Chess is perhaps the most fascinating game ever invented by the mind of man. Its
followers are avid fans, studying a player's every move with an exhaustive examination
that bemuses the outsider. Quite often, dedicated chess players are so involved in the
game that they subordinate every other activity in life—including family and
What, then, accounts for the phenomenal hold that this pastime exercises over its
For one thing, chess is the most intellectual of all games. In contrast to other types
of contests, in chess there is absolutely no luck involved. Each of the two opponents
starts the game on exactly equal terms, with the identical opportunity to win. Age,
height, strength, wealth: these factors make no difference in chess. The superior
These two defining elements—total equality and the intellectual nature of the
game—have made it a favorite among nomadic people who can demonstrate through this
game—as they are not permitted to in other social spheres - that they are the equal
of anyone else from any other background. It is no coincidence that those running
"challenge" games for a dollar or two on city streets are often Jewish or black.
In addition, chess is completely accessible to anyone. It needs no special or expensive
equipment: no skates, fields or courts. The poorest girl, the most isolated boy can play.
Even those who don't have the pieces and a board can make them by hand—or, failing
that, can play games by making the moves on paper. There is only one absolute requisite
for playing chess: a brain.
In addition to its equality, accessibility and appeal to intelligence alone, there is
another major attraction of this game: it has an infinite variety of possibilities. Each
move one makes invokes countless variables. Every game echoes numerous contests from the
past, which have been studied and absorbed by later generations of players. Yet at the
same time, every game is also new and unique. Thus there is a link between past and
present, so that the sense of history and the heritage of chess is palpably present at
each new game. It can be played at any level, from duffer to grandmaster, with enjoyment
and intricacy: for its ultimate mysteries can never be solved. There is always more to be
learned, always a new combination to explore, always a fresh insight to discover and
develop. Even the world's greatest player is always learning in this infinitely
challenging mental game. "Mathematically speaking," The Great Chess Movie
observes, "there are as many possible chess games as atoms in the universe."
Chess is an ancient game; its precise roots are not known with certainty. It probably
originated in India several centuries into the common era, and from there spread to
Persia, on to the Arab world and eventually to Europe, by which time there were versions
in most of the rest of the world.
From the very beginning, the intricacies of this challenging, sometimes maddening game
were appreciated for the subtle skills and values they reflected. In his informative and
lively Chess to Enjoy, Andy Soltis relates that in Persia many centuries ago, a
potential minister of state was put to a test: he was made to watch a chess game. If he
watched carefully and said nothing, he was considered fit for office; but if he made any
remarks about the game, if he kibitzed at all (of course, they didn't call it that, then),
he was considered unsuitable for great affairs of state.