I was wondering why Chess isn't played with flat pieces, like Shogi is, or like how Chess itself is represented online (where people mostly play with flat 2d pieces even though most sites also have a 3d theme).

Personally, flat pieces seem more clear to me, albeit less pretty. When the pieces are tall, they start blocking each other and it's not immediately obvious where each piece is.

For example, here's a simple example. This board isn't even close to being cluttered, and yet I still need to glance at white's pawns to make sure they actually are there, because they are close to being blocked by the other pieces. In particular, the f2 pawn is a bit hard to see. Likewise, Black's c7 pawn is blocked by the knight.

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And I know that this can be fixed by getting closer to the board and looking at it from a top-down perspective, but ... first of all, that's annoying: sometimes I just want to lean back in my chair and stare at the board from a distance in a relaxed position: yet I can't, because now all the pawns are blocked by taller pieces. And secondly, if you are going to be looking at it from a top-down perspective ... why even bother with tall 3d pieces? You're perspective will make them look like 2d anyways.

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    I'd just like to note that this image is not taken from the perspective of a tournament player sitting down playing at a board. Rather, it's taken from an angle which some random photographer thought looked good. I've never heard of anyone experiencing any difficulties while playing because of the pieces obscuring their view, and to me the problem you're describing seems entirely hypothetical. – Scounged Dec 1 '18 at 23:21
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    To add to what @Scounged wrote, having two eyes also helps. Due to parallax, if a piece eclipses another piece as seen from one eye, it won't as seen from the other eye, unless you are unusually far from the board. Not to mention that moving your head sideways even a little bit would also reveal the hidden piece. As for the question asked, I don't think there can be any answer other than "tradition". (Note that there are chess sets with flat pieces, but they don't meet tournament regulations.) – itub Dec 2 '18 at 14:22
  • @Scounged: It has actually happened to some of my pupils (between 5 and 8yo) : "I took his knight because I thought it was not defended, but I had not seen the pawn hidden behind the queen..." – Evargalo Dec 3 '18 at 15:38
  • @Scounged, "entirely hypothetical" is not true. Flat pieces does not sound like a good idea to me; it is not true to life. But, why not shorter pieces? Then, we will have advantages of both. – Cyriac Antony Dec 3 '18 at 16:23
  • @Cyriacantony I classified the problem one could have with 3d pieces as hypothetical, since they could occur theoretically but didn't occur in reality to my knowledge. Now, after I wrote my comment, someone has added that they had pupils actually experiencing the issue described in the original post. – Scounged Dec 3 '18 at 16:42

It's probably for historic reasons. Chess is very old and a metaphor for two armies making war, and people chose to make 'statues' to represent the pieces. Since this has worked well so far, nobody felt the urge to change them to 'tiles', that is, until computer chess came into being. I've never played Shogi on a real board, but I can imagine 2D pieces are harder to grab than 3D pieces. At least, that is my experience with playing draughts; with moves, you can push a piece, but with captures you have to pick up a piece.

But why is Shogi, which also has a rich history, played with tiles? Well, one good reason might be promotions:

  1. They are much more common than in chess
  2. A piece promotes to a predefined other piece (there is no choice like in chess)
  3. In case it's captured, it matters what the original piece was

Flipping a tile is an elegant solution for this problem, unlike replacing it with another piece from outside the game.


I could not decide is this an answer or comment but finally decided to add it as answer.

Why isn't chess played with flat pieces?

Because it is played with flat pieces as well; Many travel chess sets have flat pieces, but I think for historical reasons, as chess used to be royal game, played by aristocracy and play sets where created mainly for them, as well game characters used to be and in many languages are still used as real army units.


There are two reasons that come to mind:

1) There are Pawns, Knights, Bishops, Rooks, Queens, and Kings and a non-flat design makes it easier to tell them apart. 2) There is a touch-move rule where if you touch a piece and it's interpreted as intentionally you must move it: it's easier to move pieces that are smaller at the top than at the base. The Staunton design from the 1800's is the official design accepted in rated chess games internationally in order to avoid someone trying to use abstract- or abnormal-shaped pieces that might confuse an opponent. I don't know how many chess sets I've been given as presents that are in the shapes of soldiers, abstract art, etc. that I never use to play the game.

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