Ultimately, chess is about conflict, with two opposing sides fighting each other. So, it’s only natural for a game with such a heavy theme to hold a symbolic significance, but what does chess symbolize, and is it evil?
Chess symbolizes various aspects of life, like balance, identity, and the endless possibilities of life. So whether you choose to believe it has evil implications or not is up to you.
In this article, we explore the symbolic significance of the chess board, what each piece represents, and how movies use this game as a plot device.
What Is the Symbolic Significance of Chess?
Let’s see the hidden meanings and symbolism that this game holds.
The Chessboard Setup
The first thing that comes to mind when you properly place your pieces on a chessboard is balance. Your side perfectly mirrors your opponent’s, representing how each individual has endless potential.
This is further evidenced by the board’s setup. With 64 squares and 16 pieces, you have hundreds of moves to choose from. Each one prompts a different reaction from the opposing side, resulting in different outcomes. Sounds familiar?
Yes, that’s what humans do every day. We make decisions every second of our lives, from small ones, like what to have for breakfast, to big ones, like what career to pursue. Each one, no matter how small, has a significant effect on your day/life.
That’s why chess players advise parents to introduce their kids to the game at an early age. It helps them develop sharp decision-making skills and teaches them to see the bigger picture.
Each chess piece on the board has a different design, role, and position. These decisions aren’t random. They were assigned different characteristics because each piece holds a specific symbolic significance.
As they make up half the pieces on one side of the board, it’s safe to assume that pawns represent the common people. Their powers are limited, and players often sacrifice them to protect valuable pieces.
However, pawns have an advantage that no other piece does. If you move them to the back row of your opponent’s side, they can turn into any piece you want. So, they can be a formidable weapon.
This transformation feature represents the infinite potential of the masses. With proper guidance, they can bring victory and prosperity.
Often depicted as a castle or a tower on both corners of your back row, the rook is a refugee, a barrier that covers those seeking protection. This is most prominent in castling, where the king takes cover inside his castle.
It moves in a straight line, either up and down or left and right, symbolizing sturdiness and mobility.
The knights are the protectors of royalty. They symbolize bravery and uniqueness, as they’re the only pieces that can jump over others. Not even the queen can imitate their L-shaped movements.
The bishop is an influential figure. The fact that it’s made its way into chess symbolizes the power of religion and how it played a crucial part in people’s lives throughout history.
The queen is the only piece in the game that has a female title. It’s the most powerful piece on the board but not the most valuable.
It’s overshadowed by the king, symbolizing women’s capabilities as rulers or fighters and how male-centered societies prevented them from realizing their potential throughout history.
Naturally, the king represents the leaders, the politics, and the end goal of every conflict. With his death, the game ends. Interestingly, the king rarely moves throughout a chess game, at least not until you have a reason to move it.
This dynamic is similar to the one that exists in real life, as the higher-ups’ sensitive position doesn’t allow them to do any of the leg work. That responsibility usually falls on their subordinates.
What Does Chess Symbolize on TV?
As a complicated game with a simple concept, filmmakers have used chess as a metaphor or plot device to reflect their characters’ actions and worldviews.
If you’re a fan of X-Men, you probably remember the scene where Charles Xavier plays a chess game with Magneto. Although we only see them make a few moves, this short game allows viewers to understand both characters’ ideologies.
Magneto only uses the rook and the knight, his valuable pieces, to take down Charles’s. So, he prioritizes power and versatility, reflecting his ideology that strong mutants are superior to humans.
On the other hand, Charles checkmates Magneto using his pawns. It shows that he’s willing to work and co-exist with humans, the weaker side, peacefully.
Magneto’s worldview is most prominent during the final battle. He stops Juggernaut from joining the lower-class mutants on the front line, claiming that the pawns go first in chess. He has no problem sacrificing his weaker allies to keep the strong ones for the big battles.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Ultimately, chess is a battle of wits, so it’s no wonder it plays a role in a Sherlock Holmes movie. We get the first chess reference early in the movie when Professor Moriarty tells Sherlock that he poisoned Irene Adler.
He puts Adler’s handkerchief on a chessboard, then grabs the black queen. It’s crucial to note that when Sherlock and Moriarty play a real chess game during the peace summit, Sherlock plays with black.
So, Moriarty grabbing the black queen earlier is illegal, as he took something that doesn’t belong to him. Just like the queen is a crucial piece to a chess player, Irene Adler is important to Sherlock.
This small gesture reflects Moriarty’s aggressive nature. Despite maintaining a respectable appearance, he’ll stop at nothing to take down his enemies, even if it means breaking the law.
Does Chess Contain Any Evil Symbolism?
As a subject with various philosophical implications, people can interpret the dynamics of chess in different ways.
Some of these interpretations tend to be negative. Are they valid, though? Let’s find out!
Black vs. White
If you’ve ever played chess, you’ve probably wondered why white goes first. Yes, some people believe that this law is rooted in racism. However, the chess community debunks this idea, claiming that one side had to go first.
It just happened to be white. Other board games let the player with black pieces go first. Did race influence that decision, too?
For the record, there isn’t any evidence to support both parties’ claims, so it’s up to you to believe which one is right.
So, what does chess symbolize, and is it evil? There isn’t a definitive answer to that question.
From balance and identity to the infinite potential of humans, chess represents key aspects of life. Even in movies, filmmakers use it to represent their characters’ views and nature.
As it’s up to interpretation, some people think chess symbolizes white supremacy. There’s no evidence to support this view, though. That’s why the chess community debunked it.