I was surprised to learn that the word "Tabiya" comes from the Arabic language. I know of no other Arabic terms in chess and know that most of its terminology is Russian or Yiddish: E.G. Patzer, Rezshenie, Priyome.

Does anyone know when and where the term Tabiya started being used by chess players?

  • Not sure if this answers your question. chess.stackexchange.com/questions/2097/…
    – Varun W.
    Jul 15, 2022 at 23:35
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    Isn't Patzer derived from the same German word?
    – koedem
    Jul 16, 2022 at 3:35
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    English chess terms copied from other languages: Many are from German; some are from French (en prise, en passant); "rook" is from Persian. I don't know any from Yiddish or Russian.
    – Rosie F
    Jul 16, 2022 at 4:17
  • chess.stackexchange.com/questions/2097/… suggest the route is from Sanskrit via old Persian, but gives no supporting evidence. Of course chess has many words with Persian roots, the word chess itself included.
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 16, 2022 at 7:40
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    “I know of no other Arabic terms in chess” uhhhh... how about shah mat (checkmate)? (Technically Persian, but Europe gets the term via the Arabic al-shah mata.)
    – KRyan
    Jul 17, 2022 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


The earliest use of the word "tabiya" that I can find in western literature is from A Dictionary, Hindūstānī and English by John Shakespear published in 1820 where it says on page 250:

tabiya 1. Arrangement, disposition 2. Drawing up of an army 3. Inlaying

Not clear that that is a chess reference.

The earliest chess reference I could find in English was from The Chess-monthly - Volume 2 - Page 200 published in 1880

Chess Monthly 1880

The earliest chess reference I could find in any language was 1868 - ABC des Échecs, ou introduction à l'étude de la stratégie raisonnée des echecs

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  • As I understand "tabiya" (from the Oxford Companion to Chess), the chess use does correspond to the definitions "1. Arrangement, disposition 2. Drawing up of an army". In Shatrang the opposing forces took some time to come into direct contact (the only line-pieces were Rooks, which are initially hemmed in by their own pawns), so the main choice in the opening was how to arrange one's forces, not the specific order of moves to get there. Jul 17, 2022 at 18:00

As Oxford Companion to Chess (new ed., 1992) derives the term from Shatranj, it seems reasonable to assume that its first use by chess players would be by players who played Shatranj or closely related chess variants. That is Arabian or Persian players ... in the Middle Ages, or thereabouts. (It may be used in non-chess related contexts, but I ignore those.)

Later, it is used mainly by game or chess historians (von der Lasa, Forbes, Weber, van der Linde and others) in Europe, but presumably still in use where Islamic chess is played.

I first wrote: "I see no reason to believe it is used any any significant way by chess players who follow modern chess rules, i.e. from 1850 or so." but searches for the term in modern chess books shows that it is being used by writers such as Soltis and Alburt, but apparently in a slightly different sense of a 'common opening position' or 'standard position in a particular opening'.

  • I have to say it is far from unknown around here (Oxford, England) - while I won't call it common it's definitely used
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 16, 2022 at 8:52
  • Interesting! So at least local use. I wonder if it might have been be used by some opening book author (or a chess club), and so passed into the current terminology. (Added: google books and 'chess tabia' search shows that it is being used by several authors.)
    – user30536
    Jul 16, 2022 at 8:57
  • I use it. It is also part of some chess software such as chess position trainer. Jul 16, 2022 at 16:13
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    Good answer. It's extremely rarely used in English. The same goes for some other borrowings like Zeitnot, Peshki, etc. Tabia is a word from Satranj. Normally, I would not use it, except for some humorous effect, etc. It might have gained more traction recently, especially among lay people. It's not normal to refer to the position in a chess opening as tabia. Don't expect its usage in chess books or by pros- it would be very rare. I don't know about other languages. Perhaps, it's common there. Maybe in German, French or Russian? It would be interesting to know that :-)
    – user32756
    Jul 16, 2022 at 16:37
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    @HaukeReddmann, I'm a little confused by your language in your "I have seen ... either". Did you mean have_not_seen, or ... have seen also? It's just about the vagaries of English. Could you please clarify? :) Jul 16, 2022 at 21:09

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