Chess, the game of kings (and queens!), is synonymous with strategy, discipline and skill. Played by millions of people around the world from every walk of life, chess is a fascinating topic. Chess has evolved throughout history with the rules of gameplay becoming standardized in the 19th century as chess tournaments began. The 20th century revolutionized the game with the invention of chess databases and chess engines. There are many interesting facts about the game – let’s jump into 15 fascinating facts about chess.
Facts about Chess:
- Initially, the “Queen” could only move one square at time diagonally. The piece was originally called the “advisor” and was one of the weakest pieces on the board. It wasn’t until chess was brought to Europe and the rise of Queen Isabella during the 15th century that the “advisor” was replaced with the “queen” and became the most powerful piece on the board.
- The second book ever printed in the English language was a book about chess. The book, The Game and Playe of the Chesse by William Caxton, was printed in 1474. The first book, also printed by Claxton was The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye.
- Mathematically, the number of possible unique games of chess is greater than the number of electrons in the observable universe. The number of electrons is estimated to be about 10^80 , while the number of unique chess games is 10^120 (that’s 1 followed by 120 zeros).
- There exists a hybrid sport of chess and boxing called chess boxing. Alternating between rounds of four minutes of speed chess and three minutes of boxing, the goal is to achieve a knockout or a checkmate. The origin of the game of pawn vs brawn can be traced back to a 1992 science fiction graphic novel by Yugoslavian-French cartoonist Enki Bilal.
- The longest chess game possible (in theory) is 5,949 moves. Based on the various movement combinations, the maximum number of moves that a game can continue without a player claiming a draw is just over 5,900 moves. In reality, the longest Official Chess game in recorded history lasted 269 moves. It ended in a draw.
- Hungarian psychologist László Polgár, raised three daughters who eventually all became world champion chess players. The “Polgár sisters”: Zsuzsa, Zsófia, and Judit were the product of an educational experiment by their father who believed “geniuses are not born, they are made”. He home-schooled his daughters in the late 1960s and trained them in chess daily. Judit Polgár became a Grandmaster at age fifteen and eventually became the only female chess player to reach the top 50.
- Chess is a mandatory subject in Armenian schools for every child over the age of six. Since 2011, all children in the former Soviet nation from six to eight years old have had compulsory chess lessons. It’s the first country in the world to include it as part of the primary school curriculum along with such standards as mathmatics and history.
- In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, Alice’s movements through the book are designed to be a playable game of chess. The sequel to Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland, has Alice encountering red and white chessmen that take her on a journey across the chessboard. Carroll admits taking some liberties with the game, and while the game itself might be somewhat abstract, it does follow the rules of a traditional game of chess.
- Chess Grand Master Ossip Bernstein was nearly executed by the Bolshevik secret police until a commanding officer let him play a game of chess to save his own life. In 1918, Bernstein found himself arrested by the Bolshevik secret police whose purpose was to investigate and punish “counterrevolutionary” crimes. As the firing squad lined up before him, a senior officer and chess enthusiast recognized Bernstein’s name. He offered Bernstein a deal. They would play a game of chess and if Bernstein won he would win his life and freedom. However, if he lost (or the game came to a draw), he would get shot along with the rest of the prisoners. Bernstein won easily and was released.
- It is possible, though unlikely, to checkmate an opponent in only two moves. There are eight different ways to Mate in two moves from the starting position; however there are 355 different ways to Mate in three moves. It is worth noting that an average game lasts 38 moves.
- U.S. Chess Master Bobby Fischer was issued an arrest warrant for playing a chess match in Yugoslavia. In 1992, Fischer was charged in violating economic sanctions against the former country of Yugoslavia. He came out of retirement to earn $5 million in a rematch against Boris Spassky, the former world champion and his old nemesis. Fischer would never return to the U.S. and ultimately settled (and later died) in Reykjavik after renouncing his American citizenship.
- Mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing developed the first computer program for playing chess in 1952. However, no computer was powerful enough at the time to process the program. Turing “ran” the program manually on a piece of paper taking several minutes per move.
- In 1997, chess world champion Garry Kasparov lost to the IBM supercomputer known as Deep Blue because of a bug in the software. Kasparov, as well as other chess masters, blamed the defeat on a single move made by the IBM machine in the 44th turn. The computer made a sacrifice that seemed to hint at its long-term strategy. This spooked Kasparov who attributed the move to Deep Blue’s “superior intelligence.” It was later revealed that this move was simply a glitch in the software.
- The actors memorized and played all the chess games on Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit”. Netflix’s adaptation of “The Queen’s Gambit,” from Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name was released in 2020. The limited series starred Anya Taylor-Joy as chess prodigy Beth Harmon. Chess consultants Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini created every game for the series. The actors learned and played every move of each game whether the game was shown on-screen or not including the speed chess games.
- Heather Ledger was working on a film adaptation of “The Queen’s Gambit” prior to his death in 2008. Ledger was an accomplished chess player and planned to direct and star in alongside Elliot Page, who would’ve played Beth.
Now that you know a few fun facts about Chess, try reading about these fun facts about Fortnite.