Chess Jargon for Beginners


Relatively often, beginners and people interested in chess are scared away by complicated terms and do not dare diving deeper into the topic.

Having only just learned how to move the figures on the board and facing a more experienced player, who then asks you why you haven’t castled yet, advises you not to use the Isolani strategy, or tells you that you should have used your Pawn advantage to create a free Pawn in order to avoid the minority-driven attack, can be frustrating.

Shoptalk, after all, is just as big of a part of chess as strategic thinking and the poker face is. Beginners, however, tend to get the impression that the complexity of chess is tied to serious time commitment to only learn the basics.

Today, Chessimo shows you that the professional terms aren’t so difficult at all and gives you an overview of the fundamental vocabulary. Behind the big expressions are usually simple positions and move sequences. Get yourself a cup of coffee in a fifteen-minute break, lean back and look forward to wearing the smarty-pants during the next game of chess!


The Opening Game

The “Opening” is the very beginning of a game and that part of the duel that emphasizes the phase of piece development and taking the chance of castling as early as possible. The opening stage is over when one or both players’ Rooks are connected. The player who finishes the development phase first takes initiative. Opening variations are defined as three different playing styles:

  • The Open Game

Begins with the sequence 1. e4 e5

Risky variation – every mistake leads to loss

Example: Italian, Spanish


  • Semi-Open Game

Begins with 1. e4, Black continues with any move other than e5

Calm variation

Example: Sicilian, French


  • Closed Game

Begins with anything but 1. e4

Few tactical opening elements, played with few losses

Example: Queen’s Gambit, Larsen-System



Castling serves two primary functions simultaneously: it puts the King in a protected position behind an own Pawn and offers the opportunity to develop a Rook that can easily occupy an open or semi-open line. If both of the following mandatory preconditions are met, the King and Rook can move at the same time:

  • Neither of the two figures have been moved in the game
  • The King is not in check
  • The squares that the King must pass are not in check
  • The King is not in check after castling
  • The squares between the King and Rook are not occupied by other pieces


If these conditions are met, the King can move two squares towards the Rook. The Rook may then move past the King to its neighboring square. Chess professionals distinguish between short and long castling (depending on whether the King is moved towards the left-hand or right-hand Rook). Short castling is safer than long castling, as it can be performed in shorter time (one only has to move two figures in between the King and Rook). In addition, the King stays in further distance to the board’s center and therefore in a safer position behind an own Pawn.


En Passant

If a first move is made with a Pawn two fields forward, one has to account for a few particularities. If it moves past the offence line of an opposite Pawn (and is then located right next to it), this exact opposite Pawn is allowed to capture yours immediately after your move (and only then). Capturing en passant must always be carried out right away.


The Center

The center of the chess board is made up of the following squares: e4, e5, d4, and d5. The so-called big center is that square in between the cornering fields c3, c6, f3, and f6. The opening’s objective to obtain the advantage of space. Who is in space advantage, claims more mobility for his pieces (while the Knight controls eight squares in the center, a corner piece can only move onto one of two squares) and is therefore flexible in positioning his figures on one wing or the other.


Structure of Pawns

Isolani – Pawns without another back-up Pawn in the same color on a neighboring line. Therefore, they can only be covered by pieces other than Pawns if attacked. The crucial weakness of an Isolani is the fact that the square right in front of it is weak, as it cannot be controlled by another Pawn and is therefore easily taken over by the opposite color.

Backward Pawn – Pawns behind the line of their neighboring Pawns that cannot move forward, because an opposite Pawn holds control of that square. Usually, a Backward Pawn disrupts the line of defending pieces. In addition, the square in front of it can be preoccupied by a piece of the opposite color.

Double Pawns – Pawns of the same color in positions on the same line. Double Pawns are less flexible in movement than common Pawns and more vulnerable to attacks of the opposite side, especially when they are Isolani too. Nevertheless, Double Pawns don’t necessarily have to be a disadvantage: at times, they can compensate by holding control of an open or semi-open Line or of the center.

Hanging Pawns – Pawns on lines with no Pawns of the same color neighboring them. When positioned in a line, they can control several squares in front of them which is an advantage, but they cannot be defended by other Pawns. If one of them moves forwards, a backward Pawn and a weak square occur which can be taken advantage of by the opponent.

Passed Pawn – Pawn with no opposite Pawns in the way. On the line they are part of as well as of neighboring lines. A Passed Pawn is considered a harmful weapon, as it can quickly reach the eighth line and be promoted (see “Promotion”).



If a Pawn reaches the opposite base line it must immediately (within the same move) be promoted to a Bishop, Knight, Rook, or Queen.


Minority Attack

If a player holds a Pawn Majority on either side of the board, the opponent can initiate a minority attack on the opposite side. Such attack means moving the Pawns forward for capturing. The opponent will then be left with only one Pawn or a Backward Pawn.



If a Bishop is placed at the edge of the own piece positioning, in a cave of the Pawn Structure on one of the two main diagonals of the board, professionals speak of a “Fianchetto”. Sounds complicated, but isn’t complicated at all in practice. Go ahead and google a few pictures, that’ll help you understand J

This positioning of the Bishop is very effective and therefore very popular in a number of opening strategies in chess. The Fianchetto move is in fact an opening move, like the King’s Fianchetto, but can also be applied in mid-game.


“Zugzwang” – German for a situation in chess with compulsion to move

Zugzwang is a situation in which the positioning after every possible move will be worse than before or if no move had been made at all. Pushing the opponent toward Zugzwang is particularly important in the end-game of Bishop against Knight. The Bishop is in serious advantage, as it can make moves within a waiting position, as it practically controls all the same fields if it makes a diagonal move. The Knight, on the other hand, loses control of the previous fields after every move.



Kings are in Opposition, if they face each other on the same line, row, or diagonal only one square away from each other. Opposition is a derivative of Zugzwang: the King obliged to move lets the other Kind invade his own position.



If the player who is up for the next turn cannot make another move and the King is not in check, the duels ends in a draw. Professionals refer to this situation as a Stalemate, which is rated like a draw.



A duel ends in a draw (tie game = 0.5 points),

  • If the draw was negotiated consensually
  • If a Stalemate occurs (see above)
  • If even every possible series of moves lead to a win or loss
  • If a positioning has appeared for the third time and the same player is up for a move
  • If for fifty moves without movement of any Pawns or capture
  • If a clock of either of the players has run out, but the duel cannot be won by own means (not through no legal series of moves, in accordance with FIDE paragraph 6.10).


Did you now begin to see? If you feel like spending more time with the theory of chess, have a look at our 101 Chess Tips!

Do you know any other professional terms that you need a simple explanation for? Leave a comment or send us a message!

written by Sarah, translated by Birthe