8 Weird and Fun Chess Facts for the American Chess Day

  • Think you’re a chess grandmaster? Let’s see if you know all these chess facts!

Did you know that September 1 is American Chess Day? Well, now you do, and that day is today!

Today, chess has a reputation of being a game for sophisticated intellectuals. But it has a long and colorful history over which everyone from pauper to king has tried their hand at the game.

Unsurprisingly, a lot has happened with chess over time. Here’s a collection of some weird, fun, or just plain interesting facts about chess.

1) Chess Originated More Than 1,000 Years Ago

Chess is an old game — very, very old. In fact, the current historical consensus is that it originated somewhere in India about 1,300 years ago.

Chess is more or less directly descended from a game called chaturanga that was played in India in the 7th century. Instead of pawns, knights, and bishops, this early form of chess had cavalry, elephants, and chariots, and was used as a training simulator for military commanders.

The oldest texts about chess are also from this period. Meanwhile, the oldest chess pieces, found in modern Uzbekistan, are made of ivory and date to around 760.

2) Modern Chess Was Born in Spain

Although chess is descended from chaturanga, that ancient game didn’t play exactly like the chess we know. But modern chess isn’t a youngster either — even the rules we know are 800 years old.

From India, chess went on a tour through the Middle East and northern Africa before arriving in Spain. There, the rules received an update around 1200, bringing them very close to the chess we play today.

3) The Second Book Ever Printed in English Was About Chess

Chess has been a popular game throughout history. It was so popular that the second book ever printed in the English language referenced it.

English printer William Caxton printed The Game and Playe of the Chesse in 1474 after translating it from French. Despite its name, though, the book didn’t actually have much to with the game — instead, it was a political treatise that described social classes as different chess pieces.

But it does show that politics have been compared to a game of chess for hundreds of years.

4) There are More Possible Chess Games Than Atoms in the Universe

There are countless possible moves you could make during a game of chess. This immense variability means that there’s an absolutely mindblowing number of potential unique chess games you could play.

People smarter than us have calculated that there are between 10111 and 10123 potential games of chess you can play. Meanwhile, the number of atoms in the observable universe is 1078 to 1082.

Talk about a larger-than-life game.

5) The Least Amount of Moves to Win Chess is Two

But you don’t need an inconceivable number of moves to win in chess. You just need two moves — and a foolish opponent.

The series of moves that results in a two-turn checkmate is known as the Fool’s Mate. It can only be achieved by Black if the beginning White player makes two very specific moves with two pawns.

But if the start (and chess pieces) align just right, Black will be able to achieve a checkmate on turn two by moving the Queen. In addition to Fool’s Mate, there are seven other ways to end the game in two turns.

6) The Word ‘Checkmate’ Comes from Persian

Speaking of checkmates, have you ever wondered what that phrase means? Why do we say “checkmate?”

Well, as we said earlier, chess filtered to Europe through the Middle East. On its way, it traveled through Persia.

In the Persian language — also known as Farsi — the winning player would declare “Shah mat!” upon victory. The phrase translates to English as “the King is helpless.”

When chess moved on to the Arab world, the word “mat” changed to “mata” — meaning “dead.” So, instead of rendering him helpless, the Arabs just executed the losing King.

As chess arrived in England, the phrase “shah mat” came with it. But in the English-speaking mouths, it turned into “checkmate.”

7) The Longest Possible Chess Game is 5,949 moves

Although there is a practically infinite number of different games you can play in chess, one chess game can’t go on forever. Mathematicians have calculated that the longest a chess game can go on is 5,949 moves.

In theory, at that point, one of the players will emerge victorious. This is assuming that both are actively trying to win the game and not just pushing pieces around aimlessly.

How long a game like that would take in time is impossible to say. It would all depend on how long the players take to make their moves.

8) The Longest Recorded Chess Game Lasted 20 Hours

As far as records go, no one has ever played a chess game to 5,949 moves. We haven’t even gotten close to that — which is good because it would take simply ages.

We’re saying that because the longest recorded chess game lasted “only” 269 moves. Played in 1989 between Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic, the game lasted 20 hours and 15 minutes.

And it ended in a draw. You can watch a digital reproduction of the game if you’re interested.

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