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Chess Terms

It's hard enough being swamped by various chess openings, names and notations, but to be engulfed by a plethora of bizarre chess terms before and after the game is something else. So some help is required. Below is a list of those bizarre chess terms that one hears every so often in conversations or indeed in books. So, the next time you discuss a chess position there can be no excuse for not bleating out a whole host of jargon and perhaps if you didn't win the game then you might at least outplay your opponent in a war of words!

A - Z

Bughouse: (a.k.a. Siamese chess):  A crazy, fast-moving (generally 5-minute time controls) chess variant involving two boards/sets and four players (two teams of two).  Pieces you capture from your board may be passed off to your teammate (sitting next to you), to be placed on any legal square on their board at their next turn, and vice versa (your partner feeds pieces to you as well).  Thus, it is possible to have a very unusual inventory of pieces on the board at a given time (e.g., four white rooks, three black bishops, etc.).  Pawns may suddenly appear on the seventh rank and promote to queen on their next move, checkmates may be accomplished via an overwhelming combination of pieces, etc.  A win is accomplished by checkmating first on either board, or by winning on time (one of the opponent's flags falls first).

Caissa: (pronounced Ky-ee-suh):  The mythical muse, or goddess, of chess.

Crippled majority:  A pawn majority that cannot produce a passed pawn

Desperado:  When a piece which is destined to be lost is used to capture any possible enemy material

En Passant: A French term that literally means “in passing.” When a pawn advances two squares (something it can only do if it has not yet moved) and passes an enemy pawn on an adjacent file that has advanced to its fifth rank, it may be captured by that enemy pawn as if the advancing pawn had moved only one square. This optional capture may be made only on the first opportunity, else the right in that instance is permanently lost

En Prise: A French term meaning “in take.” It describes a piece or pawn that is unprotected and exposed to capture. (Pronounced: on-pree)

Epaulet mate:  A mating pattern in which the losing king's escape is blocked by his own pieces on either side of him

Fianchetto: An Italian word meaning "on the flank." Though you will hear many different pronunciations, the correct is fyan-ket-to. When a Bishop is developed on QN2 or KN2 (b2 or g2 for White and b7 or g7 for Black), it is called a fianchettoed Bishop. This term applies only to Bishops.

Fingerfehler:  German for "finger slip," it is an obviously bad move made without thinking
Fischerandom:  A chess variant credited to Bobby Fischer in which the back rank pieces are randomly shuffled, eliminating the relevance of opening theory.

Frontier line:  Nimzowitsch's term for an imaginary line running between the fourth and fifth ranks

Ghost:  A ghost is a threat on the chessboard which exists only in your mind.

Hypermodern: A school of thought that insists that indirect control of the center is better than direct occupation. In particular Reti and Nimzovich successfully propagated the idea of central control from the flanks. Unfortunately, they took their ideas to extremes--just as the classicists did. Today it is recognized that both schools of thought are correct, and a blending of the two is the only truly balanced method.

J'adoube (pronounced zha-doob):  French for "I adjust," this is the traditional phrase a chess player uses to indicate they are adjusting a piece on the board without the intention of moving it to another square.

Kibitz:  One who offers unsolicited advice, as in one who comments during a game or during analysis following a game.  Kibitzing within the hearing of the players is not allowed during tournament play.

Ladder:  A method of ranking chess players within a club or other group.  Any player may challenge someone one step above them on the ladder.  If the challenger wins, he moves up the ladder and his opponent moves down
Lucena position:  An important winning method in endgame theory.  The Lucena position is the starting point for the method in which the superior side promotes a pawn in the endgame of king/rook/pawn vs. king/rook.  It was first analyzed in a book by the Italian chessmaster Lucena, published in 1497. 

Luft: Literally meaning “air.” In chess it describes a pawn move in front of one’s King that prevents back rank mate possibilities

Magic square:  In a king and pawn vs. king ending, a magic square is a square that, regardless of who is on the move, may be occupied by the attacking king, leading to a winning position by clearing a path for the pawn so it can promote.  There may be three or more magic squares in a given position.

Minority Attack: A plan based on the use of two or more pawns (the minority) to act as battering rams against the opponent’s three or more pawns (the majority) in order to create a weakness in the opposing camp.

Overprotection: A term coined by Nimzovich. It refers to defending a strong point more times than appears necessary. The idea is that a certain pawn or square may be causing the opponent (in this case, Black) considerable problems. By focusing so much energy on it, the Black player would be unwise to break that point because that would unleash the latent energy of the White pieces.

Petite combination:  A combination involving only a few moves and/or affording apparently small gains for the side making the combination.  Capablanca was a particular master of the petite combination.

Prophylaxis: A strategy explored by Nimzovich. Taken from the Greek word prophylaktikos, meaning to guard or prevent beforehand, prophylaxis (or a prophylactic move) stops the opponent from taking action in a certain area for fear of some type of reprisal. Overprotection is a form of prophylaxis.

Zeitnot:  German for "time trouble.

Zug:  German for "move.

Zugzwang: “Compulsion to move.” A German term referring to a situation in which a player would like to do nothing (pass), since any move will damage his game.

Zwischenzug: “In-between move.” A German term for an often unexpected reply thrown into an expected sequence of moves



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