I was wondering why Chess isn't played with flat pieces, as Shogi is, or as 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.

enter image description here

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. Second: if you are going to be looking at it from a top-down perspective... then why even bother with tall 3d pieces? Your perspective will make them look like 2d anyway.

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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
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 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
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 14:22
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    @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
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 15:38
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    Flat pieces are dificult to grasp and tridimensional pieces are attractive and manageable.
    – djnavas
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 7:09
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    Just for fun to respond to Evargalo's pupils, how could the knight be thought undefended with the unseen pawn if the queen is next to it? I assume if the presence of pawn makes the knight defended, then the knight must be next to the queen, and thus defended. Unless "not defended" here means "not defended by a minor piece", and thus can be captured by another protected minor piece (e.g., bishop or another knight).
    – justhalf
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 18:49

6 Answers 6


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.

  • Moreover, another thing often done in shogi is for the player to drop a unit they had earlier captured from their opponent. For this to be possible, the same physical piece needs to represent a piece owned by the one and the other player. So ownership must be indicated by orientation, not colour.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Oct 23, 2021 at 14:03

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.


Flat chess pieces do exist on the market, in the form of "pocket chess" sets in which there isn't room to provide 3D pieces. In this example, notice the lack of extra queens for promoting pawns to: enter image description here

As others note, the provided photo is not the typical viewing angle for a player. Here is a more typical view, in this case of one of the nicer chess computers: enter image description here These pieces are also magnetic, but in this case to facilitate informing the computer of moves being made, rather than for travel games. In any case, the point here is that every piece is easily visible and distinguishable from above.

It's also considerably easier to pick up a 3D piece when making a move, which can be very important in a fast-paced game. Shogi tiles are designed to be easy to pick up with an accepted technique, but the time controls in Shogi tend to be fairly long, and the tiles are not held down magnetically. I have yet to see a Western chess set using similar tiles.


Flat boards are used online because both players can see the pieces properly oriented. Now imagine playing online chess with half the screen upside-down.

Also, a flat screen is not the best representation of a 3D object, so that's why most players use 2D boards online. Same for chess books by the way.

Finally, thank you for giving me another reason why nobody plays shogi!


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.


in my opinion, our minds are spacial and tactile. we live in a 3d world. So having 3d pieces is better for a lot of reasons, such as memory or recall of other games, or the current game etc.

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    Welcome to Chess! I'm not sure I agree (but that does not mean you're wrong, of course): all chess positions in my mind 'feel' two-dimensional to me. That could be because I learned a lot from reading books and articles, not just by playing.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 3:18

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