Chess bits and pieces

I was musing recently on the terminology used for chess moves, positions and pieces. They seem to come from all sorts of different languages. For example, from French we have:

  • En passant A move that is defined as follows by the FIDE official rules of chess: A pawn attacking a square crossed by an opponent’s pawn which has advanced two squares in one move from its original square may capture this opponent’s pawn as though the latter had been moved only one square. This capture is only legal on the move following this advance and is called an ‘en passant’ capture.
  • J’ adoube Notice given by a player that s/he intends to adjust a piece on its square without actually moving it to another square.

From Italian we have:

  • Fianchetto A position where a bishop occupies the second square on the knight rank (or the third on the rook rank – extended fianchetto) and the knight pawn has been advance either one or two (long fianchetto) squares.

And from German we have the marvellous…

  • Zugzwang A position where a player, whose turn it is to move, has only bad moves available and would be better off if s/he could “pass”.

ZugzwangThe diagram shows a simple example of Zugzwang. If it is black’s move, the only destination square available is b7. After this move white can move to d7 and black can no longer prevent white promoting the pawn on white’s next move. This means that the game is lost to black. If black could pass and make white move, the game would be a draw, because the white king must move away from the pawn and black can take it or alternatively can move to c7, in which case black has no legal next move and we have a stalemate. Zugzwang is also sometimes called a squeeze, but that is not nearly such a wonderful word in my opinion.

Pawn is an interesting word. It derives immediately from Old French paon, poon, pon meaning a “foot soldier”. Spanish péon is a cognate. Most languages have a term meaning more or less the same, but German Bauer (“farmer”) and Irish fichillín (“little chess”) are among the exceptions.

One rather odd rule (4.1) in the FIDE rule book states: Each move must be made with one hand only. I wonder why.

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