Six Interesting Facts About Chess

by | Nov 10, 2020

Beth Harmon, the main character in The Queen’s Gambit

Last night my wife and I finished The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. The show is about an orphaned girl who learns chess from the custodian at her orphanage and goes on to become a chess champion. It’s a great show and inspired today’s IFOD.

1. Early forms of chess were invented in India in the 6th Century and the rules morphed and changed until they settled on what they are now in the 1880s. About 600 million people know how to play chess worldwide.

2. Chess is a complex game. There are an estimated 10111 to 10123 possible move variations in the game of chess. By comparison there are 1081 atoms in the universe. The number of possible ways of playing the first four moves per side in a game of Chess is about 319 billion possibilities. The longest chess game theoretically possible is 5,949 moves but the longest official chess match consisted of 269 moves.

3. St. Louis is the U.S. chess capital (see this article in The Economist on this point). St. Louis is home to the World Chess Hall of Fame and since 2009 has hosted the American chess championship. Efforts in St. Louis (particularly by Rex Sinquefield) have led to a chess revival in the U.S. and has contributed to multiple Americans being ranked among the top 10 chess players in the world.

4. The main character in The Queen’s Gambit, Beth Harmon (played by Anna Taylor-Joy) is quite beautiful which research suggests provides a benefit when playing males. This is because males produce more testosterone when in the presence of beautiful women which leads to various behavior changes. “One of those responses is the tendency to take risks in an attempt to impress attractive members of the opposite sex, which shows that the male has sufficient resources to gamble some of them on a risky bet.” Source. This effect is present when males play an attractive female in chess. A European study of male chess players found that when their opponent was an attractive female they utilized riskier moves which resulted in them losing more. Source.

5. The phrase “second half of the chessboard” refers to an important concept related to exponential growth. it’s an important mental model to understand. IFOD: The Second Half of the Chessboard.

6. 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’. Source.

1 Comment

  1. We loved it too.

    Fun fact; Benny Watts was played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who was Sam in Love Actually.


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