20 Impressive Chess Facts to Challenge You in 2022
Updated · Apr 06, 2022
“The beauty of chess is it can be whatever you want it to be. It transcends language, age, race, religion, politics, gender, and socioeconomic background. Whatever your circumstances, anyone can enjoy a good fight to the death over the chess board.”
Grandmaster Simon Williams’ words feel like a beautiful way to start this article. Probably the oldest game, chess originated in India around 1,500 years ago. Since then, it has found its way into practically every household, becoming a favorite way to spend one’s free time.
Today, we’ll focus on some essential, obscure, and mind-blowing chess facts. So whether you’re playing every now and then or you’re a serious chess aficionado, you’ll surely find something interesting to satisfy your curiosity. Let’s get right into it!
Essential Facts About Chess (Editor’s Choice):
- The game is 1,500 years old.
- The longest official game of chess lasted for more than 20 hours.
- Grandmasters are quite rare—there are only 1721 of them in the world IN 2022.
- There are more chess combinations than atoms in the universe!
- 605 million people play chess regularly.
- 70% of people in the US have played chess at least once.
- The most luxurious set is worth $4 million.
- Chess has more than 2000 variants!
- Magnus Carlsen is the best-paid chess player.
Chess History Facts
Chess wouldn’t be the game we know without all that 1,500-year history. By crossing national borders and going through numerous transformations, it became what it is today.
1. First games of primitive chess were played in the 6th century CE in India.
“Chaturanga,” as it was called back then, is considered the precursor of chess we know and love today. Its rules most resemble those of modern chess—different piece figurines (with a king being the most important of them, as his fate determines the outcome of the whole game), different movement possibilities, and a 64-square board to play.
We don’t know for sure who played the first game of chess, but it won’t be a stretch to presume it was the Indian aristocracy who had enough leisure time.
Moreover, chaturanga was essentially a battle simulation game, and it may have been used as a sort of strategic training by military personnel. When it comes to chess vs chaturanga, though, even if the latter is considered a battle simulation game, we can definitely say both share fundamental similarities we can’t ignore.
What about who invented the game of chess? No exact answer here, as chaturanga has probably been forming over centuries, with numerous people contributing to its rules and gameplay. What we know for sure, though, is that it originated in India.
2. Chess was introduced to Persia (modern-day Iran) by 579 CE.
There, the game continued to evolve under the name of “shatranj,” which was adopted after the Arab invasion of Persia. We also owe Persians the first books about chess.
By the 12th or 13th century CE, the shatranj started to look more and more like the game we play today, with movements being more or less the same, while the pieces themselves remained a bit different. The bishop was in fact an elephant, the knight was simply referred to as “the horse,” and the rook didn’t have a particular effect.
3. The game reached China in 750 CE.
According to Britannica’s brief history of chess, the game rather quickly reached China as well. Though, there it certainly didn’t reach the popularity it later attained in Europe.
4. A Spanish priest, Ruy Lopez, was one of the first masters of modern chess (16th century).
He wrote a book in 1561 where he discussed certain chess problems such as various openings and ways to defeat your opponent. Another important player of the past was the Frenchman Francois Andre-Phillidor. He wrote a book called Analyse du jeu des Échecs (Analysis of the game of Chess) in 1749.
By the mid-19th century, the infamous Staunton pattern pieces (names after Howard Staunton—one of the masters of his time) were introduced. Staunton endorsed a particular type of chess pieces that are now synonymous with the game in general.
The same century was marked by the so-called Romantic period of chess—back then it was all about flashy attacking ideas and quick wits. Defense, careful planning, and positional playing simply were not popular.
The best player of this period was most certainly Paul Morphy, who managed to beat just about everyone with his fast-paced, aggressive style of play.
However, players quickly started to adopt a more careful and deliberate style of playing, which is more or less how people play chess today. Now we know how many things have happened between the inception of chess and the famous IBM Deep Blue chess match—the six-game chess matches between the world champion Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue.
There are many interesting chess facts—probably as many as there are chess combinations! Enjoy a collection of some of the most interesting ones:
5. The longest game of chess was 20 hours.
Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic played for even a little more than 20 hours! It was back when the rules were somewhat different, though. Nowadays, a game is stopped when there are more than 50 moves without a capture.
Perhaps it would be even more interesting to take a look at the longest World Championship games. The longest recorded one was at the tail end of 2021 when Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtcht simply wouldn’t back away.
There were 136 moves made for the duration of 7 hours and 45 minutes.
Before this memorable clash was Karpov and Korchnoi’s match of 1978—124 moves for the longest then game of chess.
6. “En passant” is the #1 obscure rule of chess.
If you play chess only now and then, the en passant rule might have eluded you. It basically means advancing a pawn with three moves forward, while the opposing pawn starts from a home position with a double move, only to land exactly beside the first one. The pawn that started with a double move is then captured. Other notable or obscure (depending on your experience level) can be:
- Castling can be performed when your rook and king are left untouched while the other pieces standing between them are moved. It means that the king then can be moved two times towards the direction of one of the rooks, while it is placed on the opposite side of the king.
- Three-fold repetition is when the same move is repeated three times in a row (after that a player can claim a draw).
- Promotion happens when your pawn reaches the other end of the board and can be “transformed” into a piece of your choice.
7. Currently, there are 1721 chess grandmasters.
To be a grandmaster is a pretty prestigious title. To achieve it, people usually start playing chess on a competitive level from an early age (7 to 10 years old) and spend around 20 hours per week doing so. By the time they turn 18, they’ve already accumulated around 12,000 hours of studying the beautiful game!
8. The Shannon number (100^111) is the number of all possible moves in a chess game.
The American mathematician Claude Shannon wanted to know how many moves there can be in a chess game, and he found the answer to be… astronomical. Quite literally! 100^111 is the number of all possible moves, including illegal moves in chess. In comparison, the number of all atoms in the universe is 100^78!
9. Grandmasters play around 75 games per year.
This seems like the ideal number of games for players who analyze each one of them and gather what can be learnt and done better in the future.
10. 605 million people worldwide play chess on a regular basis.
Chess still holds the title of “the most popular board game in the world!” No wonder then as it’s still being played by such a huge amount of people from all over the globe. It gained even wider popularity with the rise of online gaming since now can be played with anyone, anywhere, anytime.
11. The Queen’s Gambit had an enormous impact on chess popularity.
The Queen’s Gambit is one of the many Netflix original productions. To describe it as a huge success would be an understatement. The series about a chess prodigy and her unlikely path to stardom quickly became a cultural phenomenon, which in turn led to an immense surge in the popularity of chess.
According to popular chess statistics from 2020, chess.com saw its biggest growth since its 2007 launch with 12.2 million new members. 3.2 million of them joined the platform after the show’s debut in October.
Moreover, chess-related sales in the US jumped exponentially—sets sales rose by 87%, while books were sold 603% more.
12. 70% of adults in Germany, Russia, the US, the UK, and India have played chess at least once.
We told you—chess is played practically everywhere and by everyone! What’s interesting is that it’s especially popular in countries like Russia, which has a long tradition of competitive playing.
13. The most expensive chess set is worth $4 million.
The Pearl Royale Chess Set is made from white gold, 500-carat diamonds, and royal blue sapphire. We don’t know about you but we’d definitely be afraid to even touch it!
Next on the list is the Game of Kings Set, inspired by the Maya civilization and the Aztecs. It’s worth “only” $3 million. It’s widely regarded as an artistic masterpiece with carefully crafted pieces. Other notable mentions could be the Jewel Royale set (valued at $1.35 million), the Art of War set ($798,000), the J. Grahl set ($744,619).
14. Magnus Carlsen has made more than $2 million since 2017.
We know that chess isn’t really among the most lucrative sports… still, the best in the world can earn quite a lot.
The current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, certainly has the most impressive chess statistics, earning millions from tournament prizes. The closest follow-ups of Carlsen's profit are Hikaru Nakamura with $1,3 million and Levon Aronian with $1,1 million.
15. As of 2021, there are 31 women grandmasters.
Judit Polgar is widely considered the best female player ever.
Actually, she and her sisters have quite an interesting backstory. Their father, Laszlo Polgar, was an educational psychologist who firmly believed a genius is made, not born. A chess enthusiast as well, he decided to undertake an experiment and train his three daughters in chess from an early age.
Judit’s sisters, Susan and Sophia, are both exceptional players, but she is the only woman to have defeated a world champion. In fact, she has beaten not one but many ex and current champions, including Bobby Fisher, Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, and Boris Spassky.
Instead of being part of the chess curiosities, Judit has proven that chess is not a “male sport,” and with hard work and consistency, you can achieve incredible heights! She has devoted her whole career to emphasizing the need for equal representation and treatment of women and men in the world of chess.
16. Abhimanyu Mishra, aged only 12, became the youngest ever chess grandmaster.
This one is definitely among the more astonishing and awe-inspiring chess facts. Abhimanyu Mishra has played chess since he was 2 years old and is now the youngest grandmaster ever! He is clearly on the path of becoming one of the world's best players in the future.
Before this prodigy, the youngest grandmaster title was held by Sergey Karjakin, having achieved this at only 12 years and 7 months old.
17. AlphaZero is possibly the best chess AI in the world.
Artificial intelligence is progressing at great speed. Chess AI is no different—it has certainly gone a long way from Deep Blue. IBM’s computer operated with a predetermined set of rules, while modern chess AI simply learns the best way to play via training. The best one among them is developed by DeepMind and can be adapted for other games such as shogi and go.
Speaking of the legendary clash between a man and a computer, we have to report it doesn’t go without controversy. Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about chess is that Kasparov later accused IBM of cheating!
Kasparov felt that some of DeepBlue’s tactics changed in a way that can only be explained by human creativity. IBM didn’t really put out the fire by refusing to publish its protocols for quite some time. Anyways, the machine also suffered a few losses to Kasparov, so it wasn’t really an overwhelming victory after all.
Types of Chess
Although most people take an interest only in the most popular form of chess, there are many other ways to define the rules, change the board, and introduce new pieces:
18. There are more than 2,000 chess variants.
The most popular among them are Bughouse chess, Crazyhouse chess, King of the Hill, Chess960, 3-Check.
Of course, all these are similar to the original but with certain additions of their own. Bighouse, for instance, is a game for four players, while Crazyhouse allows for the comeback of captured pieces in the next turn.
Shogi is not really a chess variation.
19. Shogi is very similar to chess, but it comes with a few key differences.
Talking about chess vs shogi, we must mention the similarities as well as the differences between them.
In fact, Shogi (also known as Japanese chess) has all the chess pieces, except for the queen.
However, in addition to them, it also has gold and silver generals, lance, promoted bishops and rooks. It’s played on a 9x9 board and its pieces have different powers and purposes—most importantly, the captured pieces are not out of the game but are added to the opposing team instead.
20. Xiangqi has 10 times more legal board positions than chess.
This one is also referred to as “Chinese chess” and is steeped in the country’s traditions and history. A comparison of chess vs Xiangqi often turns into a discussion about which game is better or more complex.
However, chess is considered to be more competitive with modern players taking on a much more systematic approach to the game than Xiangqi players.
So intricately intertwined with tradition, Xiangqi is more beloved and poetic to the Chinese population than chess which has long ago become a global phenomenon.
Chess is a great choice when you want to boost your brainpower, compete with a friend, find something to do to pass the time, or just want to have fun.
A game of strategy, patience, memory, and quick wits, all skills that are very useful in everyday situations, chess is extremely loved all over the world. It’s now played by more than 600 million people from all around the globe!
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