"Chess is the ultimate test of the human mind, isn't it?"A common visual shorthand to indicate that a character is smart is to have them play chess, Go, or some similar game. After all, Sesquipedalian Loquacious dialog can disrupt pacing, and not everyone is a chalkboard-toting professor, but it's unobtrusively easy to insert a chessboard into a scene. The character doesn't even have to actually play it; simply lingering nearby with a concentrated gaze is enough to suggest deep thinking. Be sure to expect two intelligent worthy opponents, often leaders with real life "pieces" to command, talking about recent things to hit home the chess resembles plot developments. Of course, even if you've got two genius rivals playing, like Professor X and Magneto, expect the brainiest to dramatically declare "...checkmate!" while numerous pieces are left on the board, actually revealing one is awful at chess (so much so they didn't even think to resign). While this is a popular trope with The Chessmaster and the Magnificent Bastard, it's not limited to them, and having a dumb character (try to) play chess is good for laughs. A variation is having a pair of idiots play draughts with a chess set. Other strategy games can be substituted depending on the setting. To make it easier for the audience to identify with this trope, these games will be shown as very similar to chess, either by visual cues (checkerboard designs, chess-like pieces) or described outright as "<X>-chess" (Wizard chess, Vulcan chess, etc.). If the normally very bookish character really loses his temper, he might end up Flipping the Table instead. See also Human Chess, Chess Motifs, Surprise Checkmate, Game of Nerds, Genius Book Club and Pastimes Prove Personality. Contrast Crazy People Play Chess. This is Truth in Television — just ask chess players!
— Emmett Clayton, Columbo
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Anime & Manga
- Code Geass: Lelouch Lamperouge is introduced by having him win an unwinnable (in a certain time frame) chess game. Needless to say, he is the second smartest person in the entire world of the series. The smartest guy in the world is a brilliant chess player, too. Don't look too closely at how they play, though; it's been outright admitted that the people who made the show at best only have a cursory knowledge of how the game works (enough to get the pieces right and that's about it).
- Usually the details of the gameplay are left in the background, but when they're not, well...in one game, Lelouch's opponent moves his king onto a square adjacent to Lelouch's king (an illegal move, since you can't move your king into check), and thus declares checkmate even though he doesn't think he has won. He did this to goad Lelouch into taking his king with his own king, but Lelouch doesn't do it because a pawn is guarding the enemy king; the nonsensical things here are too numerous to enumerate.
- Shikamaru Nara from Naruto plays shogi which is also known as Japanese chess. It was getting beat all the time that his teacher Asuma learned that he was a lot smarter than he was letting on.
- His father plays it better than him, and needless to say, he is also smarter than Shikamaru.
- Hyper-intelligent Ami from Sailor Moon plays chess, which is an important part of one episode where she plays against a villain who freezes her body more and more as she loses her pieces.
- Kaname from the Vampire Knight manga.
- In Maid-Sama!, Hirofumi Koganei challenges several Seika Academy students to a game of chess to prove his superior intelligence, noting that he is the fourth best player in Japan. Takumi Usui curbstomps him handily.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! — Seto Kaiba got him and his brother adopted by beating Gozaburo in a chess game. Gozaburo, on the other hand, was a Grandmaster, and not all-too smart at all. When he later confronts Kaiba at Duel Monsters, few fans would deny that his deck strategy was very poor.
- In the manga version, Mokuba claims that he cheated. Still, that's hardly a reason to say Seto isn't smarter than Gozuburo. (Gozaburo based his whole life on cheating and lying; Seto was likely just better at it.)
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, a heated match ended in 1 win for Mustang, 97 losses to Grumman, and 15 draws. Breda and Falman also have signs of this.
- The English dub of Digimon Adventure 02 explains that one of Ken Ichijoji's many genius-level talents is "playing a single game of chess while everyone watches." note
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny the evil mastermind of the series, Gilbert Durandal is often time seen playing chess while imagining ghostly apparitions that talk to him. Needless to say, he's one of the brightest people in the show. As for his ghostly "opponent"? It's Rau Le Creuset, Big Bad of the previous series, and one of the few people capable of checkmating Durandal, both morally and philisophically.
- In Durarara!!, Orihara Izaya is far too smart to play mere chess. He instead plays a game of his own devising which uses various gamepieces from chess, Go, and several other games.
- Played with in Monster: Hyperintelligent Inspector Runge/Lunge tells some subordinates to not "waste time with such a boring game."
- Invoked in Legend of Galactic Heroes with Yang Wenli, who proves himself time and time again to be one of the smartest and deadliest men alive and occasionally is seen playing chess. Inverted in that he kind of sucks at it.
- Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple: Akisame is revealed to be a master Othello player, among his seemingly limitless talents. He claims that he has never lost a game in his life. In this case we already knew Akisame was smart, this just reinforced the impression.
- While establishing Lupin's character in Lupin III Pilot Film, he and Inspector Zenigata play Shogi over the phone. Naturally, Lupin wins by having one of his pieces disguised as one of Zenigata's.
- No Game No Life: Shiro, the 11-year-old genius, beats the best chess A.I. 20 times in a row. She then later beats God in chess.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, the (minor) reveal that the headmaster plays Go with Evangeline has a minor storytelling significance: one of the highest marks of superior skill in Go is not to beat your opponent so much as to control the game's outcome without your opponent realizing it... which often means playing the Stealth Mentor.
- Lex Luthor is often shown playing chess in his various incarnations.
- Lex Luthor's introduction in Superman: Red Son has him winning fourteen simultaneous games of chess on his coffee break, while also reading Machiavelli in the original Italian and teaching himself Urdu by tape "to keep my mind occupied". He also only becomes truly obsessed with defeating Superman after Bizarro (a Superman clone created by Luthor in this universe) beats him at chess.
- In pre-Crisis days, Superman kept a giant chess-playing robot in the Fortress of Solitude that could play at super speed. Because why not?
- Dilton of Archie Comics is frequently shown playing chess.
- Y: The Last Man has the Daughters of Amazon led by Victoria, a master of chess.
- In an issue of the '70s version of Legion of Super-Heroes, Timber Wolf (the team's feral member) is seen playing a game of chess. He loses, and he complains he was just about to use his secret tactic: kicking over the table!
- Lampshaded and subverted in an issue of The Incredible Hercules. Facing a test of cunning set before him by a sorceress, Hercules examines a chess-like layout, then smashes the whole thing apart, claiming the answer was that the only way to win was to change the rules. The sorceress applauds him, even as her advisor points out that all he had to do was move one of the rooks. (She was target-locked on ol' Herc at this point, so some leeway isn't surprising.)
- Obadiah Stane, Iron Man enemy, was pretty chess-obsessed, extending the metaphor to his mooks he employed. The movie gives him a pretty neat set to toy around with.
- Taken to extremes in Cerebus the Aardvark. Suenteus Po, an old wise philosopher, has grown so weary of the world that he hides in his small apartment and plays chess against himself... for decades. All of which seems to have been a way to protect his secrets from the Big Bad, who can read minds. When she tries to read Po's mind, she sees chess...and nothing else.
- Bamse: Skalman plays chess - generally against himself, since other people aren't much of a challenge.
- Inverted in FoxTrot: the Bumbling Dad Roger is almost always clueless, and he's the only one in the family that enjoys chess. Jason, the smartest of the family, only plays when Roger ropes him into a game, and wins in three moves. The rest of the family seem to be reasonably talented; they just devote their skills into losing to Roger as quickly as possible rather than indulging him in multi-hour chess sessions (since beating him would lead to him begging for a rematch).
- Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom can play a game of chess in their heads, while wandering Doom's castle in Latveria, while having various other deep discussions, with some Xanatos Speed Chess besides (i.e. Doom launching an attack on the other three with Reed having set some countermeasures in motion).
- In the Fantastic Four mini-series "1-2-3-4" by Grant Morrison, Doctor Doom engaged Reed in a form of 4-D chess with an alien computer called the Prime Mover, manipulating the minds and emotions of Reed's teammates in order to destroy them. Reed realized that Doom's gambits were rigid and clumsy and was able to out-think him by being more flexible in his playing. Literally, as it turns out, as he used his elongation powers to add new structures to his brain.
- In an issue of Justice League, Mr. Terrific plays two games of chess against Red Arrow and Black Canary... blindfolded!
- In The Uncanny X-Men, Professor Xavier occasionally played chess against some of his students. Hank McCoy and Kitty Pryde have been known to beat him on occasion.
- X-23 is quite intelligent and highly-educated, and is also known to play chess. Laura claims that she never loses when beginning a match against Storm during her solo series.
- Odin in Valhalla loves chess (despite the anachronism) and can almost constantly be seen playing it against his advisor Mimir when he's not taking an active affair in things. Subverted in that he always loses, and often so badly that the results (and his ensuing attempts to weasel out of them by cheating) fall under Rule of Funny.
- The Riddler is shown, in one Establishing Character Moment, walking past a group of chessplayers and predicting the outcomes of three games in as many seconds.
- In Ric Hochet, the titular character is a very skilled player. Even the resident scientific genius, Professor Hermelin, has been beaten repeatedly by him, much to the latter's annoyance. Ric' Arch-Nemesis, "Le Bourreau", is also a very cunning player, although he doesn't hesitate to cheat or play unfairly.
- In Big Nate, the Book Dumb title character averts this, being his school's top chess player. His friends, avid believers in this trope, are clueless as to why he's so good at it.
- The My Little Pony: Equestria Girls fanfic Long Road To Friendship features two chess matches between Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle, the two smartest girls in their class. The first time, Twilight knows she's beaten and concedes, which enrages Sunset, who wanted to soundly beat Twilight. The second time, Twilight wins, though that's only because Flash Sentry is distracting Sunset.
- Sherman from Calvin and Hobbes: The Series often does this.
- Related to the Justice League entry below: The Big Question.
- One Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers fanfic had a twist: Chip and Gadget had some time to kill during a mission, but did not have a chess set. So, they just announced their moves, and simply kept the board and the positions of all the pieces memorized through the entire game.
- Averted in Respawn of the Dead, where we see a chess-game played between the Heavy and the Pyro, typically seen as the two dumbest members of the team. The Engineer, the most intelligent member with 11 separate degrees, prefers checkers.
- In Shadowchasers Torment, Karl, the brains of the group, not only plays chess, he invented a holographic chess set based on the one in A New Hope (which is being marketed by The Noble Collection and will be available for the holiday season, the narrative claims). In one chapter, he plays chess with Jalal while they are waiting for the results of a test, but Jalal wins. (Karl later comments that nobody can beat him at it, but then again, Jalal has been playing for almost a thousand years.
- Played with in Escape From The Hokage's Hat. Tsunade brings up this trope in reference to Shikamaru and then has Naruto play checkers. When Naruto then asks why checkers instead of chess, she explains that it fits his fighting style (of spamming Shadow Clone Jutsu and working with the clones) since all the pieces share the same value but they only become dangerous if in the right position and gives Naruto practice in directing clones.
- In Sun & Moon, this is used to set up Celestia's intellectual prowess, particularly in relation to Luna. Not as much prowess as Aqua, though.
- In Tom Riddle's Schooldays, Tom establishes his intellectual dominance on the train to Hogwarts by winning a chess match against Archibald Aardwolf with a Surprise Checkmate.
- In the Criminal Minds fanfic To live again, Gideon and Annie regularly play chess, and Annie even manages to beat him sometimes (after years of practice, but still). Gideon is canonically a mastermind and a great profiler and this scene (in the prologue!) shows Annie's intelligence too, foreshadowing the first chapter's events when she connects the dots and uncovers the Replicator's true identity. After that it's not too surprising when we learn that she's actually capable of profiling a criminal if the situation calls for it despite never taught to do it - but hey, growing up in the BAU has some effects besides becoming an emotional mess.
Film — Animation
- During the Matchmaker scene in Disney's Mulan, the heroine briefly passes by a game of Chinese chess, then makes a move that clearly benefits one side.
- In My Little Pony The Movie, The Moochic and his rabbit assistant Habbit are seen playing three-dimensional chess. Habbit wins.
- Somewhat subverted in The Swan Princess where Derek and Bromley play chess in one scene. Derek, while not dumb, is relatively simple-minded and Bromley actually loses while cheating.
- The Great Mouse Detective. As the title character is walking across a chessboard, he stops to shove one of the pieces into a checkmate position.
Film — Live Action
- Star Wars: A New Hope features R2-D2 and Chewbacca playing holographic chess ("dejarik") during the trip to Alderaan, suggesting R2's intelligence, Chewbacca's temper, and C3PO's timidity. And an early example of Chewbacca's high intelligence. It's only later that we see him doing starship repair and rebuilding destroyed protocol droids.
- Night Train to Lisbon (2013) opens with a scene of a man (played by Jeremy Irons) playing chess with himself. We soon learn that the character, Raimund Gregorius, is a lonely university professor.
- X-Men: Xavier and Magneto in the first film, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and alluded to again in X-Men: The Last Stand at the very end where Erik is at a park with a chess board... The chess motif is there to establish the attitudes of both men as The Chessmaster, and it's a metaphor for their struggle over the future of mutantkind.
- And subverted in real life. Everyone on the set naturally assumed that the erudite Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart knew how to play chess, but neither of them did. As Stewart explained, he was always too busy with his career. They had to be taught by a world champion; Stewart said it was "like learning to drive with Michael Schumacher."
- In X-Men: Days of Future Past, it was more like discussing with a chess table between Charles and Erik, without playing much. The lack of play and banter almost seems to symbolize the extreme distance and hostility (perhaps the worst in the series) between them, including Erik's violent outburst just minutes earlier.
- Kronsteen in From Russia with Love is an actual chess grandmaster as well as being SPECTRE's chief strategist. His introduction shows him defending his title as champion of Russia when SPECTRE (SMERSH in the book) calls him into the meeting; he delays long enough for his opponent to run out of time before heading off.
- In Lucky Number Slevin, there is a scene where Slevin and the Boss discuss how Slevin will kill the Rabbi's son, interposed with a scene where Goodkat tells the Boss how he can manipulate Slevin into performing the murder, all while playing chess.
- The Oliver Parker film adaptation of Othello has Iago (played by Kenneth Branagh) illustrating his plan with an actual chessboard.
- Blade Runner. Eldon Tyrell and J.F. Sebastian (one of Tyrell's genetic designers) regularly play chess as an indication of their intellects. The replicant Roy Batty tricks his way into Tyrell's presence by feeding Sebastian chess moves that beat Tyrell — indicating Batty's intellectual superiority.
- During Spock's memory test in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, he is shown playing spherical chess on a computer screen. Given that it is Spock, the computer stood no chance.
- In Silverado, Sheriff Langston plays chess with himself, showing that he is intelligent and Surrounded by Idiots. Specifically, there is a deputy sitting opposite him at the chess board; Langston makes a move, and then stoically turns the chessboard around so that he is now playing the opposite side's pieces every move.
- Famously parodied in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The two title characters die and meet the Grim Reaper, who offers the traditional "play for your lives" challenge. Being the ditzes that they are, Bill and Ted proceed to play and beat Death at Battleship, Clue, Twister, and other (less cerebral) games.
- Subverted in Wag The Dog. After a particularly devious play in their campaign to create a fake war, the film producer remarks to the spin doctor, "I'll bet you're great at chess." The spin doctor replies, "I would be, if I could remember how all the pieces moved."
- The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) has characters incarnated by Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen play sexy chess prior — until he suggests they "play a different game."
- The Avengers (1998). Mrs. Peel and Steed play a game of chess. Mrs. Peel has been portrayed as a genius up to this point, and she plays from memory and handily defeats Steed to show her intellectual superiority.
- In π, Max and his mentor play Go, which factors into several mathematical and visual motifs.
- The Big Bad in The International is shown teaching his son Go.
- In 12 Rounds, the villain interrupts a chess game between two random strangers playing by the street, and defeats the other player in four or so moves.
- Independence Day has Julius and David Levinson playing chess together early on, with David winning easily. He spends much of the rest of the movie talking in Chess Motifs.
- Played with in Blazing Saddles, as Bart and the Waco Kid build their friendship by playing chess. While neither man is particularly smart, they're geniuses compared to the other characters in the film.
Bart: "As I am your host and you are my guest, what do you like to do?"Waco Kid: "Oh, I dunno... Play chess... Screw..."Bart: "Let's play chess!"
- Charlie Wilson's War. Insurgency strategist Mike Vickers is introduced playing chess in a park against four opponents simultaneously. In the non-fiction book however there's no mention of Vickers playing chess at all.
- Green Lantern introduces professor Hector Hammond, zoologist and alien examiner, by having him play chess over the internet.
- In A Beautiful Mind, the genius John Nash is seen playing Go with another really smart guy. When John lose, he have an emotional reaction that is easily mistaken for being a Sore Loser. However, it's actually the beginning of a revelation that will eventually land him a Nobel Prize.
- In TRON: Legacy, Kevin Flynn is a wise Deity of Human Origin who is said to often play Go... and who usually wins, because he avoids impatient and aggressive strategies.
- In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Holmes and Moriarty play a game of chess during the climax, which acts as a metaphor for the events taking place inside the peace summit (with their respective representatives as the pieces). The pair are so smart that by the end it doesn't even stay on the board; they simply call out the moves in the middle of their ongoing conversation and Holmes successfully checkmates Moriarty both in the game and in his plot.
- Inverted in Bad Company, in which Chris Rock's character is adept at chess. He's street smart, but not book smart.
- In Cube Zero, Wynn is prominently shown playing chess with Dodd and beating him at every turn to show off his advanced mental faculties.
- In the film version of Death Note, Light and L play a brief game against one another, while holding a conversation about L's suspicions that Light is Kira. Light wins, to which L responds with a deadpan "Impressive."
- Iron Man: Backgammon variant, in the cave. Using scraps (like nuts and bolts), presumably from a box.
- From Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, after the two of them watch the love interest head off to join the title character...
Professor Hieronymous Grost: "I play chess."
Doctor Marcus: "And I have a bottle of very good wine, tucked away for a rainy day."
Grost: *Glances up at the cloudless sky* "It's pouring."
- Hellraiser: Inferno opens with Detective Joseph Thorne playing speed chess against a friend of his to show his intelligence. On top of that he has a phone conversation halfway through without interrupting his game and goes right back to playing a basketball game after he trumps his opponent.
- Colossus: The Forbin Project. Forbin is playing against Colossus using a stylized chess set while his colleagues try to shut down the Master Computer with a Logic Bomb. Unfortunately by that stage Colossus has advanced in intelligence so much it overcomes the attempt in a few seconds, while simultaneously completing the chess move with obvious Rule of Symbolism.
- In The Thing (1982), R.J. Macready is introduced playing chess against the computer. When he loses, he responds by pouring his drink into the computer, destroying it. Throughout the movie, Macready establishes himself as the most Genre Savvy of the crew, and ends up being (possibly) one of the Final Guys.
- The Rebel Set has it's villain intentionally set himself as a mastermind using this trope. He confides to his sidekick that he isn't a particularly skilled player, but he is very good at finding opponents who are worse. His main scheme for the movie uses the same tactic.
- Gwendolyn from Beat the Devil is very dramatic and given to flights of fantasy, but she's definitely much smarter than her dimwit of a husband, as shown in the early scene where she thrashes him at chess.
- Happens regularly in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels:
- Lord Vetinari has an elegant Thud! board in his main viewing room, and plays it remotely with a friend in Uberwald.
- In Going Postal, the Thud! board is also used to contrast Reacher Gilt and Lord Vetinari's ways of thinking, as well as Crispin Horsefry's ignorance.
- The Assassin's Guild are also said to play "Stealth Chess", a chess variant with an additional "assassin" piece. Vetinari is a grandmaster of this game.
- Lord Hong from Interesting Times measures the intelligence and tactical minds of his collegues and rivals by what exceedingly long length of time they'd spend analyzing a chess board before making their move. He gives Vetinari a rather high honor by suspecting the time between moves would last for days. Whether intentional or not, this is brought up again in Going Postal. While discussing a communications breakdown, Vetinari mentions that in a way he's pleased by it, as it gives him a few more days to consider his next move in the aforementioned long-distance Thud! game.
- Samuel Vimes can't stand chess; he doesn't understand why the pawns don't team up with the rooks, overthrow the kings and set up a republic. While a bit Book Dumb, Vimes is still one of the
smartestsavviest people on the Disc.
- A running joke is that Death hates playing chess because he can never remember how the 'little horse-shaped one' moves. It doesn't matter anyway, given Death never loses a game unless he wants to.
- Granny Weatherwax, one of the smartest people in the series, also stated she can't stand chess; when she finds herself in a Chess with Death situation they both quickly agree to play cards instead.
- Jingo uses a Fictional Counterpart of Scrabble for much the same purpose; Leonard of Quirm, while undoubtedly a smart person (and the inventor of The Make-Words-With-Tiles-That-Have-All-Been-Mixed-Up Game), isn't as strategically minded as Vetinari, who ends up winning the game. As for Colon and Nobby, they did terribly.
- The Deryni counterpart is cardounet. Joram MacRorie and Rhys Thuryn are playing it when the short story "Catalyst" begins, and young Alaric Morgan gets a set as a gift. Both Alaric and Joram excel at such tactical games.
- Harry Potter books. Played with and generally subverted or averted. In Wizarding Chess, strategic mastery is only half the game. The other half is successfully gaining the loyalty of your sentient chess pieces such that they'll actually do what you tell them.
- Ron is skilled at Wizard Chess, but is not exceptionally intelligent otherwise. At the end of the first book he successfully plays against an magically powered and sentient chess set, in what Dumbledore describes as "the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in years." Fandom tends to ignore the chess part entirely, as well as his seven OWLs, and turn him into a complete idiot.
- Hermione is the smartest of the group but terrible at it.
- Harry, the hero of the trio, keeps getting whooped at it by Ron throughout the series.
- In Dragon Blood, the imprisoned prince Kellen plays chess with his visitors. The fact makes it clear to the reader that Kellen does not belong into the insane asylum that, ironically enough, was built especially to imprison him, by his brother, the king.
- The Star Trek Expanded Universe:
- The Final Reflection, by John M. Ford, reveals that Klingon military strategy is the province of military "thought admirals", who hone their skills in klin zha (Klingon chess). The (Klingon) protagonist's father, who is a thought admiral, also studies other races' equivalents of klin zha, including the Human game "chess", to gain insight into the races that play them.
- In Star Trek: The Brave and the Bold, Captain Robert Desoto of the Hood, Riker's former commanding officer, is a champion-level Go player. His reputation is such that he could never find anyone to play him, so he resorted to teaching some of his naive staff the game...including Riker, a "brash young lieutenant who didn't like games where he couldn't bluff", and his current first officer, which he regretted as she went from the standard handicap to regularly beating him inside of a year.
- My Enemy, My Ally, by Diane Duane, introduces the idea of four-dimensional chess. The board is cube-shaped (the pieces are controlled by a special transporter system to keep them from falling off) and players can remove a piece entirely to use it later (although every time a player does that, the other player gets to make several moves in a row). At the beginning of the book, Kirk is about to lose to Spock. Bones takes over for Kirk and beats Spock.
- Several of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe books show Marlowe studying chess problems during his down time. (Although he's never seen playing an actual game, because that would presuppose that he had friends to play with.)
- Sort of played with in the first of Jacques Futrelle's "Thinking Machine" mysteries. The title Great Detective has never played chess before and doesn't have a high opinion of it, but is somehow able to use his clever reasoning to beat a chess champion on his first try.
- The Starcraft novel Liberty's Crusade shows Arcturus Mengsk as an avid chess player, complete with a chess set in his command center. He also gives a comprehensive deconstruction of Chess Motifs in real strategy.
- Bella classified Eric as a "chess nerd". This is frustrating for anti-fans, because a) Bella is judging Eric by his looks, and b) never, at any point in the series, do we see Eric playing chess.
- Alice and Edward play chess together, because, you know, Edward being a telepath, another psychic is the only opponent who can give him a good game.
- Lord Loss, from Darren Shan's The Demonata series, is exceptionally intelligent and very manipulative. Chess is his second favourite pastime (after torturing humans)
- Does Tara in the beginning of Chessmen of Mars count?
- The Forrest Gump book has Forrest learning to play chess rather well, going up against various masters of the game.
- The Thrawn Trilogy: Timothy Zahn once said that writing the Magnificent Bastard Grand Admiral Thrawn is like playing chess with himself.
- Smart People Play Chess is a frequently recurring motif in Robert A. Heinlein's work, usually taking one of two forms: a four-year-old child playing chess against adults, or two characters passing the time in a stressful situation by playing without a board. In Sixth Column, Major Aardmore shows his superiority over the Big Bad by offering the solution to a chess problem. The Big Bad can't figure out how it works; months later, after his defeat, he asks Aardmore about it. Aardmore admits that he had no solution and was simply bluffing. The Big Bad either kills himself in disgrace or dies of apoplexy or frustration; it's not clear which.
- In a variant, Theo in The Westing Game plays chess with someone who only makes moves when he's out of the room. At first, all we know is that Theo's opponent is sneaky, not necessarily smart. However, an eventual Batman Gambit move by Theo's opponent reveals to Judge Ford that the other player is the brilliant Sam Westing, who isn't dead after all, because she's seen that same tactic before. Eventually, grown-up Turtle beats Theo's opponent in a chess game, which makes sense because she turned out to be the only one smart enough to solve the Westing Game as well.
- Cluny the Scourge, in Redwall, makes a vow to himself to learn to play chess while his Evil Plan is falling into place, going by the logic that since his real-life tactics work so well he'll be unbeatable. He never does get the chance to try, though.
- Several really smart characters in the Codex Alera are fond of the chesslike game ludus. Tavi learned to play from Ambassador Varg (one of several Chessmaster types), and also plays against Worthy Opponent Nasaug... in the middle of a battle between their armies.
- Averted in Market Forces by Richard Morgan, a 2004 sci-fi novel in which Corrupt Corporate Executive types battle for promotion by fighting Mad Max-style road duels. The protagonist Chris Faulkner has been manipulated into a fatal road duel with his friend Mike Bryant (a more skilled driver) in order to eliminate them both as potential rivals. In a Just Between You and Me moment the antagonist derides Faulkner and Bryant's chess hobby, pointing out that its restricted field and strict rules make the game useless training for real life.
- In Peacebreakers by Mindy Mackay, Isabella Sordeno is shown playing chess, as is her brother and two of her minions. Subverted when accomplice Jackson becomes the only one to beat her since her ascension to Chessmaster, as he is characterized more as reckless than intelligent.
- James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon is a superpowered Teen Genius telepath, introduced in one story, playing in the planetary championship games.
- In Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts' Empire trilogy, characters who are good at chess are inevitably good tacticians, especially the lords of House Anasati, and their utterly unbeatable True Neutral genius advisor.
- "Stones" (a fictional game that bears a resemblance to the Chinese boardgame Go) fulfils this trope in The Wheel of Time. Morgase Trakan, Pedron Niall, and Thom Merillin are all master Stones players and excellent strategists and politicians, and often make observations about other characters based on their ability at the game. Matrim Cauthon is a strategic whizz and rather a good Stones player, but too impatient to beat the best players. The villainous Moridin is described at a master not just of Stones but of every game of skill he's ever bothered to learn and, Chess Master that he is, tends to visualize his entire Evil Plan as a vast boardgame where he controls all the pieces on both sides.
- In The Goddaughter Duet, not only does Daphne Whitford play chess, when she's informed that George liked chess already, Daphne upgraded it to speed chess.
- One of Artemis Fowl's covers was a chess prodigy. The guard, also a chessmaster (not that kind), didn't believe it, and challenged him to a game. Artemis beat him in six moves.
- In The Dark Tower series, Smart Tacticians Play Castles.
- Some of the Forgotten Realms novels have a drow variant of chess called sava, where there is an extra component: a pair of dice. A player can opt to not move their own pieces in favor of rolling the dice. If they get a double spider, they can move one of their opponent's pieces. This is supposed to represent the drow tendency for treachery.
- Warhammer 40,000 has its own version of chess called "regicide" (the rules are never detailed). Ciaphas Cain writes in his memoirs that he was able to regularly trounce Lord General Zyvan, who was probably Cain's superior in actual military strategy and tactics, at it and adds that he suspects that Zyvan found the game too abstract for his tastes.
- The Draka play chess; unfortunately, owing to the author's Critical Research Failure, the only moves quoted in The Domination are complete nonsense ("Knight to King's Pawn Four" is syntactically invalid, never mind whether it would be a good move or not).
- Averted in The Stefan Zweig novella The Royal Game. The world champion in the story is a Book Dumb savant from a poor rural village. The amateur who defeats him is not presented as exceptionally intelligent either.
- One-Shot Character Kurt from The 39 Clues.
- There are a lot of board games similar to chess in Star Wars, but the one most commonly used in its place is Dejarik. In Galaxy of Fear, Hoole plays a game against a computer, much to his nephew's surprise since he's used to Hoole reading for entertainment. Hoole says it's intellectually stimulating. When his nephew asks why he's studying the screen even though the computer is blinking YOUR MOVE at him, he says "It is important to move when you want to, rather than when your opponent wants you to", which comes up later.
- Played with in the Frederick Forsyth novel The Negotiator; Quinn, the title character, is an intelligent character capable of strategic thinking, but admits he doesn't play chess very well. However, a KGB general gives Quinn a book on chess, advising him to study it and that it will help him to catch the Big Bad. It does.
- The Reynard Cycle: In The Baron of Maleperduys, Reynard and Isengrim competitively play Campraeden, a board game that resembles Risk. Reynard wins most of the time, in spite of Isengrim having played since childhood. As Reynard himself points out, this is because Isengrim tries to defend everything, and ends up defending nothing, while Reynard is willing to sacrifice his pieces for the ultimate victory . . . Information that ends up foreshadowing the later revelation that, in spite of their Red Oni, Blue Oni relationship with each other (with Reynard as the Red Oni, and Isengrim as the blue), Reynard is actually the one with the cold, calculating mind, and Isengrim is the one ultimately ruled by his heart.
- Appears in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels in the form of cyvasse (reportedly inspired by "a bit of chess, a bit of blitzkrieg, a bit of stratego"). Good players include the extremely clever Tyrion Lannister, the scholar Haldon Halfmaester, the quite intelligent princess Myrcella, and the good tactician Brown Ben Plumm. Doran Martell is a subversion; he never plays any game he could potentially lose.
- The Woman in White: Miss Marian Halcombe is very smart and very good at games, naturally she's also good at playing chess. However, when she plays with Count Fosco, she discovers very quickly that her let her win. She immediately calls him on it as she wants to be treated with respect and as an equal. He apologizes and utterly destroys her in their next game.
- Haymitch and Peeta are among the most cunning characters in The Hunger Games. In Catching Fire Katniss comes home to find them playing chess in her kitchen.
- Characters in K. J. Parker novels are usually very intelligent and this tends to entail being skilled chess players as well:
- In The Folding Knife, the Magnificent Bastard protagonist Basso is a very skilled chess player, so good in fact that after his wife notices he's letting her win, he challenges himself to lose on purpose in a way that obscures this.
- Sharps also includes the idea of being smart enough to lose on purpose, and all of the main characters range from competent to genius at chess and are all quite intelligent in addition to being master fencers. The work also has the cunning Smug Snake Political Officer aver this, commenting the he has no interest in chess because he can know how to defeat his opponent from the very first move. Likewise, it is purposefully averted with General Carnufex, a brilliant strategist, who is not good at chess himself, but can accurately gauge others from their style of play.
- Subverted in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", widely considered to be the first detective story. The story begins with a discussion on the difference between calculation and analysis (the latter being a "true" indicator of intellect), and uses chess as an example of the former, noting that in chess, the winner is typically whoever can concentrate longer, not whoever is smarter.
- Dovasary Balitang from Daughter of the Lioness. She's just thirteen, but she's very well-read and thoughtful; she has several adult chess partners in the Palace. Good traits for a Queen.
- One Nero Wolfe mystery focuses on an exhibition chess game in which the guest player (playing simultaneous blind games against a local chess club) is murdered. One person brought into Wolfe's office is uncomfortable confiding in him without having first played a chess game with him. Wolfe (who does not enjoy chess) responds, "Very well. I have no board or pieces." Only a few moves later, his opponent notes Wolfe's last move was commonly known as inferior to a specific alternative... and is then forced to agree with Wolfe that unlike the conventional play he'd of course rehearsed the counter to, he can no longer keep track of the game in his head and concedes.
- Second Apocalypse subverts this trope with benjuka, a board game where the rules change after every move, much like life, creating a game of baffling complexity and poetic subtlety. In contrast to games with fixed rules, it cannot be intellectually mastered. It is said to challenge one's spirit rather than intellect. As such, the highly intelligent Achamian usually loses to his regular game partner because he stubbornly tries to force a victory through sheer cunning.
- In Sidney Sheldon's book If Tomorrow Comes the con-woman protagonist outsmarts two rival chess grandmasters by betting (and getting very high odds) that if she plays them both simultaneously she can either beat one of them or force them both to a draw. What she does is repeat each player's previous move so that they are actually playing each other, but they don't realise because they are in different rooms.
- A variant occurs in the Horatio Hornblower books with the card game whist, which Hornblower's mathematical acumen allows him to excel at. He gains respect for Lady Barbara when she proves to be an excellent player, and it's another mark in favor of the Comte de Gracy and his daughter-in-law Marie. Bush is not very good at it because he's not mathematical or especially imaginative in spite of his expertise at seamanship. Nor is the bullying Jack Simpson, who completely bungles a game with Hornblower and accuses him of cheating in one of the Midshipman stories.
- Whist is also the favoured game of Phineas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days, suiting his orderly, precise mind.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Mr. Spock would often play 3-D chess when off duty (usually against Captain Kirk). One episode has Spock discovering that the ship's computer was tampered with when he managed to beat it at the game. (Spock's reasoning was that because he was the one who programmed the computer to play chess, it would be unlikely that he could manage anything better than a stalemate while playing against it.)
- Subverted in the 1st season episode "The Corbomite Maneuver", which has Spock making chess references left and right, trying to use it as an analogue for the situation the ship finds itself in. Kirk eventually realizes that the best game analogue should actually be poker, and proceeds to bluff the alien ship about what would happen if he fired on the Enterprise. The alien buys it (or is at least intrigued enough by the bluff to play along).
- In "Whom Gods Destroy" Kirk orders the bridge to present a chess problem to anyone - himself included - who desires to be let onboard, and to not let the individual onboard unless he states the correct counter-move, which only he and Spock know. (This proves clever foresight on his part, as the villain of the episode does indeed try to board the ship disguised as him.)
- Used in a fairly ridiculous way in the second pilot. Kirk defeats Spock by using an "illogical" tactic which catches him off guard. What makes it silly is that the tactic is simply sacrificing a piece, which leads to checkmate in the next turn. How this very basic part of the game is illogical is never explained.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- A brilliant tactician defeats Data at a chess-analogue game. In the rematch Data defeats him by making moves to stalemate rather than win until the tactician Rage Quits.
- In another episode, Troi beats Data at 3-D chess. (To anyone who understands chess strategy or game theory, this scene (mentioned in more detail on the Straw Vulcan page) takes clear artistic liberties, as Troi extols the virtues of "intuition" in a game that is fundamentally brutally mathematical, and at which Data would likely have an unfair advantage, but it's also a nod to the original series which used the excuse that Kirk was capable defeating Spock at chess precisely because of emotional illogic rather than strategy and mathematics.)
- In yet another episode, after Barclay's encounter with a Cytherian probe, he gains an understanding of chess as a residual ability from his period of super-intelligence.
- Ironically, the game of choice for the Enterprise-D's crew is Poker, which requires a different sort of strategy based on statistical analysis and, frequently, cold reading. Even more ironic is that Troi doesn't seem to have any advantage at this game even though intuition would make much more of a difference (and her superpower). At the beginning of the series, Data had little understanding of the various subtleties involved in poker (Riker had to outright explain what a bluff actually was). However, as the series progressed, Data gained an understanding of the game, and used the fact that he didn't have emotions to create the perfect poker face.
- It could very well be the case however that Troi simply refrains from using her empathic abilities during poker because she feels that doing so would constitute cheating. Likewise, the crew trusts Geordi to not use his visor to cheat, and Data to not count cards (Data having cheated at gambling, poker included, several times in the series to get the crew out of a jam). Whatever the case, somehow Riker often manages to win.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benjamin Sisko has a 3-D chess set in his office.
- Star Trek: Voyager also had kal-toh, a Vulcan strategy game. It was played by Tuvok, Harry Kim, Icheb, and simulations of Socrates and T'Pau. Harry once called it "Vulcan chess", a comment which Tuvok dismissed, claiming that "Kal-toh is to chess as chess is to tic-tac-toe."
- In Andromeda, another tv series based on one of Gene Roddenberry's ideas, captain Dylan Hunt preferred 3-dimensional Go. His usual opponent, his first officer, turns out to have been cheating almost every game and is astonished Dylan wasn't (although Dylan realizes a few centuries late that this was supposed to be a tipoff about the officer's people planning a rebellion).
- One episode of The Big Bang Theory had Sheldon and Leonard play 3D chess to demonstrate Leonard's ignorance.
Sheldon: Obviously, you're not well-suited for three-dimensional chess. Perhaps three-dimensional Candy Land would be more up your speed.
- Sheldon also made a 3-player chess board and new pieces.
- And then there's chess surrounded by laser burglar alarms...
- Leonard teaches Penny to play plain chess... and loses to her in their first match.
- Gideon from Charmed plays chess with an evil version of himself from the Mirror Universe.
- In Heroes, Sylar manipulates Danko into cooperating with him while toying with the pieces on a chessboard.
- In the drama Leverage, team mastermind Nate Ford frequently plays online chess.
- And in "The Juror Number Six Game", Earnshaw, the lawyer opposing them, also plays chess. Ford uses Chess Motifs to explain her tactics.
- It is interesting in The Three Card Monte Job that contrasts Nate's chess with his father's three card monte, a game based entirely on deception.
- Worthy Opponent Sterling also plays chess. He and Nate play a game at the beginning of "The Queen's Gambit Job" that ends with only the two kings left standing.
- During the episode, we're introduced to Olivia Livingston, who's The Mark's stepdaughter and Sterling's birth-daughter: Stering's divorced from her late Mom, who was killed by a car bomb. She's guarded at a chess tournament, and her life's endangered by her step-dad's illegal deals. Sterling's able to regain custody of Olivia while Nate sabotages a nuclear weight in the episode.
- Teen Wolf: Stiles, the pack's resident researcher and strategist, plays chess with his Dad and even uses it as a metaphor to explain the supernatural world. When he's possessed by the nogitsune - a Japanese Fox Spirit - it's revealed the spirit keeps him trapped in his own mind by keeping him playing an endless game of "Go".
Peter: "Besides, chess is Stiles's game. It's not the game of a Japanese fox."
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Superstar", Jonathan has made a spell to turn himself into a Black Hole Sue. One of the first things we see the new suave Jonathan doing is beating Giles at chess while simultaneously teaching slaying strategy to the rest of the Scoobies.
- Chessboards appear in Dollhouse, though they are rarely prominent in the plot. Topher, the Los Angeles Dollhouse's resident programmer and genius, usually has a board in his office, and has an improvised, chalk-drawn one beside the sleeping pod where he holes up after losing his mind in the dystopia of "Epitaph One." Also, "Getting Closer" includes a scene in which Bennett and Echo while away the hours with chess while repairing the hard drive containing Echo's original personality, Caroline. (Though the real Caroline was smart but no genius, Echo — thanks to the repeated personality imprints on her brain — by then has 40 minds to draw upon and might well be a match at chess for Bennett or Topher.)
- In the unaired pilot, Topher is shown playing chess on three different boards (against himself, presumably).
- In The West Wing, President Bartlet plays chess. At one point he plays several games simultaneously while solving a crisis related to Taiwan. Later Leo insists that he continue to play weekly, in order to make sure his multiple sclerosis isn't affecting his reasoning ability.
- In Father Ted, faced with a choice between a game of chess or Buckaroo, manchild Dougal predictably goes with the less cerebral option, prompting Ted to roll his eyes and say "Buckaroo: the sport of kings."
- In Red Dwarf, the highly-advanced AI Holly, with an official IQ of 6000, plays chess — but not very well. (Although the only time we've actually seen the outcome of one of his games, it subsequently turned out that he'd been playing to lose, and against himself.)
- Before the 3 million year narrative jump, Holly was playing chess by correspondence with a computer named Gordon, who had an IQ of 8000. In "Better Than Life", the crew intercepts a load of mail from 3 million years ago, which includes a video of Gordon declaring the first move, then having trouble turning off the recording device.
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "I, Robot", Leonard Nimoy's character, a retired lawyer, plays chess a lot. He comes out of retirement because it bores him.
- In one episode of Cheers, Fraiser teaches Woody how to play chess, and Woody proves to be very good at it. Fraiser suggests that he is an idiot savant (although Woody does not know what that means).
- Similarly, the cold open of an episode of Wings comes upon Lowell and Roy in the middle of a game. When a frustrated Roy demands that Lowell make a move, as they've been sitting there for 30 minutes, a confused Lowell says, "I thought it was your turn!". An even more annoyed Roy snaps at him to move. . .and sure enough, Lowell instantly checkmates him.
- In the Frasier episode "Chess Pains", Frasier gets irritated that Martin is a better player. Frasier keeps forcing Martin to play chess until he finally wins a game. The subversion of this trope lies in the fact that Frasier is a highly-educated and sophisticated psychiatrist, while Martin, his father, is a working-class Book Dumb retired cop. Martin points out that the reason he's so good is that a lot of the skills he acquired as a detective apply to chess (devising strategies, staying one step ahead of the other guy, etc). Which makes Martin far from dumb. Indeed, many episodes imply that Martin is Obfuscating Stupidity, making this a double subversion.
- One episode of House has a prodigy chess player as a patient who plays a game with Dr. House. He would have lost, but he bluffs House out, which results in him technically winning.
- It isn't enough that Charlie Eppes of NUMB3RS could multiply four-digit numbers in his head when he was three, graduated from high school and entered Princeton at 13, completed his bachelors degree in three years and is a multiple Ph.D. No, just so we'll know he's really smart, he regularly beats his father and his former academic advisor (both portrayed as above average intelligence) at chess, too. (But he's Not Too Perfect: he doesn't do so well at Scrabble.)
- On one episode of Lost, Locke unlocks a secret message by beating a computer game of chess.
- Warehouse 13:
- They do this doubly so in one scene; Artie is pondering over a game of chess with himself and says that it's White's move and White's about to lose, while Lena tells him that Claudia's not such a bad kid. Claudia then walks by, moves a piece, announces checkmate, and walks off.
Artie (astounded): "I'll be damned."Claudia: "Well, maybe, but I'm not one to judge."
- And then averted/subverted in a later episode: Artie is trapped in the warehouse by an advanced A.I. program. He challenges the A.I. to a game of...Battleship. Artie wins, by cheating, which ends up being key to figuring out what's going on in the episode.
- They do this doubly so in one scene; Artie is pondering over a game of chess with himself and says that it's White's move and White's about to lose, while Lena tells him that Claudia's not such a bad kid. Claudia then walks by, moves a piece, announces checkmate, and walks off.
- A different version of this trope is seen with war games (the kind played on a board). Two examples include a Columbo movie in which the killer used the playing of the game as an alibi (he'd actually set up the game hours beforehand) and an episode of The Equalizer where a former general set up a complicated revenge against McCall's client. In both examples the villain becomes unstuck due to the game — the misplacement of a single soldier exposes the false alibi in Columbo. The general, once his Evil Plan has failed, plans to kill the Equalizer and his client with the cannons (rigged to fire poisoned darts) on his model of Pickett's Charge. Only a single cannon fires though — at the general, as McCall has got at the model beforehand. The dying general is impressed, and concedes the game to his opponent. For the record, Columbo himself seems to subvert the trope; he's a mastermind police detective who hides his genius under a Book Dumb facade, and yet he seems to prefer checkers. In the episode in question, while the killer and victim were antagonizing each other over chess pieces, we soon cut to Columbo and his dentist heavily engrossed in a checkers game.
- On the Wizards of Waverly Place episode "Make it Happen", the Russo's kids have to choose an alternate career in the case of they don't become wizards. Justin's first idea is to make money by travelling the world defeating robots at chess.
- White Collar frequently depicts Neal and Mozzie playing chess. An oddly organized pursuit for anarchistic Mozz.
- Crichton plays the game against Harvey (the neural clone in his head). They appeared to be relatively evenly matched, with the outcome being appropriate to the larger situation they were in.
- Sikozu also once brought the game to Scorpius (whose intelligence was the only one on board she saw as on par to her own) so they could play.
- Occasionally pops up in Doctor Who:
- The Fourth Doctor would often be seen playing chess against his robot dog K-9. And would often lose.
- As fitting the Seventh Doctor's status as The Chessmaster, this would pop up from time to time in his era. He's participating in a chess game against an unseen opponent in "Silver Nemesis", and the climax of "The Curse of Fenric" hinges on whether the Doctor is able to flummox his opponent with a chess puzzle.
- Eleven is seen playing an agent of the Silence at 'Live Chess', a variant where moving a piece too many times causes it to give an electric shock to the player if touched. He forces his opponent to continually move his queen until the shock the piece harbors is lethal, then concedes the game, sparing his opponent from death, in exchange for information.
- Eleven challenges the Cyber-Planner "Mr. Clever" to a game of chess in "Nightmare in Silver", with the stakes being whoever wins takes control of the Doctor's body. They both cheat.
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. A flashback scene shows Sarah Connor entering a South American guerilla camp; sitting in a jungle clearing is her son playing chess with their commander.
- In an episode of Stargate SG-1, Samantha Carter is playing chess with Cassandra. Cassandra mentions O'Neill, and states that he's not as dumb as he pretends to be. The example she gives of his Obfuscating Stupidity is that he insists on calling the knight pieces "horses."
- One scene in John Adams shows Benjamin Franklin playing chess... in a bathtub with Madame Helvétius.
- On an early episode of The Wire, D'Angelo Barksdale finds his lieutenants Poot and Bodie playing checkers with a chess set. He teaches them the rudiments of the proper game and sets it up as a brilliant extended metaphor for the Barksdale drug organization. Bodie recalls it three seasons later, shortly before he's killed.
- On The X-Files, child psychic Gibson Praise is first seen playing an adult in a chess tournament. Subverted because it's not a proof of his great intelligence, but the fact that he can read minds and has alien DNA.
- In one episode of Criminal Minds, Spencer Reid is seen playing chess...against himself. Throughout the first two seasons, he and Gideon played frequently with Gideon beating Reid almost every time. Gideon claimed that to win and be a good profiler, he needed to learn to think outside the box.
- Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame. Tends to come off as rather silly at times, yet a part of one DVD episode's commentary the director mentions his complete and utter destruction of chess opponents.
- In the Mysterious Ways episode "The Big Picture," Declan asks Miranda (his assistant and a very intelligent physics grad student) to play chess with him. She replies that last time she beat him in nine moves.
- A non-chess example. One one episode of The Daily Show, Neil deGrasse Tyson has a cameo to answer one of Jon's questions. Someone handed him a Rubik's Cube as a prop just before he walked onto the set. He solved it while answering the question and dropped it on the desk before he walked off set.
- Also from the Daily Show: Trevor Noah ("because I'm white. I'll go first") played pawn to D4, and Jon Stewart ("I guess 'cos I'm Jewish, I'll go second") replied by dropping a small plastic washing basket on the pawn and shouted "Oh snap! Mousetrap! Checkmate! USA! USA!".
- Inverted in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Maddie is smart and London is really, really dumb, yet Maddie can't beat London at chess.
- The Suite Life on Deck had an example similar to the Zack and Cody one. After losing an arm wrestle to Bailey's redneck boyfriend, Cody suggests that he's probably not so good at more intellectual endeavors such as chess. Wrong.
- On an episode of The Mentalist, Jane plays a game of chess with one of the world's top puzzle experts. They don't bother to use a board.
- In an episode of Dans une galaxie près de chez vous, the crew knows one of them is the Jedi Apprentice and decide to play 3D chess (called Échec et Mars) to find out who has the most intelligent, and thus the apprentice. Turns out the Jedi apprentice is Bob, the dumb pilot who mentions he fainted due to the game's difficulty even before he even opened the box.
- In Oz, book smart Tobias Beecher teaches street smart thug Chris Keller how to play chess; Keller has no patience for it, but goes along with it as part of he and Vern Schillinger's Batman Gambit. Later, he and Schillinger are seen playing chess; it's hinted that Keller already knew how to play.
- In an episode of Family Ties, Steven, tired of losing at chess to Alex, studies the game copiously and finally manages to beat him. However, Alex is out of the room when Steven checkmates him and Steven accidentally knocks over the board in celebration.
- The Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse" has a scene cleverly subverting this: a scene opens with Sherlock and Mycroft clearly playing chess, and they proceed to banter for an entire scene while still clearly playing chess. The end of the scene zooms the camera out, revealing that the chess board was on the other side of the room, and they were actually playing the kid's game Operation.
- In the "Strange Fruit" episode of Cold Case, a white suburban housewife is initially infuriated to find a strange black boy (the Victim of the Week) in her house (mistakenly assuming that he's cavorting with the housekeeper) until she looks at the chess board she has set up and instantly realizes from the move that he made that he's a terrific player. It kicks off an very unusual friendship. . .which unfortunately sets in motion a chain of events that lead to his murder.
- In The Borgias, Cesare, a Magnificent Bastard, is often seen playing chess. The trope is also played with in one episode, when a relative of Lucrezia's husband teaches her to play chess and she doesn't seem to be that good at it, but ends up outsmarting him in real life.
- Person of Interest. When Finch goes to visit Elias in prison, the only thing the city's most powerful mob boss asks for in return for his help is for a Worthy Opponent to play chess. Their mutual role as The Chessmaster manipulating events from behind the scenes is lampshaded in this scene. A flashback scene in another episode shows Finch teaching chess to the Machine, although Finch cautions the Machine against thinking of people as chess pieces who can be casually sacrificed.
- In Stargate Atlantis, this trope is used to show Hidden Depths for both Sheppard and Zelenka.
- Sheppard might seem like your average Military Maverick surviving solely thanks to his charm, Improbable Piloting Skills and sheer luck, but he's a better chess player than McKay, the top scientist on Atlantis.
- Zelenka is chronically overshadowed by McKay and often relegated to the role of Beleaguered Assistant, but he wipes the floor with all the other scientists when they spend their day off playing chess.
- Elizabeth Weir also plays it - while not a scientist, with two phd's and a career as one of the best diplomats in the world, it's clear she's no slouch in the brains department.
- Subverted in the musical Chess. Molokov and Walter manipulate world-champion chess grandmasters against each other for political purposes, but they themselves don't play the game.
- White Wolf's Exalted brings us Gateway, a Chess-extract used to teach military strategy and politics to the children of the Scarlet Dynasty. Most members of the Dynasty are Terrestrial Exalts... superhumans with sometimes reflexive mastery over elements, regular skills (each individual with their own 'prodigy' knacks), and lives that often extend up to and beyond three centuries. the 'Hunting Cat' rule variation allows Gateway to serve as a meditative game of solitaire, while monks use the 'Spirit Frog' rule variation as an allegory to teach philosophy and ethics. It might be aptly said that Gateway is what Chess would be, if Chess were designed by people who had gotten bored with Chess.
- Vampire: The Masquerade gives the Ventrue and Lasombra. They are known to have a heavy fascination with the game of chess. And both clans pride intelligence.
- Wyrd's table top game Malifaux gives us a scene featuring Outcast Leveticus and his sort-of-apprentice Rusty Alyce playing a game in their free time, which concludes in Leveticus placing Alyce in check after explaining that she is too rigid in her style and needs to adapt as the game goes on. Alyce then proceeds to blow a hole in the board where Leveticus's checking piece had been placed with her Clockwork Seeker, asking if that was adaptable enough.
- One of the Nod mission briefings in the original Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn has Kane playing a game of chess while explaining the upcoming mission to the player.
- Killer7: Harman Smith and Kun Lan play chess while not engaging in their neverending conflict.
Harman Smith: Nothing has changed for 30 years. No matter how many times you try, the result will be the same.
Kun Lan: Ahh, yes. Like our chess games, you always seem to win.
Harman Smith: Do you know why?
Kun Lan: You tell me.
Harman Smith: Because you're a bad player.
- Inverting cause and effect, The Sims plays this by increasing you sim's "logic" stat by playing chess.
- Miles Edgeworth of Ace Attorney fame has a chess set in his office. Phoenix notes that the problems he sets up tend to have the red side utterly dominating the blue side, if you get my drift.
- Ace Attorney Investigations 2 takes this to another level where Edgeworth visualizes verbal conflicts with uncooperative witnesses as a battle of chess, simmilarly to how Phoenix did it with his Magatama, breaking through their resistance by carefully choosing his words and destroying their "pieces". As a gameplay element, it is called "Logic Chess".
- Mori Kibbutz from Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony plays and easily wins chess game with his brother while doing a boxing workout. The he boasts about his academic achievements.
- Saints Row The Third has the chess matches between Pierce and Oleg.
- Escape From St. Mary's: This is the game of choice for the "A level" students in the game.
- Katawa Shoujo: Shrinking Violet Hanako loves chess, and indeed, it seems to be one of the only joys she has left in her otherwise miserable life - as well as the method via which she first opens to Hisao. However, in a slight subversion, the fact that she loves playing chess doesn't necessarily mean that she's any good at it (which is understandable, given that for years the only person she had to play against was her best friend Lilly, who is blind). Meanwhile, scheming megalomaniancal genius Shizune would much rather play Risk... When she does decide to play chess against Hanako, she easily wipes the floor with her all the while giving her a silent psychological analysis based on her play style. And her deduction, that Hanako doesn't really like chess so much as she likes her memories that are associated with playing chess, turns out to be perfectly accurate.
- It seems that the Medic from Team Fortress 2 plays chess. In this unused draft of "Meet the Medic", there's a chess board set up next to his seat on a train. And he seems to be quite smart (although his surgical technique could use work), if also crazy.
- Mass Effect:
- Subverted as Shepard, regarded in-universe as a brilliant tactician and leader, flat-out sucks at chess, claiming it's since s/he keeps trying to apply real-life infantry tactics. His/Her opponent, an avid strategy gamer, mocks this explanation ruthlessly.
- Played straight in the Omega DLC. The main antagonist is a Cerberus general well known for being a brilliant tactician. Most of his cutscenes show him playing chess against a computerized opponent. The game and battle end up mirroring who has the apparent advantage, and he concedes the chess game when defeated.
- Similarly played with in Fire Emblem Awakening. You'd expect the Avatar, a famed tactician, to be unparalleled at their universe's version of chess, but he/she still loses regularly to Virion in their supports. Virion goes into detail about why: in chess, you're not as attached to individual units as you are in real war, so the optimal strategy is to sacrifice most of your pieces to achieve the larger goal of defeating your opponent. In reality, that strategy would win the battle but lose the war as no one would be willing to follow that tactician's orders, leading to either mutiny or desertion, while the Avatar's (i.e. a good Fire Emblem player's) efforts to ensure that No One Gets Left Behind are more applicable.
- Watch_Dogs Inverts it. There's a chess minigame which can be played at several locations. Playing it enough unlocks the final adrenaline mode skill; the in-game explanation for it is that it represents Aiden's ability to think quickly, implying that playing chess helped make him smarter.
- Happens twice in Dragon Age: Inquisition: First between Cullen and Dorian (after which you can take Dorian's place, and play an offscreen game with Cullen), and again during banter between Iron Bull and Solas. The latter is noteworthy, because it's played without a board - the two of them complete an entire game of in their heads while on the road. Bonus points because their mental game is based on a real life chess match: The Immortal Game. Makes even more sense since one of the players is apparently a god.
- Genius Bruiser Bacchus in Star Ocean: The Last Hope plays a Morphus game akin to chess. A series of Private Actions allows Edge to play against him and Reimi at it.
- Discussed in the Insecticomics. While trying to dissuade a Mary Sue from shoehorning her way into the Decepticons, Kickback uses Dreadmoon as an example: he's both intelligent and extremely good at chess, but this doesn't make him a genius tactician in real life.
- In Schlock Mercenary, AIs play chess to test their relative intelligence, particularly Ennesby and Haban. You can tell when one of them is seriously outclassed because his opponent will be able to predict the entire game before the first move is played.
- Billy Thatcher in Morph E is a chess grand master with his own reality TV show. His early defining character moment is playing a game of chess via notation doubling to show off his intellect and eidetic memory.
- In The Order of the Stick, tactical genius and top paladin O-Chul plays Go. One of the first signs the Monster in the Darkness is smarter than everyone (itself included) thinks is that when O-Chul teaches him Go he picks it up very quickly.
- In Darwin's Soldiers, Hicks mentions Shelton was chess champion in a contest at Pelvanida.
- In A Trailer For Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever, the smart glasses-wearing best friend is shown at one point studying a chessboard from board level shifting angles as he did.
- Wikipedia's page for Alzheimer's disease states: "Intellectual activities ... have been linked to a reduced risk of AD in epidemiological studies, although no causal relationship has been found." Guess what they show a picture of to indicate "intellectual activities."
- In Freeman's Mind, Gordon complains that despite popular perception, chess doesn't actually measure intelligence; it measures the ability to think a step ahead of the opponent. He also says that it doesn't matter how smart you are; Einstein and Tesla would still lost to the nut who committed the entire board and piece configurations to memory.
- In 10 CRAZIEST Laws in the World by Matt Santoro, Eugene wins a game of chess against a boxer.
- In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Wake the Dead", Shayera Hol and Aquaman are seen finishing a game of chess. Aquaman wins and taunts Shayera over both her loss and the quiet way she acquiesced, and the taunts themselves get no reaction. His dialogue reveals that the game itself was not the point, but that he is trying to get her break out of the funk she had been in since the end of "Starcrossed", as she used to regularly beat Batman when they would play. Amazo, the super-intelligent evolving android that at this point in the series is nearly a god, also likes to play chess with Aquaman. Aquaman never actually beats Amazo, but is at least commended for taking longer to inevitably checkmate.
- Subverted in The Simpsons episode "The PTA Disbands": Bart is seen in the park playing several games of chess at once; he loses all of them. A parody of a scene in Knight Moves.
- Code Lyoko:
- In one episode of Teen Titans, Cyborg and Raven, generally portrayed as the two smartest team members, are shown playing chess with each other.
- Xiaolin Showdown: Raimundo shows a surprising knack for it while playing against a talking dinosaur with a British accent.
- played for Laughs as Zoidberg is seen contemplating a chess board... and then eats one of the pieces.
- It's Played for Laughs in the opening sequence of another episode, where Fry is playing holographic chess with Bender (a Shout-Out to the example in A New Hope). Fry actually seems to be winning at first (having more pieces than Bender and making a move that results in a Check) despite referring to a piece as "pointy guy" (likely a Bishop), suggesting that he's a novice. Then Bender says, "Get 'im, boys!" and his pieces tackle Fry. To which Fry groans in response, "Good move..."
- Done subtly on Phineas and Ferb. Mad Scientist Dr. Doofensmirtz seems to be a fan of chess. When he is bored, he suggests that he and Perry use his travel chess set. He even schemes to freeze every evil scientist nemesis and turn them into a live Animal chess set.
- Family Guy: Brian/Stewie play chess during their cross-country trip with Quagmire.
- In the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002) episode "The Roboto Gambit", Man-at-Arms builds Roboto to play chess with Man-e-Faces (because he can beat everyone too easily in his super-smart robot form). In later episodes, Roboto plays chess with Orko and Sy-Clone.
- In Gravity Falls, Bill Cypher invites Ford to play a variant of chess with him in their first meeting. In this instance, Bill is invoking this trope in order to stroke Ford's ego and get him to do what Bill wants.
- Inverted by Norbert Wiener, inventor of Cybernetics, path integrals, and large parts of applied fourier analysis. He would often play chess, but was usually beaten after making simple mistakes. On one occasion, a student who didn't know about this tendency spent ten minutes trying to work out what strategy he had thought of that would enable Wiener to checkmate him by sacrificing his queen. He asked Wiener what this was, and Wiener promptly asked to take back his previous move, not having realized he had put his queen in a position to be captured. The reason is that chess requires a lot more than mere intelligence. As the Carl Sagan quote indicates, chess requires "strategy, foresight, analytical powers, and the ability to cross-correlate large numbers of variables and learn from experience". While these traits can accompany high intelligence, they are not guaranteed. And of course, most important of all is the skill to play chess. It is estimated that it takes 15000 hours of practice for the average person to reach expert levels in chess.
- Humphrey Bogart liked to play chess and stated in an interview that it was one of the things he treasured in life. He shares a love of chess, incidentally, with at least two of his characters: Rick Blaine in Casablanca (some reports claim that the chess game Rick was playing was actually part of a postal match Bogart was playing with someone fighting overseas in World War II), and Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.
- Stanley Kubrick had a lifelong obsession with chess, saying, "If chess has any relationship to filmmaking, it would be in the way it helps you develop patience and discipline in choosing between alternatives at a time when an impulsive decision seems very attractive."
- As RZA discusses in this interview, the Hip-hop Chess Federation clearly believes in this trope, using chess as a tool to teach strategy, life-planning and impulse control.
- Often partially inverted in real life chess champions — Kasparov follows some very questionable historical theories, while Bobby Fischer was notoriously self-absorbed and ragingly anti-semitic (despite being half-Jewish) and early 20th century chess champion Aleksandr Alekhine was a raving egomaniac with possible Nazi connections. See more at Crazy People Play Chess.
- But then again, you have: Jose Capablanca, who managed to secure a Cuban diplomatic post (even if it was primarily due to his chess skills, some level of social ability is needed to both get and keep a political patronage job); Paul Morphy, a talented attorney (said to have memorized the entire Louisiana legal code) who resented being unable to start a successful law practice because of the attention drawn to his chess ability; Emanuel Lasker, who had a doctorate in mathematics, wrote works of drama and philosophy, and held the world championship for 27 years; Max Euwe, who also held a doctorate in mathematics and, before he became world champion, used mathematics to show that the rules of chess as they then stood did not preclude the possibility of neverending games; Mikhail Botvinnik, who was one of the best electrical engineers in the Soviet Union (he played a key role in developing early chess computers), in addition to being the first world champion after the second World War and winning his title back after it was taken from him by a younger opponent. Twice.
- Averted by many computing professionals now that computers can reliably beat the best human players. The IBM Markham and Google Mountain View break rooms for software engineers have Go boards (computers aren't as good at Go).
- Since 2011, chess lessons have been made part of the curriculum in every public school in Armenia. Armenia is the first country in the world to make chess mandatory in schools.
- British chess champion Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander was also a cryptanalyst who contributed to break the Enigma code in Alan Turing's team. Acording to Turings' biography, He would then spend whatever free time he had hosting an free of charge, open for all beginners class in chess. That is a guy who either loved his work, or hated his life.
- Apparently averted by Victor Serebriakoff, the late chairman of Mensa, who describes himself in The Mensa Puzzle Book as once defeating the captain of the Chess Club who was looking for subtleties in Idiotic Play. Elsewhere in the book he describes whist and bridge as "nasty, calculating" games, and states his preference for more lighthearted card games.