Here’s Why Chess Sets Come With An Extra Queen

If you’ve been out shopping for a chess set recently then you may have noticed that some of them seem to come with 34 pieces including 2 queens for each side! Is this because there’s been a new kind of chess invented or because the rules have changed? No, thankfully that’s not what it’s about at all. In fact, the explanation is much simpler.

Why do chess sets come with an extra queen? Standard chess sets come with 32 pieces and that includes a single queen for each side. Some chess sets come with 34 pieces, with an extra queen for each color. The extra queens allow for promoted pawns to become queens even when the original queen is still on the board.

Here’s what you need to know about this phenomenon.

Why do chess sets have extra queens? -
Why do chess sets have extra queens? –

How Many Pieces Are There Supposed To Be In A Chess Set?

There are supposed to be 32 pieces in a chess set. This consists of 16 pawns, 4 rooks, 4 bishops, 4 knights, 2 kings, and 2 queens. They are split evenly into two colors. These colors are traditionally white and black but there is no rule in chess that requires the pieces to actually be made of white or black materials and as long as one group of pieces is lighter than the other – this is fine.

Pawns are easy to identify, they will, normally, have a little round polished head (rather like a bald man) and because of their prevalence they are simply to distinguish from the other pieces.

A Quick Introduction To Chess Pieces

The rooks are often also called “castles” because they look, normally, like the turrets found on a traditional castle.

The knights are often also called “horses” because they are, normally, depicted as the horses that knights would ride into battle in.

The bishops do have a look of priestly vestments, in most sets, but they can easily be identified as the group of 4 pieces that remain once you’ve removed the rooks and knights.

The king will normally have a cross on his head and thus is quite easy to distinguish from the queen, which is also, usually, the tallest piece on the board.

Why Do I Keep Saying “Normally”?

The traditional chess pieces that are most instantly recognizable to the eye are called “Staunton” pieces and they were named after the English chess master Howard Staunton. This is probably quite unfair as they were, in fact, designed by a journalist by the name of Nathaniel Cooke but this is how life often turns out, right?

But there’s no reason that chess sets can’t be made with non-traditional pieces and Staunton sets are far from the only chess sets available to purchase.

The author has a rather super set, purchased in Corfu in his youth, where all the pieces are meant to resemble items from Greek mythology – if you know chess, their identities are still quite clear but they aren’t “traditional” rooks, queens, bishops, etc. and even the pawns don’t look like pawns.

We’ve seen variations based on everything from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars when it comes to chess pieces. You won’t find these variations used in tournament play because they might confuse players and they want to be able to concentrate on their game rather than on deciphering which piece is which but you’ll certainly find them in use in friendly games throughout the world.

The Extra Queens Conundrum: The 34-Piece Chess Set

This also means that there’s no legal requirement for a chess set to only have 32 pieces. You may only place 32 pieces on the board  (in the arrangement mentioned above) to play a game of standard chess but there’s no rule that says that you can’t have spare pieces, etc. on hand if they are needed.

Yet, the only common arrangement that involves more than 32 pieces is a 32-piece chess set that involves the provision of an extra queen for each side and this is because of the odd chess phenomenon of promoted pawns.

What Is Promotion In Chess?

As you probably already know, a pawn in chess can only move in a forward direction. It may advance 1 or 2 squares as its first move and thereafter it may advance either 1 move forward or take another piece 1 diagonal move forward.

Thus, a pawn that reached the final rank of the board would become a useless item as it would no longer be able to move. This, of course, is no incentive to use your pawns and if the pawn were to become useless – players would be far more cavalier with risk taking and pawns than they are.

Sometimes It’s Called “Queening”

The reason for this is the concept of promotion. When that pawn reaches the final rank instead of becoming a useless immovable piece on the board, instead, it is “promoted” and the player whose pawn has reached that rank may now replace it with a rook, bishop, knight or queen of the same color.

It is the player’s choice as to which piece that they promote their pawn too but in the vast majority of cases, they will opt for a queen because this is the most powerful piece on the board. Thus, many players think of promotion as “queening” (the act of turning a pawn into a queen).

No Capture Required

Some people think that a piece must be promoted to a piece that the opponent has captured already, but this is not the case. The player may promote their piece to any of the four choices whether or not any of the original pieces have been captured.

Thus, there may be a time when a player’s pawn arrives on the final rank and they wish to make it into a queen, but no queen is available to replace it with. This is the reason for the 34-piece chess set. By providing each player with a “spare” queen, there is less room for confusion when a pawn is “queened”.

Tournament Rules For Promotion Are Different

It is worth noting that if you play in a tournament and you wish to promote a pawn to a piece that has not been captured, you must summon the arbiter who will provide the correct piece for you to place on the board.

If, on the other hand, you are in casual play and do not have a spare queen to hand then you may place an upside down rook on the board to act as a queen and if this is not available, either, then you might use a marker on the pawn (say a coin placed underneath it) to distinguish it as a queen.

Why Don’t They Provide Spare Rooks, Bishops And Knights For This Purpose Too?

The promotion of a pawn to any piece other than a queen is known as “under promotion” and it’s a fairly rare occurrence.

In general, a player only promotes to a knight if it provides an immediate check on the king or even checkmate. They may also promote to a rook if they think it will help them avoid stalemate on the board which would be caused by the placement of a queen in the promoted rank.

As for promoting to a bishop? This is so rare that it only happens in about 1 in 33,000 ranked games!

This means that given there are two of each piece (and thus it is more likely that one of them will have been captured by the time a pawn is promoted) and that this kind of promotion is rare – it’s just not worth the expense of making spares for this contingency.


Why do chess sets come with an extra queen? Most chess sets don’t come with an extra queen. However, there are some sets that will ship with an extra queen for each player. This queen does not go on the board at the start of the game and it’s not for playing some strange new variant of chess, either. It is used in a single specific instance.

That is when a pawn makes it to the other player’s first row and is promoted to a queen. Then, if a queen is already on the board of the same color, that pawn can become a queen that is easily visually recognizable. However, if another pawn is then promoted and both queens are on the board, there’s nothing to stop that one from becoming a queen either (and the traditional upside-down rook or other marker is used to denote this).

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