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The Chessboard: 25 Compelling Facts About This Iconic Gameboard

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Chess is such an engaging game, with compelling interactions, that we often forget about the surface on which it’s played. 

Although the chessboard is arguably one of the most recognizable game boards, many overlook its significance. Typically, the chess pieces and gameplay strategies enjoy more attention from players. The truth is that the board and pieces together make chess the most iconic game ever.

With its simplistic black-and-white checkered motif, the chessboard contrasts beautifully with the game’s complexity.

These are 25 facts about the chessboard:

1. The Chessboard Contains 64 Squares

A chessboard’s simple 64-block design, by default, allows players to focus solely on the pieces and their movements rather than navigating a complex terrain or board as found in other games.

2. The Ashtāada Predates The Chessboard 

The ancient Hindi word Ashtāada describes an 8×8 board used to play Ashtāpada on, marking the first chess concept. The Ashtāada was thus the birth of the chessboard, consisting of 64 squares of the same size and color. 

3. The First Chess Board Appeared During the 11th Century.

The first black-and-white checkered board, as we know it today, was found in Europe, and it’s believed to date back to the 11th century.

4. The Folding Chessboard Was Invented In The 12th Century

Across the world, religious institutions have guarded against and even banned or outlawed chess due to its apparent addictive nature and invitation to gambling. As a result, in the 12th century, a cleric invented the first folding chessboard. It was easier to conceal when carried around and looked like two books.

5. Chess Has Its Own Language

Notation is a form of language. It’s a record of the moves made on a chessboard or the position of the pieces. Having notation eliminates ambiguity when referencing chess pieces in specific places. The notation also ensures that a game can be accurately recorded and replayed by anyone using the same sequence of moves.  

6. Descriptive Notation Arrived In The 12th Century

In the 12th century, a notation system similar to Middle Eastern chess appeared in Europe. It was called the descriptive notation and was first found in a manuscript from 1173. This notation was the standard style used until the early 1970s. 

In descriptive notation, the files are marked from a to h. Except for the eighth, the ranks (rows) also had designated second letters starting from k to q.  

7. Algebraic Notation Appeared In The 19th Century

The Russians and Germans started using algebraic notation, which uses letters for the files, like descriptive notation. Yet the ranks are represented by numbers.

It spread slowly and only appeared in English countries in the late 1800s. Even during the 20th century, it was less popular than descriptive notation. Only by the 1980s did algebraic notation become the norm. 

In 1981, FIDE officially declared algebraic notation as the international standard.

8. The ‘New’ Pawn Move Was Introduced in 1280

The rule that allows a pawn to advance two squares in its opening move was first introduced in Spain in 1280.

9. The Chessboard Has An Official Size

FIDE debuted the official standard-size chessboard and pieces in London in 2013. The FIDE regulations demand squares of 5-6 centimeters (1.97 to 2.36 inches), amounting to a board of about 40-50 centimeters (15.75 to 19.69 inches).

10. The Chessboard Has A Distant Relative

You will often find a chessboard coupled with another game board that is relatively well known: Backgammon. Although there are no visual similarities between the games, both involve strategy. Many folding chessboards are sold with a backgammon board inside, ensuring easier control for dice rolling.

11. More Than Just A Simple ChessBoard

The cultural value of the chessboard goes beyond the game of chess. For many, chess sets can be rare collectibles and antiques. Also, the chessboard has been used as an inspiration for many modern games.

12. Chess Might Have Once Been Played Without A Board

Archaeological findings of chess pieces never include any boards. The theories are that ancient civilizations didn’t need a chessboard since they could have drawn lines in the sand or that they could have used board materials that disintegrated over time, like animal hides. 

13. The Chessboard Has Also Influence Fashion And Design

The chessboard’s pattern might have inspired fashion, pop culture, and building designs.  

14. The Chessboard Has A Correct Orientation

The identical black-and-white squares might seem like an unending non-specific pattern, but the board has a specific orientation. The correct direction is when each player has a black square in the corner of their left-hand side when facing the board.

15. Chess Pieces Have Set Starting Positions 

Chess pieces have set starting positions on the board. These starting positions coincide with the orientation of the board.

16. The King And Queen Have Set Places On A Chessboard

When setting up a board, one of the most common questions is where the king and queen should be placed. The alternating pattern of squares serves as an aid, making it easier to remember that the queen is placed on the corresponding color next to the king.

17. The Chessboard Is Often Referenced In Thirds

On a chessboard, you can refer to three areas of the board:

  • The center: Four columns running down the middle (i.e., c, d, e, and f files)
  • Left-wing: Two left columns
  • Right-wing: Two right columns 

18. The Centre Of The Chessboard Is Critical

The four center squares of the chessboard are strategic and valuable to occupy; thus, pawn moves d3, d4, e3, and e4 are generally the go-to opening moves, followed by the pawn moves from the c and f file and the knights.

19. The Chessboard Is Half Full At The Start Of A Game

A set chessboard has pieces occupying precisely 50% of the board at the beginning of a game, with 25% for each color, traditionally black and white, on each end of the board.

20. The Pawn Can Get A Promotion On The Chessboard

A pawn gets promoted when it reaches the end of the chessboard.

21. You Can Track Diagonal Squares On A Chessboard

The alternating black-and-white squares make it easy to follow rows and columns and create an even easier way to track diagonal movement for bishops and queens. Due to the alternating squares, each diagonal square is the same color no matter where you start.

22. The Chessboard Is Linked To Mathematical Problems

The “wheat and chessboard problem” is a story that illustrates a mathematical equation

The creator of the chessboard was once offered compensation by the emperor of India/Persia, who became very fond of the game. The inventor requested to receive one piece of wheat (or rice) on the first square, two on the second square, and four on the third, doubling every time for each next unoccupied square. 

The sum of wheat would eventually amount to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 or T64=20+21+22+…+263, leaving the emperor bankrupt for years.

23. The Bishops Remain On The Same Color 

With diagonal squares being the same color and the bishops only able to move diagonally, they will always remain on the same color squares from the start.

24. The Most Expensive Chess Sets Are Worth Millions

Some of the most expensive chess sets are worth millions of dollars. The Jewel Royale and Pearl Royale are among the most expensive ones.

25. The Knight’s Movements Can Total 122 Million In Chess

The number of possible movements of the knight chess piece on the board amount to over 122 million.

In Closing

One can’t imagine playing chess today without a board; it would simply be impractical and take away from the game’s prestige. It is, therefore, a crucial element of the game that is much more appealing than what first meets the eye.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.