Chess pieces are not only the rank-and-file of a chess game, but they are also the heart and soul of the chess game experience. Chess pieces with matching or unique movement qualities completing their intended purpose make for a sharp strategic ballet with nearly limitless possibilities of progression.
Pierre Mac Orlan, famous 20th-century French writer, and poet, once said, “There are more adventures on a chessboard than on all the seas of the world”. In fact, there are approximately 1040 possible legal chess piece positions. Now consider an average chess piece position can possess as much as 218 movement possibilities. The resulting number of gameplay options rockets to a figure that only International Grandmasters like Garry Kasparov and supercomputers such as Deep Blue are able to even begin to grasp.
Sounds daunting, but if the history and purpose of chess pieces are understood, this infinitely varied environment can be experienced and enjoyed to its fullest.
Modern regulation chess sets have a total of 32 chess pieces divided evenly between two players. Each player’s force of chess pieces consists of 2 – Rooks (Castles), 2 – Bishops, 2 – Knights, 1 – King, 1 – Queen and 8 – pawns. And their particular histories are as follows:
• King – The King has always been royalty among chess pieces and if popularly recognized lineage were to be believed, began as the Raja. Like most royalty, the ‘ King’ has always been primarily an object of protection rather than one of attack. Therefore, it has limited but dexterous movement capabilities.
• Queen – The Queen is a creature of great change in the world of chess pieces. What began as a Mantri, or counselor, was as incapable of long-reaching moves as the King, but equally dexterous. Now that modern chess has reduced the number of battling armies of chess pieces and players behind them, from four to two, that familiar 64 square board that Chaturanga was born on, opened up, allowing the General, as the Queen was also known, to assume an equally powerful offensive role in the modern play.
• Bishop – The Bishop we know today started with a severely circumscribed movement capability, although it possesses the modern Knight’s ability to leap to its destination. The Bishop, or Gaja as it was once known, has lost its vertical capability but its diagonal travel equals that of the modern Queen. This movement modification has made the Bishop a decisive tool of play from middle-game onwards.
• Knight – The Knight has remained the same in its shape and movement capabilities since it was first known as an Ashva, or Horse. The Ashva was intended to act as a mounted division. The Knight’s power lays in its flanking ability, so it shouldn’t typically lead the charge.
• Rook – Was initially known as the Chariot and played like a heavy infantry division. The Rook has powerful linear movement capabilities but is susceptible to diagonal attack. Therefore the Ratha, as the Rook was formally known, was used primarily for defense and/or pinning down opponent’s chess pieces.
• Pawn – To the ill informed, the pawn, or foot infantry, was the most expendable of all chess pieces. As Paul Keres, Estonia’s chess grandmaster, once said, “The older I grow, the more I appreciate my Pawns”. Pawns, or Pedati as they were once known, from your line of approach, defining your offensive gameplay strategy and your defensive options. Pawns can also be instrumental in your endgame strategy, so avoid sacrificing your Pawn chess pieces when opening. Treat your Pawns with respect for as the Irish saying goes, “When the chess game is over, the pawn and the king go back to the same box”.
With this kind of history, it is easy to understand why the designs of chess pieces vary as they do. In conforming to each society’s idea of strategic conflict has created a world of design options for the avid chess player.
You can very easily find a plethora of chess piece designs over the Internet. There are large selections of chess pieces and styles to choose from.