Word of the day – gwyddbwyll

In Modern Welsh, gwyddbwyll means chess, (lit. “wood wisdom”), however it originally referred a different board game which is mentioned in the ancient Welsh tales of the Mabinogion.

According to this site, the original game was often played on a pegged board with a king and four princes (or defenders) against eight opponents (or raiders). The exact rules have been lost in the mists of time.

The Cornish equivalent of gwyddbwyll is goedhboell, while in Breton it’s gwezboell. The Irish word for this game is ficheall, or fidchell in Old Irish, which comes from the same root as the Welsh and means the same thing. There are more details of the Irish game of fidchell here.

The Welsh names of the chess pieces are:

Teyrn / Brenin = King
Brenhines = Queen
Castell (castle) = Rook
Esgob = Bishop
Marchog = Knight
Gwerinwr (peasant/pawn) = Pawn

This entry was posted in Irish, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

0 Responses to Word of the day – gwyddbwyll

  1. TJ says:

    Well, I didn’t read the article and the rules but when you mentioned the king and defenders, I directly imagined the game of Tablut. I think there is some another name of version of Tablut called Hnef(something). I can’t remember.

    I wonder if there is some connection between the two.

  2. Caenwyr says:

    You’re right TJ, I’ve looked it up, and the rules seem very similar to me. Only the details differ.

  3. there’s also a site where you can play chess in Welsh http://www.gwyddbwyll.com

  4. Rhys says:

    Mae Sion wedi fy nghuro gyda dolen at gwyddbwyll.com, ond ‘Gwyddbwyll’ yw enw un o fy hoff ganeuon gan Tystion

  5. Caenwyr says:

    Sorry? :p

  6. TJ says:

    What’s wrong Caenwyr? The man is saying: Mae Sion wedi fy nghuro gyda dolen at gwyddbwyll.com, ond ‘Gwyddbwyll’ yw enw un o fy hoff ganeuon gan Tystion!!!!


  7. DA says:

    The international chess federation, Federation International des Echecs, accepts the Welsh chess notation for players to record their games. I believe I was the first, or at least one of the first people, to use the Welsh notation in international competition when I used to play chess for Wales – possibly the only official use of Welsh outside Wales? There is one Welsh language chess book but it is now out of print.

  8. Owen says:

    There is also a section on Wicipedia Cymraeg on Gwyddbwyll:


    and the opportunity to play online, some tips on how to play, strategy, Welsh notation etc on http://www.gwyddbwyll.com

  9. LandTortoise says:

    DA mentions official use of Welsh outside Wales. Well, at Jesus College, Oxford, official signs are in Welsh as well as English and on St David’s day the service in the chapel is conducted solely in Welsh!

  10. Mike says:

    Looks just like one of the many Tafl varients.


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