Category Archives: chess

Chess and Gambling Go Hand in Hand

When thinking of chess players, one often thinks of bespectacled cardigan-wearing nerds huddled over a small table. Or old men sitting in the park whiling away their time, leisurely moving their pieces across the board. Upstanding, serious men. One of the last industries one would associate with chess is gambling. But in actual fact chess gambling is very popular, and the two go way back!chess-1214226_960_720

Chess actually has a long history, gambling-wise. There is evidence that in Europe, somewhere between the 11th and 14th centuries, dice was used to play chess. It is also known to have been played even earlier in Burma and India. The dice were thrown before each turn to determine the piece to be moved. Later on, the dice were removed, due to religious prohibitions on gambling.

During the 19th century, playing chess for stakes was a common thing. Stakes were no more than each player putting up a certain amount of money (or stakes put up by backers), with the winner taking all. In the cafes, such as the famous Café de la Régence in Paris, games were often played for money. The Café de la Régence was an important centre for chess enthusiasts in 18th and 19th century Europe. House masters would give odds to players to even up the game, and then they’d play for a set amount of money.

Chess is played for money every day in places like Washington Square in New York City, where chess hustlers convene. At the World Series of Poker in 2007 in Las Vegas, one of America’s most famous chess games took place. Greg Shahade – an international chess master – went head to head in a chess against Tom Dwan – professional poker player – for $50,000. To compensate for his skill edge Greg played without one of his rooks (which is, aside from the queen, the most powerful piece). Greg won the match effortlessly and later recounted games of his youth playing for $2-$10 a game.

Blitz Chess – An Overview

What is Blitz Chess?

Blitz Chess (a form of fast chess or speed chess) is a variation of chess. Each player is given a very limited time to make a move – much less than under the standard tournament time limits. While in speed chess each player has less than 60 minutes, based on a 60 move game, in blitz chess this is reduced to 10 minutes or even less. At the FIDE World Blitz Championship the time allowed to each player is 3 minutes, with an additional 2 seconds per move (known as 3+2).

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Blitz Chess has two main benefits; opening preparation and tactical practice. Playing many games in a session means that more variations can be tested, in comparison to playing one slow game. It is important establish rules before beginning a game, as there are different rules used by blitz players across the world. The results of blitz can be surprising. A Grand Master can lose to a Master one day, and win the next day.

This particular game is often played for money, and therefore considered gambling. When playing for money, it is important to pay or collect after each game. This is because in case a conflict arises during one of the games, one can be sure that the payments won’t be affected.

Blitz chess is also a popular online game. There are concerns, however, as it is not possible to know if one is playing against another person, or a machine. In this sense, this game can become quite risky!

Criticism of Blitz Chess

Many top chess players are very dismissive of blitz chess and don’t take it seriously. The problem with it is that it encourages shallow thinking and discourages rigorous analysis or deep strategic planning. For those wanting to improve their slow chess game and get better at tournament time controls, too much blitz can have a negative impact.

Chess Gambling – The Legal Issues

Gambling, as defined by law in many countries, is only considered so when one wagers either on a game of chance (one with a significant luck factor that overrides any/all skill elements) or on a contest of skill in which one’s self is not a participant.images-48

It is interesting to note that it is these elements that are allowing poker to be legal in more and more areas – due to the fact that it has been proven that over a long period of time the overriding element in poker is the relative skills of the players, and not the not-so-insignificant deal of the cards. As chess has “no” luck factor, as long as one is betting on one’s own skill, and not someone else’s game, it’s not gambling and is perfectly legal. This is not always the case, however. It is advisable to always check local laws first.

Putting money on the outcome of a chess game with someone else in the park or at a café is not that different from buying an entry fee to a tournament and playing for prize money. By signing up, you’re basically agreeing that the player with a higher skill level (and who uses that skill appropriately) will take home a greater share of them money. This is why chess tournaments aren’t illegal. They are based on skill.

Chess for cash is a popular form of chess gambling. This happens in chess clubs, parks, cafes, and even bookstores. Playing for money doesn’t exclude playing amazing chess, nor does it undermine its integrity. All the Grand Masters have, at one time or another, played for money, whether that be through tournaments, matches, or side games. At major tournaments, you will also find what are known as ‘skittles rooms’. Skittles rooms are separate rooms where players can relax, eat and chat. Blitz games are played here, for cash.

From Chess to Infinity!

Chess is a complex game, and so is the mathematics surrounding it. The number of possible chess moves is for all practical purposes infinite. It is a finite number – but incredibly long.

The number of the total possibility of all the possible chess moves there are is known as the ‘Shannon number’. Named after mathematician Claude Shannon, the number is 10 to the power of 120. Shannon developed his mathematical lower number, in a paper called “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess” to show just how impractical it was to try to instruct computers to solve chess via brute force methods (which work through every single possible move).chess-game

A simpler way to understand how ridiculously huge the number of possible moves is is to break it down move-by-move. After white’s first move, there are 16 possible moves. Thereafter, there are 400 possible moves. Following this, by only white’s second move, there are 5,362 possible moves. As you can see the number grows exponentially. After the fourth move, there are 71,852 possible moves.

Say that every person on earth paired up together and played a chess game every single day and played a different game to their previous ones – in order to play all sensible logical games it would still take many trillions of years, as with so many possible moves, one game could theoretically take infinitely long to play.

Many chess games have been recorded all the way from hundreds of years ago to the present. The longest game that has been recorded ended in a draw and was 296 moves long.

Some of these moves would be game-wasting time – one player could win in a single move but would proceed to move their bunch of pieces for tens or hundreds of moves still. In chess, something called a ’50 move rule’ is sometimes used. According to this, if both parties have exceeded 50 moves and no one is in checkmate then the game is drawn.

Types of Wood for Chessboards

Whether you are planning on making a chessboard by hand out of wood or are in the market for one, it will be good to understand their different types, either to choose the best one for your tastes or merely to appreciate chessboards on another level.


A type of Maplewood. It is an indigenous tree in Europe. What is great about this is that it is easy to work with and that it gives a complex grained shine to its finish. It is a lighter wood and often described as honey-like.


There are several types belonging to this same family, and they differ by colours. The most commonly used Maple is ‘hard maple’. It is found abundantly in the United States and in the United Kingdom. A bit of trivia: it is this type of Maple (hardwood maple) that is used to make Maple Syrup.


A wood found mostly in North America. The most sought after type of Aspen is the Trembling Aspen. It is so called as its leaves tend to tremble in the breeze. It grows in various places including rocky mountainous terrain. It has a whitewash to creamy colouring. It is great for chessboards as it has a very smooth clean finish.


Often used for the white squares on chessboards. The birch grows in various terrains, from northern and eastern Europe to the United Kingdom and all the way to the Scandinavian regions. This wood tends to have a stable colour, with little variations. It is brownish but only lightly. Sometimes it can seem white. This wood is often sought out for its glossy finish.


The principal wood used for chessboards. This wood varies in colour but has dark specks. It has a smooth finish but sometimes may have a wavy disruption in it.

Checkmate – Its Origins and Meaning

Checkmate is a popular word across various countries, and across different languages – in large part to the game of chess. But few people know its significance and the true meaning behind it.

The world ‘checkmate’ originates from Old French. This ancestor of modern day French was used until the 1400s. The term is actually made up of two distinct words – ‘eschec’ and ‘mat’. These are in turn derived from the Arabic phrase ‘Shah Mat’ which means ‘the king is dead’. There are some chess players who dispense with the word ‘checkmate’ altogether, choosing to rather use the original phrase ‘Shah Mat’.images-47

‘Checkmate’ – like many words in the English language – has undergone a shortening. ‘Mate’ is now used as a more casual abbreviated form for the same expression.

Having looked at the definition and etymology of the term, let us look at the meaning of the word. Checkmate refers to a position in a game of chess, whereby a player’s king piece is put in ‘check’ – meaning he has to move or will be captured. The player can eliminate the ‘check’ either by blocking the attack with another piece or moving the king piece out of the attack itself. If there are no moves to make then the king cannot move out of harm’s way and it follows that it is checkmate – that the king is dead. Checkmate does not mean that the player creating the checkmate can ‘capture’ the king piece (as is the case when attacking the other piece): the game is simply over.

Another related and important term to understand is ‘stalemate’. Stalemate refers to the situation where one player has no possible moves to make without being put in check or checkmate. The situation cannot change, so the game ends right there and then. The player who puts the other in stalemate is the winner.

The Types of Wood for Chess Pieces

Whether you are interested in making a chess set by hand or you would just like to have a finer appreciation for wooden handmade chess pieces, you should be aware of the details about this particular form of art.

Rarer woods for crafting a specific type or style of chesspiece are obviously going to cost you a lot more. An important point to bear in mind is that if you are going to get a type of wood that is not native to your country, it may need more care such as oiling to prevent cracking and splitting. Try to choose woods that come from a similar sea level/humidity to the one where you’re living.


Boxwood is the most commonly used wood for chesspieces or ‘chessmen’. It is a solid wood with a clean detail and consistent colouring. Its hardness allows for it to be carved very delicately without falling apart as some softer woods might. It is also not a very expensive wood. It comes from a tree called, as you may have guessed, the boxwood tree.


Ebony is a very dense, solid wood. When polished properly it is a dark, almost black, colour. It was used in the famous original Jacques chessmen from the mid-1800s. It is one of the main types of materials used for chessmen – the black pieces. Due to the higher cost of ebony today, it is becoming the reserve of the wealthy.


Rosewood is a complex brown colour with red details. It is often chosen for its aesthetic appeal and its wood is softer than ebony. Because rosewood tends to have a lot of naturally occurring oil, it makes for a difficult task to lacquer them.


Sheesham is also known as North Indian Rosewood. It is abundantly available in India. It tends to be quite oily so lacquering is not always an option, but it does polish very smoothly. Due to its abundance and ease of availability, many mass-produced sets are made from Sheesham.

The Most Expensive Chess Sets in the World

Carolingi XIV Chess Set – $113,575

This set – designed by Piero Benzoni – is based on the battles fought between the Ottoman Turks and Carolingians in the 9th century. Each chessman is crafted to look like its namesake – kings, queens, knights and so on, and it displays period attire. The pieces are made of gold and silver, with incredibly fine detail. The ornately detailed board is made of onyx.

J. Grahl Chess Set – $450,000aid1031174-728px-improve-the-position-of-your-pieces-in-a-chess-game-step-1

Designed by Jim Grahl on commission in 1972, this set takes its inspiration from the 14th century. Each chessman – crafted from silver and gold – weighs approximately a pound. The board is made of ebony and embellished with silver.

Royal Diamond Chess Set – $500,000

Bernard Maquin – French artist and jewellery maker – took over 4500 hours to design and create this beautiful set. The luxury pieces are created in the classical design and made of 14 carat white gold and covered in 9,900 black and white diamonds. The diamonds put together add up to 186.09 carats!

Art of War Chess Set – $750,000

As you may have guessed, this set has a deep Asian influence. Set on an ebony board, the solid gold pieces are decorated with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. Even the hinges, key, and handles of the box are made of solid gold. The price is an estimate, as when this set was put on auction the designer – Victor F. Scharstein – turned down a bid for $750,000 and accepted another offer.

Jewel Royale Chess Set – $1,327,515

This set will be made on demand. Bespoke jewellery design house Boodles, together with Jewel Royale, designed and planned this intricately decadent chess set. Only the King was created, as a proof of concept. Just on its own the 18 carat yellow gold and rubies costs $59,742.

Prefer to not splash the cash, and want to play chess online instead? Maybe make a little money too? A website that combines the skill of chess with the stakes of gambling is your answer. You can find it here.