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Chess Motifs

As chess is one of the oldest and most famous Turn-Based Strategy game in the western world, games of chess are often used symbolically in media in order to represent war, battles of wits, and similar events. Sometimes this is done directly by the author; other times by the characters themselves (by, e.g., having a conversation about a war over a chess match, using chess as an example).

A very simple such analogy is the Pawn — the expendable, powerless, nameless foot soldier who may, if his actions are brave and his heart is true, become a Queen (although someone more practised at the game may note that the pawn is really a symbol of why you should never overlook apparently powerless people). Also common are the Queen (less honored to the casual observer, but the most powerful and versatile character on the board by far) and the King (his capture ends the game.) To extend the metaphor, the Rooks/Castles will be the straightforward, stoic, unmovable lines of defense, while the Bishops are less predictable, more mystical. Knights are less predictable still; they can only move in L-shaped directions, for Pete's sake.

A frequent variant is for the author or a character to explain how the situation is not analogous to chess, but rather to some other game such as Poker, Battleship, or Calvinball.

Compare Chess with Death, The Chessmaster (especially the first section of examples for The Chessmaster, most of which could go here as well), Smart People Play Chess, Xanatos Speed Chess, and Check and Mate. See also Talking through Technique, which can turn a motif into a message. An Astral Checkerboard Decor is a checkered pattern representing otherworldness.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has the cards King's Knight and Queen's Knight, which are both named after chess pieces.
    • There's also a Jack's Knight. Since they are grouped together, the monsters were probably named after the faces of playing cards.
    • A straighter example would be the earlynote  Archfiend cards: Vilepawn Archfiend, Desrook Archfiend, Darkbishop Archfiend, Shadowknight Archfiend, Terrrorking Archfiend, and Infernalqueen Archfiend. All of these cards have an Astral Checkerboard Decor for a background and even a spell card called "Checkmate". Other cards that may also fit the trope would be Chaos King Archfiend and Imprisoned Queen Archfiend.
  • Code Geass: actually pretty much all of it. Rather tellingly, the King and Queen pieces in the show's chess set were explicitly modeled on Lelouch and C.C. respectively.
    • Lelouch specifically identifies as the Black King, symbolizing his acceptance of corruption and evil in order to bring good. On the other hand, the black king can symbolize Lelouch's pride, or shall we say arrogance, in that he lets his opponent, the white king, have the first move. Overall, it is a major source of symbolism in the series, as it appears during Lelouch's "Obey Me World" speech.
    • Kallen is the Queen, being Lelouch's bodyguard. Lelouch's designation for her is "Q-1", and she's the ace of the Black Knights, just as the queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard. Contrast that with Lelouch being simultaneously the most important and one of the weakest pieces (in reference to his poor physical endurance).
    • Suzaku Kururugi is an idealistic young man who uses his erratic and acrobatic movements to take his opponents by surprise. Appropriately enough, he's made a knight halfway through the first series. Like chess knights, he is the only enemy who poses a serious threat to the opposing Queen, that is, Kallen, as the two of them are pitted against each other repeatedly throughout the series (Kallen eventually proves the strongest but it does not prevent her side from losing).
    • Schneizel uses the White King, but is actually even more evil than Lelouch. No, setting up a giant Kill Sat does not create world peace.
    • Schneizel's aide Kanon, who jokes he is his aide "both personal and private", is probably the White Queen in the extended metaphor.
    • The Humongous Mecha in the series are called Knightmare Frames, named after a type of fairy chess piece (also called a nightrider or unicorn).
  • Last Exile uses chess terms liberally. Actual games of chess are seen frequently as well. Dio, especially, seems fond of the game; he's even playing it the first time he appears in the series.
  • Dulindal does this a number of times in Gundam SEED Destiny, including almost every time he's on screen by himself during the first half or so. He even goes as far as to refer to certain characters as the chess pieces.
  • Word of God says that Gundam 00 was originally planned to have a Chess Motif, and traces of it can be seen in the final version. For instance: Ou is Japanese for King; and the 0 Gundam is both the weakest and most important of the Gundams, being the prototype from which the other, stronger Gundams were designed.
  • Used in Cowboy Bebop, as a villain set up a plan to ruin the faster-than-light system, and gave his henchmen chess pieces to tell the company that he was behind it. However, he was too senile after the fifty years it took for the plan to get going, and he ends up doing nothing but playing chess all day. The last one is used by his "benefactor," an electronic chess board manufacturer whose "super-awesomely advanced AI system" is actually just an Internet connection to the old man's chess machine.
  • In the second Death Note movie, Light and L are playing a friendly game of chess while locked in a separate, heated mind game. Light wins the match. His response later when he pulls one over on L? Checkmate.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Roy Mustang refers to his most loyal subordinates as chess pieces. Riza is his queen; he himself is the king. Gives him a woobie moment when Fuhrer Bradley splits them up, sending Roy's men to distant outposts where they can't aid him and keeping Riza as his own personal assistant (read: hostage).
    Roy: *pulling chess pieces out of the box and thinking of the people he relates them to* My pawn. My rook. My bishop. My knight. And worst of all...they've even taken my queen.
    • Also, the Big Bad represents all the current people involved in his plans with chibi versions of them as pieces on a chess board on his desk. This turns out not to be just a motif though, as the board is the true center of his nationwide transmutations circle (a trick he used before).
  • Crashers in Weiß Kreuz are codenamed after chess pieces: Knight, Bishop, Rook, and Pawn. King is their boss, and Queen is The Handler.
  • Black Butler uses many chess motifs. Ciel is a Chess Master who refers to himself as the King and Sebastian as his Knight. Not to mention that the series has chess-based imagery throughout it such as this page and this page from the manga. The anime has more of this later in the series, including some in the new opening animation with Sebastian kneeling on a large chess board before a black King piece that turns to dust to reveal Ciel.
  • Vampire Knight plays off this motif often. Kaname is figuratively shown as the "chessmaster", while Kiryu Zero is the "knight" (or pawn, depending on your point of view).
  • The bad guys of Mar are called The Chess, and their ranks are named for chess pieces.
    • Although, aside from the Pawns being Faceless Mooks, there only being one King and one Queen, and the rank levels, the motif doesn't seem to stick very well; the head Knight is the one who ends the game if defeated. In the first Chess "games," they never did find the King and Queen.
  • In Digimon Savers, the Bridge Bunnies are partnered with two PawnChessmon, which then evolve into other chess-inspired forms: first KnightChessmon, then one becomes RookChessmon and the other BishopChessmon. Their strongest forms (not seen in the show but in other materials) are KingChessmon and QueenChessmon, respectively, but true to the game KingChessmon really isn't capable of much.
    • In Digimon Xros Wars there is a squadron of PawnChessmon led by a Knightmon. Knightmon has appeared in other incarnations of the show, but is modeled after an actual knight rather than the chess piece so the trope only applies to this incarnation.
  • Variation: Shikamaru and Asuma of Naruto use Shogi as a metaphor for Konoha Village. Shikamaru is a Knight because its unusual movement mirrors his Weak, but Skilled nature and strategic mind. Shikamaru asks if the Hokage would be a King that the lower ranking ninja have to protect, but Asuma says that while he thought that once, in reality, the next generation is the King, since it needs to be protected or else the village has no future. Interestingly, Asuma likens himself to a Pawn, commonly a sacrificial piece.
  • Chapter 15 of the Blue Exorcist manga includes one of these. Shura explicitly says that Mephisto "seems to be enjoying himself, manipulating everyone like pawns on a chessboard" with a picture of Mephisto playing a game of chess with a grin on his face (though this scene is imaginary.) Whether he is a Magnificent Bastard or a Guile Hero is uncertain at this point, but he certainly shows plenty of Trickster and Chess Master tendencies.
  • This is how the master-servant devil relationships work in High School D×D. The protagonist, Issei, is the Pawnnote , Rias is the King, Akeno is the Queen, Kiba is the Knight, Asia is the Bishop, and Koneko is the Rook. Other characters then join Rias later on to become the other pieces.
  • Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken introduces the Shinei Kidan (Guardian Knights) roughly halfway through the manga. With the exception of the 'king' Hadler, five of them were animated to life from Vearn's chess pieces; a pawn, knight, rook, bishop, and queen. The fact that they're also made from Orihalcon and have unique abilities that are similar to chess rules make them a very formidable Six-Bad Band.
    • Also near the end of the story shows the remaining chess pieces animated to life, minus the five mentioned ones earlier. They were all robotic Mooks led by a REAL Orihalcon King Piece named Maximus, who barked orders and used Stat-O-Vision.
  • Di[e]ce is about death games modeled after chess. There are kings, bishops, knights, etc. on a white side and a black side. One of the kings has to die for the game to be over, and the kings can only be killed by each-other. The other players live to serve their king.
  • Rosario + Vampire features Mako Yakumaru, Puppet Master of the Anti-Schooler monstrels. When she is shown 'behind the scenes', the background is a chessboard from the pawn's point of view. When her control over Moka is broken, the chess pieces are shown mid-fall.

    Comics 
  • The spy organization Checkmate in The DCU, which classifies their agents by chess pieces and uses the White and Black sides to counteract each other.
  • In X-Men the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club has chess piece-based titles for its members (such as Sebastian Shaw, the Black King, and Emma Frost, the former White Queen). See below for The Movie.
  • A Dilbert strip has the Pointy-Haired Boss giving chess pieces to his underlings, symbolizing that they're "all on the same team". Unfortunately, he gives them all pawns. He later quips, "I'm saving the rooks for bonus day."
    • Another comic had Dilbert complain to his boss about being moved to a different cubicle with 'I bet another manager wants that cubicle. I bet we are all just pawn in your game.' It ended with the boss doing it anyway, and enforcing a new dresscode: Pawn-costumes. The dialogue at the end suggest that the PHB and another manager were playing an actual game of chess, using the cubicles as fields, and moving the employees as chesspieces by assigning them to new cubicles.
  • Obadiah Stane was a big fan of these during his arc in Iron Man, naming his mooks the Chessmen. An expensive chess set appears on his desk in the movie as a callback to this.
  • A one-off villain in Astro City, the Red Queen, had chess-themed minions as part of her Alice in Wonderland motif. That said, they were based on designs stolen from the Chessmen of Astro City.
  • It shows up from time to time in early Excalibur.
  • In Jim Steranko's memorable run on Nick Fury Agent Of SHIELD, SHIELD faced the Yellow Claw and his forces. The end of the arc revealed that Doctor Doom manipulated SHIELD and the Claw in an intricate game against an alien chess-playing computer called the Prime Mover.
    • More recently, Doom used the Prime Mover against the Fantastic Four in Grant Morrison's Fantastic Four: 1234, manipulating their histories and relationships to tear them apart from within. Going against trope, Reed realized what Doom was up to and developed machines to counter Doom's moves. He realized that Doom's moves were rigid and inflexible, and in order to defeat him, he used his stretching powers to temporarily create new structures in his own brain, thus expanding his already prodigious intellect.

     Fan Fiction 
  • In Windows Of The Soul, Shizuru once describes herself as a rook, and recounting the incident in which Yukino, a pawn, tried and failed to stand in her way to protect Haruka despite her lack of combat abilities, as almost essentially suicidal but somewhat courageous.
  • In Vanguard, the Paladins are all modeled after chess pieces, in appearance, attributes and role. Notably, the Paladins' individual armor vary in color.
    • Solustro is the Grey King, simultaneously symbolizing his Anti-Villain status and balancing his methods/motives out. Typical for a chess king, Solustro rarely involves himself personally, but is renowned for his strategic and tactical skill.
    • The Bishop has magic-based abilities, notably Mass Teleportation, and he often appears out of nowhere many times over. His best attack pins his opponent, leaving them unable to counterattack. As an official vizier, the Bishop serves as the main adviser to Solustro, and his influence can be shown by the decisions and directions that Solustro takes.
    • The enigmatic Arkham is a literal Black Knight, feared by friend and foe alike, and he's the resident Enigmatic Minion.
    • The Rook is Dorotlu, a tower-resembling spike-tank thing reputed for having the best defensive offense.
  • The Elemental Chess Trilogy takes the Chess Motif originally present in Fullmetal Alchemist and turns it Up to Eleven. The second story in the series, "Brilliancy," uses actual chess terms for the story title and all chapter titles; the third story, "The Game of Three Generals," does the same thing with terms from shogi (Japanese chess). The members of Mustang's unit still use the chess nicknames he gave them in the canon, and often make references to Riza's position as their queen, even dubbing themselves "all the queen's men" when they are officially made her personal security detail in the third story.
  • In Jewel Of Darkness, the mysterious leader of the White Glove apparently has a thing for chess, as he gives Jinx a pawn to show that while he values her, she's really not that important to him. He's also later shown playing an actual game of chess with Vandal Savage, who warns him that predicting people is not as easy as predicting moves in chess.
  • Used in the Star Trek fanfic AtlasKirk explains the set-up of the Big Bad's organization to Spock while they're playing chess. Basically, everyone is considered a pawn, except for The Dragon (a rook) and the Big Bad herself (the Queen). The Big Bad later uses this motif to let Spock know that she just kidnapped Kirk. While they were in adjacent rooms.
  • In Mega Man Defender Of The Human Race, Mr. Black has an unfinished chess game in his hideout. It's one with his wife that he never finished.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Disney's Hercules, Hades uses chess pieces shaped like various potential actors in his bid for absolute power.
  • Lawrence III in Pokémon 2000 movie had his map set up like a chessboard. The plot was indeed quite chess-like in that he captured the three Legendary Birds to bring out the bigger prize, Lugia...or so he thought. In reality, the "Beast of the Sea" was an underwater current that had been causing the storm.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The 2002 movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond and Fernand have a chess king that they trade back and forth when the other has a victory, recognizing the other as "King of the Moment". Edmond explains this to Napoleon Bonaparte, who observes that "In life, we are all either Kings or Pawns."
  • The film Jason and the Argonauts has several scenes where the gods play a chess-like game with pieces representing the heroes and villains of the movie. This is probably the ur-example of the Chess Motif in film.
  • "Blazing Saddles: Mongo only pawn in game of life."
  • In The Movie of X-Men, Magneto and Xavier play chess frequently.
    • In the third movie, Magneto holds back Pyro, The Dragon, and sends in the Mooks, saying "in chess, the pawns go first."note  After the first wave gets mowed down, he adds "that's why the pawns go first." At the end, after being depowered, a civilian-dressed Magneto is seen playing chess in a park somewhere, and concentrating on the metal chess pieces. One moves, ever so slightly, and then the credits roll.
    • In X-Men: First Class Charles and Erik is seen playing chess a few times. The one move that is actually shown is Erik taking Charles Queen with his King. The chess game is almost directly followed by scenes showing that Erik is able to understand Raven and consider her natural blue state beautiful while Charles is not. At the end of the movie Raven, Charles adopted sister and closest ally, leaves Charles side and joins Erik in his anti-human agenda. Oddly enough, the villains of this movie are the Hellfire Club, which as noted in the Comics tab use chess pieces as rank names, but this isn't addressed in the movie.
  • Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Returning Crusader plays Chess with Death!
  • In the Spinning Paper sequence in Hoodlum we get some shots edited so it appears that Dutch Shultz (played by Tim Roth) is playing against Harlem gangster "Bumpy" Johnson (played by Laurence Fishburne) - who is of course playing black, with Fishburne knocking over the white king. This is slight foreshadowing, as in the film it's Johnson who helps set up the hit on Shultz - rather than the Commission getting sick of Shultz endangering their operations with their plots on the life of the district attorney.
  • In the French Revolution segment of History of the World Part One. King Louis XVI plays chess using people on a giant board and calling out moves with a megaphone. He calls for first the knight to jump the actual queen, proceeding to have sex with her on the board. Then Louis calls for the bishop to jump the queen, then the pawns. Finally Louis yells out "GANGBANG!" and joins in as everyones piles on top of the queen.
  • From Russia with Love; chess-champion Kronstein turns out to be a SPECTRE agent, and uses chess analogies in their latest plan to outwit and destroy James Bond.
  • Uncovered is a movie about a woman who restores paintings. The painting that is the focus of the movie has two people playing chess with clues about the history of a family.
  • Oliver Parker's film version of Othello has fun with this. Iago (Kenneth Branagh) keeps putting a white queen next to a black king, getting angry, and then throwing the pieces away.
  • The movie Fresh is basically this, with a little boy in a gangster-ruled city block getting chess lessons from his father. And applying those lessons in his life. Such as manipulating your opponent. And remembering that only your king truly matters, and that other pieces can be sacrificed if it is needed to protect it. Bittersweet Ending, here we come!
  • Miles Cullen of The Silent Partner is a Type One Chessmaster, and much screentime is given to the chess set he keeps in his apartment.
  • The White Queen's home, in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, has a chess motif on a grand scale; the palace has chess pieces all over it. Her soldiers also wear armor resembling different chess pieces, and the movie's final confrontation takes place on a large chess board.
  • David Levinson in Independence Day is a chess player. He constantly uses chess analogies to describe the alien invasion.
    "Checkmate!"
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Professor Moriarty plays with his chess set and holds up the black queen while telling Holmes that he has murdered Irene Adler. Later, Moriarty leaves behind a black king for Holmes to find at a scene he was lured to by a Red Herring, to taunt him that he's been checkmated. Finally, the Grand Finale of the film consists largely of Holmes and Moriarty playing chess (both on a physical board and in their own heads) while discussing their plot and counterplot and referring to their respective sidekicks Watson and Moran, who are actually carrying them out, as their "bishops".
  • In Inception, Ariadne's totem is a bishop chesspiece, and "Robert Fischer" brings to mind famous chess player Bobby Fischer.
  • In Dragonheart, Queen Aislinn is playing chess by herself in a scene where Einon and his men are having a rowdy feast. In the novelization, she spent a lot more time playing it, and only Bowen had seen any value in the game, realizing that it taught strategy.
  • Explicitly stated in Cypher. Sebastian Rooks is the, er, Rook with Morgan Sullivan being the Pawn. The clever part is the Pawn becoming the Rook when he reaches the reaches the metaphorical end of the board. The two opposing technology corporations, DigiCorp and Sunway Systems, are also color-coded as the opposing sides of a chess board, with DigiCorp being black, and Sunway Systems white.
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: The various possible double agents are all assigned chess pieces with photographs taped to them.
  • In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Lolita, Professor Humbert is shown teaching the rudiments of chess to Charlotte Haze as her beautiful underage daughter enters the room.
    Charlotte: You're going to take my queen.
  • In his speech to the crew in The Hunt for Red October, Captain Ramius describes the naval portion Cold War as a game of chess against the Americans.
  • In Night Moves, private investigator Harry Moseby takes a little chess board with him wherever he goes. He shows someone part of a game played by K. Emmrich and Bruno Moritz in 1922, where Moritz could have won by sacrificing his queen and making three knight moves, but he didn't see it and lost the game. (This symbolizes Harry's own inability to see what's really going on in the mystery he's investigating until it's too late.)

    Literature 
  • In "Liberty's Crusade", a StarCraft novel, Mengsk discusses over a Chess match how he prefers Chess to real war- in Chess both sides are equal at the start, and you don't have to worry about a massive wave of green pieces coming in from the side to suddenly wipe everyone out.
  • Through the Looking-Glass takes this rather farther than most, to the point of having all the events represented by actual chess moves. It also has an interesting variant, in that the two sides are called White and Red. It's not merely that the pieces are white and red (which is not unknown); by convention, the two sides in chess are referred to as White and Black even if the physical pieces used are other colors.
    • The Red Queen from this book is often confused with the Queen of Hearts from the first Alice book. They are, in fact, wholly different characters, though they get merged in some adaptations. This results in an egregious mixed metaphor in the 2010 film version: the White Queen's army of chess pieces fights the Red Queen (of Hearts)'s army of playing cards.
  • Discworld:
    • There are several mentions of the gods playing a chess-like game with the fates of men (as well as at least one claim that gods actually prefer games like Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders to chess). In actuality the game is closer to Dungeons & Dragons, which makes perfect sense considering their 'gameboard' is a full-on Medieval European Fantasy (with a good bit of Cloud Cuckooland mixed in, of course).
    • Many mortal characters with the game Thud. Obviously, Thud!! contains the most blatant examples of this.
    • In The Last Hero, Cohen is compared to a pawn that has made all its way up the board.
    • Small Gods: Bishops move diagonally. That's why they often turn up where they're not expected...
    • Death, on the other hand, doesn't like chess much, in subversion of expectation. He can never remember how the little horse-shaped ones move. In fact, Death seems to have trouble with games in general. In The Light Fantastic, Twoflower is shown to have only limited success teaching the Four Horsemen how to play Contract Bridge.
    • Vimes hates Chess:
      Vimes had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks round, the whole board could've been a republic in a dozen moves.
  • In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Sixth Column (AKA "The Day After Tomorrow"), the hero is having a game of wits with the villain. The villain shows the hero a chess problem and asks how he would solve it. To play with the villain's mind, the hero gives a false answer. At the end, after the villain is captured the hero drives the point home by admitting that he lied. The villain subsequently kills himself out of shame for being tricked.
  • The Belgariad, which carries the metaphor into the titles.
  • Ron in Harry Potter plays chess, and this is a major plot point in the climax of the first book. There aren't any obvious metaphorical implications, which just means this was fertile ground for a number of (now mostly jossed) Epileptic Trees. The most spectacular example is probably the Knight-to-King theory (which, in brief, uses the chess game to conclude that Dumbledore is actually a time-travelled version of Ron).
  • The Breaking Dawn cover shows a chessboard with a red pawn overshadowed by a towering white queen, symbolizing Bella's transformation from a weak, flesh-and-blood human to a strong and inhumanly beautiful vampire.
  • The six escaped prisoners in The Will O' The Wisp Mystery are compared to chess pieces; one had used the role of a clergyman as a cover (the bishop) to the mob boss (the king). It's eventually subverted: the detective realizes that the chess motif (all the men protect the king) was wrong and that a checkers motif (first man across becomes the king) was correct.
  • The Lymond Chronicles. The books are called The Game of Kings, Queen's Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle, and Checkmate.
  • In the classic John Brunner novel The Squares of the City , both sides of a banana republic are being manipulated as if in a game of Chess. The novel's plot mimics this Chess game.
  • Six Days of the Condor has most chapters start with a chess textbook quotation, relevant to the book's plot.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf describes the coming war in chess terms: "The board is set, and the pieces are moving [...] But the Enemy has the move, and he is about to open his full game. And pawns are likely to see as much of it as any, Peregrin son of Paladin, soldier of Gondor. Sharpen your blade!"
    • The strategy used against Sauron also translates quite well into chess. The good guys launch a final desperate attack on Mordor that they know won't succeed. However, the true purpose is simply to attract the attention of Sauron so that he doesn't notice the pair of hobbits as they sneak past his lines and get into position to checkmate him.
  • In A Stainless Steel Rat is Born by Harry Harrison, wannabe criminal mastermind James "Slippery Jim" De Griz decides to lure "The Bishop", a retired criminal mastermind, out of retirement in hopes The Bishop will teach him some of the higher points of interplanetary bank robbery, etc. He does this by staging big heists and leaving behind a copy of The Bishop's calling card which has a clue on it (written in chess notation) as to the next heist. Jim hopes the master thief will translate the clue and invite Jim to be his apprentice, but it doesn't quite work out that way...
  • The witch Senna Wales of Everworld has a penchant for chess. She compares her manipulations of the other characters and Everworld in general to a game of chess, and muses on the differences involved.(Playing humans requires less of a focus on predicting things long in the future and more of an emphasis on adapting quickly to situations.) She also makes several chess references throughout the ninth book, such as "The occasion had arisen, and chess player that I am, I had to take advantage of the movement" and "A pawn that crosses the entire board can become a queen. Not perhaps the title that David would appreciate, but the principle was clear."
  • There is a book series by Jeremy Robinson where all of the main characters go by chess pieces for their callsigns: King, Queen, Bishop, and Rook. Temporary additions are given the name "Pawn".
  • The Demonata is fond of this trope, following Grubbs' playing Chess with Death in the first book.
  • Elleston Trevor wrote a series of mysteries in which the investigator was Hugo Bishop, each book had a chess piece title (Knight Sinister, Queen in Danger, Bishop in Check, Pawn in Jeopardy, and Rook's Gambit), and the chapters were labelled "First Move," "Second Move," etc.
  • The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov brings this out in full force, even having other stand ins for chess boards and pieces, such as the checked bathroom tiles in the hotels that Luzhin visits. Of course, the book is about a famous chess master going insane as chess takes over his life.
  • The Armageddon battle in Wyrm is very clearly structured on a chess game: the infantry are pawns, the cavalry are knights, the black dragon is the black queen, and so on. According to the novel's afterword, the events of the battle specifically correspond to a particular chess game played in 1961 between Tigran Petrosian and Ludek Pachman.
  • Poul Anderson's A Circus of Hells has a chapter involving killer robots that defend squares of terrain — an abandoned "live" chess game. <!— correct me if I misremember; I read it thirty-odd years ago —>
  • In The Traitor Game, the eponymous game is Evgard's version of chess where betrayals play a key role, just as they do in the story. Also, Michael is described as "playing a game that no one else knows the rules to" by Francis.
  • Done humourously in "Murphy" by Samuel Beckett, which has the title character play an extremely passive game with the eschatologically named Mr Endon, who habitually employs "Endon's Affence". After eight moves, Endon's pieces have all returned to their starting positions, a tactic which Beckett's comic annotation describes as a "pipe-opener".
  • Phillipa Gregory's two-part series comprising The White Queen and The Red Queen tells the stories of Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, respectively: two noblewomen on opposite sides of the Wars of the Roses (the titles reflect the signature colours of the houses of York and Lancaster) and the mothers of the future Henry VII and his wife.

    Live Action TV 
  • Parodied in Slings and Arrows, which has a hysterically awful production of Romeo and Juliet in which all the characters wear chess piece hats:
    Cyril: It's a chessboard, ducky.
    Frank: Why?
    Cyril: They're pawns, aren't they? In the game of life.
    Frank: Are we pawns?
    Cyril: I'm the Friar, so I'm a bishop; you're Capulet, so you're a king.
    Frank: I don't move like a king. I don't move at all.
    Cyril: I don't think he's taking the metaphor that far, ducky.
  • "Check Mate", an episode of The Prisoner.
  • The 4th season episode of Lexx which has a literal chess game between Kai and Prince.
  • There was a The West Wing episode where Bartlet played simultaneous chess with a few of the main characters during a foreign policy crisis with China over Taiwan which he clearly was thinking of as a metaphorical chess match.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Episode "The Corbomite Maneuver". The Enterprise is trapped by an alien spaceship and facing destruction.
      Kirk: There must be something to do, something I've overlooked.
      Spock: In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.
      ...
      Kirk: Not chess, Spock. Poker!
    • Spock plays chess on a special three-dimensional board with three playing levels.
    • In Whom Gods Destroy, Kirk implemented chess moves as code phrases to prevent unauthorized transports from a mental hospital. "Queen to queen's level three." "Queen to king's level one."
    • Kirk himself plays 3D chess extremely well - often better than Spock. This is not necessarily unreasonable: Vulcans may be capable of superhuman feats of calculation, but calculation alone is no way to win at chess. Even computers cannot exhaustively analyse all positions to checkmate as the number of possible positions increases far too rapidly with increasing levels of look-ahead. Kirk, as with strong players of the real game, could merely have a superior talent for focusing on the relevant, known to chessplayers as "Sight of the Board".
    • Spock's talent for chess comes in handy in Court Martial, where it allows him to deduce that the computer has been tampered with.
  • In an early episode of The Wire, two of the Mooks play checkers with a chess set. Their boss comes over and tries to teach them chess in terms of the drug trade and the characters, with plenty of subtext. He likens himself and his fellow hoppers to pawns, who can make to to the edge of the board to become more powerful Queens, but will never get to be King. He admits with some regret that pawns are chumps and get killed fast, but his youthful audience has faith that "smart-ass" pawns can get ahead. By the end of the show, everyone in the conversation has been killed in conflicts between greater forces then themselves. They really were pawns.
  • An episode of The Daily Show after Barack Obama's inauguration featured this exchange between Jon Stewart and his interviewee, openly gay bishop Gene Robinson.
    Stewart: Washington was so crowded today. There were so many people. You, as a bishop, were sort of doubly handicapped in that situation because you are only allowed to move diagonally. How is that, negotiating the crowds?
    Robinson: Jon, you have to understand there's a queen on the board as well.
  • Plenty in the Leverage episode the "The 6th Juror Job", where Nate is inspired by a chess set on their target's table to describe the entire con in terms of chess metaphors. The show itself could arguably be a metaphor for chess with the characters representing the pieces, sometimes directly mentioned in dialog. (More on show entry.)
  • In Kamen Rider Kiva, the four leaders of the Fangire race, called the Checkmate Four, go by the names Bishop, Rook, Queen and King. Naturally, King is The Chessmaster.
  • Power Rangers Mystic Force and Mahou Sentai Magiranger have a chessboard-based mecha cockpit. Neither series really gives a reason for it, though the Mystic Rangers think they're being encouraged to "think strategically". Both teams (particularly the Magirangers) also use it as a reason to use "Checkmate!" as a Bond One-Liner.
  • Sylvester McCoy's run on Doctor Who had a few of these. In "Silver Nemesis", when the Doctor and Ace try to keep a weapon away from the Cybermen, they announce chess moves during the battle. Then there's the following exchange in "Battlefield":
    Doctor: "You haven't won the game yet, Morgaine."
    Morgaine: "I could always defeat you at chess, Merlin."
    Doctor: "Who said anything about playing chess? I've been playing poker. And I have an Ace up my sleeve!"
  • In one episode of Monk, the killer was a genius grand master chess player. As he's being arrested, he tries to complement Monk on being the better player. Monk reprimands him for treating real human lives as a game, but consents to a victorious "Checkmate."
  • In The Cape the manipulative villain Peter Fleming... well he doesn't have a chess motif such as an overwhelming obsession with it. He compares real world actions to specific chess strategies, wears contact lenses that make his pupils look like chess pieces, and uses a holographic interface hidden under a chessboard that when activated arranges itself into a chessboard layout. And of course his supervillain name is Chess.
  • In Have Gun — Will Travel, Paladin's card and the design on his gun holster feature a white knight.
  • In Robin Hood the Sheriff of Nottingham was occasionally seen fiddling with a chess set.
  • In Merlin King Alined (a one-shot villain) was seen demonstrating his secret plan with the pieces of a chess set (and throwing them when he was thwarted).
  • In Once Upon a Time, Queen Regina often refers to other characters as "pawns" or "playing pieces".

    Music 
  • "I've Seen All Good People", by Yes starts out with the section called "Your Move". The song features lyrics like:
    "Don't surround yourself with yourself. Move on back two squares.
  • "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane contains a few direct references to the Chess Motifs used in Through the Looking Glass. It's chess by way of Alice in Wonderland by way of LSD.
  • "Only a Pawn in Their Game" by Bob Dylan applies a chess metaphor to the slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
  • The german Rap-group "Blumentopf" has a song called "Am Schachbrett" ("On the chessboard") which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • The album "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" by the British Progressive Rock band Gryphon is a concept album about a game of chess.
  • Kudai has an album Shah Mat. It's about the fun stuff that you can see coming "When the pawns cross the chessboard", as the title song says.
  • "Knight Moves" by Suzanne Vega.
  • "Knight Jumps Queen" from the album "Set the World on Fire" by Annihilator.
  • Fiona Apple's second album featured an eight-line poem as its title. The first line of the poem reads, "When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king..."

     Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Forgotten Realms campaign setting has the deity "Red Knight", whose portfolio is strategy and whose symbol is a red knight piece.
    • In Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, certain maneuvers for Martial powers have Chess names like the Rogue maneuver 'Kings Castle' and the Warlord maneuver 'Knight's Move'.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Archfiends have a chess-themed subset. Their most useful support card is arguably 'Checkmate', which allows the rather powerful Terrorking Archfiend to strike the opponent directly rather than wasting time with the foes' array of monsters.
  • Magic: The Gathering: White Knight and Black Knight, of course.
  • Changeling: The Lost features the Contracts of The Board, which allow a character who serves as head of a number of forces (such as a general or one of the seasonal Monarchs) to understand the conflict in terms of a game of chess, allowing him to transmit strategies and direct forces by manipulation of the board itself. Granted, the game in question doesn't have to be Chess. A general could just as easily direct his forces via the intentional play of the game Candyland.
  • GURPS has an optional "cinematic" rule that skill in chess can substitute for the Strategy skill used to plan actual battles.
  • The manual for Twilight Struggle draws the chess analogy to the manueverings of the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War, outright comparing most of the countries in the world as pawns to be gained in the struggle against the other superpower. Battleground countries like France (controlling more in a region grants Dominance in a region when it is scored) the status of a bishop, while China, which has its own card with a bonus in Asia, gets to be a rook or queen.

    Theater 
  • The 80s rock musical Chess is pretty much all about this. In particular, "Prologue (The Story of Chess)" has what it describes as a "vague report" — and then goes into detail about a prince whose advisers had no clue about how a mother's mind works.
  • Samuel Beckett's post-apocalyptic (maybe) Endgame refers eponymously to the final stage of a chess game. No one legitimately knows what Beckett's plays actually mean so any reader can take a stab at what this motif means and how deep it might be.
  • In Man of La Mancha, Cervantes, repositioning Antonia, the Housekeeper and the Padre to the corners of the stage, calls them the queen, the castle and the bishop, respectively. "And now—the problem of the knight!"

     Video Games 
  • It's been proposed that all the personalities in Killer7 correspond to different chess pieces. Kun Lan and Harman are definitely playing a literal chess game, and possibly a figurative one as well. Read this for more details.
  • Used in the opening of Age of Empires II. Two kings are playing a game of chess, and the pieces fade in and out from "real" military events, each represented by different pieces till it all comes into a big castle siege. And then the last soldier standing (or kneeling, rather), drops a chess piece - a king - out of his hands.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, the Player Character keeps receiving anonymous emails (their sender is later revealed to be Jack) that comment on the recent developments in the main quest exclusively in chess metaphors. Thus, metaphorically, the PC is said to progress from a Pawn to a Queen by the end of the game.
  • Three levels of American McGee's Alice (Pale Realm, Castling, and Checkmate in Red) are entirely chess-based. In the first two, you have to rescue the beleaguered White King; in the third you exact vengeance on the evil Red King and his cronies. There are even a couple of sections where Alice turns into a Bishop or Knight, and takes on their movements.
  • President Johnson uses some effective chess analogies during his speech in Metal Gear Solid 2.
  • "Why did we attack the Iceni? Why did we destroy that cargo? I can live with being a pawn if the game makes sense."
  • Torakichi Arakoma from the third Mega Man Battle Network games uses a chess themed Net Navi, King Man.EXE, and makes chess puns. In battle, King Man doesn't attack directly, instead relying on three chess piece minions modeled after Pawns, Knights, and Rooks, the exact combination of which he can change at will.
  • Two of the memories in Myst IV: Revelation pertain to a Légal Trap that Sirrus fell into.
    Sirrus: What kind of a move is that? You had me, father, you totally had me. And now you're leaving your Queen wide open?
  • In Suikoden Tierkreis, robotic enemies called Pawns start appearing after the battle with Valfred at Rarohenga, followed by more and more robotic enemies as you approach The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, which has nothing but enemies with names like Pawn, Rook, Bishop, and Queen (and some non-robotic Knights). The Final Boss? The One King. Yeah, exactly.
  • The Conquest Victory cut scene from Civilization 4.
  • The Pegaso set of pins in The World Ends with You does this, with pins like Aqua Pawn, Lightning Rook, Swing Bishop, and Queen's Knight.
  • In Devil May Cry 3, there are a group of enemies through the game with a Chess motif.
  • Pawniard and Bisharp, the Dark / Steel Pokémon from Pokémon Black and White. Their attack strategy is to have the Pawniards gang up on the opponent (like pawns) while Bisharp deals the finishing blow.
  • Pieces, as in literal mechanical enemies fashioned after chessmen are a prominent enemy in the mid-game of Elona. They are presumably under control of Wynan, one of the bosses of the main quest, and while the might seem weak during the later game, large amounts of pawns can overwhelm city guards which are over four times their level.
  • Quite a few characters in the first case of the second game of Ace Attorney Investigations. Teikun Ō, the president of Zheng Fa, resembles a lion, the "king of animals", and also has the character of king in his name. His bodyguards, Gai Tojiro and Manosuke Naitō physically resemble the rook and knight pieces, and have the characters of castle and romanization of knight in their names respectively. Also the rest of the bodyguards are very generic and all look the same, perhaps being "pawns". The game also has a gameplay mechanic called "Logic Chess".
  • A Hold Your Hippogriffs variety in the second Knights of the Old Republic. After pulling a nasty Mind Rape on Atton, Kreia decides he's useful after all and blackmails him into sticking around. When Atton questions why Kreia would bother she simply states that "no game of dejarik [Star Wars chess] can be won without pawns, and this could be a long game indeed."
    • Also used be Goto in regards to Force-user secrecy at the time. "It is like a dejarik board where neither player can see the other... nor see all the pieces."
  • Just about everything in Tex Murphy: Overseer revolves around chess, due to both the Well-Intentioned Extremist and the Big Bad being chess nuts. The final puzzle of the game is even a chess match where the player is hopelessly out-manouvered and only one sequence of moves can checkmate the enemy king. Which is probably metaphorical as well.
  • The first room in the trippy final level of Prince of Persia 2 is a giant chessboard.
  • Lord Fain of Lusternia has an aesthetic that is a cross between Chess Motifs and a Masquerade Ball, courtesy of his manipulative, chessmaster nature and his own iconic crimson mask, or rather, his face. However, it's all obfuscation - everyone is a pawn to Fain, and calling his trusted followers "rooks" and "bishops" is mere flattery designed to ingratiate himself to them.
  • Chess pops up sporadically in Katawa Shoujo, but Hanako's path is the one that makes the most use of this trope. Not only is chess one of her hobbies, it's symbolic of her connection to Hisao. Her Act 3 is called "Castling". Castling is a move in chess that places the Rook and King pieces next to each other. When you consider that the King is a "weak" piece that needs to be defended, and that the Rook is a "stronger" piece, this could be almost directly applied to how their relationship develops within that Act. In fact, the entire path is determined by how much Hisao acts like a White Knight, or, if you're aiming for her good ending, how he does not.
  • In Silent Bomber, Benoit the final boss uses chess analogies the whole game. Then right before the climactic showdown with him, you fight lots of chess pieces on a chess board in what is probably the hardest moment in the game, except for maybe the fight with Benoit himself
  • Cortana from Halo's first words in her life were "The king and the pawn go in the same box" in French.

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Beatrice and Battler are involved in a very elaborate game of chess, with the pieces being the other Ushiromiyas, various witches, and the demons they summon. The WMG page has some speculation about which pieces are which. It has extended references to chess pieces and chess terms, and are also used in proper context. The chessboard has also been alluded to when referring to the various games that Beatrice creates. To the meta-players, check and checkmate hold a very special significance in argument. It also helps that Kinzo's favorite game is chess.
    • On the other hand, this trope is also somewhat subverted with Kinzo's constant gambling analogies and Kanon's roulette monologue.

    Webcomic 
  • Mark Shallow does this in Antihero For Hire.
  • Averted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: the doctor specifically refers to a fight as a game of battleship and not chess.
    • Chess is a little too "Rooky, Pawny" for his tastes.
  • To a small extent in Cloudscratcher. Alice has a quite a few similarities in role to the Queen, naturally making The Captain the King, Burt and Sally being Rooks and Sogaat a Bishop.
  • The conflict in Homestuck between Prospit and Derse is essentially a gigantic chess match that gets more complicated with each prototyping. This spoileriffic video shows it best. See also Vimes above. This explains why PM gets her Awesome Moment of Crowning as a reward for making it all the way to Derse and back on her mission. She was a pawn that got promoted to a queen, a legitimate rule in chess if the pawn manages to reach the opposite side of the board.
  • The different classes of Inlay in S.S.D.D are named after chess pieces, bishops serve as heavy assault troops and have a thing for evisceration, rooks appear to be like tanks, knights seem to be some kind of special forces (and are smarter than most units), and the few kings are equivalent to generals. Pawns haven't been shown yet but we know that they're extremely stupid, and the Anarchists mostly use clones for regular infantry.
  • Zokusho Comics: Spoofed slightly when Akira is explaining his plan to take down a fortress full of goblins to his team using chess pieces.
    Raz: "That's your piece?"
    Akira: "Yeah?"
    Raz: "Ha! You're a queen."
    Akira: "Now you're a queen."

    Web Original 
  • Jennie uses chess pieces to illustrate a military strategy in the lonelygirl15 episode "Cold War Revisited".
  • The Chessmaster from the Whateley Universe uses a lot of these, shockingly enough given his name. His normal Mooks are called the Chessmen (cyborgs), his backup are the Rooks (floating Dalek type things), his battlefield planning table is the Chessboard, and all his plans are various gambits, openers etc.
  • D8 is this. The entire story is pretty much one big Chess Motif.
  • Tribe Twelve presents the Collective with each member represented by a chess piece.

     Western Animation 
  • In episode 3 of Beware the Batman, a villain called 'Anarchy' challenges Batman via two not-so-bright artists. After a game of chess with Bruce, Alfred remarks the two thugs are pawns and 'Anarchy', who looks like Batman in every way but is dressed fully in white, later remarks that he and Batman are the kings of their respective colours.
  • The Simpsons has this exchange:
    Bart: Hey Lisa, what do you call those guys in chess that don't matter?
    Lisa: Well,a blockaded bishop is of little value...but I think you're referring to a pawn.
    Bart: I am a pawn.
    • Also this one:
      Bart: Lis, Skinner's using you like a pawn in his unholy chess set.
      Homer: In my chess set, the pawns are all Hamburglars.
  • In Gargoyles, Xanatos and Fox play both a literal and figurative game of chess with the clan (pieces belong to Fox) and a group of bad guys known as the Pack (played by Xanatos) because they can (their inclusion in the story serves very little to the plot). The figurative and literal games seem to take a turn favoring Xanatos, when Fox tells him not to be so certain. Cue a public service announcement sponsored by Fox that, through clever drops of the right words, leads the clan to the location of a captured Goliath, Hudson, and Bronx thus defeating the Pack. Off screen, Fox makes a move that places Xanatos in checkmate.
  • Teen Titans: During the climax of season five's Story Arc, the Brain and Monsieur Mallah play a game of chess. Mallah represents the Titans, the Brain represents... well, himself. The game is frighteningly accurate as to how everything goes down.
  • Repeatedly parodied in Futurama.
  • The Fillmore! episode "Of Slain Kings on Checkered Fields" centers around chess-playing Bad Boy Check Matey receiving death threats.
  • In a Batman: The Animated Series episode, the Riddler trapped Batman in a virtual reality simulator. At one point, Riddler had Batman chase him across a giant chessboard, only to have the squares slowly disappear beneath Batman's feet. Robin deduced that Riddler was playing with Batman's nickname The Dark Knight, and that in order to avoid disappearing squares, Batman had to move like a knight; two forward, one to the side.
  • In an episode of Danny Phantom, Vlad Plasmius used Danny, Valerie and the Fright Knight to help him defeat Pariah Dark, ruler of the Ghost Zone and steal Jack Fenton's power suit. When Danny confronted Vlad, he simply retorts, (paraphrased) "What, you mean using a couple of teen-aged pawns to turn a Knight and topple a King? It's chess dear boy, of course you don't know. But then you never really did."
  • White Knight and Black Knight in Generator Rex. Black Knight even has her personal army of Black Pawns.
  • The chess equivalent in Avatar: The Last Airbender is Pai Sho. A parallel can be drawn between Iroh- an old, overweight, disgraced ex-prince- and his favorite playing piece, the White Lotus. Most people consider it weak and of little value, but can be cleverly used to create an unexpected strategy.

    Real Life 
  • The branch insignia for US Army Psychological Operations is a knight chess piece, presumably because the goal of PSYOPS is to "skip over" the enemy's "pieces" by convincing them not to fight.
  • Infantry refer to themselves as the "Queen of Battle", meaning that they are able to go anywhere, and do anything. When you factor AP Cs and Helicopters taking them to where you need them, this does become a very true statement.
  • English has a number of idioms and words derived from chess, but the most impressive has to be the word "check", all of whose uses derive from chess. A king in check is under serious restrictions, and so is a person or thing "kept in check". From this usage came things like "checkpoint" and "checking your hat at the door", and from that came the notion the when you examine something, you "check on it" or "check it out". Meanwhile, the pattern of the chessboard gives us the word "checkered", and from that, the name of checkers. On other branches of the etymological tree are "cheque"/"check" (as in, the thing that's in the mail right now, I swear) (because accounting in the old days would often be done on a checkered cloth—why do you think the British finance minister is called the Chancellor of the Exchequer?).


Body MotifsMotifsColor Motif
Character Name and the Noun PhraseOlder Than PrintChivalric Romance
Alice's Adventures in WonderlandImageSource/LiteratureDream Land

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