History and Tips about Chess Bishops

Posted by Wholesale Chess on 23rd May 2019

History and Tips about Chess Bishops

This is part three of our series on how chess pieces move as well as the history of chess pieces. Check back in two weeks for our next installment on the Queen.


The piece we know as the Bishop today originated as the elephant, a powerful weapon the on the ancient battlefield. The alfil, as it was known in Arabic, could jump two squares diagonally. The modern movement of the Bishop was formalized in the 13th century, in Europe, but the piece was not known as a bishop in the English language until the 16th century. The distinctive chess piece we know today, with a cap resembling a bishop’s mitre, was not formalized until the Staunton chess set was first released by Jaques in 1849; however, the groove in the top of the piece predates the Staunton set. Some claim that the groove originally represented an elephant’s tusk or a jester’s cap.

In most languages, the piece is not known as a bishop. Most Germanic languages refer to the bishop as a “runner” or “messenger” (German Läufer, Dutch loper), while some others call the piece a “fool” or “crazy” (French fou, Romanian nebun). In Spanish, the bishop is still known as the alfil, from the original Arabic, and the Italian term alfiere (flag-bearer) is thought to be derived from the same term. In Russian, it is known as слон (slon), also meaning elephant. Icelandic (biskup) and Portuguese (bispo) are among the few languages that join English in calling the piece a bishop.

Moving the Bishop

The bishop can move any number of unoccupied squares diagonally. The bishop cannot jump other pieces. 

Each player starts with two bishops; white’s bishops begin the game on c1 and f1, while black’s bishops start on c8 and f8. This means that each player begins the game with one bishop that moves only on light-colored squares and one that moves only on dark-colored squares. When taking chess notation, we generally indicate a bishop move with the letter B and the square to which it is moving. For example, “Bc4” indicates the bishop moving to the c4 square.