Chess is a sophisticated game that’s as much about science as it is about beauty. Players anticipate their opponents’ next move and navigate highly complex situations in a game that relies on the perfection of geometry and the delicate flow of pieces across the board.
One of the most basic facts about chess is that the objective of the game is to checkmate the opponent’s king. But this recreational board game has a long history of interesting facts and fascinating particulars that many players aren’t familiar with. Keep reading to find out more about the story of chess through our selection of the most important stats.
Chess history facts
1. The earliest forms of chess can be traced back to India.
The history of chess spans more than 1,000 years, but the exact predecessor of the modern game has never really been identified. Aside from the game’s early forms in India, game pieces similar to the ones used today have been discovered in the Persian Gulf region, Pakistan, China, and Russia. These chess facts and the history of the game link it to ancient board games that involved the use of dice and boards consisting of 100 squares or more.
2. The war game chaturanga is the ancestor of modern chess.
This board game appeared in India sometime around the seventh century. The pieces include elephants, horsemen, and kings. And just like with the modern version of the game, the objective is to checkmate the opponent’s king. The different variants of the game allow for both two and four players. According to chess history facts, the Indian version of the game was later adopted in Persia, where it became shatranj and was used by Persian noblemen to develop military strategies.
Chaturanga is a word from the classical South Asian language of Sanskrit. It means four-limbed and refers to the structure of ancient armies, which consisted of four divisions: chariotry, elephantry, cavalry, and infantry.
3. Chess made its way to the European continent via the Arabian and Byzantine empires.
The game of shatranj also traveled West by way of Persia. But it was the Muslims that brought chess to Spain and Sicily, and the oldest recorded game in Europe can be found in a 10th-century manuscript. In what is one of the more detailed chess history facts, the manuscript shows that the game was played between a Baghdad historian and a student.
4. In his masterpiece, A History of Chess, H. J. R. Murray unraveled the history of the game, arguing that it originated in India.
The book was originally published in 1913, covering an unprecedented scope of historical manuscripts. Murray even learned Arabic to be able to analyze records. Chess facts and the history of the game reveal that chess was altered several times until the end of the 15th century and also survived many restrictions and prohibitions, mostly from the Church.
In 1880, chess evolved into the modern game that we know today. This period of evolution is widely known and recognized as the romantic era of chess.
5. The first official Chess World Championship was held in 1886.
Chess gradually developed into a competitive game, and modern-day rules were established as it grew in popularity among people from different corners of the globe. According to past facts about chess, the first official Chess World Championship was held in the United States of America on January 11, 1886, with Wilhelm Steinitz being crowned as the first chess champion.
The International Chess Federation, often referred to by its French acronym FIDE, is the governing organization of international chess competitions. When covering basic chess history facts, it’s important to mention that this organization is currently headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, but it was founded almost 100 years ago in Paris, France. The International Olympic Committee or IOC recognized FIDE as an International Sports Federation in June 1999.
Interesting facts about chess for kids
6. Chess is a board game played by two people.
Played on a chessboard that contains 64 squares, with eight squares on each side, the game begins with each player having 16 chess pieces. These are important chess facts for kids and adults who have never played this strategy game. The game is played by capturing the opponent’s pieces in order to attain a superior position and checkmate the king. Of course, the winner is declared when one of the kings is captured. That’s when the victor says checkmate, and the game is over.
Another one of the more interesting facts about chess for kids and beginners is that the term checkmate comes from the Persian phrase Shah Mat, which means, “the king is dead.” The term was adopted by Arabs and later evolved into a checkmate.
7. Chess pieces are divided into two sets, black and white.
One of the elementary facts about chess for kids is that the game begins with the players splitting the sets. Each set consists of a king, queen, two bishops, two rooks, two knights, and eight pawns. The player holding the white set usually makes the opening move.
8. Each chess piece can be moved to an unoccupied square on the chessboard or one occupied by the opponent.
The six different categories of pieces move differently. Details about their authorized trajectory are among the most interesting facts about playing chess.
Pawns can move forward as well as diagonally if they are capturing an opponent’s piece. The knights move in L shapes and can jump over a piece, while bishops can go diagonally, forward, and backward. Rooks may move horizontally and vertically, as well as forward and backward, and the Queen can travel horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in any direction. The King can only move one square in every direction.
9. Following each move in a single chess game, there are 400 new possible moves.
After each move in a chess game, there are 400 different options for a new move on the board. According to cool chess facts for kids, a player may checkmate an opponent in just two moves. On the other end of the spectrum, two opponents can theoretically play a game of 5,949 moves, which would make it the longest game in chess ever.
Amazing facts about chess
10. The second book printed in the English language was titled The Game of Chess.
The first printing of the book was in 1474. That’s when it was translated from a French text written by Jean de Vignay, a French monk and translator. A further overview of chess trivia facts reveals that the book was also the first to be reprinted. The reprinting was done in Westminster in 1483.
11. The folding chessboard was invented in the 12th century.
In the early days of the game, playing chess was rigorously forbidden by the church. As a result, in 1125, a chess-playing priest invented the first foldable chessboard.
One of the most interesting facts about chess is that the folding board was disguised by the priest to look like two books placed side by side after Bishop Guy of Paris pledged to excommunicate any priest caught playing chess.
12. The Danish-born Bent Larsen was the first grandmaster to lose to a computer.
(The New York Times) (Computer History Museum)
One of the many cool facts about chess is that in November 1988, in Long Beach, California, a computer named Deep Thought became the first machine to checkmate an international grandmaster. Feng-Hsiung Hsu created and developed the computer at Carnegie Mellon University.
13. Alan Turing created the first computer program for playing chess.
Another one of the more interesting chess facts is that Alan Turing created an algorithm named “Turbochamp” in 1950, but no computer at the time was capable of processing the complex calculations. Turing eventually decided to test the algorithm by doing manual calculations and playing each move based on the results. This project necessitated a substantial amount of time and effort, but Turing didn’t quit and made chess history.
14. The first mechanical chess clock was created by Thomas Wilson.
A man named Thomas Wilson created the first mechanical chess clock, which replaced the sand glass. The clock was invented in England in 1883. It might be hard to believe, but these are all chess facts and not fables. The tumbling chess clock was made out of two balanced clocks on a seesaw beam.
15. The Hollywood blockbuster Harry Potter used a replica of the infamous Lewis chess set.
(The British Museum)
This is believed to be one of the oldest chess sets. It was named after distinctive 12th-century chess pieces known as the Lewis chessmen. The name comes from Scotland’s Isle of Lewis where the pieces were discovered. According to archaeology experts, the set was created in Scandinavia. What’s even more fascinating is that the set was made from walrus ivory and whale teeth.
One of the many fun chess facts for movie and chess fans is that a replica of this ancient chess set was used in the filming of the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
16. All of the chess games in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” were memorized and played by the actors.
Among the many movie-related chess and fun facts is that the games in the latest Netflix mini-series, “The Queen’s Gambit”, were created by Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini.
Another equally impressive component of the show saw the lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy and the entire cast study and practice every move in every game, whether or not it ended up on the big screen.
17. Blindfold chess increases a player’s overall board awareness.
Yes, you read that correctly – chess players actually play the game blindfolded. The greatest chess masters can play the strategy game without seeing the board. This is a talent that only top players possess, and it needs a clear mental image of the chessboard when preparing the moves. The Guinness World Record for blindfolded chess was set by the grandmaster Timur Garayev in 2017 when the blindfolded player simultaneously played 48 chess games for more than 19 hours.
18. The police once stormed a chess tournament.
Facts about chess have a darker side too. In 1918, Russian grandmaster Ossip Bernstein was arrested by the Soviet secret police and nearly executed by a firing squad. In 1973, a chess tournament in Cleveland made history when it was raided by police. The director was detained, and the chessboards were seized. The police accused the players of gambling and possessing gambling equipment (the chess sets).
19. Anatoly Karpov, the 12th world champion, became a grandmaster when he was 19.
A lot of the most fundamental chess facts are related to Anatoly Karpov, one of the most famous chess grandmasters out there. Karpov won the World Junior Championship that was held in Stockholm in 1969. After a year, he became the world’s youngest grandmaster at the age of 19. Another one of the crazy facts about professional chess players is that Anatoly Karpov held a winning streak from 1975 until 1985. His reign as world champion was finally ended by Gary Kasparov in 1985.
Facts about chess pieces
20. The pawn may travel two squares on its first move.
In chess, the new pawn move refers to moving the pawn two squares forward on its first move instead of one. According to facts about the pawn in chess, this exact move was initially used in Spain around 1280.
21. Rookies are named after the rook piece in the game of chess.
The word rookie describes players who are just starting out or are in their first year. They are named after the rooks because, just like the rookies, they are generally the last pieces to be put into action during the game.
22. The queen became the strongest piece on the chessboard thanks to Spain’s Queen Isabella.
Perhaps one of the more interesting facts about the queen in chess is that this piece couldn’t always move the way it does now. The queen could originally only move one square diagonally at a time, then two squares at a time. During the formidable reign of Queen Isabella in Spain, the queen in chess emerged as the most powerful piece on the chessboard.
23. There are more than a hundred million ways to accomplish the knight’s tour.
There are many interesting facts about the chess piece. The knight can make a sequence of moves on the chessboard. One of these is the knight’s tour in which the piece visits every square exactly once. There are around 122 million ways to complete this renowned sequence.
24. The king is the most treasured chess piece, yet it’s not the most valuable.
Almost every piece on the board has a certain point value that tells us their relative worth in the game. Chess king facts reveal that the king is the only piece that doesn’t have a point value. That’s because the king cannot be captured during the game. Meanwhile, the knights and bishops are worth three points each, the rooks are worth five points, and the queen has the highest value of nine points.
25. In open positions, bishops are stronger than knights.
Facts about the chess piece (bishop) reveal that this long-range tool does the most damage when positioned on open long diagonals. The two bishops working together can create a range of possibilities for attacks. However, chess knight facts tell us that this isn’t the case when it comes to closed positions. In these types of positions, the knights are stronger than bishops. What’s more, two bishops are nearly always stronger than using a single bishop with a single knight.
Interesting chess statistics
26. More than 600 million adults play chess worldwide.
According to recent chess stats compiled by YouGov, the global chess community consists of an estimated 605 million people. A survey that focused on various demographic profiles in the US, UK, Russia, Germany, and India found that around 70% of the adult population played chess at some point in their lives. So, how many people play chess in some of those individual counties? The highest percentage of adults that play the strategy game is in Russia (43%). That number is lower in the US (15%) and the UK (12%). In Germany, the game appears to be slightly more popular than in its western counterparts, with 23% of adults playing chess.
27. There are somewhere between 10111 and 10123 positions in chess.
(National Museums Liverpool)
While trying to come up with a winning strategy and considering all the potential possibilities, every player asks that fundamental question: how many chess moves are there? The aforementioned number of positions, which is higher than the number of atoms in the universe, accounts for illegal moves as well. For the sake of comparison, the number of atoms in the observable universe is somewhere between 1078 and 1082. That said, it’s important to point out that the number of chess moves drops to a mere 1040 when prohibited options are taken out of the equation.
The total number of potential chess positions is also known as the Shannon number. It’s named after American mathematician Claude Shannon, one of the pioneers of the information theory, who came up with the calculations to determine the number of possible chess moves.
28. The longest tournament chess game lasted for more than 20 hours.
According to chess stats and records, the longest tournament chess game ever recorded lasted an incredible 269 moves. This lengthy game took place in Belgrade in 1989 and, surprisingly, ended in a draw. The historic game was played between Ivan Nikolić and Goran Arsović.
29. Only 4% of Americans think chess is a game of chance.
A survey conducted in 2020 sought to get a better sense of how Americans feel about the game of chess. Participants were asked whether they believe chess is a game of skill or a game of luck. The chess stats compiled by this particular survey revealed that 82% of Americans believe that chess is a game of skill, while only 4% said that chess is a game of luck. 5% of respondents said they didn’t know the answer, and another 9% felt it wasn’t applicable.
30. Most of the world’s grandmasters come from the Russian Federation.
Before moving on with the list of interesting chess statistics, it’s important to note that a grandmaster is the highest title in chess. It’s achieved when a player reaches a specific Elo rating and competes in a certain number of tournaments. There are more than 1,700 grandmasters in the world, and more than 250 of those are Russian. The United States is second on the list with 97 grandmasters, while Germany follows close behind with 95 grandmasters.
31. Women make up only a small portion of the world’s grandmasters.
Chess stats reveal that the game isn’t exempt from the gender gap. The game is dominated by males who also make up the vast majority of the world’s grandmasters. Meanwhile, only 37 of the international grandmasters are women.
32. White’s best opening is the Queen’s Gambit, while black’s is the Sicilian Defense.
Chess opening statistics give us a better understanding of which openings are best for setting the tone of the game and perhaps leading to victory. Data shows that opening with the Queen’s Gambit when playing with white pieces led to victory in most games, whilst the most rewarding opening when playing with black pieces is the Sicilian Defense.
Chess statistics on the white vs. black showdown show that in a select number of games, the former won 40% of the time when the Queen’s Gambit was used as an opener, and 36% of those games ended in a draw. Meanwhile, the blacks won 34% of the games that began with the Sicilian Defense, and 29% of those games ended in a tie. Another strong black opening is the Nimzo Indian, resulting in 30% of the chess games won, while 37% of the games ended in a tie.
33. Garry Kasparov is considered the best chess player of all time.
Garry Kasparov, the 13th world champion, is considered the top player of all time. According to chess player statistics, he held the world title between 1985 and 2000 while dominating the game for 20 years. After beating Anatoly Karpov in 1985, Kasparov became the world’s youngest champion at the age of 22.
Another important piece of information concerning Kasparov is that he attained his top rating of 2,856 on March 3, 2000, a record that was difficult to beat until Magnus Carlsen came along.
34. Magnus Carlsen is the reigning world champion.
Carlsen’s chess player statistics underscore some of his unmatched and extraordinary achievements. One of those is his current top rating of 2,889, which he achieved on April 21, 2014. Another notable stat about Magnus Carlsen is that he has a 120-game winning streak. All of this is even more impressive when you consider that this player is only 30 years old.
35. Chess popularity saw an increase in 2020 and became the most trendy board game.
(Return) (The Science Survey)
We’ve already touched on some of the impressive aspects of Netflix’s hit show, The Queen’s Gambit. But aside from the brilliant performances, the show is also fuelling interest in the game of chess.
Chess trends show that the game was one of the most searched board or party games online towards the latter part of 2020. By November, monthly searches increased by 189% compared to the previous 11 months. Moreover, people appear to be more interested than ever in learning how to play the game. There was a 56% increase in “how to play chess” searches when compared to March and April. These figures undoubtedly show that chess popularity is on the rise.
And if that’s not definitive enough, eBay experienced a 215% rise in chess sales following the show’s release. It’s worth mentioning that The Queen’s Gambit was watched by 62 million households in the first week following its release on October 23, 2020.
36. The most popular chess site recorded around 11 million new users since March 2020.
(The Science Survey)
Chess.com enjoyed a serious influx of new users between March 2020 and March 2021. But these chess trends can’t be attributed solely to popular television shows. Global lockdowns linked to the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role by keeping people in their homes.
Another figure that highlights the growing popularity of chess is 63.000. That’s the number of viewers who were watching the online PogChamps chess tournament in June of 2020, making it one of the most-watched Twitch broadcasts that year.
37. The North American chess market size is forecast to grow to $40.5 million by 2022.
In 2016, that market was worth $25.5 million. Meanwhile, its European counterpart is expected to go in the other direction. Worth $44 million in 2016, it’s projected to shrink to $12.5 million by 2022. Finally, the Chinese chess market was also worth a lot in 2016. In fact, this market was the largest in 2016 but is also likely to shrink by 2022 to $25.5 million.
After analyzing facts about chess, we have a better understanding of what Garry Kasparov meant in one of his more famous quotes: “Chess is an art and not a spectator sport.” Being a chess player requires a unique level of concentration, dedication, and logic, and there is a growing number of people willing to invest the time to learn the game.
- Computer History Museum
- Gamex Cart
- Live Science
- National Museums Liverpool
- Skyhorse Publishing
- The British Museum
- The Conversation
- The Guardian
- The New York Times
- The Science Survey