Chess pieces vary in both value and abilities. A standard chess match consists of each player having the following equipment:
One side is referred to as "white" and the other as "black". To distinguish between the two, the black pieces are darker than the white pieces. Besides these standard pieces, there exists many chess variants or certain kinds of chess problems that call for non-standard, fairy pieces.
The word piece has two meanings, depending on the context. In one sense it means any of the physical pieces of the set. In another sense it means a queen, rook, bishop, or knight, or perhaps the king. It may refer to only a minor piece (a bishop or knight). The context should make the intended meaning clear , .
Each piece moves in a different pattern.
Pieces capture opposing pieces by replacing them on their square, except for an en passant capture. Only one piece may occupy a given square. Except for castling and the movement of the knight, a piece may not move over another piece.
The variation of designs available is broad, from small cosmetic changes to highly abstract representations to themed designs such as those which emulate the drawings from the works of Lewis Carroll or modern treatments such as Star Trek or The Simpsons. Themed designs are usually intended for display rather than for actual play.
Chess pieces used for play are usually figurines that are taller than they are wide. For example, a set of pieces designed for a chessboard with 2¼ inch (57 mm) squares will typically have a king around 3¾ inches (95 mm) tall. They are available in a variety of designs, with the most well-known Staunton design which is named after Howard Staunton (a 19th century English chess player), which was designed by Nathaniel Cook. The first Staunton style sets were made in 1849 by Jaques of London (also known as John Jaques of London and Jaques and Son of London).
Wooden chess pieces are normally made of the light wood boxwood or sometimes maple. Black wooden pieces are either made of a dark wood such as rosewood, ebony, red sandalwood, or walnut; or they are made of boxwood and stained or painted black, brown, or red. Plastic white pieces are made of white or off-white plastic and black pieces are made of black or red plastic. Sometimes other materials are used, such as bone, ivory, or a composite material.
For actual play, pieces of the Staunton chess set design are the standard. The height of the king should be between 85 mm and 105 mm (3.35 to 4.13 inches). USCF rules call for a king height between 3⅜ and 4½ inches tall (86 to 114 mm). A height of approximately 95 to 102 mm (3¾ to 4 inches) is preferred by most players. The diameter of the king should be 40 to 50 percent of its height. The size of the other pieces should be in proportion to the king. The pieces should be well balanced. The size of the squares of the chessboard should be approximately 1.25–1.3 times the diameter of the base of the king, or 50 to 65 mm (2 to 2½ inches). Squares of size of approximately 57 mm (2¼ inches) normally are well-suited for pieces with the kings in the preferred size range. These criteria are from the United States Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, which is based on the Fédération Internationale des Échecs rules.
Some small magnetic sets, designed to be compact and/or for travel, have pieces more like those used in Shogi and Xiangqi — each piece being a similar flat token, with a symbol drawn on it to show which piece it is.
Unicode contains symbols for chess pieces in both white and black.
"Make sure the one you buy is easy on the eye, felt-based, and heavy (weighted). The men should be constructed so they don't come apart. ... The regulation board used by the U. S. Chess Federation is green and buff — never red and black. However there are several good inlaid [wood] boards on the market. ... Avoid cheap equipment. Chess offers a lifetime of enjoyment for just a few dollars well spent at the outset."
The value assigned to a piece attempts to represent the strength this piece potentially has in a match. With game circumstances constantly changing, so do the values assigned to the pieces. To maximize the value of your pieces you must take advantage of their special abilities. For example, a bishop positioned to control a long, open diagonal will appear much more valuable than a knight stuck in a corner. Similar idea exist with placing rooks on open files and knights on active, central squares.