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I wonder if the chess king is he or it, and if the chess queen is she or it. Something like that: "NN made a good move with his queen, but lost her (or lost it) three moves later."

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    Strictly speaking, as pieces of wood, chess pieces are "it", however many people anthropomorphize them, in which case all pieces, save the queen are traditionally given male pronouns. This is likely to be a much more sensitive and political area of discussion in these days, however, and are probably safer using "it"
    – mstorkson
    Mar 23, 2017 at 18:39
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    I agree, except that the concepts of king and queen are explicitly defined to be male and female (respectively) so that makes it safer to use "him" and "her". There are some interesting traditional him/her rules for some other things. A ship was always "her".
    – Stew C
    Mar 23, 2017 at 19:01
  • In England, a bishop could be "she" :)
    – TimR
    Mar 23, 2017 at 22:28

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I'm fairly certain either pronoun could be used; I don't think either he or it would be labeled as incorrect. However, your question got me curious, so I did some digging.

I found a book entitled Chess Made Easy by William George Walker, and found several instances where he was used to reference to knights, bishops, or the king, and where she was used to reference the queen. For example:

One Knight, however, is stronger than a Bishop at the close of a game, because he can range on both colours. (p. 38)

The Queen is the most valuable piece of all. She is equal, on average, to two Rooks and a Pawn. (p. 37)

That said, the word it was used when referring to pawns:

When a pawn reaches the extreme rank, or last square of the board, it must be exchanged. (p. 33)

I was most curious to see which pronoun – it or he – would be used for rooks, but could not find any usage of either one. Perhaps the author was careful to avoid that situation.

Now, two important notes apply:

  • First, the author seems to have chosen this as a convention. I am aware of no grammatical rule dictating that this convention must be used, and would be surprised to learn of one.
  • Second, the book was published in 1850. Even if this had been the traditional way to refer to chess pieces back then, I'm not sure that the tradition would still hold true today. It might even be a dated way of referring to chess pieces.

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