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Learning Chess: Understanding Chess Terminology & Jargon


25 February 2024

Dive into the world of chess with our beginner-friendly guide to chess terminology and jargon. Whether you're learning chess as a busy adult or simply looking to brush up on your vocabulary, this article demystifies the game's most essential terms. From basic moves to advanced strategies, embark on a journey to master the language of chess and enhance your playing skills. Start your chess adventure today and unlock the secrets of the game's timeless appeal.

Chess, often referred to as the game of kings, has fascinated millions around the globe for centuries. Its timeless appeal lies not just in the complexity of its strategies but this brings with it a complex set of language which must be learnt. For beginners, especially busy adults looking to dive into the world of chess, understanding this unique terminology is the first step towards mastery. Gaining this knowledge unlocks your ability to read chess books, study chess courses, and engage with the chess community.

The Basics of Chess: Essential Terms for Beginners

Chessboard Setup: The chessboard is a battlefield, divided into 64 squares of alternating colours, arranged in eight rows (called ranks) and eight columns (called files). These ranks and files are numbered/lettered as 1-8 and a-h respectively. Understanding the ranks and files is crucial as they are the coordinates used to describe the movement of pieces across the chessboard. To practice these coordinates, the LiChess coordinate trainer is a fantastic resource.

Special Moves: Chess is full of surprising manoeuvres that can turn the tide of the game. Moves like castling (a move that involves the king and either rook), en passant (a special pawn capture), and pawn promotion (when a pawn reaches the opposite side of the board and is promoted to a more powerful piece) are essential terms every player should know. For a deeper dive into how these moves work and their strategic importance, check out our guide on all the rules!

Intermediate Chess Terms: Building Your Strategy Vocabulary

As you progress beyond the basics, you'll need to understand the terminology within both Tactics & Strategy to get the most out of your chess training.

Tactical Play: Tactics in chess refer to short-term actions that players use to gain an advantage. Terms like pins (attacking a piece that cannot move without exposing a more valuable piece behind it), forks (attacking two or more pieces simultaneously with a single piece), and skewers (a reverse pin, where a high-value piece is attacked and moving it exposes a less valuable piece behind) are crucial. Our Tactics Training tool is an excellent resource for practicing these tactics, as you can generate sets based on specific tactics.

Strategic Concepts:

  • Development involves moving your pieces out from their starting positions to control key areas of the board.
  • Tempo/Tempi is an Italian word that translates to "time." However, in chess, it is a way to identify each turn a player spends to move a piece. When we want to refer to more than one tempo, we use the term tempi.
  • Attack, in chess, involves strategic moves aimed at weakening your opponent's position or capturing their king.
  • An Outpost is a strong square controlled by a pawn where a knight is often positioned to exert pressure, the key is that an enemy pawn can't attack the square
  • Intermezzo is a tactic where an unexpected move is made before responding to the opponent's last action.
  • Initiative is the ability to make threats and force the opponent into a defensive stance.
  • Advanced Chess Terminology: Deepening Your Chess Knowledge

    For those looking to further their understanding, terms like Minority Attack, Weakness, Transposition, and Transformation of Advantages represent more sophisticated strategies. Concepts like Tension, Space advantage, Prophylaxis, and the Principle of two weaknesses are part of a rich strategic lexicon that can significantly impact your game. A fantastic resource for exploring these terms is the glossary by National Master Roger Williamson at Liverpool Chess Academy, offering in-depth explanations and examples.


    Understanding chess terminology and jargon is a fundamental step for any beginner. It not only enhances your appreciation of the game but also lays the groundwork for advanced strategic thinking. Whether you're learning chess for the first time or looking to deepen your existing knowledge, remember that every master was once a beginner. Embrace the journey, and let the adventure of learning chess enrich your life.

    Ready to Elevate Your Chess Game?

    Take the first step towards becoming a stronger chess player. Explore our comprehensive chess training tools, improve your skills, and unlock your full chess potential. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, has the resources to help you succeed. Don't miss out on the opportunity to level up your game.