This Saturday, October 14, marks National Chess Day, an annual celebration of a storied game that has found its way into our psyches via multiple avenues, such as from TV’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” through technological innovations, or in depictions of the game as one for all walks of life.
In 1979, U.S. News & World Report featured the Boris Diplomat in their “New Products” series. The Boris Diplomat was a portable chess computer that made it possible to practice the game on the go, no human opponent needed.
Photographer Toni Frissell framed this couple wearing stylish leisure clothes around a chessboard laid on an equally stylish sofa. Shot on assignment for Sports Illustrated in 1957, we can imagine the woman’s fixed gaze, trained on the game, behind those spectacular shades.
Thought to have originated in India, chess has traversed the world to become the fixation of tournaments and a streetside fascination for urban players en plein air.
The First American Chess Congress was held in 1857, where the best players competed in a tournament. This image situates the winner, Paul Morphy (seated at the table on the right), and the runner-up, Louis Paulsen (facing Morphy on the left), in a mock staging of their final match.
In this photograph from Carol M. Highsmith, players in San Francisco sit at tables along Market Street and make use of portable chess sets. The two men in the foreground get the shared benefits of sun and mental stimulation.
Though historical images seem to suggest a gentleman’s game—with many featuring furrow-browed men lost in concentration—women, too, have been smitten by chess. And adults aren’t the only ones!
From 1907 to 1920, Eveline Allen Burgess was the reigning U.S. women’s chess champion. In this 1914 portrait for the Bain News Service, Burgess looks off to her right, perhaps contemplating her chess prowess.
In this photograph from 1942, a group of children are gathered around two boys playing chess on a diminutive board. It seems early in the game, as it appears that no pieces have yet been captured.
While the boundaries of chess continue bending to human ingenuity and advancements in AI chess programs, the essence of the game remains the same—the movement of pieces, through intellect and intuition, around the board to best an equally adept opponent. Something to celebrate, indeed.