In chess, each player has one of two equivalent sets of pieces (chess set) of different colors. Each set has six types of pieces (chess piece):
- 1 King
- 1 Queen
- 2 Rooks
- 2 Bishops
- 2 Knights
- 8 Pawns
Some chess variants or certain kinds of chess problems call for non-standard fairy pieces.
In discussions about play, a distinction is often drawn between pawns and more valuable "pieces."
Movement of the pieces
Each piece moves in a different pattern.
- The rook moves any number of squares orthogonally to the players (forward, backward, left or right). Also see castling.
- The bishop moves any number of squares diagonally.
- The queen moves any number of squares orthogonally or diagonally.
- The king moves only one square orthogonally or diagonally. Also see castling.
- The knight moves in an "L"-shape (two spaces in one direction and one space orthogonally to it). The knight can jump over other pieces when moving.
- The pawn can only move forward one space, or optionally two spaces but only from its starting square, in a straight line away from the player. When there is an enemy piece diagonally (either left or right) one space in front of the pawn, then the pawn may capture that piece. Finally, a pawn can perform a special type of capture of an enemy pawn called en passant.
Pieces capture opposing pieces by replacing them on their square, except for an en passant capture. Only one piece may occupy a given square. Except for castling and the movement of the knight, a piece may not move over another piece.
The variation of designs available is broad, from highly abstract representations to themed designs such as those which emulate the drawings from the works of Lewis Carroll or modern treatments such as Star Trek or The Simpsons. Themed designs are intended for display rather than for actual play.
Chess pieces used for play are usually figurines that are taller than they are wide. For example, a set of pieces designed for a chessboard with 2¼ inch (57 mm) squares will typically have a king around 3¾ inches (95 mm) tall. They are available in a variety of designs, with the most well-known "Staunton design" which is named after Howard Staunton (a 19th century English chess player), which was designed by Nathaniel Cook. The first Staunton style sets were made in 1849 by Jaques of London (also known as John Jaques of London and Jaques and Son of London).
For actual play, pieces of the Staunton design are the standard. The height of the king should be between 85mm and 105 mm (3.35 to 4.13 inches) tall. A height of approximately 95 to 102 mm (3¾ to 4 inches) is preferred by most players. The diameter of the king should be 40–50% of its height. The size of the other pieces should be in proportion to the king. The pieces should be well balanced. The size of the squares of the chessboard should be approximately 1.25–1.3 times the diameter of the base of the king, or 50 to 65 mm. Squares of size of approximately 57 mm (2¼ inches) normally are well-suited for pieces with the kings in the preferred size range. These criteria are from the United States Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, which is based on the Fédération Internationale des Échecs rules.
For games played at the top level, pieces made of wood are common but for lower-level games or very large tournaments, plastic sets are more common. Although the physical color of chess pieces may vary, the lighter color is called "white" while the darker color is called "black."
Wooden white pieces of a chess set are normally made of the light wood boxwood or sometimes maple. Black wooden pieces are either made of a dark wood such as rosewood, ebony, red sandalwood, or walnut; or they are made of boxwood and stained or painted black, brown, or red. Plastic white pieces are made of white or off-white plastic and black plastic are made of black or red plastic. Sometimes other materials are used, such as bone, ivory, or a composite material.
Some small magnetic sets, designed to be compact and/or for travel, have pieces more like those used in Shogi and Xiangqi — each piece being a similar flat token, with a symbol drawn on it to show which piece it is.
On computers, chess pieces are often 2-D symbols on a 2-D board, although some programs have fancier 3-D graphics engines with more traditional designs of chess pieces.
Unicode contains symbols for chess pieces in both white and black.
Grandmaster Larry Evans offers this advice on buying a set (Evans 1974:18):
"Make sure the one you buy is easy on the eye, felt-based, and heavy (weighted). The men should be constructed so they don't come apart. ... The regulation board used by the U. S. Chess Federation is green and buff — never red and black. However there are several good inlaid [wood] boards on the market. ... Avoid cheap equipment. Chess offers a lifetime of enjoyment for just a few dollars well spent at the outset."