The Knight's Tour

The Knight has is easily the most well-known Chess piece for players and non-players alike worldwide.

But looking at this Scandinavian Knight from more than 800 years ago, that "horsiness" may be hard to see at first glance. It's simple design shows the influence of an Islamic culture thousands of miles away.

The strange truth is that early Indian and Persian Knights looked like real men on horseback, then for 500 years Islamic-influenced sets were extremely simple.

Finally fifteen centuries later once again the "Horsiness" of the Knight was again recognizable in the Staunton design we use today.

The Knight's Tour Chart illustrates the influence of Islamic culture on Chess starting about 10th Century. All of the pieces were made more abstract and simplified. These changes ironically helped the European visual metaphor evolve from army into royal house.

This has led to some strange iterations for other pieces. The Rook (from the Persian word "ruk") originally was a "war chariot" in India but had usually become a "tower" in Europe. (And along the way it was even a boat for awhile in Russia!)

But as far as we can tell the Knight piece has always meant cavalry and has had it's signature leap for as long as we have had recognizable Chess.

Nutshells & Links

The Knight's Tour Chart depicts the evolving design of the Knight over 15 centuries.

Here's the end-of-year review for the Knight.

A Ring of Power encircles the Knight.

Try this Knight's Tour to see how far you can get.

Then assign it for extra credit.

Teaching The Moves of the Pieces

I begin introducing the moves of all the pieces with the Knight, the hardest piece to learn. I used to start with some of the easier pieces but I now see how powerful it is for the beginner to master the Knight immediately.

If beginners cannot grasp the Knight move without the distraction of all the other things they need to know to play, then they are not ready for the complex interplay of the various rules of Chess. And that's okay. And good to know.

BTW, I have found that pointing out the color-changing nature of the Knight's leap can transpose into an effective discussion of the sliding pieces, by pointing out how the Bishop strictly observes it's duty to only travel "on-color".

Before introducing the pieces, the Algebraic names of the squares should be taught.

Asking Beginners to describe the Knight's move in words can be a fun starting point. They have many more amusing descriptions than just "it moves like an L".

Posting the Black Knight near the center lets us talk about the Ring of Power that the Knight takes with it as it clops around the board. I "draw" the ring square by square, so students can anticipate the pattern closing.

We compare the centered Knight with the White Knight on a1 and illustrate out how much of the White Knight's power is wasted off the board.

We see that White's Knight has only two choices from the corner square a1, while the Black Knight just outside the center already has eight targets, the most it could have. You could say that the Knight on f5 is 4x more powerful than a Knight on a corner square.

So the first take-away of this lesson, The Knight is more powerful nearer the center.

The second idea, The Knight jumps to a different color square with each move.

The Knight can leap to any square of the opposite color that 1 does not adjoin it and 2 is less than three squares away and 3 is not occupied by one of its own pieces.

I try to de-emphasize counting out the move as steps, and focus instead on helping them see the Ring of Power. I even invoke the Goldilocks lesson, "Too hot vs too cold vs just right."

Sometimes I have groups compete against each other to see how long a "real" Knight's Tour they can complete. And sometimes I want to build team spirit so I have the class do it together, aiming to beat 30 squares.

Sometimes we do it twice if they are really getting into it. And I end by assigning the online version for extra credit.

Now we are ready to tackle the sliding pieces!