Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (12)

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11/17/2008 – The Editor of Chess Notes has been working with the Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary on chess lexicology. Three fields are covered: the oldest occurrences of chess terms, unusual vocabulary, and ‘chessy’ words. Enter the world of the skewer, x-ray attack, sui-mate, pedaneous chess, and chessikins. We present the current listings, and readers are invited to contribute further citations.

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Chess Explorations (12)

By Edward Winter

Section One: Earliest Occurrences of Chess Terms

Blitz chess

Photograph caption: ‘Isaac Kashdan and Samuel J. [sic] Reshevsky (right), co-holders of the US Chess Championship, give a blitz preview of their forthcoming title match as they meet in the third round of the Rapid Chess Tournament.’ Chess Review, June-July 1942, page 135.

‘They played skittles, tournament, rapid transit, blitz and simultaneous chess.’ Chess Review, August-September 1942, page 155.


OED: ‘I almost imagined the author’s solution a “cook”.’ Westminister Papers, 1875, page 243.

OED: ‘If there are two key-moves, a problem is cooked.’ The Field, 14 December 1889, page 854.

For a detailed account of the early use of ‘cook’, as both a noun and a verb, see C.N. 4341. The first known occurrence of the term in a chess context was in 1851, but it is often difficult to know in which exact sense the word was being employed.

En passant

OED: ‘You prevent him by pushing immediately your queen’s knight’s pawn upon his knight, which ... obliges the adversary to take your pawn en passant.’ Practical Chess Exercises by W.S. Kenny (London, 1818), page 106.

In C.N. 5092 Mark McCullagh (Belfast, Northern Ireland) drew attention to page 5 (with three other instances elsewhere) of volume one of A Treatise on the Game of Chess by J.H. Sarratt (London, 1808):

‘15. A Pawn that is pushed two steps may be taken “en passant”, by the adversary’s Pawn.

N.B. This is not the case in Italy; a Pawn is allowed to pass “en prise”; and that is called “passar battaglia”.’

En prise

OED: ‘When one piece can take another, that other is said to be in Prise of the first.’ Chess Made Easy (London, 1750), page ix.

OED: ‘[He] had the privilege of taking such of the pieces ... as might be en prise.’ Kaleidoscope, 13 March 1821, page 294.


OED: ‘Black’s present move, which the Italians call “Il Fianchetto di Donna” ...’ The Chess-Player’s Handbook by H. Staunton (London, 1847), page 379.

The OED incorrectly gives 1848. See also C.N. 4556, which quoted another 1847 English-language source for the word fianchetto.

Grandmaster draw

‘But the French champion enjoys the game of chess too much to indulge in the “grandmaster draw” ...’ The Times (London), 9 January 1950, page 8.

‘... the number of so-called “grandmaster draws” can be counted on the fingers of one hand ...’ Prague 1946 ... by H. Golombek (Sutton Coldfield, circa 1951), first page of the Introduction.


See C.N. 4361.


OED: ‘Another class of problems ... in which both players concur in endeavouring to effect the speediest mate ... which we term Help-mate Problems.’ The Problem Art by T.B. and F.F. Rowland (Kingstown, 1897), page 91.


OED: ‘The Hyper-moderns are the greatest opponents of routine play.’ Modern Ideas in Chess by R. Réti, translated by J. Hart (London, 1923), page 122.

OED: ‘What is claimed as hyper-modern turns out to be ... respectably medi[a]eval.’ BCM, September 1923, page 338.

The same page of the BCM, the item being a review by P.W. Sergeant of Réti’s Modern Ideas in Chess, refers to Réti discussing ‘the school of the Hyper-moderns’ and also contains the remark ‘But this is scarcely hyper-modern’.

Indian (openings)

OED: ‘Openings, ... Hungarian, ... Indian, ... King’s Gambits.’ The Hastings Chess Tournament 1895 by H.F. Cheshire (London, 1896), page 369.

We offer:

‘Indian Defence.’ Chess Openings by J. Mason (London, 1897), page 92. A reference to 1 e4 d6.

‘Indian Opening.’ International Chess Magazine, August 1891, page 237. (Heading to a game which began 1 e4 e5 2 d3.)

‘Indian Defence.’ Chess Player’s Chronicle, 22 October 1884, page 172. Note after 1 e4 d6 2 d4 g6: ‘An example of the rare Indian Defence, so called on account of its introduction by the celebrated Indian Chess Player, the Brahmin Moheschunder Bonnerjee, in his games against Cochrane.’

Indian (problems)

OED: ‘We now publish the names of those amateurs who have sent us the correct solution of our Indian problem.’ Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1846, page 96.


‘White has an “isolani”.’ My System by A. Nimzowitsch (London, 1929), page 187.

C.N. 5083 reported that we had found the term in Leonhardt’s annotations to the game Dus-Chotimirsky v Tarrasch, Hamburg, 1910. Published in the Hamburger Nachrichten of 21 August 1910, the notes were reproduced on pages 357-359 of the October-November 1910 Wiener Schachzeitung. After 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 c5 4 e3 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 a3 Bd6 7 dxc5 Bxc5 8 b4 Bd6 9 Bb2 O-O 10 cxd5 exd5 11 Nb5 Bb8 there is the following:

Can earlier instances of the term be found, in the writings of Leonhardt, Nimzowitsch or anyone else?

Isolated pawn

OED: ‘An isolated pawn is one that has no comrade on the same or either adjoining file, so that he requires the support of a Piece.’ Chess Exemplified by C. Pearson (London, 1842), page 27.


OED: ‘If a player touch one of his adversary’s pieces, without saying “J’adoube”, he may be compelled to take it.’ A Treatise on the Game of Chess by J.H. Sarratt (London, 1808), volume one, page 3.

Knight, To

‘White could save a Pawn by Knighting instead of Queening.’ Chess Player’s Chronicle, 31 March 1886, page 456.

Lightning chess

OED: ‘Two special lightning tournaments were held.’ The Year-Book of Chess 1910 by E.A. Michell (London, 1910), page 143.

‘Lightning chess. Played at Hartford, Sept. 9th, 1873, between C.A. Gilbert, of Brooklyn, and John G. Belden, of Hartford. Time of game, seven minutes.’ Hartford Times, 11 October 1873.

Living chess

OED: ‘So that the reader may visualize the phases through which the game has passed we will show two historical cameos of living chess.’ Lasker’s Chess Magazine, July 1905, page 131.

‘Living Chess. The ancient pastime of playing chess with living representatives of the chess pieces is again becoming very popular.’ American Chess Journal, February 1879, page 261.

Note: A detailed paragraph on ‘playing Chess, with living men for the pieces’ was published on page 70 of the April 1875 City of London Chess Magazine but did not contain the specific term ‘living chess’.


OED: ‘Nimzo-Indian Defence.’ CHESS, 14 November 1935, page 103.

The OED citation was from an article by Tartakower. For the origins of the term (in German-language sources) see C.N. 3712.


OED: ‘Immediately, spectators inquired, “Didn’t you see that win?” “Yes”, was the impudent reply. “But, with such a potzer, I draw when I will, not when he wills.’ Article by I.A. Horowitz, Chess Review, April 1948, page 5.

‘... I find that I’m the same old potzer as before.’ David MacDonald, Chess Review, December 1946, page 2.


OED: ‘Removing his queen to obviate the “pin”.’ The Book of Chess by G.H. Selkirk (London, 1868), page 72.

‘Of course I consider that all players for whom I have made up these Chess Studies are acquainted with the ordinary chess terms, as bishop “pins” knight, and similar conventional phrases.’ Chess Studies by G. Walker (London, 1844), page xii.


‘A pretty so-called seesaw of checks finishes the game ...’ W. Steinitz, American Chess Magazine, September 1897, page 251.


OED: ‘The self-mate, though not difficult, is very prettily conceived.’ Chess Player’s Magazine, 1867, page 45.


OED: D.H. Lawrence (1932).

‘It is Sitzfleisch that decides a game.’ Letter from ‘Philidor Jones’, Chess Monthly, December 1881, page 113.

C.N. 4316 gave a later quote from page 121 of The Principles of Chess in Theory and Practice by James Mason (London, 1894) which explains the term:

‘A player has been known to refuse to proceed, on the ground that if he did so mate would happen to him forthwith. Another declared that as he could not afford to lose the game, it was incumbent upon him to “sit out” his opponent on that particular occasion. These are extreme cases, no doubt, but that they were possible and actual is unquestionable. In short, Sitzfleisch was the ultima ratio, and often prevailed.’


‘Mr [Edgar] Pennell’s teaching is original in the extreme. Bystanders at Blackpool [i.e. at the British Chess Federation Congress in 1937] wondered at the strange terms such as “skewer” with which the boys interlarded their conversation. Explanations revealed that it was a term coined by Mr Pennell ...’ CHESS, 14 January 1939, page 212.


OED: ‘Nor will our royal Game less royal sound, If shallow men play skittles on the ground, Where first-rate Chess sedately sits in state, And spends long hours accomplishing a mate.’ The Chess Player’s Annual for the Year 1856 by C. Tomlinson, page 61.

‘This game is of the description known as “skittling” among proficients.’ Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1846, page 2.


OED: ‘White sui-mates in ten moves.’ Dubuque Chess Journal, November 1870, page 7.


Citations sought.


‘The most ordinary “wood-shifter” by long study and analysis, can acquire a steady defensive style of wood-shifting ...’ Mr Blackburne’s Games at Chess by P. Anderson Graham (London, 1899), page 9.

Such ‘wood words’ were discussed on pages 119-120 of Chess Facts and Fables. Moreover, references to woodpushing exist in Le neveu de Rameau by Denis Diderot. See C.N. 4325.

World champion/Champion of the world

‘... the Chess Champion of England, or, as he might truly call him, the Champion of the World.’

The above is a reference to Howard Staunton by the Earl of Mexborough in a speech at the annual celebrations of the Yorkshire Chess Clubs, as reported on pages 177-182 of the 1845 Chess Player’s Chronicle (with the cover date 1846). See C.N. 4543.

‘But one remains – the noblest heart –
At him thy glove be hurled;
Der Lasa conquered then thou art
The Champion of the World.’

Final stanza of a poem to Paul Morphy by Edwin J. Weller, Boston, 9 November 1857 in Chess Monthly, December 1857, page 367.

‘Morphy is comparatively a boy, but he stands today the champion of the world.’ American Union, 9 October 1858, page ?

‘... no man living can tell whether or no, these two gentlemen are not now engaged in fighting for the Chess championship of the whole world!’ C.H. Stanley in Harper’s Weekly, 9 October 1858, page ?

X-Ray attack

‘There is another type of double attack in which the targets are threatened in one direction. The attacking piece threatens two units, one behind the other, on the same rank, file or diagonal. This double threat has lacked a good descriptive name. We suggest “X-Ray” attack.’ Article by K. Harkness on page 25 of the Chess Review, April 1947. See C.N. 4245.


OED: ‘White has struggled bravely and only loses by “Zugzwang”.’ Lasker’s Chess Magazine, February 1905, page 166. (Of course, this entry concerns the use of the word Zugzwang in English-language sources only.)

The correct date is 1905, and not 1904 as given in the 1989 edition of the OED.


OED: ‘This masterly Zwischenzug is the finest move in the whole game ...’ Keres’ Best Games of Chess 1931-1940 by F. Reinfeld (London, 1941), page 108.

C.N. 5623 pointed out that Reinfeld had used the word on page 38 of the February 1938 Chess Review. At the end of his note on 17...h5 in game 19 of the previous year’s world championship match between Euwe and Alekhine he wrote:

‘However, a little Zwischenzug changes all that.’

Section Two: Unusual Chess Words

Circumrotatory chess: ‘... much practice in matches of this kind has made him very proficient in circumrotatory chess.’ City of London Chess Magazine, June 1875, page 130.

Conversation game: ‘There will shortly commence a conversation game between some New York players and members of the Williamsburgh Club.’ The Albion, 19 March 1870, page ?

Counter-check: ‘Is the word counter-check a legitimate Chess-term? If so, what writer on the game has used it?’ Chess Monthly, May 1861, page 137.

Dilemma: Obsolete term for fork. See page 128 of Chess Facts and Fables.

Enigma: ‘A termination of a game; an end-position, not represented upon a diagram, but written out.’ Chess Monthly, October 1858, page 297.

Masque game: ‘It has also been announced that the last-mentioned Club will give a masque game upon a ball-room floor ...’ The Albion, 19 March 1870, page ?

Pedaneous chess: ‘We believe this was the first occasion of his undertaking pedaneous chess ...’ City of London Chess Magazine, August 1875, page 196.

Problemistically: ‘Although he has not been very active problemistically since the Westminster Gazette column disappeared the problem world is poorer for his loss.’ BCM, January 1933, page 44 (obituary of J. Schumer).

Sacs-back: ‘For the next half-dozen moves a cardinal consideration is the efficacy of possible “sacs-back” on d5.’ Playing to Win by J. Plaskett (London, 1988), page 66.

Simultanee: ‘The simultanee should keep an eye on the rate of progress of the single player ...’ BCM, April 1943, page 74.

Zugzwanger: ‘A typical “Zugzwanger”.’ How to Win in the Middle Game of Chess by I.A. Horowitz (New York, 1955), page 108.

Zwischenfehler: ‘For a move such as Black’s 25th we offer the term Zwischenfehler.’ E. Winter, C.N. 2784, 20 October 2002. (See page 61 of A Chess Omnibus.)

Section Three: Chessy Words

Chessay: Subtitle of the book Not Only Chess, ‘A Selection of Chessays’ by G. Abrahams (London, 1974).

Chessdom: ‘The British Chess Association Problem Tourney Committee bids fair to be the best abused body in Chessdom.’ City of London Chess Magazine, October 1874, page 209.

Chesser: ‘English chessers, to use the American word, for which we seem to have no good substitute, … ought certainly to subscribe to this capital monthly.’ City of London Chess Magazine, May 1875, page 105.

Chessercize: In 1991 Bruce Pandolfini wrote two books, Chessercizes and More Chessercizes.

Chessiad: Comic Tales and Lyrical Fancies; Including The Chessiad, A Mock Heroic, in Five Cantos and the Wreath of Love, in Four Cantos by C. Dibdin the Younger (London, 1825).

Chessiana: ‘From The Road to Music by Nicolas Slonimsky (Dodd, Mead and Company) we find a curious bit of chessiana.’ Chess Review, June 1950, page 162.

Chessic: ‘MY intent in this Poem was, through the medium of a burlesque battle, to convey to the learner, in an amusing manner, the first principles of the GAME OF CHESS, according to Phillidor [sic]; the value of the PIECES being signified by the rank of the chiefs, and the nature of the moves and operations of the chessmen represented by the modes of march, evolutions, and actions of the chessic warriors.’ Page 115 of Comic Tales and Lyrical Fancies; Including The Chessiad, A Mock Heroic, in Five Cantos and the Wreath of Love, in Four Cantos by C. Dibdin the Younger (London, 1825).

Chessical: ‘They are, in fact, so many chessical gradgrinds.’ A.F. Mackenzie, Jamaica Gleaner, 1900. See C.N. 5347.

Chessically: ‘With names so influential, both socially and chessically, as the above ...’ City of London Chess Magazine, August 1874, page 161.

Chessie: ‘... his many chessie friends.’ Chess Weekly, 17 July 1909, page 60.

Chessikin: ‘A chessikin played in the contest for the Club and Institute Union Trophy ...’ City of London Chess Magazine, October 1875, page 285.

Chessing: ‘… such terms as chessy, chessist, chessing and caïssic are revolting hybrids. Chess jargon and clichés can be bad enough without resorting to such vulgarisms.’ D.J. Morgan on page 334 of the December 1953 BCM.

Chessist: ‘A Boston paper calls an editor a “writist”, a New Hampshire paper speaks of a “hair cuttist” and a Pennsylvania paper styles Paul Morphy as “a chessist”’. Brooklyn Eagle, 5 October 1868, page 1.

Chessite: ‘The airs of superiority the chessites assume over us poor backgammonists.’ New Monthly Magazine, 1834.

Chesslet: ‘Chesslets’ was the title of brief compilations of quotes in Lasker’s Chess Magazine, December 1904, page 81, and January 1905, page 126. J. Schumer published a small book entitled Chesslets in 1928.

Chessmanity: ‘He will have some claim to be regarded as a benefactor to “chessmanity”.’ F.P. Wildman, BCM, December 1901, page 497.

Chessner: ‘Yonder’s my game, which, like a politic chessner, I must not seeme to see.’ T. Middleton’s Game at Chesse (1624).

Chessnicdote: Chessnicdotes I and Chessnicdotes II: titles of books by G. Koltanowski (1978 and 1981).

Chessomania: ‘a pathological craving for chess to the virtual exclusion of all other activities and concerns.’ Page 65 of An illustrated Dictionary of Chess by Edward R. Brace (London, 1977).

Chessophile: ‘[Ray] Kennedy himself has been a chessophile since the age of nine ...’ Ralph P. Davidson, Time, 31 July 1972, page 2.

Chessophobe: ‘The base calumny industriously spread by “chessophobes” (to coin a word) should be silent in face of these facts.’ P.H. Williams, American Chess Bulletin, February 1911, page 26.

Chessophrenetic: ‘(nonce term) a chess fanatic.’ Page 65 of An illustrated Dictionary of Chess by Edward R. Brace (London, 1977).

Chesspearean: ‘The brutal plot of this Chesspearean tragedy culminates in banishment of the lady.’ Page 40 of The Personality of Chess by I.A. Horowitz and P.L. Rothenberg (New York, 1963).

Chesspool: ‘... that monthly chesspool’. Description of The Westminster Papers in the August 1888 International Chess Magazine, page 236.

Chesstapo: Title of a poem (a Mikado parody) by F.J. Whitmarsh on page 28 of the February 1944 BCM.

Chess-ty: ‘The champion’s “chess-ty” physical make-up is not that of the popular conception of a chess-player.’ C. Sherwood, writing about Alekhine in the Los Angeles Times. The item was quoted on page 96 of the May-June 1929 American Chess Bulletin.

Chessy: ‘The remainder of this game is an instructive example of Pawn-play, and, as Mr H. Wilson expresses it, is “Chessy and elementary”.’ Chess Player’s Chronicle, 1849, page 272.

Note: We are grateful to readers who have contributed citations: Michael Clapham (Ipswich, England), Morgan Daniels (London), Robert John McCrary (Columbia, SC, USA), Mark McCullagh (Belfast, Northern Ireland), Russell Miller (Camas, WA, USA), the late Jack O’Keefe (Ann Arbor, MI, USA), Christian Sánchez (Rosario, Argentina), Jerry Spinrad (Nashville, TN, USA) and Joost van Winsen (Silvolde, the Netherlands). Thanks are also expressed to the Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, John Simpson, for his enthusiastic interest in our chessy investigations.

Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.

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Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then over 5,800 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

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