Historically, real kings were powerful (Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte etc.) and women were powerless. The game of chess began in Asia, some say, and the women were definitely powerless there. Maybe Cleopatra was powerful, but still doesn't explain why the people who created modern chess made the king so powerless and hopeless, hiding behind his army and his queen

Is it because of Queen Mary, aka Bloody Mary Was she the one who influenced the people who created the modern chess? Is she the reason why kings are hopeless and queens are ruthless?

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    Queen Isabella is a more likely model, read the wikipedia article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(chess). Oct 5, 2013 at 11:14
  • @DagOskarMadsen that makes sense, i wounder if ruy lopez have anything to do with it, since he was born shortly after she died and the Catholics loved her for kicking the muslims out of spain, she had a strong relationship with the church... interesting!
    – Lynob
    Oct 5, 2013 at 21:51
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    Chess was invented in India, and there was no queen at that time, instead it was senapati i.e. army general, and that is why that piece holds great power & control and can move around more freely in the war field!! and king himself doesn't fight the fight but his army general does leading the soldiers into the war, King simply sits and plans a strategy. and that army general somehow got evolved into queen!
    – user1787
    Oct 7, 2013 at 5:35
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    There's nothing wrong with a queen being the most powerful piece on the board. :) Or in real life, either.
    – user4576
    Jan 2, 2015 at 18:19
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    The King is actually a very powerful piece!
    – David
    May 9, 2020 at 23:27

9 Answers 9


Practically speaking, if the king were any more powerful, checkmate or capture would be impossible.

The Queen originated as the Advisor. The Advisor was powerful, but not as powerful as the modern Queen, however. Why did the Advisor become the Queen? Having more than one Queen per side would debase the game, and there are two each of the other pieces. Thus, the Advisor is the only candidate.

Why is there a piece with huge Queen-like powers at all? It looks like the Europeans wanted to speed the game up. So they made a more powerful Queen, pawns started moving 2 squares on the first, and castling was created.

Finally, I am not sure that the piece we call the Queen is called that in other languages. The game and its ancestors have piece names like camel, elephant, advisor, minister, horse, etc.

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    There is a chess variant called Tai Shogi with a powerful emperor that can jump to any empty square or capture any unprotected piece of the opponent. To avoid immediate loss of the game, it must however stay protected to avoid being captured by the opponent's equally powerful emperor. Oct 5, 2013 at 13:59
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    Interesting. So while being insanely powerful, the Tai Shogi emperor has a compensating weakness - if his guard is stripped for even one instant, he dies.
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 5, 2013 at 14:20
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    The weakness, as you call it, of the tai shogi emperor is just a consequence of the opponent's emperor also being insanely powerful. There are other chess variants where the king is more powerful (without compensating weaknesses) such as Cavalry chess where the king has additional movement powers and Big Battle where in addition to much more powerful ordinary movement powers, castling is also more powerful.
    – hkBst
    May 24, 2016 at 10:55
  • @DagOskarMadsen Now I want to see a themed version of that... namely, "Star Wars Tai Shogi"...
    – Michael
    Oct 14, 2019 at 23:19

The king is not powerless! So much so that when the king is check mated the game ends so, and a victor is declared. Is the king powerless??

I think you are mixing mobility and reach with being powerful; looks like because of the mobility and reach of the queen it is somehow powerful where as the king is powerless but, that's somehow incorrect. You can see the power of the king increases as the game enters the ending stage and less pieces exist on the board; even though king's reach is short the king becomes one of the most powerful pieces on the board in the endgame (This is one of the most beautiful and amazing things a like about chess; the dynamics of power and value is not static, it changes and evolves as the game progresses).

For instance, notice that the queen alone cannot deliver check mate in a Queen+King vs King; the queen needs help of another piece to be able to deliver check mate against a lone king.

As a reference for players relative value of pieces is given and the queen carries the biggest value but, the king is given infinite value or no value though, an explanation being that when the king is captured or check mated the game ends.

Some times in a game of chess it can happen that a simple pawn can become even more powerful than the queen. Many studies show how the power of pieces changes depending on the specific position and circumstances on the board.

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    This answer opens the question of what the O.P. intended by the term "power". Given the question's wording, this answer doesn't address the issue as much as present a viable alternative interpretation of the queen's tactical power vs. the king's strategic power. Jun 22, 2016 at 16:30

As a Turkish, I can say it's not a queen in original, we call it as Vizier.

We may say that the grand viziers used to manage all the things about country like taxes, wars, staff etc. There were so many viziers in the eastern history, who were more powerful and effective then shah (king) like Nizam al-Mulk.

So, I can say that it's probably caused by Asian and Middle-Eastern culture.

Also, you must look here.

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    Yes, but in medieval chess the vizier could only move one step diagonally and was weaker than the king. Oct 5, 2013 at 20:39
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    interesting but i wanted to know why Europeans opted to choose the queen as the most powerful piece, in other words, why choosing a female to be more powerful than a male
    – Lynob
    Oct 5, 2013 at 21:40
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    this part of text, starts with (goo.gl/HxoC0f): """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,[4] 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.[8]""" migth be useful Oct 5, 2013 at 21:47
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    It occurs to me that medieval European kings might not have been culturally comfortable with the idea with the idea that an 'advisor' sort of piece be the most powerful on the board. His queen, however, is not generally a political rival.
    – Tony Ennis
    Oct 6, 2013 at 15:33
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    ah so 'queen' is actually like 'prime minister' or head of government while 'king' is like head of state?
    – BCLC
    Feb 5, 2021 at 9:24

The queen used to be a ferz, a variant of the word vizier (and curiously close to its meaning of advisor), which could only step one square diagonally. So originally the piece that became the queen was less powerful than the king.


Origins of chess according to Wikipedia:

The game originated in northern India in the 6th century and spread to Persia. When the Arabs conquered Persia, chess was taken up by the Muslim world and subsequently, through the Moorish conquest of Spain, spread to Southern Europe.

And it's just not on wiki, this is very widely accepted as a fact.

In India, it was popular by many names throughout the times, as there are multiple languages spoken here. So, if you ask a Indian player he might tell you 2-5 synonyms of each piece on the Board. And names of these pieces range from animals in the jungle to people in a King's court yard. For Example: Hathi-Ghooda-oont (Hindi words for Elephant-Horse-Camel) and queen was known as Mantri-Rani-Vazir ( The first word translates to a Minister (serving directly under king as his second in command), second word translating as a queen, the third word coming from middle east regions meaning Commander/general or simply a minister )

So, Basically the game was pretty much the same but different linguistic groups or different classes of society made their own names for the sake of simplicity. A lot of which I believe are lost. Only the popular ones remain. Naturally, the upper class of the society's terms are with us now as they were well documented.

Coming to the powers that specific pieces possess.

King: Ever since the beginning of the game as well as human society the people on the top were considered to be precious. The kings and commanders swore oaths to protect their country and soon they became the symbols of peace and progress of the country. If they were taken down everything went down to hell. For each sentence from above you'll find numerous examples. Those that come to mind:

  1. Sati: When kings died their wife(s) and their helpers used to commit suicide.
  2. Second Battle of Panipat : In 1556 at the second battle of Panipat, where the teenage Akbar is watching Hindus and Afghans under King Hemu being trounced by his own Mughal army. A Mughal archer gets Hemu in the eye. Hemu falls on the ground and seeing the King fall down his army just runs away even though they were far more superior in numbers and equipments.

As to why kings are shown weak when they were so important:

  • Not all kings were powerful, healthy and strong. Some were weak/pathetic but still due to their lineage they ruled for years.
  • See it from kings point of view "No king whats to work from himself when he is got people to work for him"
  • Even if kings were powerful, they were still symbols and leaders to their people hence they were protected. Like, if a king looses, an army looses , land- lives are lost , people are looted, women would get raped, children will get murdered or get recruited to join army at early age,etc.

You are looking it just as a meaning of a single word king. But that wasn't the ground reality. And chess is based on real life scenarios. I know many countries don't have history in syllabus or they don't have that big of a history to tell... I recommend you read history of India for such examples or even French history to some extent.

Queen Being Over-powered : Again coming back to how people choose different name for their pieces according to their convenience. The piece currently known as Queen was created keeping in mind the actions/functionalities that a Mantri/Vazir provided a King.

King was used as a face/symbol , he didn't do much, queens didn't do much either they had people for each work they could possible need to do. For queens there were dasi (Female servents), for king there were das (male servents) and mantri . Dasi and Das were chosen to work for king and queen for their whole lives and they had no say what so ever. Where as Mantri were chosen either on basis of their high intellectual skills or high lineage. They were given different powers over the state and they exercised this power under the name of the King.
And it is still followed, like in UK, Queen is the supreme Leader but her powers are exercised by the Prime Minster under her name. Same situation is in India, The president signs all the documents presented to him by the prime minister but he cannot implement anything on his own.

Modern chess just happens to have the name for the piece as queen, as it is both convenient and relate-able to the king. In addition to that there can be so many situations that make this choice apt:

  1. Feminism
  2. Romanticism
  3. Queen makes it feel much personal(to the board and player) than using the word Minister., etc

And women were powerless, well the game began in Asia, some say and the women were definitely powerless

That is so not true. Women were part of making in India far before any western Civilization saw a women leader.

India: "Razia Sultana (1205–1240) became the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi. The Gond Rani Durgavati (1524–1564) ruled for fifteen years before losing her life in a battle with Mughal emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564. Chand Bibi defended Ahmednagar against the powerful Mughal forces of Akbar in the 1590s." -Wikipedia

West: "Mary Tudor was the only child of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon to survive into adulthood. Mary took the throne in 1553, reigning as the first queen regnant of England and Ireland." - Wikipedia

Modern Example: For 1 Queen that ruled colonized India there were 6 that fought against her.

Again that's a different question altogether but read Indian(Asian) History to know more. Also, please don't don't mix opinions with facts (specially prejudiced). Next time someone reads it from here he might take it as a fact.

Thank You


The Question relates to more of a naming convention and interchanging Queen with Wazir . Wazir or the Minister or the General of the Army is all same here in Chess .

The rules of the game have been quite similar to the ancient civilization . The King is actually powerful and has the ability to direct all instructions to win the game or battle . The King belongs to the Throne and without him the Kingdom is lost . If the Army General gets killed their may be a new appointment or without him also the battle can be won . e.g. in chess Pawn gets promoted to a Queen so a valiant soldier can be designated as a Queen. If you watch some historical movies like Troy / Gladiator / Mahabharata you would see that the Kings always stay behind and the main battle would be somewhat far from his radius . I do not disagree to the fact that Kings never participated from the front in battle fields but their always used to a small force of gallant soldiers who would protect him as like Castling in chess.

Technically the Chess Queen or the Wazir/ General can cover more squares on board which infers that the General like Hector/Achilles/Maximus/Arjun/Karna were more adept warriors and could kill many soldiers at once .

So the Question is quite clear as it is the Chess King who is technically powerless because it grounds one square at a time but in real as they were not better warriors than the Queen but had the ability to direct all orders and could instruct every piece to be sacrificed and fight till the end to save the King from getting checkmated .


The king in a chess game is far from powerless. Of course it must be sheltered in the early going to prevent its being checkmated, but as the game progresses to an ending with the removal of the stronger pieces and it's safe and in fact necessary for the king to enter the fray, it's as strong as a knight or bishop. In the early years of chess, the queen could only move one square diagonally, but when later revisions were made to speed up the game, its power was increased dramatically to its current level. As best I am able to determine, the queen gained power in concert with traditions of queenly rule in Europe. Perhaps this also reflected the perception of many men surrounded by strong females that women actually held the power, even if not wielded through the sword, relegating the king to a weaker status.


I believe that the origin of "King" and "Queen" units were the King's and Queen's Guards. In either case, they were "picked" troops.

The "king" is just the king and his personal bodyguard. These might be the best 500-1000 troops in the army, which would give them approximately the value of a "piece," a slightly larger unit commanded by a knight or bishop (but with inferior troops).

The Queen's guard, was an honorary unit consisting of the remainder of the best troops, basically the "flower" of the army. These troops were more numerous and better trained than the troops in units led by the other officials, which is why the queen's regiment was the most powerful. As I remember, the "three musketeers" belonged to the "queen's" guard. The queen was the titular commander but her "duties" were actually taken over by a high-ranking (male) noble. A pawn that "queens" gets to become this noble (or to have a new "queen's guard" formed under him if the first one is still on the board).


To me, it's a no-brainer. Just ask yourself, who is really in charge of the household in every culture of the world? The king is probably not at home or drunk. If I was a king and my people would play a game with a powerful advisor I would command that the advisor should become my queen. Advisors are probably more keen on coups than the king's queen.

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