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Garde: Old and Irrelevant or Just Good Sportsmanship?

  • #1

    As a young child, I learned to play chess at school.  I remember picking the game up quickly with some of my classmates, and the best thing about it was that we enjoyed it without such tedious tasks as memorizing openings and which king moves won and lost in a pawn endgame.  It was just fun.

    One thing I did memorize, however, was a rule not commonly used today.  As I was taught, it was required that one say 'Check' when one's move attacked the enemy King.  It was also required, though, to say 'garde' when one's move attacked the enemy Queen.  Unlike 'Check', the warning of 'garde' could be ignored, but it did ensure that we learned ways of ensnaring and capturing the enemy queen, and not just winning her on an oversight.

    Today, even 'Check' is commonly dispensed with in OTB games, some people thinking that it is mildly insulting that such an obvious position would even need to be pointed out.  The warning of 'garde' I have not heard in over 25 years, and most players I have asked have never even heard of it.  Still, it always struck me as somewhat chivalrous to afford your enemy the opportunity to avoid disaster and to win through strong play rather than an opponent's tactical blunder, so I did some research and found this definition:

    En garde is a French phrase meaning 'on guard'. Used to warn a fencer to assume the position preparatory to a duel, or to warn an opponent in chess that their queen is threatened.

    Another posting, this from Wikipedia (which we all know is never wrong Wink):

    In friendly games, the checking player customarily says "check" when making a checking move. Announcing "check" is not required under the rules of chess and it is usually not done in formal games. Less commonly (and obsolete), the warning garde can be said when a player directly attacks the opponent's queen in a similar way. This was mostly abandoned in the 19th century (Hooper & Whyld 1992:74). The same move can be both check and garde simultaneously.

    So, apparently garde is dead for the last hundred years and check is dying.  What say you all; is this a good or a bad thing?  Do you put the onus on your opponent to notice his precarious position and claim unconditional victory if he fails to do so?  Or do you warn your opponent about his potential blunders and then feel even better when you beat him anyway, winning because you've given him no chance to escape your snare, warned or otherwise?

    Personally, I like the idea of garde.  To me, it's the equivalent of allowing your opponent to pick up his weapon if he drops it during a duel.  To be sure, your victory is much more assured if you simply chuckle at his plight as you stab him through the heart, but I just couldn't take the same satisfaction from striking someone who is unarmed, especially if I had nothing to do with disarming him.


  • #2

    Oh good, a new thread on the same topic! Wink I guess we have the terminology and background info now, though.

    My opinion remains the same. Garde is even less important than saying check. I never, ever say check, because I feel it too obvious to be pointed out to my opponent. (It could even be considered patronising!) If my opponent fails to see that my piece is attacking their queen, then, as far as I'm concerned, they simply don't deserve to beat me.

  • #3

    Nytik, I get your wink and I'm glad you posted.  I started the new thread for two reasons; the title on the old one was misleading (and spelled wrong) and the purpose of the thread is different.  The other one was just to gather information, and it did that.  The purpose here is discuss what you've shared; whether it's a good rule or not.

  • #4

    Check this out.

  • #5

    My dad taught me chess.  In our games, we announce check, and when the queen is threatened we announced "on guard."  It was all in gentlemen respect, not to demean each other.  I never played more than two people on the board in real life before playing here, and I would totally understand why doing things might be disrespectful.  We aren't anywhere close to being experienced players but both of us are 1700 players online just playing between us and not other skilled players.  Therefore, you don't have to be a complete novice to announce check, but I understand that in a real tourney you wouldn't announce this.  After playing chess here, we have stopped announcing check and on guard to each other.

    People who announce these things typically aren't trying to be obnoxious, but that is how they were taught and continued to apply this gesture.  Just like some think that never resigning is admirable, others don't, much like this thread.

  • #6

    I disagree in making a differentiation between winning through strong play and winning because of a tactical blunder by your opponent.  The fact is everybody makes mistakes and a strong player will learn to capitalize on his opponent's mistakes while a weak player will overlook them.  Who was it that said the winner in chess is the person who makesthe second-to-the-last mistake?

  • #7

    aijp, I can't tell if you're serious or not but I did some digging and there are some sites on the internet who still advocate exactly that.  As an example, here is a quote from one:

    Checking is a warning prior to the capture of a major piece, like a king, queen, or a rook. When we are about to capture a major piece we are obligated to announce it before doing so. We verbally say, "check-king" or "check-queen," or "check-rook." . . . in some games checking rooks need not be announced. But in every chess game, we should announce our checks to the enemy king or queen . . . With the rest of the pieces, a check may or may not be announced. Nobody announces a check against a pawn, but some [do] against a bishop or a knight.

    It's an interesting idea you've proposed (though some might argue tedious to execute), but apparently not new.  It would certainly promote strong tactical play.

  • #8

    Interesting thread EtD.  I was totally unaware of the rule.  I like it insofar as its obsolesence points to the transformation of Chess from a gentlemanly game to a part of a larger mass culture. 

    The OED's entry on guard, garde, and on guard, had no reference to "garde" as a chess term.  I did find an 1838 Hoyle (Google Books) with the following among its rules for chess:

    7.  Whenever a player check's his adversary's king, he must say "Check," otherwise the adversary need not notice the check.  If the player should, on the next move, attack the queen or any other piece, and then say "Check," his adversary may replace his last move, and defend his king.

    Interesting to note here how the "check" rule is configured to also prevent the checking player from picking off an extra piece or improving their position if their opponent doesn't notice the check.

    No reference to Garde in the 1838 Hoyle though.

  • #9

    Sound observation, CMI, that this change illustrates the continuing transformation of chess.

    I read just this morning about a tournament in London that played not only a silent check rule, but also allowed the capture of an unprotected King if check went unnoticed.  Bang; game over, just like that.  Thanks for coming.  Certainly fair, if everyone is aware of the rules before they start playing.  Really, though, is this where we want chess to be headed?  Is there no place for any fair warning anymore?  Is that how we want victory; not because we won, but because our opponent lost?

  • #10

    It would just getting annoying in tatically complex positions. Also, when the King is attacked, you HAVE to do something about it, while when any other piece is attacked, it is optional.

  • #11

    Wow, never heard of saying garde - thanks for the eye-opener and history lesson. I only play family and friends otb, and I am looking forward to saying it! I say ja dube, for instance, and every other chess-word I can in French, every chance I get Wink -- makes me sound all experienced and impressive. It works a treat on dates as well.... (of course, how sad it is to play chess on a date is the subject of another thread).

    But all of that rip-roaring fun aside... after a quick greeting, I wouldn't speak at all otb if I played seriously. History is great, but it is most polite and "gentlemanly" to adhere to the common contemporary practice and etiquette.

  • #12

    I have not come across this word Garde when the queen is attacked.   However I think it would be anice gesture.

  • #13

    I dont think thats what he means.

  • #14
    aijp wrote:
    Ender_the_dragon wrote:

    Sound observation, CMI, that this change illustrates the continuing transformation of chess.

    I read just this morning about a tournament in London that played not only a silent check rule, but also allowed the capture of an unprotected King if check went unnoticed.  Bang; game over, just like that.  Thanks for coming. 

    Isn't that the standard rule in fast games? It changes the game slightly if the king can be captured because there would be no stalemate. I don't have a problem with it.

    It used to be the standard rule in blitz, but there was always trouble with disputes after somebody took an opponent's king; disagreement about where the piece was coming from, etc, very hard to rule if the opponents disagree.

    So since several years, FIDE rules for blitz state again that capturing the king is illegal. You still win if the opponent makes and illegal move, but you just stop the clock and claim the win. If you capture the king instead, your opponent can claim the win, because that is an illegal move!

  • #15

    To say check and garde and warn when ones rook is attacked, etc..... where does it all end ?  This kind of chess is fine for casual games between friends/family or simply people not too serious about the game but is silly for tournament/serious play. Ofcourse, I take greater satisfaction in winning a really tough game in which my opponent made no serious blunders but if he loses the queen in the opening or overlooks mate in the middlegame, when there was a defense, thats chess ! I will certainly take such wins , and I dont know any serious chess players who wouldnt. If I know I am gonna lose a round I would prefer to lose quickly in fact, so I have more time to rest/recuperate before the next round. I hate losing a 100 move game that lasts 4 to 6 hours because I am exhausted after such an effort , in fact, even winning such a game leaves me exhausted.

  • #16

    Well, I don't say check sometimes, because its obvious to see it unless your blind. (No hard feelings)

  • #17

    It seems to me to be a gesture of etiquette.

    Examples: I'll hold a door for a woman, but not if I'm racing her for the gold medal!


    I was taught that it is inappropriate for a man to extend his hand to a woman (as in shaking hands), but rather he should WAIT for her to extend hers first.

    In the business world of today that is completely unheard of. I've even had people tell me that I'm simply not old enough to know 'that rule'!

    Bottom line, if it's a friendly game (family, friends) I say 'en garde'. If it's a competition, you're on your own.


  • #18


  • #19

    I believe that it's in chess nature that we have to spot the threats. If we were doing so all the magic would be gone!

    Anyway, I never say garde. In friendly games I always just let my friends take back moves. That way we can both have the satisfaction of winning and be gentlemen at the same moment.

  • #20

    After reading all the posts so far, it seems that the majority is definitely leaning towards turfing not only garde but check as well.

    Why the shift, do you think, from the way chess used to be played to the way it is preferred now?  Is our preference today truly the purest form and it's simply taken this long to evolve, or are perhaps the reasons we play chess markedly different today and this shift in motivation responsible for the desire for different rules?

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