The queen (♕, ♛) is the most powerful piece in the game of chess, able to move any number of squares vertically, horizontally or diagonally, combining the power of the rook and bishop. Each player starts the game with one queen, placed in the middle of the first next to the king. Because the queen is the strongest piece, a pawn is promoted to a queen in the vast majority of cases.
In the Persian game of shatranj, the ancestor of chess that included only male figures, the closest thing to the queen was the ferz, a weak piece only able to move or capture one step diagonally and not at all in any other direction. The modern chess queen gained power in the 15th century.
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In most languages the piece is known as "queen" or "lady" (e.g. Italian regina). Asian and Eastern European languages tend to refer to it as vizier, minister or advisor (e.g. Arabic/Persian وزیر wazir, Russian ферзь ferz). In Polish it is known as the hetman – the name of a major historical military-political office, while in Estonian it is called lipp ("flag", "standard").
Placement and movement
The white queen starts on d1, while the black queen starts on d8. With the chessboard oriented correctly, the white queen starts on a white square and the black queen starts on a black square—thus the mnemonics "queen gets her color", "queen on [her] [own] color", or "the dress [queen piece] matches the shoes [square]" (Latin: servat rēgīna colōrem).
The queen can be moved any number of unoccupied squares in a straight line vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, thus combining the moves of the rook and bishop. The queen captures by occupying the square on which an enemy piece sits.
Although both players start with one queen each, a pawn can be promoted to any of several types of pieces, including a queen, when the pawn is moved to the player's furthest rank (the opponent's first rank). Such a queen created by promotion can be an additional queen, or if the player's queen has been captured, a replacement queen. Pawn promotion to a queen is colloquially called queening, which is by far the most common type of piece a pawn is promoted to due to the relative power of a queen.
The queen is typically worth about nine pawns, which is slightly stronger than a rook and a bishop together, but slightly less strong than two rooks, though there are exceptions. It is almost always disadvantageous to exchange the queen for a single piece other than the enemy's queen.
The reason that the queen is stronger than a combination of a rook and bishop, even though they control the same number of squares, is twofold. First, the queen is more mobile than the rook and the bishop, as the entire power of the queen can be transferred to another location in one move, while transferring the entire firepower of a rook and bishop requires two moves, the bishop always being restricted to squares of one color. Second, the queen is not hampered by the bishop's inability to control squares of the opposite color to the square on which it stands. A factor in favor of the rook and bishop is that they can attack (or defend) a square twice, while a queen can only do so once. However, experience has shown that this factor is usually less significant than the points favoring the queen.
The queen is strongest when the board is open, when the enemy king is poorly defended, or when there are loose (i.e. undefended) pieces in the enemy camp. Because of her long range and ability to move in multiple directions, the queen is well equipped to execute forks. Compared to other long range pieces (i.e. rooks and bishops), the queen is less restricted and stronger in closed positions.
Beginners often the queen early in the game, hoping to plunder the enemy position and deliver an early checkmate such as Scholar's mate. This can expose the easily harassed queen to attacks by weaker pieces causing the player to lose time. Experienced players generally prefer to delay developing the queen, and instead develop minor pieces in the opening.
Early queen attacks are rare in high-level chess, but there are some openings with early queen development that are used by high-level players. For example, the Scandinavian Defense (1.e4 d5), which often features queen moves by Black on the second and third moves is considered sound, and has been played at the world championship level. Some less common examples have also been observed in high-level games. The Danvers Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Qh5), which is widely characterized as a beginner's opening, has occasionally been played by the strong American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.
A queen exchange often marks the beginning of the endgame, but there are queen endgames, and sometimes queens are exchanged in the opening, long before the endgame. A common goal in the endgame is to promote a pawn to a queen. As the queen has the largest range and mobility, queen and king vs. lone king is an easy win when compared to some other basic mates. Queen and king vs. rook and king is also a win for the player with the queen.
A queen sacrifice is the deliberate sacrifice of a queen in order to gain a more favorable tactical position. One of the most widely known examples of this was in the game Anderssen–Kieseritzky, 1851, where Anderssen sacrificed a queen (along with three other pieces) to reach checkmate.
The queen was originally the counsellor or prime minister or vizier (Sanskrit mantri, Persian farzīn, Arabic firzān, firz or wazīr). Initially its only move was one square diagonally. Around 1300 its move was enhanced to allow it to jump two squares diagonally (onto a same-colored square) for its first move.
The fers changed into the queen over time. The first surviving mention of this piece as a queen or similar was "regina" in the Einsiedeln Poem, written in Latin around 997 and preserved in a monastery at Einsiedeln in Switzerland. Some surviving early medieval pieces depict the piece as a queen, and the word fers became grammatically feminized in several languages, for example alferza in Spanish and fierce or fierge in French, before it was replaced with names such as reine or dame (lady). The Carmina Burana also refer to the queen as femina (woman) and coniunx (spouse), and the name Amazon has sometimes been seen.
In Russian it keeps its Persian name of ferz; koroleva (queen) is colloquial and is never used by professional chess players. However, the names korolevna (king's daughter), tsaritsa (tsar's wife), and baba (old woman) are attested as early as 1694. In Arabic countries the queen remains termed, and in some cases depicted as a vizier.
Historian Marilyn Yalom proposes that the prominence of medieval queens such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Blanche of Castile and Isabella I of Castile, the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the power ascribed to women in the troubadour tradition of courtly love, might have been partly responsible for influencing the piece towards its identity as a queen and later its modern great power on the board, as might the medieval popularity of chess as a game particularly suitable for women to play on equal terms with men. She points to medieval poetry depicting the Virgin as the chess-queen of God or Fierce Dieu. Significantly, the earliest surviving treatise to describe the modern movement of the queen (as well as the bishop and pawn), Repetición de amores e arte de axedres con CL iuegos de partido (Discourses on Love and the Art of Chess with 150 Problems) by Luis Ramírez de Lucena, was published during the reign of Isabella I of Castile. Even before that, the Valencian poem Scachs d'amor ("Chess of Love") depicted a chess game between Francesc de Castellví and Narcís de Vinyoles and commented on by Bernat Fenollar, which clearly had the modern moves of the queen and the bishop. Well before the queen's powers expanded, it was already being romantically described as essential to the king's survival, so that when the queen was lost, there was nothing more of value on the board.
Marilyn Yalom wrote that:
- The chess queen, rather than ferz or similar, is known of in what is now Spain and Portugal only from the 12th century, but started sooner elsewhere.
- The modern move of the Queen started in Spain during Isabella I's reign, perhaps inspired by her great political power, and spread from there, perhaps being spread by the invention of printing and the 1492 Expulsion from Spain of the Jews who carried the new chess rule with them as they fled.
During the 15th century the queen's move took its modern form as a combination of the move of the rook and the current move of the bishop. Starting from Spain, this new version – called "queen's chess" (in Italian, scacchi della donna), or pejoratively "madwoman's chess" (scacchi alla rabiosa) – spread throughout Europe rapidly, partly due to the advent of the printing press and the popularity of new books on chess. The new rules faced a backlash in some quarters, ranging from anxiety over a powerful female warrior figure to frank abuse against women in general.
At various times, the ability of pawns to be queened was restricted while the original queen was still on the board, so as not to cause scandal by providing the king with more than one queen. An early 12th-century Latin poem refers to a queened pawn as a ferzia, as opposed to the original queen or regina, to account for this.
When the queen was attacked, it was customary to warn the opponent by announcing "gardez la reine" or simply "gardez", similar to the announcement of "check". Some published rules even required this announcement before the queen could be legally captured. This custom was largely abandoned in the 19th century.
In Russia for a long time the queen could also move like a knight; some players disapproved of this ability to "gallop like the horse" (knight). The book A History of Chess by H.J.R. Murray, p. 384, says that William Coxe who was in Russia in 1772 saw chess played with the queen also moving like a knight. Such an augmented queen piece is now known as the fairy chess piece amazon.
Unicode defines two codepoints for queen:
♕ U+2655 White Chess Queen (HTML ♕)
♛ U+265B Black Chess Queen (HTML ♛)
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