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How the queen became the most powerful piece on the chessboard?

Traditionally, kings were powerful. Then, how did the queen become the most dominant piece on the chess board?

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Feature 18 Feb 2018, 13:34 IST
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The queen

In the game of chess, the queen has more freedom (mobility) on the chess board. In that sense, the queen is the most powerful piece. On the other hand, the king, that has more value because if you lose the king you lose the game, has relatively much less power.

Chess is an old game and traditionally, kings were powerful and women were nowhere in the picture. This raises a very interesting question.

Why is the queen the most powerful piece on the chessboard? How did the queen dominate in chess?

Let's investigate...

"I became fascinated with the chess queen as an icon of female power. How did she come to dominate the chess board when in real life women are almost always in a position of second power." wrote Marilyn Yalom, author of The Birth of the Chess Queen.

Chess historians believe that the piece we call as the queen today was not originally known as the queen. It was originally called the "fers" or "advisor". Shockingly, it was one of the weakest pieces on the board as it could only move one square diagonally.

That means the game of chess existed without the queen for so many years.

In the 15th century, history took some turns. The game of chess moved to European countries and several revisions were made to the existing chess rules. Most importantly, revisions were made to the piece which we now know as the queen piece.

But what happened in the medieval times that prompted these amendments? What prompted the change?

Many chess historians like Murray H.J.R. and Yalom believe that rise of the chess queen is deeply connected with the rise of female monarchs in Europe. In other words, the queen's rise on board is related to historical events that happened around the 15th century.

" The ascent of female sovereigns in Europe and their lives of internal struggle for power plus their medieval courts/politics greatly influenced the chess piece Queen". wrote Marilyn Yalom

The 15th century saw the rise of many female monarchs. As a matter of fact, between 1362 and 1654, eighteen women asserted official sovereignty over thirteen different European kingdoms. The rise of female rulers like Elizabeth I, Catherine of Aragon, Isabella of Castile, Mary Tudor greatly influenced the revisions made to chess.

The piece earlier known as the advisor was named queen and was given the amalgamated powers of the rook and the bishop. Gradually, these changes spread throughout the globe thanks to the emergence of the printing press in Europe and colonialism and this was how the queen became the most powerful piece on the chess board.

On a lighter note, chess understands the term 'happy wife, happy life!'

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