Check It Out, Mate: Chess Vocabulary

Widely recognized as one of the greatest and most difficult board games in the world, chess originated in India in the 6th century C.E., spreading into Persia and the Muslim world — undergoing rule changes over the course of many centuries — before arriving in Europe and beyond. Learn this list and become a vocabulary grandmaster!

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. advantage
    the quality of having a superior or more favorable position
    Because of the virus, in-person campaigning abruptly ground to a halt, stripping progressive challengers of the organizing tactics essential to counter the advantages of incumbency.
  2. attack
    an offensive against an enemy
    His smooth-as-butter rapid win over Azerbaijani super-GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Moscow is a case in point, as White employs the queenside minority attack to perfection in a classic Queen’s Gambit Declined battle.
  3. board
    a flat portable surface designed for games
    It is usually smart to keep your king safe early in a game, when both sides have all their pieces moving around the board and lots of attacks are lurking.
    – Chess.com
    Board literally means "plank of wood," which is logical for a playing surface that until recently would have almost always been fashioned from wood. It's an ancient word, going back through Germanic languages to Sanskrit.
  4. capture
    the removal of an opponent's piece from the chess board
    If white captures the pawn on f7 with his knight, forking the queen and the rook, black can start the counter attack with Bxf2.
  5. center
    an area that is in the middle of some larger region
    One of his most elegant compositions was the two-mover in today’s diagram — the Black king is imprisoned in the center of the board, but White’s two rooks hang and any piece move seems to open up an escape route for the enemy.
    In the early stages of a game, establishing control of the center is essential for launching attacks and building an effective defense. Centrum is Latin for "the midpoint of a circle," which comes from the Greek kentron, meaning the point of a compass used to draw circles.
  6. checkered
    patterned with alternating squares of color
    Had chess been not checkered, I feel there would have been many instances when the diagonal of the bishop got changed by mistake
    Checkered describes the board you play chess or checkers on, and can also be used to describe a person or institution's uneven past: containing both dark and light periods.
  7. checkmate
    an inescapable attack on an opponent's king, in chess
    You have to work out how White, playing, as usual, up the board in the diagram, can force checkmate in two moves, however Black defends.
    Check has a number of meanings, but the sense here is related to the "stop," "restrain," or "impede" definition. When a king is exposed to a direct threat, such that it could be captured on the next move, the king is in check and must move or have another piece intervene to block the attack. If the king cannot move or be protected, that's checkmate: the end of the game.
  8. develop
    move one's pieces into more advantageous positions
    Bring out your knights before developing your bishops, especially the Queen's Bishop.
    A key part of the early stages of a chess game is the development of a player's pieces, where they're deployed to advantageous spots that allow them freedom of movement. Moving your bishops onto open diagonals to build an attack is a classic type of development.
  9. diagonal
    having an oblique or slanted direction
    Opening a diagonal is an important tactical tool.
    Bishops move exclusively along diagonals, and because of the way pieces are arranged before a game each player has one bishop on black squares and one on white. In addition to moving along straight lines, the queen can also move diagonally.
  10. gambit
    a chess move in which the player sacrifices minor pieces
    His smooth-as-butter rapid win over Azerbaijani super-GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Moscow is a case in point, as White employs the queenside minority attack to perfection in a classic Queen’s Gambit Declined battle.
    There are a number of famous gambits in chess, where a player, often black, will offer a pawn or other minor piece to get the other player to take it. The sacrifice can change the momentum of the game, creating opportunities that outweigh the cost of the lost piece.
  11. initiative
    the first of a series of actions
    Due to moving first, White starts the game with the initiative, but it can be lost in the opening by accepting a gambit.
  12. knight
    a chessman shaped to resemble the head of a horse
    Just like a real horse, the Knight may jump over pieces.
    Knights are the pieces shaped like horses' heads. They are the only ones on the board that can jump over other pieces, using a particular L-shaped move. A Germanic word, knight could mean "servant" or "soldier," and in English it refers to an elite class of warrior, often on horseback, in service to a ruler.
  13. material
    things needed for doing or making something
    When white plays the King’s Gambit they are usually looking to give up material and then have the initiative for the early part of the game.
    In chess, material refers to pieces, usually related to describing any numerical advantage one player may have by capturing more of their opponent's pieces.
  14. opponent
    a contestant that you are matched against
    At Florida, the cheer was used to taunt the Gators’ opponents, with the band deliberately pausing during a song for fans to shout the words and move their arms in a chomping motion.
  15. pawn
    the least powerful piece in chess
    “I don’t want to be used as somebody’s pawn,” Ms. La Clair said.
    Pawn comes from ped-, the Latin word for "foot," as in "foot soldier:" the lowliest rank in an army. Pawns are not powerful, but if they make it to the far side of the board, they can be promoted into a queen or any other piece.
  16. promotion
    the act of raising in rank or position
    You can promote to a queen even if you already have a queen.
    See the note for pawn, above.
  17. protect
    shield from danger, injury, destruction, or damage
    "This is not what protecting our healthcare looks like."
  18. rook
    a castle-shaped chess piece that moves in a straight line
    The critical mistake came on move 35 as Levon allowed Magnus to invade with his rook and queen on the h-file, and after that there was no hope.
    Rooks are the castles, placed in the corners of the board when play begins. They're powerful pieces, moving in straight lines and crucial in the middle and end game for pinning down an opponent's king. The word comes from the Sanskrit ratha meaning "chariot," since in the early Indian game that was the form the pieces took. The word, like the game, traveled through Persian ( ruk) and Arabic before becoming the Old French rok.
  19. stalemate
    drawing position in chess
    Bxe2 and with the Black knight pinned, it’s a stalemate after all.
    If a game cannot be won by either player, that's a stalemate. It results in a draw, which is not an uncommon outcome in tournaments.
  20. strategy
    an elaborate and systematic plan of action
    And it appears the new long-range strategy does not completely sideline that idea.
  21. threaten
    to utter intentions of injury or punishment against
    Svidler threatens to capture Black's key defender, the bishop on b7, with his rook.
  22. trade
    an equal exchange
    White trades rooks to divert Black's bishop from guarding the c5 square.
    If you take your opponent's knight with one of yours and she promptly takes the offending piece in return, that's a trade.
Created on June 19, 2020 (updated June 26, 2020)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, sheffieldwind.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.