“Help your pieces so they can help you.” - Paul Morphy
Would you like to learn more about chess with a tutor but need to know more about the pieces first? While nowadays considered the most important piece on the board, the queen hasn’t always played such an important role in the game. Whether you’re a beginner or a grandmaster, it’s always a good idea to know a bit about the history of the game. Get your chessboard out and get ready to analyse how the queen can be used. In this article, we'll look at the origins of chess, how the queen ended up in the game, and the types of moves and strategies you should use your queen for on the chessboard.
The Origins of Chess
The myths surrounding the game of chess span many continents. There are early versions of chess dating back to a board game played in India 1,500 years ago for two players. Where the game first came from is still up for debate, but it’s generally agreed upon that the original versions came from Asia. Some say that chess was born with the Greek hero Palamedes who invented the game during the War of Troy to keep the troops’ morale up, which is why the first periodical devoted to the game of chess was known as Le Palamède. Under the name of Chatrang, the game reached Persia (now Iran) and quickly became popular across the Muslim world. After several iterations and evolutions, it became the game we know today. Chatrang appeared in Europe with the Islamic conquests of Europe in Spain. The modern rules we now use appeared during the Renaissance and were written down as chess treatises, rules that were not to be changed over time. Initially, chess was played with dice but these were removed as the Church deplored gambling and games of chance. Other major changes to Chatrang to make chess included:
- The introduction of a black and white checkerboard.
- The vizier became the queen that we know today.
- The elephant (al fil in Arabic, and still alfil in Spanish), became the bishop.
- The rook, which came from the Persian rokh/rukh was sometimes called the tower.
The openings were systematically classified in the Traitté du Jeu Royal des échets. By the 19th century, tournaments (solely for men) started being held. In Russia, the game was huge and a game for the noble or elite and a sign of intellectual prowess in Soviet culture. Bobby Fischer’s participation in tournaments and victory over the greatest Soviet players gave the Cold War a new cultural front to dispute. With increased computing capabilities, humans started facing off against chess-playing computers and AI, notably with machines such as Deep Blue, Deeper Blue, and X3D Fritz facing off against great players like Kasparov. These games resulted in victories, defeats, and draws. It wasn’t until the 2000s that a woman, Judit Polgàr, reached the pinnacle of the game and the peak rating of the No. 8 player in the world. The current world champion is the young Norwegian Magnus Carlsen with a FIDE rating of 2847 in 2021. Find out about the different pieces in chess
The Birth of the Queen and the Consolidation of Her Power
Considered the most important piece on the board, the queen hasn’t always so important. You could say that her rise to power has parallelled the rise of women in society. Let’s go back to chess’ beginnings. In Chatrang, the queen was a weak piece known as the ferz or vizier, the “King’s counsellor”. In this game, the piece was a male character and it only moved one square diagonally, limiting its range, reach, and power to the adjacent squares and making it impossible to capture any other of the pieces on the board. This piece would become the queen during the Medieval period when attacking and counterattacking became important parts of the game. These variations were called “Queen’s Chess” or “Mad Queen Chess”. The queen’s current movement was introduced to the game in Europe during the 15th century and it’s suggested that Queen Isabella I of Spain was a proponent of making the queen more powerful. It’s said that she found the openings slow and boring and this made the game more exciting. Again, this change was parallelled in places with powerful women. In both chess and society, female empowerment can only be a good thing. Nowadays, the queen is the only chess piece that can effectively move freely around the board vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. It’s a powerful piece. Find out more about the king in chess
Important Strategies Using the Queen
As she can move wherever she wants, the queen is the most dangerous piece on the board. Each side has its queen positioned alongside the king on the first row with white’s queen on the white square in the central file with black’s queen on the black central file. In algebraic notation, white’s queen starts on d1 with black’s queen on d8. The queen can get you out of sticky situations and can also put you in some advantageous positions at the start of the game so let’s have a look at a few common strategies. Find out more about the knight in chess
A lot of beginners often release their queen in an attempt to aggressively pressure their opponent and the Scholar’s Mate is one way to do this. In just 4 moves, you can put the opponent into checkmate. It’s a way to give your opponent some serious problems. Be careful as this strategy can be easily undone and should only be used against novice players as while aggressive in the early game, advanced players will be familiar with the attack and quickly counteract it. Here are a few principles to consider when playing chess:
- Control the centre
- Develop the minor pieces
- Shield the king
- Don’t move the same piece twice in a row
- Move the knights before the bishops
- Don’t move the queen too early
Just by following these rules, you can pressure the opponent’s king in just a few moves. This is a good philosophy to follow if you’re new to the game. Find out more about the rook in chess
The Kiss of Death
The Kiss of Death is probably the most commonly recognised checkmate in practice. This is when the queen places herself on a square directly next to the king, leaving him with nowhere to go. To ensure this works, the queen needs to be protected by another piece so that the opponent can’t immediately capture the queen and even minor pieces such as pawns can make this work, which is often a nice way to finish the game. You’ll need to play a few games to set up checkmates like the Kiss of Death, but once you get the hang of it, your opponents will have trouble trying to stop it. Find out more about the bishop in chess
A sacrifice is when you intentionally lose a piece to gain an advantage in terms of position or material. The positional sacrifices in the Queen’s Gambit are in the centre of the board and they can occur in the end game, force a blockade, or guarantee a pawn’s promotion by allowing them through a blockade. In chess, you sometimes have to take risks and suffer losses to put yourself in a better position later on. These sacrifices are often wisely done by the best players as novice players mightn’t be able to think that far ahead. To get good at chess, you need to recognise your errors and learn from them. Keep in mind that the queen is your most powerful piece and should be used appropriately. There are many real positional and strategic sacrifices as well as sham sacrifices you can use. Here are a few of the shams:
- Deflection sacrifice: This is to distract an opponent’s piece away from a square where it’s playing a particular role.
- Destruction sacrifice: This is used to eliminate a materially inferior piece that’s in a strategically important piece.
- Magnet sacrifice: This is used to draw an opponent’s piece towards a tactically poor square.
- Clearance sacrifice: This is when the player is looking to clear the square the sacrificed piece is on so that another (and more useful) piece can take its place.
- Suicide sacrifice: This is when the player sacrifices a piece that can make legal moves to obtain a stalemate and get a draw out of a game that would otherwise be a loss.
As you can see, there’s no room for emotion in chess! It’s a merciless battlefield. In championships, tournaments, or just games between friends, don’t underestimate the power of the queen but also don’t forget to protect her with bishops, knights, and rooks. Each player has a style of play but you can’t master it without understanding the fundamentals so don’t hesitate to play games online against others or computer opponents to practise. You may also want to learn about castling, using your pawns, en passant, and developing pieces. Practice makes perfect! Don't forget that while the queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard, you also need to know how to use the king, rook, knight, bishop, and even the lowly pawns, which can be very important, especially during the opening. To find out more, don't forget to read our other articles on chess pieces and how they're used.
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