The Queen – Tutorial

I.   Basic Moving and Capturing.

The Queen is one of the three multilinear pieces, and is the strongest piece on the chessboard from the standpoint of being able to move, attack, capture, and generally to create havoc for the opponent. While the Kings are the most powerful pieces on the chessboard, the Queens are second in command. Removing an opposing Queen and seeking to keep the player’s Queen is a key focus, except in sacrifice situations or when a Queen can be regained through pawn promotion. The Queen’s power is combination (a familiar word) of the powers of the Rook and the Bishop. [Historical note: the Queen was introduced into modern chess in the Western world in the late 1400s along with castling (King-Rook special defensive combination), as an outgrowth of the developments of the special pawn two-square advance and the optional counterplay, en passant capture.]

The Queen (like the King) may move, or move and capture, either forward or backward on the same file, either to the right or left horizontally on the same rank, or forward or backward along either of the white or black diagonal lines extending from the square upon which the piece is located. A Queen’s possibility to move great distances along any of the available lines is the Queen’s hallmark.

Like the pawns and all the pieces except the Knight, the Queen’s ability to move is restricted when there is a piece or pawn on a square along the line of movement. The piece or pawn acts as a blockade to further movement of the Queen along the line to the squares beyond the square upon which the piece or pawn is located. Provided the Queen is not absolutely pinned (discussed in detail later in this tutorial), then:

1.   If the piece or pawn on the square is the same as the Queen, she may only move a maximum to the square adjacent to the one upon which the piece or pawn is located assuming all the other intervening squares are empty.

2.   If the piece (except the King) or pawn on that square is an opposing one, then the Queen may move a maximum to the square and capture it.

3.   In either situation, the Queen may also move to any of the empty intervening squares in the line of movement.

4.   If the piece is the opposing King, and all the squares in between have no pieces or pawns on them, then the opposing King is in check.

The diagram below shows the possible squares to which the Black Queen located at e5, and the White Queen located at d3, may move to without any other pieces or pawns on the board. The diagram also shows the squares upon which the two Queens would interact (half-colored circles) if a Queen moved to one of those squares.

II.   Basic Principles and Concepts.

While an opposing Queen is obviously a fighting unit to be taken quite seriously and reckoned with in a game, the relative power of pieces (even minor ones) may overwhelm the Queen. A situation like that described is often called “Overworked Queen” or “the Queen is overworked” (all pieces including the King may become “overworked” in their ability to attack and/or defend). Most players would readily agree that they would prefer to have a Knight, a Bishop, and a Rook on the board instead of a Queen (especially if she is a lone Queen).

The obvious comparison to be made is in point values: Queen = 9; Rook = 5, Bishop = 3, and a Knight = 3 (5+3+3=11). This already shows that the three pieces (a major and two minor ones) are more powerful than a Queen and the player with the Queen (barring having other material on the board) is already at a material disadvantage. The two extra points in material value are worth two pawns in relative material strength (each pawn is worth one point); however, while at its basest consideration (material strength) the comparison seems simplistically logical, during a game it may not be as simplistic as it may seem.

The second consideration is the ability to move, capture, and to control squares. The three pieces will provide the player with them much greater flexibility as a general rule, with greater options and ability to develop attacking lines, create threats & traps, control squares and space, provide defense, and protect the player’s pawns and King on the board.

An exchange of the Queens (Queen trade) may be employed effectively to undercut or even virtually destroy an opponent’s game plan. However, before concluding to do a Queen trade a player should carefully analyze his or her own game plan to determine his or her own strengths and weaknesses without his or her own Queen.

A player may be comfortable and play an effective game plan without a Queen. The player thus may seek to employ an early tactical maneuver for strategy purposes – a quick Queen trade with the Queens on their home squares that forces the opposing player to move the opposing King, which deprives the opposing player of the opportunity to castle in the game. Sometimes, certain positions on the board may allow the player to reply to the Queen trade with a free capture of an opposing pawn or a piece, thereby also gaining material advantage in the process. In others, it may be employed as counterplay or for compensation. On the next page are two board diagrams that show the start and end after an early Queen trade in a game. Below are the players’ moves and analysis.

The moves from start to end:   8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Bc4 e6 10.Bg5

White being down a pawn, determined an early forced Queen trade might be beneficial as compensation. The forced Queen trade results in Black’s King moving thereby depriving Black from being able to castle. Black’s King is left in the open d file. Black is left with a vulnerable isolated c-pawn. Black has doubled pawns in the e-file, which will make it difficult for Black to activate Black’s Rook at h8. The partially open b-file is a positional inferiority against Black that White might be able to exploit.

Queen Pin. A player’s Queen may pin an opposing piece or a pawn along a file, rank, or diagonal. The pin may be “absolute“: the opposing piece or pawn is shielding the opposing King from being in check and therefore cannot be moved. The opposing piece or pawn may be subject to capture. The opposing piece or pawn also cannot move or advance because doing so would put the opposing King in check. The pin may be “relative“: the opposing piece or pawn is shielding another opposing piece or pawn behind it from being captured by the Queen. In this situation, the opposing player has the option to advance the pawn or move the piece subjecting the opposing pawn or piece behind it to capture. The opposing player might instead might move an opposing piece or advance an opposing pawn to provide defense for the pinned opposing pawn or piece, so that the opposing pawn or piece behind it may safely move out from danger.

Whenever possible, try to avoid moving the Queen in front of the King in a file especially an open file, to the side of a King in a rank, or aligned diagonally with the King on any diagonal line. Doing so can lead to the disaster of losing the Queen. In an open file or rank, the opposing Queen or an opposing Rook may absolutely pin the Queen shielding the King from check. On a diagonal, the opposing Queen or an opposing Bishop of the same color as the diagonal line (if on the board at that time) may absolutely pin the Queen shielding the King from check. In each of these situations, the Queen most often will simply be subject to capture. More on pins are covered in other tutorials.

Queen Skewer. The corollary principle to a pin is a skewer, which occurs when an opposing King is attacked by being put in check, the opposing King is shielding an opposing piece or pawn behind it, and the King must move out of check opening the piece or pawn behind it to capture. A player’s Queen may skewer an opposing King, but also may be the object of a skewer behind her own King! More on skewers are covered in other tutorials.

Queen Fork. A Queen may create a fork or a fork check. Two Queen forks are shown in the following diagram, one for White, and one for Black. White’s Queen fork is not particularly useful as Black’s two Rooks aligned in a battery (connected together defending each other) on Black’s back rank (8th rank) makes capturing either one of Black’s Rooks with White’s Queen a blunder because White’s Queen would just be subject to capture by Black with the other Rook. The fork by Black’s Queen is a good fork because it threatens capture of Black’s Rook with a back rank mate to follow. After White blocks check with White’s Queen moving it to d1, Black’s Queen would then capture White’s Queen and back rank checkmating White’s King. Therefore, White needs either to move the Rook on the White’s back rank (1st rank) to d1 or f1, or White’s Queen to d1, to prevent the possibility of the back rank mate. This would leave White’s pawn at a3 subject to free capture by Black’s Queen.

A player should also remember that the player’s Queen also is subject to being attacked via a fork or a fork check. Before moving the Queen (indeed moving any piece or advancing any pawn), a player needs to always analyze the board and check for possible forks, especially a knight fork. Many a player, I included, have sat stunned and helplessly watched while losing our Queen, when we have thought all was going well. Suddenly as if out of nowhere a knight fork or other fork (especially a fork check) says “Ah ha…caught you napping…welcome to Disasterville!”

The hunt for the Queen with the hounds. Avoid bringing the Queen out too early in the game. Doing so often results in a sustained attack against the Queen. Bringing the Queen out early is like the trumpet signaling the fox hunt is beginning with the dogs (the opposing player’s minor pieces and pawns, and if there is an open file then a Rook may join as well) let loose to hound her, trap her, and remove her from the board! While doing so, this allows the opposing player to develop his or her minor pieces, work on creating an advantageous pawn structure, create positional superiority, and perhaps gain material advantage, all at the player’s expense of losing tempi (moves) to retreat the Queen trying to keep it from being captured. If the Queen comes under such an attack, while the player should look to determine if there is a further possible development of the Queen to launch a counterattack or if there is counterplay, often the best route is to retreat to safety at its home square or safely ensconced behind its own pieces and pawns if possible. It is often foolish to try to keep it in the game, so to speak, under such circumstances. A sustained attack against a Queen forces the player to lose focus on his or her own game and lose valuable time.

In an endgame, it is almost always better to have a Queen and a pawn than a Rook and a pawn. Why? The answer by now should be obvious and needs no elucidation.

Queen Sacrifice. Situations also are encountered where it is best to sacrifice the Queen for the greater good, so to speak. A Queen sacrifice often is a valuable tool to launch an unstoppable mating net – a sequential series of moves in a recognizable pattern designed to force checkmate upon the opposing King while the opposing player sits helpless as his or her King moves through the snare of the web woven in the mating net. One example is shown in the following diagram. White to mate in 2 – Qh8+ Kxh8 Rxf8#. White’s sacrifice of White’s Queen was a brilliant move (!!) because Black could not stop the mate. The diagram position shows the power of a Rook and a Queen working together along the sides of the board. In the following diagram, Black should not have gotten into this position because Black had both material advantage 22-19 and better pawn structure, but obviously either Black blundered or White recognized and exploited the mating pattern long before this position was reached. An important principal is exhibited in this checkmate. That is, the opening of the h file against a King castled to Kingside is often disastrous, as it makes critical squares at h7 and h8 (against Black) and at h2 and h1 (against White), particular vulnerable and open for sustained attacks against the castled King.

Now let us examine a Queen sacrifice combined with the principle of interference (forcing a player to block his or her own piece), creating a mating pattern, and mating net. In the following diagram, White to move and win. The solution is provided. This is #604 taken from 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, by Fred Reinfeld. Explanation follows at top of next page.

White’s move of Qe6 blocks the defense afforded by Black’s Rook at a6 moving across the 6th rank and blocks Black’s Bishop attack on White’s Rook at h3. This forces Black to use a piece to capture White’s Queen thereby interfering with Black’s ability to defend against the ensuing discovered check with White’s Rook at h3 via White’s Knight moving off h4. If Black does not capture White’s Queen, mate will follow in any event.

III.    Combinations and Batteries.

Like the Bishop and the Rook, by itself the Queen has no special traits – unlike the Knight (able to jump over other pieces and pawns), the King (blocks the opposing King from every square adjacent to the one upon which the King is located), and the pawn (two-pawn advance, pawn promotion, en passant capture). The Queen by herself can be very powerful unless opposed by a superior opposing force of minor pieces and/or pawns which may overwhelm and overwork her despite her great power. A Queen generally greatly increases her power in an endgame when combined with a pawn and the King, or with the King, with only a lonely opposing King or few opposing pieces and/or pawns left on the board. The Queen’s power also is enhanced in an endgame when working with pawn islands, pawn couples, pawn chains, passed pawns, and isolated pawns, the Bishops, the Knights, the Rooks, a Bishop, a Rook, a Knight, and combinations thereof. Her great mobility often becomes an overwhelming advantage. That is why most often a player doing pawn promotion to promote to a Queen is most often the preferred promotion, and this is called Queening.

Batteries. With a Rook, a Bishop, or a pawn, the Queen can create a battery – a lineup of the Rook and the Queen in the same file or same rank, or a lineup of a Bishop and a Queen in the same diagonal line, or a lineup of a pawn and the Queen in the same file or diagonally. A battery is a powerful combination of fighting units, which may both compliment each other’s powers and increase the relative strength of each other’s powers. The batteries may be Rook-Queen (Rook to rear, Queen forward), Queen-Rook (Queen to rear, Rook forward), Bishop-Queen (Bishop to rear, Queen forward), and Queen-Bishop (Queen to rear, Bishop forward). Usually a Queen-pawn battery (Queen to rear, pawn forward diagonally) is more advantageous than a pawn-Queen battery (pawn to rear, Queen forward diagonally). Other batteries are possible, including after pawn promotion:

A Queen-Queen battery (Doubled Queens), or if three or more Queens are obtained via pawn promotion (extremely rare for this to occur because a resignation would be in order and usually occurs), multiple Queen-Queen batteries;
A Rook-Rook battery aligned in same file vertically or same rank horizontally (if aligned vertically in a file they are called Doubled Rooks); and;
A Bishop-Bishop battery (Doubled Bishops).

We will expand on combinations and batteries in other tutorials and reviews, but for now let us look at some more Queen combinations.

Another combination is a Queen aligned with both her Rooks in the same open file, called tripling. The order of the pieces may generally take any order (Queen-Rook-Rook, Rook-Queen-Rook, or Rook-Rook-Queen). The later is given a special name. The Queen to the rear behind the Doubled Rooks (Rook Battery) is called Alekhine’s Gun. The combination of the three major pieces pointing at the opponent’s back rank provides a player with a multitude of threats against the opposing player, and with the tripling of power through the combination it is “like a loaded gun being pointed” toward the opposing King.

Another combination of the Queen and Doubled Rooks is when the Queen is on a opposing player’s back rank pinning an opposing piece on a square in that rank, which is providing a shield against a check on the opposing King located beyond the pinned piece; and, the Doubled Rooks are in an open file attacking the pinned piece. As you might have surmised, this is a powerful combination lineup to obtain against the opponent forcing him or her (if possible) to concentrate opposing pieces in defense.

Alekhine’s Gun often leads to another type of combination threat called an X-ray. In the above Queen-Rook-Rook combination, for example, the trap of an x-ray threat is that if the opposing player captures back the player’s piece that did the capture, the player quickly proceeds to gain material advantage or strengthen his or her already existing material advantage. Why? This is because the sacrifice actually results also in an immediate threat of checkmate forcing the opposing player to choose to lose the material. In such situation, usually the opposing player winds up with a lost game because of material disadvantage and positional structure deficiency.

Queen with a Bishop Pair. A Bishop Pair is when a player has both of his or her bishops still on the board and the opponent has only one or neither of his or her Bishops on the board. A Queen-Bishop Pair combination, especially in an open game, usually wins the game for the player with the combination.

Queen with two Knights. This combination is not considered as powerful as the Queen-Bishop Pair combination because it is not as easy to trap the King into checkmate. The player also must be more careful about creating a stalemate situation. However, played correctly, the Queen-Two Knights combination can be as deadly or sometimes more deadly than having a Queen-Bishop Pair combination depending on the positional structure and material advantage that exists in a given game.

Queen with a Bishop. A Queen-Bishop combination in an end game requires the player to use a little more patience and the basic pattern is to entrap (box in) the opposing King on one of the four sides of the board and preferably trapped in a corner by the Bishop and the King to allow the Queen to checkmate. Alternatively, the Queen and King may box in the opposing King. If played correctly, the opposing King may be forced to a square of the same color as the Bishop, allowing the Bishop to then checkmate the King from a distance away.

Queen with a Knight. A Queen-Knight combination in an endgame working with the King generally will be easier to box and trap the opposing King to reach checkmate than a Queen-Bishop combination.

The usefulness of the Queen cannot be overstated, especially Queen sacrifices in endgames. Other tutorials will cover and review the power and use of the Queen, alone and in combination with the King, and with other pieces and pawns, as well as traps and how a Queen may be further rendered powerless. However, as with any of the pieces and in the game of chess, exceptions abound. For now, we have already learned above several exceptions:

1.    Overworked Queen;
2.    Early Queen Trade which deprives the opposing player of the ability to castle, and possibly combined with capture of a pawn or a piece for material advantage;
3.    Queen Pin;
4.    Queen Skewer; and
5.    The hunt for the Queen harrying it with the hounds (the minor pieces and pawns) to remove it from the chessboard.