Jeremy enjoys gaming when not working as a manager at the same college he graduated from.
Fun Facts About Chess
One of the best infamous board games of all time, chess provides a strategic two-player battle with no luck-based factors to skew its play. Players move their identical armies across an 8x8 board, attempting to "checkmate" their opponent by forcing the enemy King into a position where it can't avoid capture.
Appearing in such media as Harry Potter, X-Men, and Star Trek, many players know the basics of chess, but it carries a fascinating history of rules and trivia—here are ten awesome chess facts you may not know about!
1. En Passant Special Capture
Most players can recognize chess's first two special moves: castling (where a Rook and King are moved simultaneously) and a Pawn's initial two-space movement. However, rookies rarely know about the "En passant" technique, which gives Pawns a special capture option in a certain position.
If an enemy Pawn advances two squares and past your Pawn that could have captured the opposing Pawn had it moved just one square, you can move your Pawn diagonally forward as if the enemy's had advanced only one (see how the above black Pawn captures the white). This seizes the enemy piece even though you didn't technically move onto their square, but you have to do it immediately after your opponent's move, losing the option on future turns.
2. Pawn Promotion and Underpromotion
You probably know that Pawns have the ability to change into any non-King piece when they reach the other side of the board. But some players mistakenly think you can only turn them into pieces you've lost, which isn't true—you're perfectly able to control multiple Queens, even if you never lost your original.
Since Queens are the strongest, players should promote into them, right? Well, not always—remember that Knights have a unique movement that even Queens can't duplicate. Plus, in rare cases, players may "underpromote" by choosing a piece other than Queen to avoid...
3. Stalemate Ends in a Draw (Not Loss)
Stalemate occurs when one player can't make any legal move because all options would place them into check, meaning they'd lose on the following turn. Some players mistakenly believe this means the stalemated team has lost, but such games are actually draws—no one wins or loses.
This gives losing players potential to tie and means you have to be careful no matter the field's state. It also explains why players sometimes underpromote Pawns—turning them into Queens occasionally stalemates the opponent where other pieces wouldn't, giving weaker units the chance of a victory instead of draw.
4 (in offensive terms)
4. Rooks are Better Than Knights and Bishops
The above table lists each piece's approximate "value", gauging how useful they generally are. This of course depends on a given boardstate, and players still dispute the exact rankings, but Rooks are considered superior to Knights and Bishops in most scenarios.
This stems from their castling special move plus the fact that they can access any square in the game if given enough time (unlike color-locked Bishops). Generally, the quickest way to gauge who's winning is to tally the value of each side's remaining pieces.
5. You Don't Have to Announce Check
Many players are taught to announce check as a courtesy; after all, opponents can't legally make a move that leaves their King in danger, so you can't really "sneak" a check into a checkmate (unless your group house rules it). However, nothing actually forces players to announce check, and it almost never occurs in professional matches.
6. Chess Is Unsolved
A "solved" game is one where the ideal moves are known. For instance, checkers has been solved, and if two perfect players squared off, would end in a draw. However, chess is much more complicated, and not only is it not solved, we're not even sure how such a game would end.
Some believe that the white team (which moves first) would always win with perfect play; others believe the game would become a draw. Either way, there's about 10 to the 43rd possible legal boardstates, showcasing just how complicated mastery is.
7. Black Can Win in Two Moves
Despite most players agreeing white's initial moves gives it a slight advantage, black has the fastest possible win, known as "The Fool's Mate" or "Two-Move Checkmate". It relies on the opponent making colossal blunders; here's how it works:
- White moves its kingside Bishop's Pawn forward one space to f3 (a terrible opening move).
- Black moves its King's Pawn two spaces to e5 (opening room for Queen and Bishop to move diagonally).
- White moves its kingside Knight's Pawn forward twice to g4, another blunder.
- Black wins by moving its Queen diagonally to h4, resulting in checkmate.
8. Originally an Indian Game Called Chaturanga
Chess is believed to have come from the Eastern Indian game "chaturanga", which arose somewhere between the second and sixth centuries. While the exact rules aren't completely known, we know how many of chaturanga's pieces moved, and it's remarkably similar to its modern day successor.
Chess also bears many similarities to games like Japanese "shogi" and Taiwanese "Makruk", and it inspired spin-offs such as...
9. Most Popular Variant Is Chess960
Chess has spawned many derivative games (personal favorites include "Stealth Chess" and "Grand Chess"), the most popular being Chess960, also called "Fischer Random Chess". Here, pieces move the same, but the game randomizes the back-row starting positions. Each team begins with the same randomized board, discouraging memorization of opening moves but providing a fair match.
The randomization does follow some rules, guaranteeing the two Bishops are on opposite-color squares and the King is somewhere between the two Rooks (keeping the castling maneuver intact). Chess960 was invented by Bobby Fischer, who happens to be...
10. Controversy Over Chess's Best Player
Chess players earn a variety of ranks as they advance their positions, eventually receiving the ultimate "grandmaster" title. But to this day, enthusiasts debate which GM reigned supreme, generally assigning it to either American Bobby Fischer or Russian Garry Kasparov.
Different rating systems and time periods muddy the waters; while many consider Fischer or Kasparov highest, the current active champion usually goes to Norwegian Magnus Carlsen.
More Chess Variants
Today we explored some of chess's most interesting tidbits, but that's just the tip of the iceberg—in addition to spin-off games, it's inspired movies like Pawn Sacrifice, novels such as The Royal Game and musicals like, well, Chess.
With thousands of variants and fan-made pieces, there's plenty of chess left to explore, but for now, vote for your favorite version and I'll see you at our next gaming countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on November 01, 2019:
I appreciate all your kind comments! I find many players (including myself before researching this article) aren't aware of En passant and sometimes don't know how to properly castle.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on November 01, 2019:
Thanks, Jeremy. I played chess a lot as a child, inspired by Spock and those sci-fi shows on tv. I didn't know about some of these moves, and that was interesting to learn. But I loved the big chess board in the Potter movie. Wonderful write up, and congratulations on your 10 million views.