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15 Amazing Facts About Chess

Famous Chess Games

This post is also available in: हिन्दी (Hindi) العربية (Arabic)

The game of Chess is synonymous with mental stamina, strategy, and patience. It is played by millions of people worldwide. There are many amazing and entertaining facts about the game of Chess that you probably didn’t know.  Here are 15 mind-boggling facts about the game of Chess:

Amazing Facts About Chess

1. Origin of Chess

Chess began in India during the Gupta Empire, spreading to the Persian Sassanid Empire, and then to the Middle East after Muslims conquered Persia. From there, it spread to Europe and Russia. In India it was popularly known as “Shatranj”, the Queen was a minister or “Vazir”, and still is in many languages.

2. Queen Moves

Initially, the Queen could only move one square at a time, diagonally. Later, she could move two squares at a time, diagonally. It wasn’t until Reconquista Spain, with its powerful queen Isabella, that the queen became the strongest piece on the board.

3. Checkmate

The word ‘Checkmate’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘shah mat’, which means ‘the king is dead (helpless)’ in English. True chess players will not say ‘checkmate’ to an opponent but rather simply extend their hand, shake and say ‘good game’.

4. Chess and Computer

The first computer program for playing chess was developed in 1951, by Alan Turing. However, no computer was powerful enough to process it, so Turing tested it by doing the calculations himself and playing according to the results, taking several minutes per move.

Long after that a computer called DeepThought became the first computer to beat an international grandmaster in November 1988, Long Beach, California.

5. Number of Grains and Chessboard Squares

If you put one grain of wheat on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth, and so on, how many total grains of wheat do you need to put on the board? The answer is approximately 1.845 × 1019) grains of wheat.

Not believing? Ok, let’s do some math.

Number of gains in 1st square = 1 = 20

Number of gains in 2nd square = 2 = 21

Number of gains in 3rd square = 4 = 22

Number of gains in 4th square = 8 = 23

Number of gains in 64th square = 263

Numbers 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, …, 263 are in geometric progression where first term (a) = 1 and common ratio (r) = 2

Sum of the first n term of a geometric progression is given by a(rn – 1)/(r – 1) = 1 × (264 – 1)/(2 – 1) = 1.845 × 1019.  

Assuming that weight of 1 grain of wheat is 0.065 gram, then weight of all the wheat grains = 1.845 × 1019 × 0.065 grams = 1.845 × 1019 × 0.065 × 0.001 kilogram = 1.199 × 1015 kilogram

Annual production of wheat = 773 million metric tonnes = 7.73 × 1011 kilogram

And, (1.199 × 1015)/(7.73 × 1011) = 1551 (approximately)

It means it will take about 1,551 years to produce that much wheat all over the world!

6. Number of ways to play a game of Chess

According to the America’s Foundation for Chess, there are 169,518,829,100,544,000,000,000,000,000 (approximately 1.70 × 1029) ways to play the first 10 moves of a game of chess.

There are 400 different possible positions after one move each. There are 72,084 different possible positions after two moves each. There are over 9 million different possible positions after three moves each. There are over 318 billion different possible positions after four moves each. The number of distinct 40-move games in chess is far greater than the number of electrons in the observable universe. The number of electrons is approximately 1079, while the number of unique Chess games is 10120.

7. Blindfold Chess

Blindfold Chess is an impressive skill that many stronger chess players possess. It certainly requires a keen ability to see the board clearly, which can get difficult after many moves. The record was set in 1960 in Budapest by Hungarian Janos Flesch, who played 52 opponents simultaneously while blindfolded – he won 31 of those games.

8. Chess improves Memory

Chess is often cited by psychologists as an effective way to improve memory function. Also allowing the mind to solve complex problems and work through ideas, it is no wonder that chess is recommended in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Some contend that it can increase one’s intelligence, though that is a more complex topic. The effects of chess on young individuals had led to chess being introduced in elementary schools in various countries. It has been shown to improve children’s grades and other positive effects as well.

9. Chess Pieces

The reason why traditional chess pieces don’t look like actual soldiers, bishops, and kings is because before the game reached Europe, it passed through the Ismalic world. Islam forbids making statues of animals or people, so chess pieces becomes vague-looking. When the game spread to Christian Europe, the pieces didn’t change much.

10. New Move

The newest chess move in which the pawn can move two steps instead of one of the start was introduced back in 1280 in Spain. This move is known as ‘en passant’ in French and means ‘in passing’.

11. Chess and Clock

The first mechanical clock to be used as a timer (instead of a sand glass) was invented by Thomas Wilson in England back in 1883. It was known as the ‘tumbling’ chess clock. It consisted of two balanced clocks on a seesaw beam. When one was tilted downward, it stopped while the other clock started.

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12. The first Space Chess Game

The first game to ever be played in space was Chess in June of 1970. The Soyez-9 crew (astronauts Vitaly Sevastyanov and Andrian Nikolayev) played against their ground control and made headlines worldwide. The game ultimately ended in a draw.

13. Fool’s Mate Runs

The minimum amount of moves to accomplish a checkmate is two and is referred to as ‘Fool’s Mate Runs’ or ‘Two-Move Checkmate’. This can only be achieved by Black on move 2 with the queen and is the fewest number of possible moves possible from start to finish in a single game.

14. The Lying Priest

The folding Chess board was invented in 1125 by a Chess-playing priest. Since the Church forbade priests to play Chess, he hid his Chessboard by making it look like two books lying together.

15. The Mysterious Mechanical Turk

During the 1700s, an inventor named Wolfgang Von Kempelon created a so-called machine that could play chess. It tricked people for 84 years before they found out that the machine was driven by a person sitting inside!

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