Checkmate! 7 fascinating facts about chess

Exploring the history and culture of chess

by
Aleksandra Strzelichowska (Europeana Foundation)

The Netflix's hit TV series 'The Queen's Gambit' has started a massive surge of interest in chess. Whether you bought your first set inspired by the story of Beth Harmon or you played chess 'before it was cool', let's explore seven fascinating facts about this game.

1. Checkmate

The word 'Checkmate' takes its origin from the Persian phrase 'Shah Mat' which means 'the king is dead'.

2. Record breaker

The longest title holder of the World chess championship is Doctor Emanuel Lasker from Germany. He held this title for 26 years and 337 days. Emanuel Lasker was a good friend of Albert Einstein.

3. Time keeping

The first mechanical chess clock was invented by Thomas Wilson in 1883. Before this discovery, hourglasses with sand were used to track time during the games.

4. Print pioneers

The second book in history to be printed in English was about chess. William Caxton translated it from French into English, and it was printed in 1474.

5. Blindfold

Blindfold chess is a way of playing chess when the players do not see the pieces and have to memorise their positions. For centuries, it was considered a skill only prodigies had. Nowadays, the best players can play multiple blindfold games simultaneously.

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6. For all ages

Chess is one of the few sports and activities where children can compete with adults.

Samuel Reshevsky (1911-1992) was an early child prodigy, who learned to play chess at the age of four. By the age of eight, he was winning against accomplished players in simultaneous games.

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7. Surviving sets

The Lewis Chessmen are one of the oldest surviving complete chess sets in the world. They were found on the Isle of Lewis and date to the 12th century.

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