Castling is allowed once per game, which moves the king to one side, usually to safety behind a wall of pawns.
    • The en passant capture prevents an enemy pawn from sneaking past a pawn's capture zone.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: The game isn't over until you checkmate your opponent's king. You need to be careful if you have few pieces between you both endgame — a king is forbidden to move into check, so you can accidentally trap the enemy king on your turn. If your opponent has no other piece they can legally move, it causes a stalemate that ends the match in a draw.
  • "Instant Death" Radius: Two pieces have a no-go zone around them for an opposing king, as they are not allowed to move into check. The first is the queen, whose movement includes all 8 surrounding squares around them. The second is the other king, as they threaten all 8 squares surrounding them. In the late-game where several threatening pieces have been taken out, a king can assist another piece in checkmating by using his own capture radius to block off the opposing king's movement.
  • Instant-Win Condition: If a king is put in a position of certain doom, the game ends, even if that king's team didn't lose a single piece the entire game. This is very nicely demonstrated by this position, where, despite Black having literally its entire army at its disposal against a lone pawn, it can't stop a mate in two.
  • Interface Spoiler: Part and parcel of chess problems and studies. The problem's caption outright tells that there's a checkmate in a set amount of moves (or, in the case of studies, that there's a way to win or draw) by force in this position, and you only have to find it.
  • Irrevocable Order: The touch-move rule. Once you pick up a piece with the intention of moving it, you have to move it if possible. However, by first saying "I adjust" (or "J'adoube" in French), you can touch a piece on your turn to adjust it (move it closer to the center of the square) without having to move it.
  • Keystone Army: Each of the opposing sides, as they lose when the King is placed in checkmate.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: It's called "resigning" when you throw in the towel, and it's generally considered proper etiquette to resign a lost cause rather than fight to the bitter and bloody end.
  • Large and in Charge: Usually the king is the largest piece on the board.
  • Literal Wild Card: A promoted pawn can be turned into any non-king piece. 99% of the time you'll make a queen — the strongest option — but you do have the option to go for a weaker piece in the niche situations where it's useful.When? 
  • Lost in Translation: The pieces' names have changed as chess has spread around the world.

  • Mechanically Unusual Fighter: Chess is a game made up of mechanically different fighters:
    • The knight is the only piece that can move through occupied squares. Its attack pattern is also unconventional, so it can attack enemy pieces without leaving itself open to retaliatory attack by the targeted pieces, barring enemy knights.
    • The pawn is the only piece whose movement differs from the attack pattern, and it is only allowed to move forward, never backward. No other piece gets a doubled normal move to start (the king can castle but not move two squares on a normal first move). It is also the only piece that can upgrade into other pieces. En Passant gives it the only capture move that doesn't end with the capturing piece taking the square of the captured.
    • The king & rook can combine to "castle" which allows a player to move both of them at the same time and have the rook jump over the king while doing this. No other piece in the game can combine with another like this.
    • Bishops only fight on half the board due to being colour restricted.
    • The queen combines the power of two other pieces (rook & bishop) into a single piece, and is the only capturable piece that begins with just one of them per side.
  • Metagame: Chess has a metagame, evolved over eons of play. One might say that the metagame is the game. If you have ever played in any organizationally-sanctioned tournament, held anywhere at all, at some point in your life, it is guaranteed that every move you made was dutifully logged via algebraic notation, and then almost certainly dissected down to numbingly exhaustive detail, so as to understand every available nuance of both how you played then, and potentially will now.

    Garry Kasparov's famous rematch versus Deep Blue in 1997 involved a curious metagame factor. In the first game, Deep Blue made a puzzling play that was really just a hole in its heuristics — it is only as good as its program. This threw Kasparov for a loop. In the second game, Deep Blue made a second error, which Kasparov did not see and cost him the game. Some of the reports basically amounted to Garry being unable to believe the machine could screw up so badly. He attributed the moves to deep insight and thought himself out of a draw, turning it to a loss.Note 
  • The Millstone:
    • Many situations can arise where a player's friendly pieces can hinder them:
      • The famous Smothered Mate (see illustration), where a single knight attacks a king surrounded by its own "protective" pieces who block out all escape squares, allowing this beautiful (and potentially embarrassing) checkmate.
      • Back-rank checkmates where the King is checked by the opponent's rook or queen, and its forward escape squares are all blocked by its own pawns or pieces.
    • Subverted by pawns, which may seem merely to get in the way of one's powerful pieces but are actually vital to one's success.
  • The Slow Walk: Kings are actually pretty strong, a single king is considered to have an equivalent fighting power of 4 pawns, but they spent most of the game hiding in a bunker because even though their "power" is worth 4 point, their value is infinite. Not to mention the fact that they are as slow as pawns. However, there are times in a chess game where neither of those limitations matter. And when that happens expect to see kings marching towards each other for a showdown.
    • This is most common in the endgame where most fast/long ranged pieces are already taken or busy because both sides are shorthanded as is.
    • In the late middlegame of a closed game(meaning a lot of pawns are in the way of everybody), king moves can unintuitively be the right call. The other wiki calls this the "king walk".
  • Misère Game: One of the most popular variants is losing chess (AKA giveaway chess), which sees players try to lose all of their own pieces. Captures must be taken when available, and the king can be captured like any other piece. Unlike regular chess, losing chess has been weakly solved, with White being able to force a win with 1.e3.note 
  • Mooks: The pawns.
  • Mook Promotion: A pawn, if it gets across the board, can become a queen, a bishop, a rook, or a knight.
  • More Dakka: The fundamental principle behind formations such as Alekhine's Gun, the aim of which is to overwhelm an opponent's defenses with sheer firepower.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Between 1948 and mid-2000s, chess world champions represented either the Soviet Union or Russia, with the exception of 1972-75, when Bobby Fischer took the title from Boris Spassky. Even Fischer was called by some "the epitome of Soviet chess school", as he learned Russian specifically to study Soviet chess literature.
  • Moving Buildings: Rooks, represented as towers, are able to zip around the board as they please.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Claude Frizzell Bloodgood, chess player and matricide.
  • Noob Bridge: The Scholar's mate is one of the most common traps white can set at the beginner level, which punishes black for not seeing it coming with a mate in 4. One of the first steps to getting better at the game entails seeing the queen and bishop coming out and being ready to react accordingly.
  • No Unified Ruleset: Before the rules were properly formalized, different countries often had different rules. For instance, it was unclear whether pawn promotions were limited to your captured pieces or if they could promote into any non-king piece, and there were various ways to handle the king's single-use special move which became castling in the formalized rules.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Arrogance is one of the deadliest weaknesses a player can have. Some people won't hesitate to take advantage of it.
    • Some openings play out like this. For example, in Alekhine's Defense, Black uses their turns moving their king's knight to tempt White into building up a pawn structure in the center of the board after which Black attempts to take advantage of White's overextension.
    • In a particularly notorious example, Tony Miles, a grandmaster, defeated World Champion Anatoly Karpov by psyching him out with the seemingly questionable St. George Defense.
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • The 50-move rule: If both sides have consecutively made 50 moves without making a capture or moving a pawn, either player can declare the game drawn. This rule was added to prevent games from dragging on far too long. At one point, the rule was itself patched, patched again, and then finally unpatched.
    • It used to be possible to promote a pawn to become one of the other player's pieces (only useful very circumstantially) or leave it as a pawn (only useful to avoid or induce stalemate).
    • The rule for castling specifies the rook must be in the same rank as its king. Otherwise, it would be possible to promote a pawn to a rook on the same file as the king, then use it to castle vertically (assuming the rook has not been moved since promotion)
    • Kings could once move into triple check, as only single check and double check counted as check.
    • En passant is a patch on the ability of the two-square initial pawn move (created to speed up the early game) to allow a pawn to evade an enemy pawn's capture zone.
    • Chess tournaments enacted the "no talking" and "touch-move" (no taking back moves) rules because of players distracting each other or outright screwing with each other, such as making moves then immediately taking them back several times in a row. Further sportsmanship rules were added to deal with non-verbal means of getting under an opponent's skin.
    • It is said that time limits for formal play were introduced after an opponent drove 19th century grandmaster Paul Morphy to frustration by spending several hours on one move.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Any piece can capture any other enemy piece or give check or mate to the enemy king with a single attack. Rank doesn't matter; a pawn can capture a queen just as readily as a queen can capture a pawn.
  • Pinned Down: Pieces can become trapped in a spot where they are not attacked but cannot be moved without placing them under threat of capture. There is also a tactic known as a pin, where a piece restricts an opposing piece from moving by forcing the opposing piece to shield a more valuable piece from attack, but that is not quite this trope.
  • Platform-Activated Ability: If a player manages to take a pawn to one of the tiles of the opposite row (where the other player's non-pawn army begins), they'll be able to summon a queen, rook, bishop, or knight of the same color. In the context of the game's theme, this is because the pawn is earning a promotion, allowing it to acquire a new hierarchic title and thus the attributes and mobility that are associated with it.
  • Press Start to Game Over: The fool's mate, which puts the white king in checkmate in two moves. Not likely to pop up in practice unless (as the name suggests) your opponent is a special kind of stupid, but it is the fastest checkmate possible. To a slightly lesser degree is the Scholar's Mate, in which a player gives checkmate in a mere four moves and which does happen in practice with beginners.
  • Regicide: The checkmate. Alternatively, it's also the act of killing the queen.
  • Roll-and-Move: There is some evidence that the game was played with dice between the 11th and 14th century in Europe. The dice determined which piece you would move, though you get to choose where it moves.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The king and queen are the most important and most powerful pieces on the board respectively. The king, despite only moving one square per turn, can be a strong offensive piece endgame. The queen is able to move any number of squares vertically, horizontally or diagonally, combining the power of the rook and bishop.
  • Sadistic Choice:
    • Forks (where one piece threatens two pieces) and skewers (where a valuable piece is threatened, but moving it would expose another piece to attack) are this; you're going to lose something unless you Take a Third Option, such as pinning the forking piece or giving a check with one of your forked pieces.
    • A similar situation can arise as a result of pieces becoming overworked (used to provide critical defensive coverage to more than one other piece which both become threatened at the same time).
    • Zugzwang is a situation where any move by the player to move will weaken his position—but he has to move.
  • Schmuck Bait:
    • Why the Scholar's Mate works so well against novices. They'll go for the seemingly exposed queen with their knight without thinking... and completely overlook the ensuing checkmate.
    • The pawns on b2 and b7 are often left unguarded early in the game - and it is almost always a bad idea to try and capture them (it takes up valuable time and can easily lead to having an officer stranded behind enemy lines).
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Defied Trope. A king cannot castle to escape check. After all, an ace up your sleeve is worthless if you cannot or will not use it in time.
  • Sealed Orders: A variant of this trope used to occur during adjournments when a chess match was suspended for the day (i.e., dinner time) to be continued at a later time. The player whose turn it is to move writes down what his move will be and then seals it up and hands it to the arbiter. When the match resumed, the order was to be revealed and the game would continue from there. Both players were free to analyze the position for hours, with the help of their seconds, during the adjournment period. The sealed move ensured that neither player could know what the other would do next during this lengthy analysis. Otherwise, the player next to move would get a huge advantage from having hours to consider what to do. Nowadays, the advent of powerful chess computers has made adjournments a thing of the past –- there would be no way to stop either player from firing up the latest chess software and just memorizing its recommendations. Instead, modern chess competitions simply speed up the time limits so that adjournments aren't necessary.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: As mentioned by I Surrender, Suckers earlier, if it's someone's turn but they no longer has a legal move while not in check, the game is drawn by stalemate. Because of this, someone who is losing can shoot for a draw by removing their options to move. Typically this is done by forcefully sacrificing their own pieces.
  • Stone Wall: Properly deployed, pawns can become this. Although they are slow and not dynamic in attack, their numbers and ability to support each other in adjacent rows can be used to create defensive formations that are impossible to penetrate with more dangerous attacking pieces at anything less than self-defeatingly high costs.
  • Straight for the Commander: Because both sides are a Keystone Army, your only win condition is to checkmate the enemy king. Taking out other enemy pieces doesn't directly matter, although it tends to make life easier for you.
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: Zugzwang (German for "compelled to move") occurs when any move you make will weaken your position, yet you must make a move because passing your turn is not allowed.
  • Suicide Attack: Frequently a key tactic. Pieces can be used in sequences of moves which will culminate in their capture in order to improve positioning on the board or create a weakness in the opponent's defenses.
  • Surprise Checkmate: It's technically possible to get your own king out of danger and completely trap the opposing king simultaneously, but this is very rare. It usually requires your opponent to not be paying attention or to be running so low on time that they can't really afford to think about strategy.
  • Switch-Out Move:
    • Formerly. One of the various forms in which castling used to exist involved the king and chosen rook switching places. In the current iteration of castling, the king and rook move towards and past each other, but they don't end up actually occupying each other's starting squares.
    • Fischer random chess (a chess variant with randomized piece placement) can turn castling into this trope given the right starting position.
  • Themed Stock Board Game: In addition to many sets where the pieces appear as more or less detailed representantions of what they're supposed to be, there're lots of others where they are modelled after characters of different franchises.
  • 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, the game automatically ends in a loss if the player can be checkmated or a draw if they cannot.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Pawns, when promoted by getting to the opposite side of the board, are exchanged for any other piece (except for a second king).
    • The king becomes much more powerful in the endgame, where it can march up the board without much enemy interference. A well-positioned king in the endgame is better at attacking and defending than a minor piece, and many endgame positions revolve around the king protecting or intercepting pawns as they advance.
  • Uniqueness Rule:
    • The game has historically had the rule that a pawn could only be promoted to a captured piece, which makes it impossible to have more than one queen at a time. As the queen is a powerful piece, some people disliked the idea of having two at once. However, this rule has since been removed, and promotion is unrestricted by which pieces have already been captured.
    • Castling is a special move that moves both your king and a rook, and is only available if neither of the involved pieces has ever been moved. This means that it's only usable once per game and can't be repeated even if the king and rook somehow return to their original positions.
  • Unwinnable by Design:
    • Once one player's only left piece is the king, there's no possible way to win the game for this player, because a lone king cannot give checkmate under any circumstances. Even if the opponent runs out of time, it still will only be considered a draw.
    • A draw by insufficient material happens when this occurs for both sides, resulting in a scenario where neither player can possibly checkmate the opponent with their remaining pieces (such as a bare king for each player or each player having a bishop on the same colored squares and nothing elsenote ).
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: A player should never focus on defense only, otherwise a "smothered checkmate" can occur where their king is put into check, usually delivered by their opponent's knight, and unable to move because he is literally smothered by his own pieces.
  • Updated Re-release: The new chess rules adopted in the 15th century and currently in use.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Chess engines have gotten so advanced that calculating the theoretical optimal move for a situation will frequently output something that makes little or no sense to human sensibilities, even for highly skilled players, such as intentionally sacrificing a queen for positioning. The reason is that computers can and will calculate many moves in advance, better than even the most accomplished human players can, so they will forsee a solid path to checkmate further than them and start this path with a seemingly illogical move(s).
  • We Cannot Go On Without You: From each player's perspective, if their own king is ever placed in checkmate, the game ends.
  • We Win, Because You Didn't: The Armageddon blitz works by this trope. White gets an extra minute on their clock, but if White doesn't win the game outright, Black wins.
  • Weak Boss, Strong Underlings: The King is the ultimate authority: the game is over with his implied capture. But in terms of fighting power he is behind a single Rook/Queen. And while he is stronger than a single pawn/minor piece due to his being able to move in any direction; a king can still only move a single square away each time, which makes him very vulnerable to most pieces that can cover longer distances and can effectively gang up on the King. This will eventually be subverted in the endgame, as mentioned by the Took a Level in Badass entry above, but until then the King needs to rely on his underlings more often than not.
  • Xanatos Gambit: In general, the way that players push towards a win is by analysing their opponent's possible moves, and ensuring that, whichever one is chosen, they still have follow-ups that lead to good outcomes.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Bullet and Blitz formats can allot as little as one minute total time to each player, making thinking at lightning speed necessary. Opponent made a move you weren't expecting? Think fast!
  • Zerg Rush:
    • Pawn storms, which are attacking sequences that involve sending several pawns toward an opponent's defenses at once.
    • Dunsany's chess and its derivation Horde chess are chess variants featuring a standard chess army against 32 and 36 pawns, respectively.

Fictional works about chess:

Films — Live-Action


  • The Royal Game, by Stefan Zweig, is about a prisoner tortured by constant isolation, who eventually manages to secure a book of chess tactics. He ends up playing games against himself to pass the time, which make him very good but at the cost of his sanity.
  • Classic Singapore Horror Stories: One of the stories, Checkmate, is about a Professor and chess expert who is dangerously obsessed with the game, to the point of abandoning his wife and daughters, and ultimately murdering a rival who is better at chess than him.

Live-Action TV


Video Games

  • Battle Chess
  • LEGO Chess
  • Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate
  • Star Wars Chess
  • In the Delicious Last Course of Cuphead, the parry challenge consists of a series of miniboss battles against anthropomorphic chess pieces, hosted by the King of Games. Each of them even has a quip relating to how they function on an actual chessboard if they defeat you:
    The Pawns: One by one by one by one, your chance at victory is done!
    The Knight: A 'W' for me and an 'L' for you!
    The Bishop: I've got you beat from every angle!
    The Rook: Beating you was pretty straightforward!
    The Queen: Too little, too late, I daresay that's checkmate!

Web Animation

Web Original

  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-177 is a standard looking chess board with chess pieces. Only the white pieces can be removed from the board while the black ones are not. When a legal move is made with a white piece, the black pieces start to move too by themselves and a standard game of chess can be played with it.
    • If a chessboard is placed into SCP-914 (The Clockworks) on the 1:1 setting, it will make moves as if it is the opposing player. Further tests showed that it has an ELO between 500 and 800, though it is prone to doing a Rage Quit if it loses.
    • SCP-1875, a table with a magnetic chessboard and an AI that can play moves. It has a dial with multiple levels of AI difficulty, with the final setting causing the AI to make poor and illegal moves and become violent with the pieces. As for the parts of the AI and chessboard that don't directly involve the game, things get... very creepy, as per SCP standards. It turns out that the machine's intelligence is... not at all artificial.
  • Stopmotion Chess
Western Animation

  • Geri's Game, a short film about a man named Geri who plays a game of chess with himself. (Presumably.)

Alternative Title(s): Shatranj