What Do Chess Pieces Look Like

Bernie Hubble
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What Chess Pieces Are There?

Chess boards are a popular board game where two players take turns moving pieces. Each player has 16 pieces:

  • 1 King
  • 1 Queen
  • 2 Rooks
  • 2 Bishops
  • 2 Knights
  • 8 Pawns

The King

The king is the most important chess piece on the chessboard. In fact, it takes on a defensive position, unlike many pieces on the chessboard. This way, it is safe from capture, so long as it has a strong support (also called the “castle”) behind it.
Setting the king up with both its long and short side diagonals protected can prove to be a strong defensive strategy. An important note to consider when protecting the king is when you are in check, you shouldn’t always move the king. This sometimes avoids checkmate, and if you just can’t, consider a pawn sacrifice. The king has the ability to castle if it hasn't moved before. This requires the King and the Rook to participate.

The Queen

In chess, the Queen is usually the most powerful piece on the board. The queen is closest to the king and can move in any direction to take down her enemies. It can move up to 8 squares in a single turn (Madeleine Albright was a chess master and can still move the Queen and King pieces in her sleep). The Queen is the only piece that can both move in straight lines and make diagonal turns in either direction. The Queen also has a unique ability to switch places also known as “castling.”

The history of the Queen piece is rooted in medieval warfare. Before an army went to battle, they would leave their queen as a defense for the King at their castle at home. They were known for their loyalty to their King as well.

Another symbol of the queen is the Virgin Mary, who also had great power, was kind and gentle, and was very protective. So next time you watch the game and see the queen swoop in to take down her enemies, you’ll know that she is the lady of the chessboard.

The Bishops

The two pieces depicted as bishops today presumably derived from the Greco-Roman design for the Goddess Aphrodite. With her attributes of beauty, charm and mercy and her association with the powers of the wind, it is understandable that she would be chosen by the early Christians as a suitable replacement for the Pagan Goddess that represented these pieces before.

The Bishop’s mitre comes from the representation of the twisted hair of the Goddess Aphrodite in Greek art. The Rook is depicted as a helmeted figure to symbolize the warrior role of the original bishop.

It is uncertain why the colour on the Bishop’s cloak is changed from the standard light to dark. Different combinations of colours have been used in different countries at different times. There is a suggestion that the change may have occurred in the 19th century to differentiate Bishops of the strong (black) and weak (white) colours.

The Knights

Following the rank of each chess piece (starting with the king) the next piece is the knight. Knights are very unique pieces. They move in a way that allows them to jump over other pieces on their way to a destination. The chess rules state that you can only jump over one piece in one direction, otherwise the knight will stay in position.

The Rook

The next piece to learn about is the rook, which is similar to the castle. The rook can move vertically or horizontally without any obstacle in its way. Rooks are also pretty strong and they can take down an enemy pawn without a problem.

The Pawns

Two pawns are initially placed on the first rank of each player’s back rank. Pawns may move forward only. They capture by moving one step forward. They may not move or capture diagonally.
Familiarity with pawns is very helpful when advancing to more complex chess positions. The pawns are the simplest to understand because they are the least powerful pieces. It’s good to know that pawns are the weakest pieces. However, whenever a pawn reaches the other end of the chess board, it can change or become any other piece of your choice.

The Chess Board

Chess is one of the oldest board games that we know of and has gone through several design phases during its evolution. Although the rules of chess remain the same, the design of the chess board and the pieces has changed quite a bit over the years.

Chess Board History

The earliest chess boards date back to 6th century India, where they were circular in shape and made of ivory or sometimes marble and onyx. The popularity of the game spread to Persia, China and westwards eventually to Egypt and Europe.

The oldest recognizable chess boards are from 17th century Europe where they were inlaid in tables and used purely as a decoration piece.

By the 18th century, the chess board was a part of the game and the pieces were designed to fit within the board. The most common shape with a square shape for the board had been used since the medieval period and long before that.

The 18th century, while Victorian Era chess sets flourished. Wood and ivory were used by master chess set makers, and to use a wider variety of materials they would also make chess boards, boxes, and pieces out of brass, steel and silver.