Chess Terms
Chess Terms
Major Piece

Major Piece

There are six pieces in chess: the king, queen, rook, bishop, knight, and pawn. But what is a major piece if it's not on the list? And why is the concept of major pieces important? Read on to find out.

What Is A Major Piece?

A major piece is a collective term for queens and rooks, as opposed to the weaker bishops and knights, which are known as the minor pieces.

The major pieces are the only ones that can move a full rank or file on a single turn. One major piece is enough to checkmate a lone king, while one minor piece is not.

The major pieces highlighted at the beginning of the game. White and Black both get one queen and two rooks.

Why Are Major Pieces Important?

Knowing how to properly value the pieces is an important part of playing chess. Regarding the major pieces, two rooks are worth about the same as a queen.

As implied by being a major piece, the rook is usually worth more than either of the minor pieces. Intentionally giving up a rook for a minor piece to try and gain a different advantage is known as sacrificing the exchange.

GM Garry Kasparov captured the light-squared bishop (a minor piece) with his rook (a major piece), thus sacrificing the exchange.

Generally, however, a rook is inferior to two minor pieces. A queen is usually far superior to two minor pieces.

A rook is way behind three minor pieces, while a queen can be worth more or less than three minor pieces depending on the position. Two rooks vs. three minor pieces rarely happens, but the value would depend on which group is working better together.

The queen is much better than one rook, slightly better than one rook and one minor piece, and usually worse than one rook and two minor pieces, or two rooks and one minor piece. All of these are general rules and not always the case, however.

Black lost the queen but has an extra rook, an extra bishop, and an extra pawn. The position is about equal.

It's also worth noting that a single major piece (either queen or rook) and a king will always be able to force checkmate against a lone king. (Neither of the minor pieces is capable of this.)


Q1: How many major pieces are on the board in this position? How many does White have? Black?

A1: There are three major pieces on the board. White has two major pieces, the two rooks. Black has one major piece, the queen.

Q2: Can Black force checkmate on the next turn in this position? Play the puzzle to see the answer!


Now you know what the major pieces are, how they're different from minor pieces, and why they're important. Learn more about major pieces and their value with this Lesson from GM Larry Kaufman!

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