Chess Moves in the Movies

Have you ever seen a film in which a game of chess was played? Was the board laid out correctly, with the white square on the right corner? Did it look like a real game of chess was being played? Some of the movies with chess games are indeed realistic, while others are not. In Casablanca it was realistic, for Humphrey Bogart was a good chess player and surely would not have allowed any glaring mistake in the setup of the board; quite likely he set up the position himself.

The Movie Casablanca

What a classic in film history! Many thematic and artistic elements came together perfectly in this black-and-white movie, which was set in the present time (early 1940’s) in northwest Africa, during what would later be called World War II.

Near the beginning of the movie, a club owner sits at a table, gazing at an opening position on a chess set. How does that relate to the rest of the movie? Consider the following:

  • Rick is mostly alone, at the chess board and in his life
  • Tactics and strategy abound, at the board and in everybody’s life
  • Tough decisions are ahead for Rick: Where will his life be going?

At the end, Rick has a new friend and a new purpose in life, and future tactics and strategy are sure to come up, yet more in his life than on a chess board.

Rick looks over a chess position in the classic movie Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart ponders a chess position in the film Casablanca

A Little Game (family film in 2014)

Don’t confuse this with a 1971 television movie of the same name; there’s no relationship except for the same title. The 2014 film takes us into the life of a ten-year-old girl named Max, who learns how to play chess from a cranky old man in a city park.

Although A Little Game is given only a 6.3 average rating (out of ten) by IMDb, anyone who likes family-value movies in general and chess themes in particular will probably enjoy this movie and possibly be delighted with it.

A city girl is frustrated, thrust into a new school where she has no friends, and then confronted by the shame of not knowing how to play chess. But Max overcomes that handicap and proves herself, in the movie A Little Game.

10-year-old Max in the film "A Little Game"

Max is embarrassed to admit she does not know the game of chess

Chess Fever

A 1925 Russian silent-film comedy, Chess Fever featurs an actual international chess tournament which was taking place in Moscow at the time. It shows grandmasters playing in the tournament, including American Frank J. Marshall and Cuban Jose R. Capablanca.

In fact, Capablanca played a brief part in the dramatic content of the movie, indirectly (or inadvertently) helping a young lady become reconciled with her chess-crazed fiancée.

World chess champion featured in a silent movie

Jose Raul Capablanca in a silent film in 1925

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Chess in films

Movies include Casablanca, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Geri’s Game, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

An Endgame Puzzle

Notice that for the white king to move towards the kingside is worthless in trying for a win, for the black king simply moves towards the queen side. Here is the correct way to win . . .

Queen vs Rook

Derek Grimmell calls this the trapezoid, a key position in the queen-versus-rook endgame. Although it may look innocent enough, black has no move that does not quickly lose

Chess helps Kids

According to research, Test scores improved by 17.3% for students regularly engaged in chess classes, compared with only 4.6% for children participating in other forms of enriched activities.

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