Numerous times I’ve read that it’s illegal to use an upside down rook to represent a promoted queen because “it’s still a rook”. Does that imply that I can begin the game with my rooks upside down? They are still rooks; they are still centred on their squares. Sorry for semi-frivolous question but I would enjoy to read the authoritative answer. Thanks so much!


The FIDE laws of chess say nothing about upside-down rooks. However, starting with upside-down rooks is silly and if your opponent complains that it is annoying, I would expect the claim to be upheld.

11.5 It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever.


The proper way of dealing with a missing queen (or any other piece) needed for promotion is to stop the clock and call the arbiter for assistance. However, the upside-down rook tradition comes from less formal settings, or maybe lower-budget situations where no arbiters with spare pieces in their pockets are close at hand.

It is interesting to note that the USCF rules explicitly allow the use of upside-down rooks for promotion:

8F7. Promoted piece not available. If the desired piece is not available to replace a promoted pawn, the player may stop both clocks in order to locate that piece and place it on the board. A player who cannot quickly find such a piece may request the assistance of the director. It is common practice, however, to play using an upside-down rook for a second queen. In the absence of the player’s announcement to the contrary, an upside-down rook shall be considered a queen.

Just, Tim. US Chess Federation’s: Official Rules of Chess, 7th Edition.

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    I had no idea of 8F7 - how sensible – Laska Dec 27 '19 at 15:42

Article 2.3 of the FIDE Laws of Chess says this:

2.3 The initial position of the pieces on the chessboard is as follows:

and is followed by a picture which looks like this:

[fen ""]

Notice that all four rooks are the right way up.

Can I place my rooks upside down at the beginning of the game?

Of course you can. However if one of the arbiters sees this they will automatically "correct" the rooks so that what they see looks the same as shown in article 2.3. So will, I suspect, any opponent. As a one-off your action will be unlikely to attract any penalty. If repeated during the game you are likely to receive a warning at first with penalties escalating if you persist.

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    Aha @BrianTowers I've been waiting for the diagram argument. Because my counter-argument is "Why don't all the knights have to point to the queenside then?" :-) That's what the diagram shows... – Laska Dec 27 '19 at 15:38
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    I would say that the diagram shows the rooks lying on their side, pointing towards Black, considering that the board is seen from above. :-) – itub Dec 27 '19 at 16:12

Can you? Yes, assuming your hands and arms function or you can get the rook in your mouth to place it.

The correct question is MAY you? The answer is no. The arbiter would tell you to put them on correctly and penalize your if you persisted in such nonsense.

NOTE: In English CAN means ABLE to DO, while MAY means LEGAL to do.

Grammar is important if you expect the answer you want. It is doubly important if you sign a legal contract, as you may not be getting what you think you bargained for.

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    Thanks for your erudite comment @yobamamama. My dictionary definition of "can" does include my usage: see merriam-webster.com/dictionary/can. See defs 1e: "be enabled by law, agreement, or custom to" & 2: "have permission to —used interchangeably with may". – Laska Dec 27 '19 at 15:30
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    Note that legal language is not at all the same as natural language. For obvious reasons, in a legally binding contact it is necessary that certain words are very formally, exactly and narrowly defined. Therefore certain narrower and more exact definitions are artificially specified in law, but these exceptions clearly do not apply to natural language, only to contracts and similar. You are right that “can” and “may” are defined very narrowly in legal contexts, but that has little to do with the everyday usage of these words. – 11684 Dec 27 '19 at 19:41
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    Also, none of this has to do with grammar, it is a matter of semantics. – 11684 Dec 27 '19 at 19:44
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    I suspect you'll be literally incandescent with rage when you realise that dictionary use follows real-world use, not the other way around. Which is ironic. – Valorum Dec 27 '19 at 20:05
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    Words can change their meanings over time. Words may change their meanings over time. You can complain about it. You may complain about it. You may try to change it. You can't change it. – CJ Dennis Dec 27 '19 at 22:14

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