Chess, the “Royal Game”, has existed since the dawn of time (or since 500 CE, to be precise), and its rules are hardly complex. Yet, it continues to excite millions of people all around the globe. In fact, since Netflix’s release of “The Queen’s Gambit” in 2020, the sport- may we say- has been receiving soaring publicity and wide interest. Check out these 9 fascinating facts about chess!
Chess Engines Are Much, Much Better Than Humans
The rapid technological development in the past few decades has left its mark in various areas, and chess is no exception. In the late 1990s, chess grandmasters (the very best of the best in the chess realm) went toe to toe with the most advanced engines of their time. Today, however, artificial intelligence coupled with revolutionized computing power make it impossible for a human to challenge a bot. Not even the best chess player in the world – Magnus Carlsen – could even dream of drawing, not-to-mention beating, Stockfish- the best chess engine in the world.
Yet, even with technology advances, the game of chess is still far from being “solved.” Each time chess engines are updated, they improve and find further new ways for improving at the royal game.
The Word “Checkmate” Has a Rather… Morbid Origin
Where do you think the word “checkmate” comes from? Does delivering the final blow in chess have anything to do with checking for potential mates? Well, no. The phrase actually comes from the Persian “Shah Mat,” which literally means… “the King is dead.” Quite fitting, don’t you think?
There Have Been Quite a Few Rule Changes in Chess
The current rules of chess have more or less been ossified in the early 19th century, barring a few minor modifications. But before the 19th century, chess was somewhat more fickle a game. For example, the Queen used to only be able to move diagonally. Now, it can move vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Stalemate (a situation in which a player cannot make a legal move) used to count as a win for the player who caused their opponent into such a predicament. Today, importantly, it is a draw. Then, there are pawn promotions (a situation in which a pawn reaches the end of the board and can become a different piece), which used to… not exist at all. Nowadays, for experienced chess players, going back to old rules would be unimaginable. Yet, that is how people played this game for centuries.
Chess Games Can Take a Very Long Time to Finish
While at the top level, the average chess game consists of roughly 40 moves (per side), the longest possible chess game could theoretically take up to 5,949 moves! Of course, no real game in history has come anywhere close. Indeed, the longest game ever recorded lasted 269 moves (that’s still a LOT!) and ended in a resounding… draw.
But even if a game doesn’t take a lot of moves to finish, it may take a lot of time to finish. A game of classical chess may last 6 hours (or more!).
There Are a LOT of Possible Moves in Chess
After both sides have made their first two moves, there are exactly 71,852 possible positions. After they’ve made three moves, the number goes to 9,132,484. After four moves, the number becomes stupidly enormous. This explains why chess is so difficult and why even the best engines in the world can’t “solve” it.
You Can Get a Checkmate in Two Moves
That’s right, it’s possible to win a game of chess after the second move. Well, if you have a chess board, be it virtual or physical, in front of you, then here is one example of such a scenario:
- White moves their pawn to G6
- Black moves their pawn to E5
- White moves their pawn to F3
- Black moves their Queen to H4
Voila, the white King cannot move, meaning black just won after two moves. Checkmate! Of course, such a situation is very unlikely to happen, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t ever happened. In fact, a famous YouTuber once lost in two moves against a chess master.
The Best Chess Players Can Play the Game Blindfolded
This might be shocking to some, but you can get so good at chess that you don’t even have to look at the board! The best chess players are so experienced that they can remember where each piece is at any given moment without needing to consult the visual cue that is the board. What’s more, they can remember how the entire game progressed, and they can recreate each move with razor-sharp precision. Here is an example of a blindfolded chess master squaring off against four amateur/intermediate players.
The Second Book Printed in English Was About Chess
William Caxton, world’s first printer, published ‘The Game and Playe of Chesse’ in the late 15th century. Pretty surprising, huh? Well, it just goes to show how prominent chess is and was throughout history.
In Chess, Children Can Compete at the Highest Level
While in most sports children cannot compete on equal footing with adults, in chess, they can constitute a serious threat to even the most experienced players. Here is just one example of a child (13 years old) beating a grandmaster. Mind-blowing!
Being so good at chess at such a young age is just one of many signs of being a natural-born genius.