My interest in Chess has always been lukewarm, that is until I begun to watch sageuks,soon I started to compare the moves on the  board to many of the actions  taken by characters in the dramas.  Sageuks are generally highly political,as a result there is plenty of  power play and strategic thinking is necessary to ensure the survival of sageuk characters.Usually  the villains featured in the sageuk universe are so clever and evil that the protagonists  have to be extremely smart and equally conniving in order to stay alive or to achieve their goals.

The King

All kings are limited by protocol and tradition,no matter how old or handsome they are 🙂

The king is the piece that needs to be protected on the board by all the other pieces. The king piece is usually very weak as they are only allowed one move, but that one move when used well is very devastating to an opponent. Kings in the Sageuk Universe  have the same fate as the chess piece that represents them.Kings Their survival is highly dependent on loyal

and competent retainers as represented by the other pieces on the chess board.Their  royal authority is limited by the nobles who compete with them for power and a king who can survive needs to be both competent in understanding the law, charismatic enough  to command undying devotion and manipulative enough  to get others to do his dirty work for him.

yi san 2
King Jeongjo in Yi San was a charismatic man who inspired great loyalty in his followers,it is this quality that kept him alive for most of the show.

The Queen

Evil queen yi san
The queen has to be devious manipulative and wise.Even with all her resources, a mere pawn can bring about her downfall if there is just cause

The queen piece is admittedly the most powerful piece on the chess board with the ability to move in any direction on the chess board. However she is  constrained by the fact that she is not allowed  to jump over other pieces to get to her destination.Her ability to do all kinds of damage is devastating, the queen in sageuks also has many resources at hand and can command the King’s retainers to her advantage.

Queens who fascinated and frightened us with their power in the Sageuk Universe

Just like the chess  queen ,a  sageuk queen is also not just allowed to jump over obstacles as  per her wish,she is constrained by tradition and the law and she can be annihilated  if she lets down her guard and fails to  keep her  place.

Mishil the powerhouse who was Queen in all but name

 The Bishop and The Rook

evil bishop
Sometimes the Bishop or Rook starts out wanting to protect the King but inevitably becomes loyal to power for the sake of power

A bishop  has the power to move diagonally across the board in any direction while the Rook can move backwards and forwards and to the sides. Both pieces can move as far as they want across the board and when they work together across the board their power is near impossible to stop.

bishops and rooks
Either the most loyal guys to the king or the worst enemies he could ever wish to have

Classic examples of rooks and bishops within the sageuk universe are the prime ministers, state councilors and ministers or eunuchs. These characters are rarely loyal to the king although some are devoted to him.The  main agenda of any rook and bishops within the sageuk universe is to amass as much political power as they can to bring the king under their control.

troublesome R
A Rook and Bishop type who deposed and Installed kings in their respective Kdrama Universes of King and I and Queen Insoo

The Knight

The Knight is a useful piece with the ability to jump over the other pieces however this ability is limited to three paces forward, backwards and sideways. The Knight in the sageuk is also similarly limited usually he is always good with a sword but is always constrained either by the country’s law or he works for an evil bishop or rook. Sometimes the evil bishop or rook is threatening the Knight’s loved ones ,thus exerting control over the poor guy. Worse still the knight in the sageuk may owe a debt of gratitude to an evil bishop or rook who compels him to do horrible stuff. Some knights answer directly to the king and may end up being the King one day

The knights
The handsome guy with the sword is usually the Knight although sometimes his Armour is not so shiny
more knights
Yoo Seung Ho as the murderous Black Knight with a debt of gratitude to an evil master assassin and Ji Chang Wook as the white knight who must stop them.

The Pawn

Deokman was the pawn who beat the evil Mishil to become the Queen of Shilla
queen and pawn
The evil queen fails to recognize the pawn who will engineer her downfall

This piece may seem expendable but used in the right way they change the course of  the game on the entire board. A pawn may move two paces ahead as a first move and can move diagonally to capture another piece on the board

Pawns 2 queen
Pawns who became queens in a manner of speaking

Pawns can also move two steps ahead in their opening moves and continue one move at a time to get to the end of the board.If they are successful, they can get promoted to queen, knight, bishop or rook, pawns in the sageuk universe could easily be the main protagonists or antagonists in a drama

ultimate promo
The Ultimate promotion Ha Ji Won rose from a victimized pawn to the Empress of a superpower nation.Now that is a promotion!