[[quoteright:300:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Chess-the-Musical-CTR-300x300_7186.jpg]]

->''"The game is greater than its players."''

->''"It really doesn't matter who comes out on top, who gets the chop;''
->''no one's way of life is threatened by a flop.''
->''But we're gonna smash that bastard!''
->''Make him wanna change his name!''
->''Take him to the cleaners and devastate him!''
->''Wipe him out, humiliate him!''
->''We don't want the whole world saying''
->''[='=]They can't even win a game![='=]''
->''We have never reckoned on coming second;''
->''There's no use in losing!"''
-->--'''''"[[UsefulNotes/YanksWithTanks U.S.]] [[UsefulNotes/ColdWar versus]] [[UsefulNotes/RedsWithRockets U.S.S.R.]]"''''' ''(also called'' '''''"Difficult and Dangerous Times"''''''')''

A RockOpera with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of Music/{{ABBA}} and with book and lyrics by Creator/TimRice. Widely considered to be the latter's MagnumOpus. It was originally produced as a successful ConceptAlbum in 1984, then became a West End production, and eventually reached Broadway. Each version of the show underwent changes in story and music; Rice considers the most recent version, performed in concert at Royal Albert Hall in 2008, to be the official one.

The plot of each version has about this much in common: it concerns the World Chess Championships set against the backdrop of the UsefulNotes/ColdWar. There's the brash American champion Freddie Trumper, the reserved Russian challenger Anatoly Sergievsky, the American's second Florence Vassy who switches her affections to the Russian, the Russian's wife Svetlana, KGB and CIA agents (Alexander/Ivan Molokov and Walter de Courcey, respectively) working behind the scenes, and an Arbiter presiding over the tournaments.

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!!This show contains examples of:

* AbsenceMakesTheHeartGoYonder: Sort of. Freddie shows up in UsefulNotes/{{Bangkok}} after a year without any contact with Florence. Anatoly suspects he's in town because of this trope, but it turns he's working [[spoiler: for Walter.]]
* AlbumTitleDrop: Subverted in the ConceptAlbum when the only number that's specifically called ''Chess'' doesn't have any lyrics.
* AlternateCharacterInterpretation: TheMusical. Every iteration of ''Chess'' seems to have a new take on the characters and even the story.[[invoked]]
* BatmanGambit: "The Deal (No Deal)" -- [[spoiler: Walter and Molokov fail since Anatoly goes on to win anyway.]]
* BerserkButton: Florence tries her best to get along with anyone and everyone...as long as they don't bring up Hungary or her father.
** The American/Freddie has more than can be easily counted. He's touchy at relationships, thinks people are cheating if they best him, and absolutely loses his shit during a television interview that dares to suggest he's not going to win.
* BigBadDuumvirate: Walter and Molokov become one in Act II, joining forces to cause as much hell for everyone else as they possibly can.
* BigNever: Sung by Anatoly during "Endgame."
* BreakawayPopHit: "One Night in Bangkok" and "I Know Him So Well".
** "One Night In Bangkok", as performed by Murray Head, is the last show-tune ever to chart on the Top 40 in the United States. Its then-contemporary new wave sound probably had something to do with it.
* BreakupSong: "Florence Quits".
* [[MovieBonusSong Broadway Bonus Song]]: "Someone Else's Story"' is an interesting case. It was added for the Broadway run and given to Florence, but in later productions it goes to Svetlana or even both of them. Some don't bother with it at all.
* BrokenBird: Florence and Svetlana, the latter a bit more so in post-London versions.
* BSODSong: "Pity the Child", which owes a lot to "Judas' Death" in ''JesusChristSuperstar.''
* CallingTheOldManOut: "Pity the Child".
* CaptainObvious: In "The Story of Chess" we have this:
-->'''Chorus Member:''' For no one really likes their offspring fighting to the death.
* ChessMotifs: Varies. Some productions play up the Americans as white and the Russians as black (with implications that this color scheme is about the extent of the difference),
* TheChessmaster: Molokov and Walter. Ironically, both of the ''literal'' chessmasters are just, well, pawns.
* UsefulNotes/ColdWar: While the musical is called ''Chess'', the Cold War and all the ploys and posturing of the US and USSR dominate much of the plot. Interestingly, they mostly do away with the whole "West good, East bad" bit that characterizes most Western stories set during the time period. Both sides have some pretty despicable people working for them and will go to any lengths to get what they want, even if it means [[spoiler: cooperating with the other side to screw over Anatoly.]]
** A more important element is that both governments are heavily invested in the championships, but without any visible motivation -- they're jockeying for a win that gives neither side any material advantage. [[spoiler: Some productions have the championship as a front for an exchange of spies.]]
* ColorCodedForYourConvenience: In the Royal Albert Hall version. America is coded as white, and the USSR as black. Freddie wears solid white, Anatoly wears a black jacket and a white shirt (and is the only chess-player to switch sides during the play), and Viigand wears solid black. Fits for some of the other characters too -- Svetlana, the Russian, wears black; Molokov, a Russian who collaborates with the Americans, wears a gray-ish suit; Florence starts off wearing black (just before and during when she's dissatisfied with Freddie) but then switches to white after the act break (just before and during when she becomes dissatisfied with Anatoly); and Walter wears dark clothes in the first act (when he helps Anatoly defect) but white in the second (when his concerns are mostly with recovering American spies).
* ConceptAlbum: Did rather well in that it produced two hits and that garnered press attention for the show.
* CrazyPeoplePlayChess: And how. Freddie's obviously nuts, and Anatoly may not be far behind by the end.
* CutSong: The Broadway version, which was famously being rewritten as the season went on, has these a plenty. "Let's Work Together", the VillainSong, was cut early on. But even before that, "East and West" seems to have been cut before opening night; it was only shown during previews. (For the interested, it took the place of "Embassy Lament" and featured two CIA guys trying to convince Anatoly to move to New York City or LA, respectively).
* DarkReprise: Being a RockOpera, there are plenty of these.
* DeadpanSnarker: The Arbiter in "One Night in Bangkok". (Definitely NOT TruthInTelevision - World Championship Arbiters are not exactly known for snarking, rather the opposite.)
* DependingOnTheWriter: Productions traditionally have alterations from the original, sometimes resulting in one version of Chess only resembling others in plot, characterization, and even music.
* DespairEventHorizon: Most productions end with at least one character passing this point.
* DirtyCommunists: Freddie's perception of them.
--> '''Reporter:''' Does your opponent deserve such abuse?
--> '''Freddie:''' All Soviets deserve abuse.
** Also Florence's perception of them, although she has changed her tune since arriving at the competition and meeting Anatoly.
* DisappearedDad: Florence, hers is occasionally used as a plot device, and Freddie to a lesser extent.
* DistantDuet: "You and I" was done this way in the ConceptAlbum, but this version of staging it never really stuck for any of the productions.
** "I Know Him So Well" is often done as one.
* DrunkenSong: "Der Kleine Franz" and sometimes "The Soviet Machine".
** ''The Deal'' in the Swedish version, at least for Freddie.
** It's difficult to tell, but "One Night in Bangkok" is an aversion. Freddie/The American is drunk on anger, nothing else.
* DuetBonding: The entire purpose of "Mountain Duet" was to establish the relationship between Florence and Anatoly.
** "I Know Him So Well" can be this for Florence and Svetlana.
* DysfunctionJunction: World chess championships apparently attract emotionally crippled {{Jerkass}} manchildren, women with abandonment issues, and self-absorbed adulterers. As Svetlana characterizes them: "Esoterics, paranoids, hysterics."
** This is, to a degree, TruthInTelevision -- the roster of chess champions is not exactly a list of the emotionally balanced. See CrazyPeoplePlayChess.
* EarnYourHappyEnding: The Chicago version, which does end with Florence's father being rescued from the gulags and reunited with his daughter.
* {{Europop}}: The ConceptAlbum definitely falls into this trope, although it's been progressively toned down over years. [[PragmaticAdaptation There's only so much you can do with a thirty piece orchestra.]]
* EveryoneCallsHimBarkeep: The Arbiter. It makes sense that he doesn't have a name since he doesn't really care about everyone else's problems unless they're interrupting the game, making him pretty one-dimensional.
** In the Broadway version he was explicitly named Constantine Stannos, and was a Greek businessman. In Sweden he was a Frenchman named Jean Jacques Van Boren. The US Tour made him a Nigerian named Kobe Obe. But again -- none of these names has actually stuck. Also see NoNameGiven below.
** Some versions don't name Freddie at all. He's simply "The American." These versions still usually name Anatoly, who's a more sympathetic character.
* EvilSoundsDeep: Molokov
** Walter's part is also pretty low.
*** Depending on the production, the 2008 concert took Walter's vocal range down an octave to match Clarke Peters. The 2001 Danish touring cast and the original Broadway production had Walter's part as a tenor, possibly to contrast Molokov.
* ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin: Subverted. Sure, there's chess in it, but it's the least of everyone's worries.
** The ConceptAlbum cover art makes the subversion clear: the chessboard is disintegrating.
* ExcusePlot: A rare theatrical version. Some productions have [[spoiler: an exchange of spies being negotiated at the championships]] as the reason for the CIA and KGB interest in who wins. It's treated as a flimsy excuse even in-story, with the implication that both sides are perfectly happy continuing the cold war, even if it causes misery to all around them.
* ExecutiveMeddling: Trevor Nunn.
* {{Expy}}: Freddie is pretty clearly an unflattering take on Bobby Fischer.
* FadingIntoTheNextSong: Done a lot on the ConceptAlbum, but not so much on stage since they usually have a one or two lines of dialogue to cram in before the next cue.
* FinalLoveDuet: Subverted with "You and I (Reprise)"
* FreudianExcuse: Most characters get a song or two that is just this; which characters get which songs depend mostly on the director of the iteration in question.
* GloriousMotherRussia: Played with. Some of the Soviet characters are diehard loyalists of the regime, some are dissatisfied or even political dissidents, and some are only out for themselves. The trope is milked for all it's worth in "The Soviet Machine", however.
--> '''KGB Agents:''' We can feel the flame of triumph burning! Our people's pride returning! The Soviet machine advances!
* {{Greed}}: Walter in the US Tour rewrite (the one by Richard Coe). He ruins Anatoly's life and gets him sent back to the Soviet Union not to rescue an American spy, but so that the Soviets will let him do some chess merchendising in Russia.
* GreyAndGreyMorality: An adulterer and his mistress versus two pragmatic spooks doing what they sincerely believe is in their countries' best interest.
* HeroicBSOD: Florence usually hits several of these, signified by her leitmotif, "Nobody's Side."
* ImADoctorNotAPlaceholder:
-->'''Anatoly''': I'm a chess player, Mr. Molokov. You go and play these other..."games".
* IWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: Florence and Svetlana both say this about Anatoly in "I Know Him So Well." [[spoiler: Later subverted when Anatoly has a song in which he says that he alone, and not either of the women that in the past he said he loved, is his one true obligation. Essentially "Screw my beloved, ''I'' want to be happy."]]
* IrrelevantActOpener: "The Story of Chess" has nothing to do with the actual plot of the show. "Merano" and "One Night in Bangkok" have very little to do, either, only describing the locations.
* IWantSong: "Where I Want to Be" is a subversion, as it's Anatoly's reflection on getting what he always wanted [[PyrrhicVictory and how hard it sucks]].
* {{Jerkass}}: Freddie Trumper, though given the source material this is unsurprising. (If anything he's ''less'' of one than the guy he's based on.)
** [[DependingOnTheWriter Some productions]] attempt to transform him into a JerkassWoobie; YMMV on whether it works or not.
* JerkassHasAPoint: Freddie is correct in his assertions that his reputation as the bad boy of chess has helped to renew public interest in the game. [[spoiler: He later helps Anatoly realize that winning the championship is his only chance to redeem himself.]]
* KentBrockmanNews: Walter is ostensibly the reporter covering the match, but that takes a back seat to his trying to influence it and mess with the players through his coverage (and other actions). This extends to him arranging for a video of Anatoly's (abandoned) family to play during an interview of Anatoly, who reacts as expected.
* LargeHam: The roles of Freddie and Molokov call for it.
* {{Leitmotif}}: There are several in the show.
** Variations of the instrumental "Chess Game" appear whenever there is a [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin chess game]].
** Elements of "The Story of Chess" recur in "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)" and "The Deal (No Deal)", both examples of the politics happening around the chess board.
** Elements of "What a Scene! What a Joy!" recur whenever Freddie comes into a scene – particularly the electric guitar riff, which is later adapted as a vocal melody. It appears in "Mountain Duet" (when [[spoiler: Freddie walks in on Florence and Anatoly]]), "Florence Quits", and very notably "The Deal (No Deal)". On a more general level, the electric guitar itself is a kind of leitmotif for Freddie.
** The melody and some lyrics from "Difficult and Dangerous Times" recur in "The Soviet Machine", both songs being about crushing the opposition on the chess board.
** The melody from "Press Conference", where a group of reporters confront Freddie, recurs when Freddie, [[spoiler:now working for Global Television,]] does the same to Anatoly in "The Interview".
** In the 1990 Sydney production, the melody of "One Night in Bangkok" reappears at various points throughout the musical.
** Florence has a leitmotif in "Nobody's Side," a song about her HeroicBSOD. [[FridgeHorror As her leit motif, elements of the song show up frequently.]]
* LocationSong: "Merano" is all about the healthful wonders of Merano, Italy, where act I is set. "One Night in Bangkok", set in Bangkok, Thailand, is the opening of Act II.
* LonelyAtTheTop: Freddie and Anatoly express this sentiment in different ways.
* LostForever: The Sydney rewrite was never recorded on a studio album, and the Broadway rewrite's album had several songs redacted. As such, the only way to hear the music exclusive to those renditions was to go to the concert while they were still in theatres. Once the run ended, the music was lost in the ether, although full scripts (without musical notation) still circulate.
** Averted somewhat with the Broadway version now; it is occasionally performed by theatre troupes in America, allowing people a chance to hear the music. Still no studio recording, though.
*** However, one song, "East and West", was cut from the Broadway show after the opening night, and seems to have been completely erased – there are no extant recordings or even scores of this piece. The lyrics alone are known. (For those wondering, this scene took the place of Embassy Lament, and featured a New York and a San Francisco resident each arguing to Anatoly that he should live in their city once he goes to America.)
* ManipulativeBastard: Molokov.
** Walter, Freddie's agent, is often heavily implied to be a CIA agent.
* MindScrew: It's not clear how much of "Endgame" takes place inside Anatoly's head.
* MoneySong: "The Merchandisers".
* MyCountryRightOrWrong: Anatoly, in an unusual way.
** Averted by Freddie/The American in productions with "No Contest" -- he expressly dismisses patriotism as a motivator, and only cares about winning.
* NoAccountingForTaste: Florence and Freddie. WordOfGod confirmed this at the album stage, however by the time the production rolled round, the need for AdaptationExpansion means that Florence ''says'' she loves him. Also implied for Anatoly and Svetlana.
* NoNameGiven: Anatoly and Freddie are simply "The Russian" and "The American" in the original ConceptAlbum. Also, The Arbiter only has a name in a few versions (Jean Jacques van Boren, Constantine Stannos, Kobe Obe), [[EveryoneCallsHimBarkeep though nobody calls him that anyway]].
* NotEvenBotheringWithTheAccent: Josh Groban, singing the part of Anatoly in the 2008 concert. His performance arguably better for it. Averted by Molokov.
** Also, Tommy Körberg in the original album, the original London cast, and Chess på Svenska, which is understandable because, well, "på Svenska."
* ObstructiveBureaucrat: "Embassy Lament". The song is so dryly witty that it turns into AntiVillainSong, if it was ever a VillainSong to begin with.
* OnlyFriend: Florence is Freddie's (or at least says she is -- given his behavior, it's not hard to believe), although by the end of the first act even she gets fed up and leaves him.
** Walter is a subversion. He's the only one Freddie even remotely appreciates, and at best is OnlyInItForTheMoney. The longer he's on, the greater the tendency it is he's a ManipulativeBastard.
* OpeningBallet: "The Golden Bangkok"
* ThePowerOfCheese: "Merano" skirts this territory on several occasions, particularly the line "I'd have to be carried away to call a halt".
* PrecisionFStrike: In the Concert version of "Talking Chess". Missing from the soundtrack.
* PyrrhicVictory: Anatoly considers his entire chess career thus far to have been one big one. [[spoiler: He suffers another one at the end, winning the chess championship so as to prove to himself that he's free from Molokov's manipulations - but then returning to the Soviet Union anyway because he lost everything he had in the process.]]
--> Now I'm
--> Where I want to be and who I want to be
--> And doing what I always said I would and yet
--> I feel I haven't won at all!
* PrettyInMink: On occasion, but they're fake since this is an unnecessary expense even in a professional production where a faux would do.
* RageQuit: Freddie does this in the first game we see him play.
* RevisedEnding: The many variations of the show's plot have also produced a variety of endings. Here's a fairly comprehensive list of endings appearing in productions:
** Anatoly plays Viigand in the final match. Anatoly [[spoiler:wins]]. Florence [[spoiler:does not get]] reunited with her father. (First used in the original 1986 London production, now [[WordofGod canon once again]] as of the 2008 Royal Albert Hall concert according to Creator/TimRice.)
** Anatoly plays Freddie in the final match. Anatoly [[spoiler:loses]]. Florence [[spoiler:does not get]] reunited with her father. (First used in the 1988 Broadway production. Common in American productions.)
** Anatoly plays Freddie in the final match. Anatoly [[spoiler:loses]]. Florence [[spoiler:actually gets]] reunited with her father. (First used in the 1990 Chicago production. Appears here and there in American productions.)
** Anatoly plays Freddie in the final match. Anatoly [[spoiler:wins]]. Florence [[spoiler:does not get]] reunited with her father. (First used in the 1991 Sydney production. Doesn't seem to be used anymore.)
** Anatoly plays Viigand in the final match. Anatoly [[spoiler:wins]]. Florence [[spoiler:actually gets]] reunited with her father. (Seen in a 2011 German production.)
* SanitySlippageSong: A variation in the ConceptAlbum, when at the end of "The Deal", everyone else comments on Freddie's descent into his own crapulence:
-->Let him spill out his hate till he knows he's deserted.
-->There's no point wasting time preaching to the perverted.
* SceneryPorn: The first London production with the bank of TV screens. Since then staging, even in professional productions, has been pretty basic.
* SelfPlagiarism: Some of the music borrows from previous compositions written by Andersson and Ulvaeus for {{ABBA}}. In particular, the chorus of "I Know Him So Well" was based on the chorus of "I Am An A" and the chorus of "Anthem" used the chord structures from the guitar solo from "Our Last Summer".
* SeriousBusiness: What the Arbiter describes as "a simple board game" ends up being very serious business for all the parties involved. In "Difficult and Dangerous Times" the US and the USSR both make it very clear early on that it's much more than a game to them.
--> '''Chorus:''' We don't want the whole world saying "They can't even win a game."
* SexIsBoring: During "One Night in Bangkok," Freddie shows no interest in the ladies -- or gents -- and says, "I get my kicks ''above'' the waistline, Sunshine!"
** The Arbiter claims he cannot be bribed because, [[StraightEdge among other things]], he believes this.
* ShameIfSomethingHappened: Molokov uses this while listing the abuse that he and the KGB intend to put Anatoly through in "The Soviet Machine."
--> ''Even worse, imagine if [[YourCheatingHeart his ladies met]]''
--> ''Well, then, I'll bet''
--> ''The atmosphere round here would grow a little strained as he explained...''
* ShoutOut: Creator/TimRice named Florence after his [[CoolOldLady gran.]]
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: Puts the "sliding" in the sliding scale. It starts out a touch on the idealistic side, then takes a hard right into cynicismville. "Nobody's Side" is a bit cynical, but [[spoiler: Anatoly's decision that he is his one true obligation takes the cake.]]
* SmugStraightEdge: The Arbiter can come across this way, with his insistence that he (and, by implication, he alone) cannot be bribed by anything from women to drugs, or in any other way swayed from his loyalty to [[SeriousBusiness the rules of chess]].
* TheStoic: Viigand, whose most notable scene is calmly practicing chess as the entire Soviet delegation breaks into raucous song and dance around him. Molokov even calls him a "chess-playing machine."
* TheSociopath: In "One Night in Bangkok" Freddie comments that the [[RedLightDistrict Fleshpots of Bangkok]] he's wandering through offer him no temptation whatsoever, and indeed he can barely tell Bangkok from any other city he's ever visited, since he spends all his time playing chess. Indeed, he argues he's superior to everyone else he meets because of this.
* ThatRussianSquatDance: In some productions, "The Soviet Machine" features this in the choreography.
* TriangRelations: Depends on the adaptation, but version 4 features in most of them in at least some manner. One possible combination has Svetlana as A, Anatoly as B, and Florence as C. Alternately it can work with Freddie as A, Florence as B, and Anatoly as C.
* UnintentionalPeriodPiece: Reading up on Reagan-era political intrigue is helpful for modern audiences.
* UnwantedSpouse: Poor Svetlana.
* UnwittingPawn: Most of the cast. Anatoly is very much aware of his status, and Florence usually is, too. Only Walter and Molokov are arguably aversions.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: Sort of. The story has some elements that mirror real life, such as Freddie (in reality Bobby Fischer) being an ass [[spoiler: who concedes after losing five games against Anatoly (Anatoly Karpov).]] Even the 5:1 to 5:5 come back between Anatoly (now mirroring Viktor Korchnoi, particularly in his defection) and Viigand (Anatoly Karpov) is pretty close to what actually happened, only reversed in who was doing the coming back. The retcon takes two forms, the first being of course the love triangle. The second is the switching around of who exactly Anatoly is representing at any given moment. He starts out as Karpov [[spoiler: when he beats Bobby Fischer]], becomes Korchnoi [[spoiler: when he defects]], then goes back to being Karpov [[spoiler: by winning after his opponent had made a comeback.]]
** And then there's the RealitySubtext.
* VillainSong: "The Soviet Machine," where Molokov relates to his compatriots exactly how dirty they will be playing in order to ensure Anatoly loses.
** In the Broadway version, there was also "Let's Work Together", which features Walter and Molokov deciding to team up to take down Anatoly, and "No Contest," where Walter prevails on Freddie to crush his opponent.
* WhatCouldHaveBeen: Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, and Björn Ulvaeus originally sought out Russian music star AllaPugacheva to sing the role of Svetlana in the original concept album, but in the case of [[TruthInTelevision Art Imitates Life]], the Soviet authorities would have none of it, so the Scottish singer Barbara Dickson was cast instead.
* WorthyOpponent: Whilst initially dismissing him, by the time of "Talking Chess" Freddie sees Anatoly as this and urges him to give up his politics and win the game.

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