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Smart People Play Chess

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A genius in three dimensions, in the process of winning his fourth straight game...against a computer.

"Chess is the ultimate test of the human mind, isn't it?"
Emmett Clayton, Columbo (episode "The Most Dangerous Match")

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 that the chess game 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 - which in real life actually means one is awful at chess, not only because they left a fatal opening in their side, but also because they didn't realize and therefore didn't 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 (for example, Japanese media generally show cerebral types playing Go, whereas more "hand-on" characters will play Shōgi). 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.

This trope is Truth in Television to a degree, as the game relies heavily on strategy and forethought, so it tends to attract and favor people who like an intellectual challenge. However, this is hardly a determiner, because as in most games, one's skill comes mostly from training and experience at said game instead of raw natural intelligence. In fact, the sheer amount of concentration required could make it difficult for the highest of IQs if they happen to have focus problems or are not invested enough in the game. Similarly, being smart at something with more practical application (science, engineering, math, business, even military strategy) does not necessarily translate into being smart at chess (or vice versa).

It is also worth pointing out that traditional chess mastery is highly focused on deep absorption of a lot of existing lore, theory and systems that have been constantly written about but remain mostly unchanged since the game became a serious study in the 18th century. As a result, once you've memorized most of what's already out there, you can't help but beat most people who rate under you unless you're having a very bad day or intentionally make a blunder. So, unless you get into weird chess variants, after extreme grand mastery, the challenge and surprise potential of the game reaches a plateau.

See also Human Chess, Chess Motifs, Surprise Checkmate, Game of Nerds, Genius Book Club and Pastimes Prove Personality.

Compare and contrast Crazy People Play Chess and Cunning People Play Poker. Chess may be looked at as a Book Smart type of game while poker is a Street Smart game. However, it is not out of the question to find someone skilled in both. See also Hollywood Board Games, when playing Tabletop Games, in general, serves as characterization.


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  • An ad on the venue for the 2018 Candidates Tournament contained the text "Entering this building might substantially increase your IQ. Chess does that to humans".

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, this is used to establish tactical skill.
    • In an anime-original scene, Commander Dot Pixis is introduced playing chess with a nobleman and losing terribly. Then his subordinate arrives with news of the crisis in Trost, sending the nobleman into a panic. He demands Pixis stay with him, and protect his lands since he's not smart enough to even win a simple game of chess. One of the subordinates points out that Pixis always lost the games on purpose, to avoid offending his host. He quickly proves himself a brilliant commander on the field.
    • Reiner and Bertolt are shown to play chess during their downtime. Side material notes they are among the few people capable of providing a challenge to Guile Hero Armin, the resident tactical genius of the series. This becomes an important detail later on when the Survey Corps are preparing to face Reiner and Bertolt in battle. Eren points out that Reiner always excelled as a strategist during training, making him a Genius Bruiser.
  • In Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, Cesare Borgia (a 16-year-old student at the time) and his classmate Angelo da Canossa play chess while they discuss their situation in a scene towards the middle of the series. Angelo, a Florentine commoner through whose eyes we see Cesare (already well on his way to becoming the Magnificent Bastard), has come a long way from the Naďve Newcomer he was in the beginning, always putting his foot in his mouth and needing Cesare to rescue him. Their playing chess together shows that Cesare has started to respect his intelligence and see him as something closer to an equal.
  • 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, 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.
      • The nonsense of the move was Lampshaded by Odysseus, who rolls his eyes and says "Oh come on. That's just too much of a farce!"
      • Though it is worth pointing out that Code Geass does take place in an alternate timeline, so it is possible that some rules of Chess might be different.
  • Cowboy Bebop:
    • Ed is either played straight or a subversion. She is one of the best hackers in the solar system and can play a week-long game of chess against a 96-year-old master (as shown in "Bohemian Rhapsody"), but outside of that, she is a Cloudcuckoolander who can barely stay focused on anything. Ultimately, she seems like a Genius Ditz: master at hacking and chess, terrible (or at least on another thought process) with everything else. The aforementioned chess master comments that Ed is either an idiot or a genius so she may just be The Wonka; chess is about being unpredictable and if Ed is one thing, it's unpredictable.
    • In Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Jet and Spike are playing Shogi. Jet is lecturing on how it is necessary to plan ahead, both in the game and in their work as bounty hunters, yet is having trouble against Spike, who never plans ahead at all. Then Ein, a dog, comes along and makes a brilliant move on Jet's behalf.
  • Digimon Adventure 02: The English dub explains that one of Ken Ichijoji's many genius-level talents is "playing a single game of chess while everyone watches." note 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: A heated match ended in 1 win for Mustang, after 97 losses to Grumman, with 15 draws. Grumman and Mustang are both shown to be cunning strategists, with Grumman, in his capacity as Chessmaster, having a big impact on the final arc. Breda and Falman also have signs of this.
  • Future Card Buddyfight: In the show's sequel series Ace, Seiji Kido is an unrivaled chess prodigy able to beat a state-of-the-art AI in chess. Anyone who knows anything about Chess knows that a well-made AI is essentially impossible to beat because the number of moves it can plan ahead for in the blink of an eye is completely incomprehensible to the human mind. Cue Subaru Hoshiyomi, who is an unparalled genius, beating him at chess and forming the basis of Seiji's Freudian Excuse. Interestingly, Yuga Mikado, who has earned a reputation for being a King of Games, states that chess is one of the few games he's not very good at. He also seems to have inherited his father's intuition-based style of Buddyfighting.
  • Hunter × Hunter: Played for horror. The Chimera Ant King has just taken over a country with minimal effort, and to pass the time and to demonstrate his superior intellect over humans, he brings in the country's national champions for chess and its counterparts to play them. To the utter shock and terror of the chess, shogi, and go champions, it takes only a few hours for the King to go from playing for the first time to overtaking them at their own game, upon which the King kills them for no longer being amusing to him—or, in the case of the go champion, he hangs himself. The only one able to keep up with the King is an Idiot Savant in the fictional game gungi, a chess-like game from said country, and even then the repeated matches between the two of them accelerate the metagame at least a hundredfold.
  • 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.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Invoked 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.
  • Lupin III <Pilot Film>: While establishing Lupin's character, he and Inspector Zenigata play Shōgi over the phone. Naturally, Lupin wins by having one of his pieces disguised as one of Zenigata's.
  • 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.
  • Mission: Yozakura Family: Despite being four years old, both Alpha and Hifumi know how to play chess. Hifumi regularly pesters Alpha to play it with her, while he complains that he already beat her in ten out of eleven games. It's implied that Hifumi is smart enough to beat him more often than that, but she just enjoys watching him win even as he exhausts himself playing against her.
  • 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 philosophically.
  • Played with in Monster: hyper-intelligent Inspector Runge/Lunge tells some subordinates to not "waste time with such a boring game." In the manga, he says so... right after showing the winning move to one of them.
  • Naruto: Shikamaru Nara plays shogi which is also known as Japanese chess. It was through getting beat all the time by him 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.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: 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.
  • Sailor Moon: Hyper-intelligent Ami 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.
  • Averted in Tomo-chan Is a Girl!, Carol says she's good at Othello (AKA Reversi)...and then proves it by playing a perfect game against both her friends, beating Tomo in five minutes and Misuzu in ten. This is just one of many indications that Carol is more than just a fluffy-looking foreign girl.
  • Played for laughs in Trigun. In one episode of the anime, Wolfwood is playing chess and losing badly. Milly walks up to the board, looks at it for a second, and moves one piece. Wolfwood's opponent immediately resigns. When asked about it, Milly explains one of her older brothers had her play with him regularly growing up. This is one of several hints that Milly is smarter than she acts.
  • Vampire Knight: Kaname.
  • 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.)
    • The above is in of itself strange since there isn't a conventional way to cheat at chess. In the English dub, Seto beat Gozaburo by studying all of Gozaburo's past matches and moves, allowing him to know the best way to defeat him. While Gozaburo did adopt Seto and Mokuba as agreed, Seto's planning and execution of moves impressed Gozaburo to where he made Seto his heir to the Kaiba Corporation.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 a clone of the latter 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. However, she is never seen actually playing chess, only talking about her past accomplishments. This leads into a recurring theme of the series of never quite knowing if characters are telling the truth about themselves or not.
  • 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 (and referencing the Kobayashi Maru while he did so). 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.)
    • In a related vein, one issue of Mighty Avengers shows Herc's Teen Genius ally Amadeus Cho — described as the 7th smartest person in the world (Herc fans suspect Cho might deserve a higher ranking) — defeating The Vision at chess.
  • 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.
    • One scene in The Invincible Iron Man has Tony Stark and Reed Richards playing each other on about ten different chessboards at the same time.
  • 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.
  • 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 Green Lantern and Black Canary... blindfolded! Somewhat downplayed, as it turned out to be a test—Michael was playing white against Hal and black against Dinah, and playing them both against each other.
  • 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.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Athena is playing chess with pieces shaped like the characters against her owl, an extension/reflection of her own will when Ares comes to see what she wants. She continues playing throughout their almost friendly argument and Ares smirks when he sees the owl move the piece that's clearly Ares before Ares agrees to do what his sister is asking of him.
  • Star Trek (IDW): Most of the command crew plays the multi-dimensional chess game in their spare time, including Kirk, Spock and Uhura. According to one issue, Uhura managed to beat Spock!

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Maris Stella: When discussing Yuu Akimoto's various accomplishments, it's mentioned that he once beat a Grandmaster while blindfolded and not being told his opponent's moves. He claimed he could tell which pieces were being moved and where based on sound alone.
  • 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.
  • In the Star Wars Legends fanfic series TIE Fighter, Thrawn and his wife play a Chiss board game called wei-jio that seems to be a variation on the game Go with a piece-capture goal similar to chess. Thrawn being Thrawn, he's very good at it.
  • This Bites!: Zig-zagged. Vice Admiral Jonathan and Robin both play chess and play well, but Cross admits to being a beginner at best. There's too many rules for him.
  • Coreline: Recurring character Roger Hackett is a played with example: Blizzards And Bookstores showcases that he has spent hundreds of hours studying how to play, but regardless he remains a mediocre player and an acquaintance of him (which Roger learnt to play for in order to entertain him) has decided he needs to sabotage his own games and allow Roger to win at least a few times in order to prevent a permanent Rage Quit. This "acquaintance" is an Alternate Self of HAL 9000', which also showcases how outrageously outclassed Hackett is.
  • The Last Son: In the last chapter of Book One, when Superman visits Doctor Doom's castle in Latveria for the first time, he finds him playing a game of chess against himself. After they talk to each other for a bit, Superman moves a black rook to take a white bishop and leaves. Doom gazes at the board and smiles, tipping his white king as it was the checkmate move.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines: In the sidestory focused on Mewtwo's origins, there's a scene where he's playing a game of chess against Giovanni. The two seem to be enjoying themselves while at it, and Giovanni is pleased when Mewtwo finally manages to beat him.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Multiple:
    • Creasse, the thinker of her sisters, plays chess with Tserk, the tentacle monster.
    • Ami, who plays the Adushul version, called "Kingdoms", which differs a bit from chess, but it's a game of strategy, and she won the first five games, against the person who introduced the game to her.
  • Code Geass: Paladins of Voltron: In addition to Lelouch, Coran is also an avid chess player, as was Allura's father.
  • Shikamaru in Connecting the Dots learns about chess while he's captive in LexCorp, finding it rather enjoyable to kill time. He eventually gets so good at it that, at the end of the story, he plays against Batman and wins.
  • Subverted in Prophetic. Izuku is brilliant, especially at Quirk analysis, but after a game of chess with Nezu, the principal tells Aizawa that the boy is terrible at chess.
  • In Chapter Eight, One challenges Sougo into a game of chess - with giant pieces being used - in order to decide who shall be the true leader of the Intoners and reign over Midgard. She loses thanks to Sougo managing to pull off a trap featuring his Pawn under her nose. The game that is played references The Immortal Game.

    Film — Animation 
  • Beauty and the Beast: As a gag to show how Book Dumb Gaston is, he is shown losing a game of chess and angrily smacking the board away while the lyrics to his song claim "no one matches wits like Gaston".
  • 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.
  • Mulan: During the matchmaker scene, Mulan briefly passes by a game of Xiangqi (a Chinese game roughly analogous to chess) and quickly makes a move on behalf of one stumped player. His reaction indicates it was very successful.
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (1986): The Moochic and his rabbit assistant Habbit are seen playing a game of three-dimensional chess. Habbit wins.
  • The Swan Princess: Downplayed. Derek and Bromley play chess in one scene. Derek, while not dumb, is relatively simple-minded and Bromley actually loses while cheating.
  • In Turning Red, Mei is a straight-A student and regularly plays chess with her neighbour Mr. Gao according to the film's Novelization.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In A Beautiful Mind, the genius John Nash is seen playing Go with another really smart guy. When John loses, he has 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 Husk, Scott is the resident nerd and is identified as a member of the chess team to establish him as the smart member of the group. He uses a chess board he finds in the Old, Dark House to make a chess analogy to explain how the Scary Scarecrow operates. Unfortunately, the move he describes is not part of the rules of chess.
  • In The Imitation Game, Hugh Alexander (cf. Real Life) is introduced in Alan Turing's team with a mention of him being a chess championnote , to warn Turing (and the audience) that Turing isn't the only genius of the team.
  • 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.
  • The protagonist of the hitman film A Taste of Killing and Romance is shown fiddling with a chessboard at one point to plan his next hit. Said character is a Professional Killer who's really good at his job.
  • X-Men Film Series: 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 chessboard. 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. 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.
  • Prom Wars: The academically-inclined Selby students win the chess competition of the games.
  • Early in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Chekov and Terrell stumble on what's left of the Botany Bay on Ceti Alpha V, which is being used as shelter for Khan and his followers. One of the items they see is a chess set, which isn't surprising for someone as Wicked Cultured as Khan. It's worth noting, however, that it's a regular 2-D chessboard and not the 3-D setup that Kirk and Spock are used to. It serves as Foreshadowing that despite Khan's intelligence, he's sorely lacking in experience and three-dimensional thinking compared to Kirk.
  • 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 chessboard; 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."
  • 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. We're introduced to covert warfare strategist Mike Vickers playing chess in a park against four opponents simultaneously. He warns one opponent against trading queens without even looking at the guy or at the board. (This is purely a Hollywood invention, as there's no mention in the non-fiction book of the real Mike Vickers being a chess mastermind.) Charlie is unimpressed with his chess skill and concerned about his youth (he's not yet 30 and looks even younger) but changes his tune when he learns Vickers is a Special Forces veteran.
  • Green Lantern (2011) introduces professor Hector Hammond, zoologist and alien examiner, by having him play chess over the internet.
  • 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. He can envision the course of an entire game in his head, which is a Chekhov's Skill for when he ends up in the Cube himself.
  • 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 savviest of the crew and ends up being (possibly) one of the Final Guys. Also foreshadows the film's climax. . . MacReady is the kind of man who'd rather burn the board than lose the game.
  • The Rebel Set has its 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.
  • Used in Rise of the Planet of the Apes to show how Caesar's intelligence is progressing way beyond that of an ordinary chimpanzee. Also how he is able to plan ahead, think strategically and utilise subordinates with differing skills and abilities. Just in case this will come in handy later.
  • A viral add for Prometheus took the form of an advertisement for the David 8 model android, including a scene where two David's are playing chess with each other.
  • In Napoléon (1927), the title character and Hoche—both military strategists—play a game at the Victims' Ball. Napoleon wins.
  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, an early scene features HAL 9000 playing chess and predicting checkmate against his opponent - However, his analysis actually has a subtle flaw, which goes unnoticed by his opponent. Given Kubrick's own love of chess, this was likely a deliberate error and an early clue that HAL isn't all there.
  • At the end of The Wild Geese, mercenary Allen Faulkner returns to get his revenge on Sir Edward Matheson, the Corrupt Corporate Executive who orchestrated the whole affair. He finds Matheson in his study playing chess, and notes sardonically, "That will be mate in two. I'd like to see you get yourself out of that."
  • Mean Guns: After setting the stage for all the enemies of the Syndicate to kill each other, Vincent Moon retires to a room so he can monitor their progress. He's often seen hovering over a vintage chessboard to portray him as some sort of Diabolical Mastermind, though we never actually see him play it.
  • When Tannehill first meets Chenault in Once Upon a Spy, Chenault's genius is demonstrated by having him in the middle of a chess game against his supercomputer Fred. He loses.
  • In Son of a Gun, the first indication that Lynch is more than just a hard man bank robber is that he plays chess, and is engaged in an ongoing play-by-mail game with Sam while in prison. JR first catches Lynch's attention by pointing out that he is about to make a bad move: telling it will result in checkmate in three moves. Lynch then asks him to demonstrate, which JR does. This starts the bonding between them. Much of their later discussions about the crimes use chess metaphors.
  • Some Guy Who Kills People: Played with Sheriff Fuller (whose comments show him to be highly intelligent). He tells Ben that chess is his way of escaping from his problems. He doesn't play the game but, for some reason, thinking about it calms him down.
  • In The Sense of Wonder, autistic savant Pierre plays chess with Jules. When Jules is busy, he plays chess with himself.
  • In Hackers, Lord Nikon and Cereal Killer is casually hanging in Central Park, discussing the massive world-wide hack they're about to pull off. Just as the time comes up, Nikon reaches over and perform check-mate to the guy sitting at the park chess-board and skates off to Grand Central.
  • In Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, team leaders Nathan and Orson have a game of chess during one of the flights. Played with as the working class Orson, who is stated to have the ability to exploit any system to his advantage, has the more intellectual, upper class Nathan trapped in in very difficult position.
  • In No Name on the Bullet, Frontier Doctor Luke Canfield and Hitmanwith A Heart John Gant play a game; it's mentioned that neither gets much of an opportunity to.

  • Alderamin on the Sky: Since most of the characters are in the military, they often engage in a chess game. Ikta, the main character, tends to lay waste upon most of his opponents.
  • The Chung Kuo series, where the world is ruled by a regime following ancient Imperial Chinese traditons, Wei-Chi (the Chinese name for Go) fulfills this trope. All the characters who are master strategists are described as masters of Wei Chi, while you can tell who the not so bright characters are because they will suck at the game. One villian actually ranks his opponents by observing them play, while another refuses to play so as not to reveal his capabilities.
  • Lord Loss, from Darren Shan's The Demonata series, is exceptionally intelligent and very manipulative. Chess is his second favourite pastime (after torturing humans)
  • 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.
  • 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 (the sides have different rules that favor different strategies and mindsets), 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 colleagues 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, much like his famous and reviled ancestor, Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes. While a bit Book Dumb, Vimes is still one of the smartest savviest 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. (Although this might not be entirely because they're stupid; at one point Colon freaks out trying to think of a word he can use that doesn't give him a higher score than Vetinari.)
    • In Making Money, the workers at the Ankh-Morpork Post Office Blind Letter Office (who have to figure out what "addresses" like "My brofer John, tall, by the brij" actually mean) are said to spend their breaks playing chess in their heads.
  • 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 specially to imprison him, by his brother, the king.
  • Durarara!!: Izaya Orihara is far too smart to play mere chess. He instead plays a game of his own devising which uses various game pieces from chess, Go, and several other games.
  • The Forrest Gump book has Forrest learning to play chess rather well, going up against various masters of the game.
  • Generally subverted in the Harry Potter books. In Wizarding Chess, strategic mastery knowledge of Chess is generally less important than gaining the loyalty of your sentient chess pieces such that they'll actually do what you tell them.
    • Ron is noted as being skilled at chess despite not being particularly bright otherwise. In the first book he successfully beats a magically powered sentient chess set, set up by one of the Hogwarts professers, in what Dumbledore describes as "the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in years." Outside his chess competence Ron is an average to below average student, despite fans often viewing him as a complete idiot.
    • Hermione is by far the most intelligent of the group, but is not very good at chess and doesn't like the concept of it.
  • A Long Petal of the Sea: Víctor, a refugee from the Spanish Civil War who left for Chile, goes to thank Minister of Health Salvador Allende for his help with his studies in medicine and they end up forming a friendship based upon games of chess. After the 1973 coup and Allende's death, their relationship will result in Víctor spending eleven months in a concentration camp and then going into exile.
  • Played with in the Modesty Blaise novel The Night of Morningstar. The evil mastermind Golitsyn is shown playing chess while waiting for news on the outcome of a mission — and playing dirty, distracting his opponent with insults while he makes a key move, because he's not confident of winning fairly and has too much ego to accept losing.
  • 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.)
  • Rama II: Two of the scientist astronauts, Takagishi and Janos Tabori, blow off steam by playing chess every evening. Tabori is very interested in playing, exclaiming audibly about lessons he learned, and Takagishi, who is a master player, secures himself and advantage at the beginning of every game, then allows Tabori to erode it out of consideration for his friend.
  • 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: chess games consist of two sides with exactly equal forces facing off on a flat field, nothing like any real war, nor does any situation ever crop up where the board is suddenly invaded by green pieces attacking both black and white a la the current situation where the terrans are under attack by the protoss and zerg.
  • 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. They may later change when a piece reappears, although every time a player does that, the other player gets to make an extra move. At the beginning of the book, Kirk is about to lose to Spock. Bones takes over for Kirk and beats Spock. Kirk was in a bad way because he tried one of his "scream-and-leap" offensives, which occasionally succeeds in rattling Spock with its sheer bloody-minded enthusiasm, but Spock wasn't falling for it this time. Kirk is smart, but unless he can nab a psychological advantage over Spock early in the game, he'll lose more often than not. McCoy then takes over Kirk's game, and forces a draw through an unconventional tactic he sums up as "Kamikaze Chess". But the real crowner here goes to the Romulan Commander Ael t'Rllaillieu, who soundly beats McCoy at a round of 4D chess... Minutes after learning of the existence of any form of chess.
  • Sort of played with in the first of Jacques Futrelle's The Thinking Machine mysteries. The title Great Detective, and Insufferable Genius, has never played chess before and doesn't have a high opinion of it. He learns the basic rules of the game, then applies his intelligence to defeat a chess grandmaster on his first try. Of course, his brainpower includes, as the rest of his adventures show, Sagan's Required Secondary Powers for chess of "strategy, foresight, analytical powers, and the ability to cross-correlate large numbers of variables and learn from experience".
  • Twilight:
    • 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.
  • 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. Tavi even later includes beating Nasuag at Ludus in extended boast about his seemingly impossible successes and victories.
  • 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 board game Go) fulfills 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, 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.
  • 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 he 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 avert this, commenting that 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 the Trickster's Duet. 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 Eighty Days, suiting his orderly, precise mind.
  • Subverted in The Executioner novel "Stony Man Doctrine". KGB strategist Fedorenko tries to teach chess to Japanese terrorist Yoshida, explaining the moves as a metaphor for the world struggle against capitalism. Yoshida listens in silent contempt, then cuts the lesson short by sweeping aside the board. He makes a point of reminding Fedorenko of this incident later on while torturing the KGB agent to death.
  • In Cloud Atlas, as Sonmi mentions that, while under study at the university, she and her handler spent most of their evenings playing Go, as an incidental example of her rapidly rising intelligence.
  • In Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell is a skillful chess player, befitting his role as The Chessmaster for Henry VIII. He teaches his also quite smart ward and protege Rafe Sadler, and early on they lament that they need to find other opponents because they know each other's game so well they always wind up in stalemates. Cromwell also pulls off a Surprise Checkmate against Tom Seymour, although Seymour isn't as intelligent as Cromwell is.
  • Subverted in The Dresden Files, where Harry Dresden mentions that his preferred method of judging a being's intelligence is to play a game of checkers with them.
  • Spinnock Durav from the Malazan Book of the Fallen is an apt Kef Tanar player, easily the most skilled at the game in Scour Tavern. Him playing the strategic game in Toll the Hounds is the first hint the reader gets that Spinnock is not just dumb muscle.
  • Between Silk And Cyanide. SOE agent Violette Szabo gives Leo Marks a chess set she'd won in a shooting competition, under the wrongful assumption that as a codebreaker he must play chess. Marks later informs Szabo that he's never lost a game on her chess set, not mentioning that he's never used the set at all. After her capture and execution, the chess set becomes a Tragic Keepsake.
  • Subverted in The Wandering Inn, where Erin Solstice is revealed to have been a chess prodigy as a child and can play chess close to the Grandmaster level, despite being generally naive and hapless in other areas of life. In-Universe, however, most characters seem to believe in this trope, because chess is linked to the Tactician class.
  • In The New Adventures Of Elektronic, the climax features the titular teenage android challenging over a dozen of the world's chess grandmasters into a simultaneous chess game against him. He ends up beating all but one. The last one, he gets over-excited and makes a mistake, losing his advantage. The opponent immediately offers him a tie, and Elektronic accepts.
  • Nightfall (1990): Theremon observes some of the Observatory scientists playing stochastic chess while waiting for the eclipse to occur.
  • In "Clubland Heroes", the child genius boasts, "Do you play chess? I can beat anyone, without looking at the board." It's not put to the test, though, because the last thing the protagonist wants is a reason to spend more time in his company.
  • Middlegame: Dodger is a genius who both publishes prizewinning mathematical proofs and does a tour as a competitive chess champion before her teens. She eventually quits the circuit because the other chess players devote their lives to studying the game, whereas she, as a human embodiment of the universal force of mathematics, can beat them all by pure intuition.
  • The Peace War:
    • The scientific genius Paul Naismith plays chess recreationally, and Mike Rojas asserts that he's never seen Paul lose a game except when he wanted to.
    • Wili, Paul's chosen successor, also plays chess at high level; at one point, he enters a chess tournament where most of the competitors sport various computer enhancements, plays unenhanced and nearly wins.
  • The Rise of Kyoshi: Most of the movers and shakers of the world play pai sho, and skill in the game is often equated to political acumen, with Avatar Kuruk's friend, Jianzhu, being both a skilled player apt to think in pai sho metaphors while he keeps thinking up and laying down a series of desperate plays to keep hold on the power he's accumulated since Kuruk's death, which is threatened by Kyoshi's refusal to be subjected to his authority after she watched him kill two of the people she loves most. Avatar Kuruk himself was an avid player, which is constantly drawn attention to as the game is supposedly the one thing he took seriously. This turns out to be foreshadowing for the reveal that Kuruk, while still the fun-loving, 'go-with-flow' Avatar he describes himself as in the series, was actually a very intelligent, dedicated hunter of dark spirits who threatened to endanger the humans in the material world, and he was shielding his friends from this knowledge to prevent them from damaging their own spirits by joining him in these incredibly draining fights. It's his friends, Jianzhu and Kelsang, who end up identifying Yun as Kuruk's reincarnation based on the fact that they watched him execute all of the intricate plays that Kuruk thought up and only ever confided to them, and Yun is constantly lauded as being a much better diplomat and politician the distracted Kuruk was. Meanwhile, Kyoshi, Kuruk's actual reincarnation, does not play pai sho, and this demonstrates her complete lack of political skill. In the sequel, she's rather annoyed that everyone is constantly asking her if she plays.
  • In the historical novel The Sunne in Splendour, Anne Neville wishes to learn to play chess, but her father the Earl of Warwick dismisses the idea that any girl, let alone Anne could learn. Her cousin, Richard of Gloucester, offers to teach her and she learns well, showing that she isn't just kind but also smart. As adults, they are married and often play together.
  • In the second Culture novel, The Player of Games, main character Gurgeh has dedicated his life to understanding all kinds of games. Which is why he's called upon to be an unofficial ambassador to the Empire of Azad, where a game called "azad" is so fantastically complex and intricate that a person's position in the Empire is determined by their skill at the game. Even the position of the Emperor is determined by tournament. The game itself, which is only loosely described, tests a person's very philosophy and viewpoint; thus, by beating another player, you have shown that your worldview is inherently superior to theirs. Gurgeh's victory over the Emperor at the end demonstrates to the Azadians that the Culture, though slow to anger, would be utterly ruthless in an war and would likely destroy the Empire. In this way, Gurgeh has himself been used as a piece in a much larger game.
  • 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.
  • Hive Mind (2016): Lucas, the tactical team leader, and Telyn, the tactical team's attack specialist, both played competitive chess. Lucas stopped playing competitively after he became team leader, but still plays casually and completely trounces Amber unless she reads his mind.
  • Doomsday Warrior. In American Nightmare, Ted Rockson has been captured by the Dirty Communists. Our hero manfully resists torture, but offers to talk if his Russian torturer (who of course is a chessmaster) can beat him in a game (yeah right!). Rockson cunningly conceals the fact that he's also a chess champion (he concealed this from the audience as well, in nine previous novels). They play on a red and white chessboard (the Dirty Communist plays red, naturally) and Rockson beats him in six moves. Unfortunately the author actually sets out each move, making it clear that this duel of alleged chessmasters is anything but.

    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 several times in a row. (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 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, Scotty 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 "Where No Man Has Gone Before". 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. While Troi is intelligent, she explains that she's plating by intuition, which she says can sometimes beat pure logic. (This is a highly questionable statement, unless 3-D chess is a very different game with only superficial similarities to regular chess.)
    • In yet another episode, Barclay gains super-intelligence from an alien probe. When this is reversed at the end of the episode, Barclay discovers that he has retained the ability to play chess as a residual effect.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benjamin Sisko has a 3-D chess set in his office. (And, of course, a baseball.)
  • 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", prompting Tuvok to claim that "Kal-toh is to chess as chess is to Tic-Tac-Toe."
  • In the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow", an alt-timeline version of Captain Kirk in 21st-century Toronto earns some money by hustling games of chess. He effortlessly wins all of them before dismissing the traditional 2-D game as "idiot's chess".
  • 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 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. Earnshaw realizes halfway through the episode that she's essentially playing chess against someone as her and Nate are constantly countering each other's moves. At the end of the episode Nate just hands her a chess piece and leaves when they finally meet face to face.
    • 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 standingnote 
      • 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.
  • In the first of episode of Scorpion, the team realize that Ralph is a budding genius when he beats Sylvester, a chess Grand Master; by the time Paige is alerted to what's going on, Ralph has Sylvester in checkmate in eight moves. Using sugar packets on a non-checkerboard counter top.
  • 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' 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. When Leo insists that CJ organize a weekly chess match for the President, CJ assumes it's just a way to unwind, and can be assigned a low priority. Leo points out, with deadly seriousness, that it's a way to make sure his multiple sclerosis isn't starting to impact his cognitive functions. On learning this CJ arranges for a professional player to come in for the weekly match. Bartlet insists that she play him instead with the pro advising her.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Cheers episode "Spellbound". Frasier the egghead plays resident numbskull Woody at chess, and Woody beats him every time. Frasier 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 invites Martin to play him at chess. Since his father's far less educated and erudite than him, he expects little challenge, and becomes frustrated when he can't win a single match. Martin points out that thirty years as a cop taught him a few things about strategy. Frasier being Frasier, he diagnoses himself with previously-unnoticed daddy issues causing him to subconsciously throw the game rather than admit Martin's better than him (although given his near-breakdown when he actually wins one he may have had something of a point).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Farscape:
    • 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 Eleventh Doctor claimed that chess was originally a Time Lord game.
    • 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 that whoever wins takes control of the Doctor's body. They both cheat.
    • The Twelfth Doctor finds the immortal Ashildr/Me waiting for him at the death of the Universe, having taken The Slow Path. She has a second chair and a chess table set up (though neither get used). According to Word of God, having lived longer than even the Doctor, Me has long since surpassed him in knowledge and wisdom.
    • Near the beginning of "Kinda", Teen Genius companions Nyssa and Adric are seen playing chess. Adric is winning, mainly because Nyssa is suffering from dizzy spells after her ordeal at the hands of Monarch in "Four to Doomsday" and is finding it difficult to focus.
  • 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."
    • In a later episode, O'Neill is shown playing chess with General Landry. O'Neill wins. This makes perfect sense, given that he's a general in the Air Force with a background in special forces, and as such knows a lot about strategy.
  • 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.
    • In one episode, Prentiss recognizes that Gideon was about to checkmate Reid before he does, highlighting her intelligence.
  • 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 & 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 Prčs 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 his 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 Harold 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. The Machine spends hours pondering its first move because it's unable to make a decision when the possibilities of success are so uncertain, until Finch convinces it to just go ahead anyway.
    • John Reese is shown playing Xiangqi in the park, a Chinese version of chess. Although he's the 'brawn' part of Team Machine, he's far from being Dumb Muscle, being a former CIA assassin who worked internationally.
  • 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.
  • In Banacek, Banacek and Felix are often shown playing chess. Banacek can mentally recreate the position of pieces on the board for a game he played several days ago.
  • Wolf Hall has Thomas Cromwell getting a Surprise Checkmate against Tom Seymour in Calais (though Seymour isn't quite as smart as Cromwell). Cromwell's chessboard is usually seen on his desk when he's talking to someone at his home of Austen Friars—such as when he's dismantling Lady Pole, Lady Cortenay, and Bishop Fisher's attempt to use Elizabeth Barton to destabilize Henry.
  • In the original Mission: Impossible, there was always a chessboard visible in the apartment scene.
    • In the unsold pilot Call To Danger, Peter Graves again played the mastermind of an IMF-type organization, and made moves on many chessboards against (presumably) by-mail opponents while waiting for results of a computer run.
  • In Murder, She Wrote Jessica Fletcher is occasionally seen engaged in a chess game, usually with the town doctor.
  • Robocop The Series has it subverted, but also expects it to be the case.
    • Subverted in the pilot episode of the evil scientist needs a human brain to operate his new Wetware CPU, so he tries using the brain of a chess-playing homeless man, thinking that chess skill will translate into useful ability. It doesn't work at all, and he instead winds up using the brain of his highly intelligent secretary.
    • The later episode "The Human Factor" plays it straight, where Robocop visits his father's home and eventually plays a few turns of chess. Murphy says that machines may know all the moves but are actually predictable. Robocop has a quick flashback to a specific "velakonski gambit", allegedly showing the same game layout. Robocop makes two moves, puts black into check, and the opponent wanted to know where he learned that move.
  • The first couple seasons of Eureka prominently feature the all-genius townsfolk playing chess outside Café Diem, and when Henry is in prison, Jack refers to his visits with Henry as his "weekly Chess whipping", implying that Jack doesn't have a head for the game.
  • Blake's 7 plays the trope straight with various Mad Scientists and Manipulative Bastards playing Variant Chess. In "Weapon" this trope crashes into Technology Marches On when a psychostrategist (a Chessmaster who plans Batman Gambits for a living) owns an expensive chess computer which he's managed to beat six times in a row. The last year any human was able to beat the best chess-playing computer in the world was 2005.
  • One episode in the third season of Gotham shows Nygma watching a chess tournament, pointing out moves and muttering that anyone can be a grandmaster these days, implying that he himself is very skilled at chess.
  • Wu Assassins: Discussed in the season 1 finale by Alec McCullough. He acknowledges that many people consider Chess to be the ultimate game of strategy, but he doesn't share that believe and thinks Go deserves that title instead.
  • Sweets on Bones is a prodigy who was a chess master in college. He gets drawn back into the chess world during a case where a player was killed. He’s still better than most of the group members.
  • Bob Hearts Abishola: In "Whacking the Mole" Abishola returns home from work and catches her son Dele playing a game on his laptop. Being the Education Mama she is, Abishola is furious at Dele for not educating himself and lectures him, until she finds out that he was playing chess. She then tells him to continue and that he must win.
  • On Major Crimes: Sharon Raydor's foster son Rusty laments that he won chess trophies before his biological mother abandoned him and he was forced to become a hustler to survive. Sharon helps him rediscover his love of chess and he uses the game to test the intelligence of many people, including his therapist.
  • The Queen's Gambit is about a female chess prodigy and many of the other characters are her chess-playing friends and opponents, all of whom are highly intelligent. She's portrayed as a genius, and only the world's top players can beat her.
  • Twin Peaks' second season zigzags this with the chess-obsessed Diabolical Mastermind Windom Earle, who forces Agent Cooper to play a game of chess by mail with human lives at stake. Earle is portrayed as both very smart and very good at chess, though not quite as good as Pete Martell, whom Cooper enlists for help. Pete is otherwise not shown to be especially smart, being mostly just a nice old lumberjack who likes fishing, so his chess wizardry comes across as Hidden Depths.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "Like Angels Put in Hell by God", Lestat and Claudia's chess games are fundamentally about who is the superior strategist between the two of them. Lestat had previously won all of their matches, but then Claudia is finally victorious, and she interprets it as proof that she can now outmaneuver Lestat in the real world (i.e. liberating herself and Louis from his Gilded Cage). As showrunner Rolin Jones elaborates in the "Episode Insider" featurette:
    Jones: The chess scene is quite interesting, it's based off a very famous chess game called the Polish Immortal. Basically, it's a series of moves by one opponent that sort of lures in a person who wants everything in the world, wants to take everything, and [Claudia] can see this is the way into Lestat. She is slowly suckering him in. And she is wise enough to kind of look at the landscape and go, "There's only one way to do it, we have to kill him." She, through this chess game, sees it's possible. "We could do it, we can out-think him if we know his weaknesses." And she just needs Louis to be on board for it.

  • In Mr. Pimp-Lotion's "Hvem Stjal Spenolen?" ("Who Stole the Spenol?"), a group of people have had a bottle of Spenol (a type of cheap moisturizer) stolen from them, and their attempts to find the culprit mostly consist of throwing unfounded accusations at each other. Pimp-Lotion eventually decides that this approach isn't working, and brings in a "genius" and "mastermind" instead. That turns out to be World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen (played by the real Carlsen), who solves the mystery easily.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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.
    • Though played straight with Nate's best friend, who used to be the best before losing to Nate. (Though he is now 4th best since he lost to Gina, making her another straight example.) Artur plays with this. While he is pretty smart, he is also a bit eccentric due to being a Funny Foreigner. Nonetheless, he consistently beats Nate, something which is one of the main reasons why Nate is bothered by him (the other being Artur is with Jenny and Artur being very lucky compared to Cosmic Plaything Nate.)
  • Played with in FoxTrot:
    • Roger is an inversion as he's almost always clueless and the only one in the family that enjoys chess. In early strips, Roger was fairly decent and actually won a game against Andy in the first strip, but as flanderization set in and he became more of a Bumbling Dad, he became so legendarily bad at the game that online services match him against children playing for the first time.
    • 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. Perhaps Roger's skill at the game atrophied over the years as a result?

  • Our Miss Brooks: One of biology teacher Mr. Boynton's hobbies is chess. In the "Hobby Show", he tries to teach the game to Miss Brooks.

  • 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.
  • In Hamilton George Washington (who is viewed as a master tactician and leader throughout) makes a chess reference during the song "Right Hand Man".

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • The head of the Academy in GURPS Black Ops believes this, so chess is the primary mental challenge given to recruits. At the end of the second year, there is a giant chess tournament among all remaining recruits.
  • Wyrd's tabletop 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Implied in passing in Daughter for Dessert. Mortelli recounts how he once infiltrated a chess club, and says that this assignment convinced him that he was smart enough to be a detective.
  • 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.
  • Inverted in The Sims. Playing chess is one of the way to increase the "Logic" skill of a Sim, which is the closest thing to an intelligence stat in the games.
  • Miles Edgeworth of Ace Attorney fame has a chess set in his office, with custom-made red and blue pieces in place of the usual black and white ones. Typically these pieces are arranged so that a spiky-headed blue pawn is surrounded by red knights carrying swords with sharp edges.
    • Ace Attorney Investigations 2 takes this to another level where Edgeworth visualizes verbal conflicts with uncooperative witnesses as a battle of chess, similarly 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. Then he boasts about his academic achievements.
  • Subverted in Saints Row: The Third with the chess matches between Pierce and Oleg, which end up being a recurring theme in the story. Oleg is considered to be an intellectual, while Pierce is widely considered to be a dumbass, but their chess matches are usually close until the Boss interrupts them in some manner. Oleg even intentionally dropped a bag of equipment on a chessboard where he was losing, ruining the game. Although, as the series-long Butt-Monkey, just because Pierce is considered to be a dumbass doesn't mean he is one. In an alternate universe where the Saints never existed, Pierce became leader of the Vice Kings and took over Stilwater himself by bribing his way to victory.
  • 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 megalomaniacal 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 chessboard 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 they keep trying to apply real-life infantry tactics. Their 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.
    • The Citadel DLC introduces the asari game of Kepesh-Yakshi, or as Commander Shepard calls it, "space-chess". Samantha Traynor is pretty skilled at it and has a rather intense rivalry with an asari player.
  • Fallout
    • In Fallout you can challenge the AI ZAX at the West Tek research facility to a game of chess. The original intent was for the player to be able to win if they have 10 Intelligence, but it's impossible due to a bug.
    • In Fallout 2, you meet a Mad Scientist known only as the Professor in the town of Broken Hills with a genetically engineered intelligent Radscorpion that wears glasses and communicates using Morse code. You can challenge it to a game of chess, but it's impossible to win unless you learn the Flying Liver Attack technique from the Professor's talking spore plant, at which point the Radscorpion goes into a murderous frenzy and try to kill you.
  • Badass Bookworms Lance and Lot play each other during a support conversation in Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, proving their bona fides as The Smart Guy of their squads. Lance mentions that knights of Pherae are required to know the game, but he's the only one of them who's shown seeking out a match. (Elibe apparently has setting-specific pieces, as they make moves like "Pegasus knight to D1.")
  • The Avatar in Fire Emblem: Awakening is a subversion much like Shepard. You'd expect 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 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.
  • Aida from Unreal II: The Awakening is stated to be a 3-D Chess champion, and the board in her quarters looks vaguely familiar
  • Atrus and Sirrus play a game of correspondence chess in Myst IV: Revelation, who are, respectively, the Absent-Minded Professor and Manipulative Bastard of the series. In the (chess) game, Atrus checkmates his opponent with a piece that he hadn't noticed prior which is very similar to how Atrus outsmarted him in the (video) game. The real purpose of the (chess) game, however, was so that Sirrus could get a sample of the Nara chess pieces to help him figure out how to destroy the linking chamber.
  • Fate/EXTRA CCC: Rani VIII, a homunculus from a school of alchemists specializing in predictions and calculations, loves chess and considers it "the ultimate fair game". She's also quite good and defeats most of the main cast one after another. Surprisingly, the one person who beats her soundly is Gilgamesh, who trounces Rani without even trying.
  • Galaxy Angel: Zigzagged for Tact Mayers, the protagonist of the first trilogy. Chess is his favorite pastime, as shown when he buys a set for Shiva so they can play together, and in Milfeulle's route he works as a chess instructor after he leaves the military. However, he's consistently depicted as Brilliant, but Lazy preferring to take naps or find ways to avoid doing his job, unless the situation calls for it where he proves to be a genius tactician in the battlefield. On the other hand, Tact's best friend Lester Coolduras was more academically-inclined and graduated at the top of their class, but he mentions in Chitose's route that unlike Tact he doesn't play chess.
  • In Resident Evil 0, James Marcus, the brilliant, but completely insane scientist who discovered the T-Virus, was apparently a big chess fan. His office in the Management Training Facility not only has a board set up on his desk, but an entire portion of the room is designed to look like a giant board, complete with movable pieces.

  • 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.
  • Billy Thatcher in Morph E is a chess grandmaster 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 Schlock Mercenary, A.I.s 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.

    Web Original 
  • In Darwin's Soldiers, Hicks mentions Shelton was chess champion in a contest at Pelvanida.
  • 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 (which, incidentally, is why it's so hard to beat a computer: it's literally built for them). He also says that it doesn't matter how smart you are; Einstein and Tesla would still have lost to the nut who committed the entire board and all the piece configurations to memorynote . He also dismisses the idea of chess helping in any kind of strategy because, in the end, it isn't flexible enough to account for anything:
    "See, chess doesn't prepare you for this. You can't say that a rook and three pawns flanked your knight but he laid down suppressing fire and punched through them anyway. You get disqualified if you try that... Maybe I've been disqualified from reality."
    • You can, however, achieve a position in which a couple of pieces secure checkmate against much stronger opposing forces, not by just toughing it out but by superior planning and tactics. There's even a weird position where King and one pawn beats the entire 16-man army. It's just that you can't "punch through them anyway".
  • In 10 CRAZIEST Laws in the World by Matt Santoro, Eugene wins a game of chess against a boxer.
  • 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."

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: Flipwart is an In-Universe game resembling chess. Marcy and King Andrias, two characters known for their brilliance, are perhaps the game's best players.
  • In Bluey, Bandit spends the episode "Chest" trying to teach Bluey and Bingo to play chess for precisely this reason. Unfortunately for him, Bluey and Bingo are still too young to really grasp the rules and instead turn the lesson into another one of their make-believe games, being easily distracted by the elaborate chess pieces. Chilli eventually takes over the game to teach Bandit how it's more important for them to raise their daughters to be good people rather than just focusing on making them smarter.
  • In Central Park, Season 1 "Squirrel, Interrupted", Paige and Molly both play chess together and Paige is surprised that Molly has actually beaten her since she's been letting her win. They go to the Chess House at the park where several other people are playing chess and Molly meets Danny and beats him in several matches. Then they meet Constantine, who is a chess master and is undefeated at the park, and they see him play against ten people at the same time while he's eating sushi. Molly knows she has no chance against him, but still plays against him so she can learn from it.
  • Code Lyoko:
    • Aelita and Jérémie are sometimes seen playing chess. Another time, when Ulrich gets easily beaten by Jérémie, he suggests a karate rematch.
    • Aelita and Yumi are also seen playing Go at the beginning of one episode.
  • 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 to 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.
  • Family Guy: Brian & Stewie play chess during their cross-country trip with Quagmire.
  • Futurama:
    • Played for Laughs as Zoidberg is seen contemplating a chessboard... 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..."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Johnny Bravo: Parodied in one short which has Johnny facing off against a supercomputer robot in a chess tournament, with the robot growing increasingly infuriated by Johnny's stupidity and lack of understanding of the game and confusing it with Checkers.
  • Kaeloo: Mr. Cat and Quack-Quack, the two most intelligent characters on the show, enjoy playing chess with each other.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Teen Titans (2003):
    • In one episode, Cyborg and Raven, generally portrayed as the two smartest team members, are shown playing chess with each other.
    • The Brotherhood of Evil's boss and his Dragon are seen playing chess as their minions engage the various international Titans.
  • Subverted in The Venture Bros. when the M.O.D.O.K. Captain Ersatz Think Tank breaks into Dr. Venture's penthouse to challenge him to a game of chess, only for Venture to explain that he doesn't know how to play and that he's "more of a Parcheesi man".
  • Xiaolin Showdown: Raimundo shows a surprising knack for it while playing against a talking dinosaur with a British accent.

    Real Life 
  • Álvaro de Bazán, a 16th century Spanish admiral that should easily make top 10 of the best naval commanders in history, reportedly loved chess, to the point it's claimed this is the reason he used a chessboard-looking family crest.
  • American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was an avid chess player who popularized the game in America. He wrote The Morals of Chess in 1786 and was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1999.
  • 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 15,000 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 himselfnote ) and early 20th-century chess champion Aleksandr Alekhine was a raving egomaniac with possible Nazi connections. And not just world champions are like this; former New Zealand champion Jonathan Sarfati works for a Young Earth Creationist propaganda organization. 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.
  • Edward Lasker, not to be confused with his third cousin and friend Emanuel Lasker, was a FIDE Master of the game. Professionally, he worked as a safety engineer. He also invented the mechanical breast pump, which saved the lives of many infants. Yes, really.
  • Programming a computer to play chess was a sort of holy grail for several pioneers of Artificial Intelligence. Because chess mastery and intelligence are so closely conflated, a machine that could compete with a human player would be a historic victory. This goal was reached in 1996: in a highly-publicized series of matches, IBM's "Deep Blue" challenged and eventually defeated world champion Gary Kasparov. This event captured the attention of the press and public that ordinarily might not be interested in chess or AI.
    • Averted 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 weren'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 breaking the Enigma code in Alan Turing's team. According to Turing's biography, He would then spend whatever free time he had hosting a free of charge, open for all beginners class in chess. That is a guy who either loved his work or hated his life.
    • Turing himself, though, was useless at chess, even though he developed an early algorithm that computers would be able to use once they became advanced enough.
  • 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.
  • On one of his shows, the illusionist/mentalist Derren Brown invites a number of grandmasters, FIDE masters, and a high school student to play a simultaneous game of chess with him. He positions all of them in a circle, facing outward, with almost half of them (the number of players is odd) playing white, and the others playing black. After a long game, he ends up with the overall score of 5 wins and 4 losses, especially after claiming to be terrible at chess to the audience (to the players, he said he's decent). How did he do it? Memorization. He remembered the moves made by the whites, then replayed them as the whites on the boards opposite them, then remembered the counter-moves and repeated those on the opposite boards, effectively making the grandmasters and FIDE masters playing one another. This ensured an even result, so he only had to beat the one odd player not being mirrored, which is where the high school student (i.e. the weakest player) came in, whom he beat on his own. This, of course, pales in comparison to Derren somehow predicting the number of white pieces left on each board before the game even started.
  • Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame. He tends to come off as rather silly at times, yet during one DVD episode's commentary, the director mentions his complete and utter destruction of chess opponents.
  • Natan Sharansky, famous refusenik and mathematician, was a childhood chess prodigy who by his own claim kept his sanity in years of solitary confinement by playing chess against himself in his mind. After settling in Israel he beat world champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition.


K9 Plays Chess

The Doctor and K9 are engaged in a pleasant game of chess.

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5 (5 votes)

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Main / SmartPeoplePlayChess

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