The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix has cast a cool spotlight on what’s often been considered the “nerdy” game of chess. While its origin is frequently debated, most agree that the game we know today evolved during the 16th century. The pieces were standardized in the 19th century, and the official world championship title followed. Modern chess theory dates back to the early 20th century. Computer engines and databases came into play at the end of the 20th century.
The two-player abstract strategy game represents medieval warfare on a playing board of alternating light and dark squares. The goal is to use one’s queen, pawns, bishops, knights, and rooks to checkmate the opponent’s king. But, as the following world records show, there are a lot of other ways to “win” at chess:
10 Craziest Events In The History Of Chess
10 Jeweler Sets Record for the World’s Smallest Chess Set
In August 2020, Los Angeles-based jewelry artist Ara Ghazaryan created the world’s smallest handmade chess set, measuring just 8 mm x 8 mm. The game board is fashioned from 18-carat yellow and white gold with Armenian apricot wood. It rests on a frame made of platinum, yellow gold, diamonds, and rubies. The playing pieces range in size from 1-mm pawns to 2.4-mm kings.
Contrast this with the world’s largest chess set, created in 2009 by the Medicine Hat Chess Club in Canada. The board measures 5.89 m on each side. The king is 119 cm tall and 37.4 cm wide.
Fun Fact: The largest single chess piece in the world is a king that stands 6.09 m tall and 2.79 m in diameter at its base. It was built by the World Class Museum, Inc. DBA World Chess Hall of Fame (USA) in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA, in April 2018 for the purpose of setting a world record. The king, constructed of Sapele African Hardwood, is 53 times the size of a standard king piece.
9 Guy From Idaho Arranges a Chess Set in Half a Minute
In a game that can be long and drawn out, it’s fun to know that there’s competition for the fastest game setup. In Boise, Idaho on February 3, 2021, Davis Rush set the world record by arranging a chess set in just 30.31 seconds. Rush has achieved the record multiple times. And he has also won the team-of-two version with his wife, Jennifer.
Random Fun Fact: The second book ever printed in the English language was about chess!
8 Two Speed Chess Players Set a Marathon Record
Casual chess games typically play out in under 60 minutes, while tournament play can last anywhere from 10 minutes to six hours or longer. Speed chess, on the other hand, refers to games with time controls (e.g., three to five minutes per player). Some purists suggest that the faster a time control, the lower the quality of the game. “This may be true, but the rush one gets from playing or watching fast time controls is difficult to match,” write the experts at Chess.com. “Pre-moves, unusual and offbeat openings, blunders, and other craziness define speed chess.”
In November 2018, despite the time controls, Hallvard Haug Flatebø and Sjur Ferkingstad of Norway set the record for the longest chess marathon for players 16 and older: 56 hours, 9 minutes, 37 seconds.
Fun Fact: In 1985, Eric Knoppet played 500 games of 10 minute chess in 68 hours.
7 The Most Expensive Chess Set Features Precious Metals and Gems
In 2005, a Great Britain jewelry company created the costliest chess set ever made: the Jewel Royale. The solid gold and platinum playing pieces boast lavish gemstones, including diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and black and white pearls. The playing surface is made of yellow and white gold and set with diamonds. Each corner features a crystal ball with a gold center post. Each piece—apart from the knights—boasts a 16-carat yellow gold spiral of diamonds. The 18-carat yellow gold king weighs 165.2 grams and on its own is worth $100,000. The set in its entirety is valued at more than $9.8 million. If that’s too pricey for you, consider the knockoff version selling for about $40,000.
Random Fun Fact: The word “Checkmate” in Chess comes from the Persian phrase “Shah Mat,” which means “the King is dead.”
6 Swiss Schoolchildren Comprise World’s Largest In-Person Chess Lesson
Anyone can stream a chess lesson or watch a YouTube tutorial. But in September 2018, a whopping 1,459 participants gathered for the world’s largest-ever in-person chess lesson. Two chess clubs and two schools in Switzerland—Schachklub Muttenz, Kinderschachclub Muttenz, Primarschule Muttenz, and Sekundarschule Muttenz—invited local children to participate. The lesson was held outdoors, where pairs of children cozied up on picnic blankets to play on donated chess sets.
Some children don’t need such lessons, as they’re born with a gift for the game. Like Soviet chess master Garry Kasparov, who won the world chess championship in 1985 at just 22 years old. But in a 2019 Washington Post opinion piece, Kasparov explained that providing such lessons to children is still important. “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not, and talent cannot thrive in a vacuum,” he wrote. “Finding talent is a numbers game—the more players there are, the more excellent ones will be found.”
Fun Fact: An estimated 600 million people worldwide know how to play chess!
5 The Chess Game with the Most Moves on Record Ended in a Draw
If you Google “How many moves in an average chess game,” the answer you’ll most often find is 40. Some sources cite official tournament records; others draw conclusions from the aptly named Mega Database. The numbers vary depending on the caliber of the players, but 40 remains the accepted unofficial standard.
In a 1989 tournament in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, however, players Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic played their Master game to a draw. It took them 20 hours and 15 minutes to record 269 moves! And in a game in the 1969 World Junior Championship (Rogoff-Williams, Stockholm), the players seemed to be really attached to their pieces: there was not a single capture until the 94th move! The record for moves without a capture is 100 (Thorton-M. Walker, 1992).
Fun Fact: The longest chess game theoretically possible is 5,949 moves.
4 The World’s Oldest Chess Piece Is More Than 1,500 Years Old
In July 2002, a carved ivory figure with a cross on top was discovered in Butrint, an ancient city in southern Albania. Found in an old palace, the statuette stands just 5 cm tall and is dated to 465 AD. If it truly is a chess piece, then it’s the world’s oldest.
The earliest known pieces were discovered at Afrasaib in Uzbekistan. A coin dated 761 was found along with a king, chariot, vizier (queen), horse, elephant, and two soldiers. These, too, were made of ivory.
Random Fun Fact: The number of possible unique chess games is much greater than the number of electrons in the universe. The number of electrons is estimated to be about 1079, while the number of unique chess games is 10120.
3 Turkish Man Sets Record for Having Largest Collection of Chess Sets
When Akin Gökyay set a world record for owning the largest collection of chess sets in 2012, he had 412 of them. He began his hobby in 1975 and has been growing it ever since. They are all on display at the Gökyay Foundation Chess Museum in Turkey. With more than 700 chess sets from 110 countries, it’s the world’s largest collection.
Each set is numbered and displayed behind glass. The variety is fantastic and includes city skylines (Dallas, London, Ankara), safari animals, mythological figures, Army vs. Navy, police vs. firefighters, The Simpsons, the Smurfs, and even a 9/11-themed set.
2 Blindfold Chess Has Its Own Set of Records
Blindfold chess requires no game board or pieces. Rather, players visualize the game and communicate moves via chess notation. Strong players possess the skills needed to keep track of the game’s complexities, and new players can improve their skills by training with blindfold chess.
Grandmaster Timur Gareyev holds the world record for blindfold chess. In Las Vegas in 2016, the then 28-year-old American was blindfolded and riding an exercise bike while playing 48 games simultaneously. In a 23-hour timespan, he won 80% of those games (and cycled the equivalent of 50 miles).
1 The Second World Chess Champion Reigned Longest
In 1894, Emanuel Lasker (Germany) defeated the first World Chess Champion, Austrian-American Wilhelm Steinitz, in matches played in New York, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Lasker won the championship with 10 wins, 2 losses, and 5 draws. He retained his title for more time than any other player: 26 years and 337 days. He lost the title in 1921 but remained in the top rank of players. He remained one of the world’s greatest until he ended his career in 1936.
Fun Fact: Throughout his illustrious chess career, Lasker (who was good friends with Alber Einstein) published books about mathematics, games theories, and philosophy.
Top 10 Greatest Chess Players in History
About The Author: Who knew chess could be so exciting?