There are a variety of errors that occur in film, TV, comics, magazines, and books, and other media when it comes to chess.
The most common error is when the chessboard itself is wrongly set up. The chessboard should be placed with the light colored square to the right of the player. What you usually see is that the chess board is rotated 90 degrees from its correct alignment. In algebraic notation terms, the a1 square should be a dark square instead of a light square. To serious chess players, this basic error indicates an indifference to getting things right. It tells the serious chess player that chess was only used as a symbol and not worth the minimal effort to get even the basics correct.
Another common error is when the king(s) and queen(s) are set up wrong on the chessboard. The rule is to put the queen on the same color square as the color of the piece. So a White Queen should be on a white square (or the lighter-colored square) and the Black Queen should be on the black square (or darker-colored square).
Another error found in chess scenes is the continuity of the scene. A position may be different in difference scenes, but no pieces were moved. Sometimes, the position is impossible, illegal, or makes no sense.
Another error is when an actor or characters says "check" when not in check. In real life at chess tournaments, no one says check. It is not mandatory that you say anything. If fact, saying "check" would most likely distract the opponent and is discouraged in professional play. If the game is over and ends in checkmate, you may say checkmate, but there have been errors when checkmate is announced or when one says checkmate, and there is not checkmate.
There is also the misuse of the word "stalemate" and "gambit" in the media. Another common, but rare, mistake is the when someone says "check," and the opponent makes a move and says "checkmate."
And there's always the stereotype of chess players. The grandmaster is usually the villain. A chess player in the movies or TV is supposed to be smarter and nerdy. Chess players in the movies are usually less socially adept. Many of the master chess players are foreign born or Russian. Chess players are portrayed with amazing memory skills. Chess players are poor sports when they lose. Chess players are not athletic. You don't see a chess master and an athlete in the movies or TV.
Chess Mistakes in the Movies
Chess has been in the movies since 1916. There have been plenty of chess mistake in the movies.
In 1921, The Affairs of Anatol had Vivian (Gloria Swanson) playing chess. The chessboard was set up wrong.
In 1931, the French movie Echec au Roi (Check to the King) had the board set up wrong.
In 1936, Pennies from Heaven, starring Bing Crosby, had a chess scene with Crosby playing chess with Edith Fellows. The board was set up wrong.
In 1939, Golden Boy had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1942, Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart, has a chess scene at the beginning of the movie. A knight on the chessboard disappears momentarily in the opening chess game.
In 1943, The Ghost Ship had a chess scene with the chessboard set up wrong.
In 1944, Charlie Chan and the Chinese Cat had a chess scene with a chess expert. The board was set up wrong.
In 1945, And Then There Were None had a scene with a chess set in the library. The king and queen were set up on the wrong squares.
In 1946, Patrie had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1948, The Lady from Shanghai had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1952, Angel Face had a chess scene where Diane (Jaen Simmons) checkmates her father. The board was set up wrong.
In 1956, The Killing had a chess scene that was filmed at what was known as the Flea House (chess and checkers club) in Manhattan. A mistake in the chess scene is when Maurice Oboukhoff (professional chess wrestler Kola Kwariani) is kibitzing the game, he mentions a bishop move. That's impossible since both of White's bishops and both of Black's bishops have been captured and are off to one side. It seems that these are the only pieces, including pawns, which have been captured (very rare).
In 1957, The Seventh Seal, one of the most famous chess-related movies ever, had the chessboard set up wrong.
In 1958, Merry Andrew had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1963, The Great Escape had a chess scene with James Garner playing chess with Donald Pleasance. The chessboard is turned the wrong way.
In 1963, From Russia With Love had a chess scene based upon a real game. The position was wrong from the real game with a piece missing.
In 1965, What's New Pussycat, with Woody Allen playing chess, showed a chessboard set up wrong.
In 1966, Around the World Under the Sea had a chess scene Hank Stahl (Keenan Wynn) is playing chess with the Black pieces and says "Bishop from d2 to f4," which is impossible for Black, since his bishop is on the e7 square and cannot get to the f4 square.
In 1968, The Devil Rides Out had a chess scene of an elaborate chess set, with the board set up wrong.
In 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey had several chess scenes. The computer HAL, playing the Black pieces, announces checkmate in two moves in a sequence of moves that was not forced (the checkmate could have been delayed by a move). It announces flawed analysis (unless it was cheating in purpose). It also did not use the proper chess notation (for example, saying Queen to Bishop Three instead of Queen to Bishop Six.
In 1969, Anne of the Thousand Days had Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujolrd) play chess with Henry VIII (Richard Burton). The board was set up wrong.
In 1971, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, had a scene with father (Joseph Cotton) playing chess with his son. The board was set up wrong and the kings and queens were on the wrong squares.
In 1979, Time After Time had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1981, History of the World, Part 1 had a chess scene. The board was set up wrong.
In 1982, Blade Runner had several chess scenes. One scene shows the chessboard set up wrong.
In 1982, The Thing has a chess scene where Kurt Russell gets checkmated. Looking at the chessboard just before the game ends shows there is no checkmate with the final move of Rg6.
In 1983, Never Say Never Again had the red and black chessboard set up wrong.
In 1988, Arthur 2: On the Rocks had two scenes with chess sets. The board was set up wrong.
In 1990, Chaindance had several scenes with chess. The board was set up wrong.
In 1990, Back to the Future Part III has a chess scene of Copernicus the dog playing Marty McFly. The chess position is impossible as the player with the White pieces has a missing rook that should have been in the corner.
In 1990, Hands of a Murderer, Moriarty plays chess with Sherlock Holmes, but the board is set up wrong.
In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs had a chess scene with a pair of entomologists playing chess. But the board was set up wrong.
In 1992, Amityville 1992 had a chess reference. A checkmate was announced after a rook move, but it was impossible to checkmate the king in the final position with the rook. However, it could have been done with a queen move.
In 1992, Aladdin had a chess scene with the carpet playing chess with the genie. The board (7x7 instead of 8x8) is set up wrong and there is no King for the white pieces on the chessboard, which would be impossible in chess as the kings are never taken off the board.
In 1993, Searching for Bobby Fischer had a few mistakes. The final game was played without a chess clock, which would have never happened in a championship scholastic match. When there were chess clocks shown, the clocks were not set accurately. Nobody kept score on a score sheet, which would never happen in a rated tournament. Fishburne identified a player as a grandmaster, when, in fact, he was "only" an International Master.
In 1994, Dead Beat had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1994, The Shawshank Redemption had a chess scene in prison, but the chessboard was set up wrong.
In 1995, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls had several chess scenes and several chess mistakes. The chess position changes between scenes when no one is playing chess. In one scene, chess pieces are on the chessboard, the next scene shows all the pieces gone from the chessboard, then the pieces reappear a moment later.
In 1995, The Takeover had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1996, Independence Day had a chess scene where David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is playing Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch). White makes two moves and Black is checkmated (through poor play — he was winning). Julius says that it is not checkmate, but it was.
In 1998, The Avengers had a chess scene. The board was set up wrong.
In 1999, The Talented Mr. Ripley had a chess scene. The order of moves was wrong. The White Bishop moves back, but in the next scene, it is threatened and moved back again from the same square.
In 1999, Black and White had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1999, Justice had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 1999, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, had the chessboard set up wrong. Also, Austin Powers make an illegal move with his knight on his first move (1...Ne4).
In 2000, Shaft had a chess scene in a bar. The board was set up wrong.
In 2001, Life as a House, with Kevin Kline, had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had a chess scene. Checkmate was announced, but there was no checkmate.
In 2002, Dirty Pretty Things had Dr. Okwe playing chess with Guo Yi. The board was set up wrong.
In 2003, Checkmate has a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 2003, The Actors had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 2003, Legally Blonde 2 had a chess scene with a nice wood chess set and board. The chess board was set up wrong with the black corner square on the right instead of the light corner square.
In 2006, The Da Vinci Code had a scene with the chessboard set up the wrong way.
In 2010, Last Night had a chess scene with the board set up wrong.
In 2011, Tower Heist had a chess scene where Alan Alda is showing Ben Stiller the famous Levitsky — Marshall 1912 game. Alda stated that Frank Marshall was losing, but found the brilliant Qg3 queen sacrifice to win. In actuality, Marshall was not losing and was in no danger of losing the game.
In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed a chimp playing chess. The board was set up wrong.
In 2011, X-Men: First Class had a chess game between Prof. Xavier and Magneto. Xavier moves his queen and loses the queen in one move. He had a forced mate with a rook move.
In 2012, Rat King had a scene of a large chess set by the water. The board was set up wrong.
In 2013, Paranoia had a chess scene that announced checkmate that was impossible.
In 2014, Imitation Game had one reference to chess. The movie mentioned that Hugh Alexander was a national chess champion — twice. That's true, he won in 1938, but the second time was in 1958, after the time period of the movie.
In 2015, Pawn Sacrifice, the movie about Bobby Fischer and the 1972 World Chess Championship, had dozens of mistakes and errors that a chess player familiar with the time would know.
In 2015, Spectre had a chess scene that looked like both kings were in check (one was checkmated) and all the pieces that were captured are on the wrong side of the board. If I were White, I would have the captured black pieces on my side. If I had Black, I would have all the white pieces on my side. But the movie scene shows the opposite.
In 2016, Captain America: Civil War has a chess scene. The chessboard is set up wrong in The Avengers Tower.
Chess Mistakes in Television
On September 1956, the Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu had 13 episodes of Fu Manchu (Glen Gordon) playing chess at the beginning of the show. The board was set up wrong.
On May 12, 1957, an episode (Season 2, Episode 33) called "A Man Greatly Beloved" appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV series from 1955 to 1962). There is a chess scene with a young girl, Hildegarde Fell, playing chess (she has been playing for years) with Judge John Anderson, but with mistakes (illegal chess moves). He gives check, and she next takes a piece and says mate. The story was by A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh.
On October 9, 1962, an episode (Season 4, Episode 3) called "The Chess Game" appeared in The Untouchables (which happened to be GM Igor Ivanov's favorite TV program he once told me). The TV series lasted from 1959 to 1963. A blind fish and seafood wholesaler (and bootlegger), Ira Bauer (Richard Conte), plays chess as a way of keeping his mind sharp. He and Eliot Ness (Robert Stack) play a game of chess and the game ends in stalemate. The board with the fancy chess pieces was set up wrong.
On January 14, 1968, Mission Impossible: A Game of Chess had an impossible plot of a computer beating a grandmaster. That wouldn't happen for another 25 years.
On August 8, 1971, The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Anne Boleyn had a chess scene. The board was set up wrong.
On March 4, 1973, Columbo had an episode called "The Most Dangerous Game." It had a chess plot, but the worst error was allowing the grandmaster to fall for a Fool's Mate and getting beat in a few moves because he was rattled.
The Cosby Show appeared with many chess references. In an episode (Season 1, Episode 8) that aired on November 8, 1984, called "Play it Again, Vanessa," Dr. Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), his son, are playing chess with a chess clock. However, Theo never starts the clock to start his turn. He just moves and stops the clock which rings a bell. His son beats him twice in chess. Later, Cliff wins 4 games in a row. Bill Cosby appeared on the cover of Chess Life with a chess set in the living room of the TV show. The board was set up wrong (white corner square on the left).
On December 16, 1989, Age-Old Friends, an HBO Special, had a chess scene. The board was set up wrong.
On February 24, 1991, And the Sea Will Tell appeared on TV. Mac Graham (James Brolin) plays chess with Buck (Hart Bochner). Checkmate was said, but there was no checkmate at the end of the game.
On August 20, 1995, Amanda and the Alien appeared on TV. The chess set in the San Francisco cafe had the kings and queens on the wrong squares.
In 1999, The West Wing first appeared on TV. The chessboard in Babish's office is set up wrong.
On march 12, 2005, Malcolm in the Middle had a chess scene where Malcolm set up the white pieces on the board, but put the king and queen on the wrong squares.
On July 25, 2008, Monk had an episode called Mr. Monk and the Genius. A girl plays chess in the park, has the black pieces, and makes the first move 1.f5. The Grandmaster she is playing says this is the Bird's Opening. It would be if White had played the first move and played 1.f4.
In 2008, The Mentalist had a chess scene where checkmate was announced by a queen move, but the queen could have been taken and no checkmate.
In the Endeavor TV series, there was a chess scene where it was announced that the pawn was moved to queen four (d4), but the green computer screen showed the pawn went to king four (e4).
Chess Mistakes in the Advertising Atwater Kent radio had a 1926 print ad of a radio next to a chess set. The radio was called the Atwater Kent Radio Music Dance Chess Model. It looks like the chess board was set up wrong (black square to the right instead of a white square).
Kentucky Tavern whiskey had a 1946 ad that showed a chess set with two glasses of whiskey and a book called Chess and Double Check. The board is set up wrong.
Nabob Coffee had a 1946 print ad of two men playing chess while a lady, holding a coffee cup, watches. The tag line is, "Next Move...Nabob Coffee." The board is set up wrong.
In 1960, Benedicitine Liqueur had a print ad of a lady and man playing chess. The board is set up wrong.
In 1968, Sears had a print ad for a Perma-Press blouse. It shows a lady reclining while holding a chess piece over a chess board. The board is set up wrong.
In December 1968, Popular Science advertised a chessboard and chess set you could make. The chessboard was set up wrong.
In 1977, Stanley Blacker Univision, make of eyeglass frames, had a print ad of 5 men wearing glasses in front of a chess set. The chess set is set up wrong.
Silpada Jewelry had a 2008 print ad of a sexy blonde lady playing chess. The tag line is, "Pretty Smart." The chess board is set up wrong.
In 2010, Geico insurance company used a soccer announcer (Andres Cantor) to call the moves in a chess game for one of Geico's commercials. The chess position itself is illegal, with two white bishops of the same color and some other mistakes.
Chess Mistakes in Comics
In the February 1952 issue of The Hand of Fate #9, there is a story called "Strange Rendezvous at 17 Rue Noir." Chess champion Guido Nicola is a vain and arrogant man, but a genius at chess and the world chess champion. He is challenged by a mysterious masked opponent at 17 Rue Noir to a game of life and death involving a living game of chess with human chess figures killing each other (they have real weapons) as the game unravels. The opponent is the late chess champion Jan Kovacs, who returns from the dead to teach Nicola a lesson. Kovacs checkmates Nicola and kills his king. Now Nicola must forfeit his life. Fate (a character) steps in, sends Kovacs (a ghost) back to the afterlife underworld. Fate also claims Nicola's life as well - for his vanity (and because he has "seen what no mortal can live to repeat"). Nicola dies of a heart attack in his study. In one of the comic frames, the board is set up wrong (black square on the right instead of a light colored square).
In 1954, The World of Archie, #208, was published. The cover shows Veronica and Archie playing chess. Veronica says "Betty, did you design this chess set?" Betty says "How did you guess?" The board is set up wrong.
In September 1958, Mad Magazine No. 41, published by EC, featured a story called "The Chess Game," on page 23, written by Don Martin (1931-2000). Fatal results can come from cheating at chess. As one of the players is distracted, the other player cheats and moves a piece. The cheated opponent looks back to his board, notices the other guy cheated, then pulled out a gun and shot him. The same issue on page 20 had a whiskey ad of snobs playing chess vs. slobs bowling. The chessboard is set up wrong.
In November 1960, Justice League of America No. 1, by DC Comics, shows The Flash playing chess with an evil villain called Despero, with chess pieces in the shape of the Justice League (Aquaman, Batman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash). The board is set up wrong (the dark square is to the right instead of the light square).
In February 1962, Sick #11 was published by Crestwood Publications. The cover shows a monkey beating a human. The human has a lone white king and the monkey has 11 pieces on the board. The chessboard is set up wrong.
In April 1963, Mad Magazine # 78, pages 36-39, had an article in the "One False Move Department" on modern chess showing Mad's Modern Chess Set. The pieces included a fallout shelter, air raid siren, anti-missile missile, a-bomb, h-bomb, and ICBM missile. The rules of chess were modified and the look of chess pieces reflects the modern issues. The chessboard was set up wrong.
In May 1967, Pep Comics #205 was published by Archie Series Comics. The cover shows two students playing chess. The board is set up wrong.
Command Men's Hair Spray had a 1969 print ad of a man playing chess while being watched by a woman. The tag line was, "When the name of the game is great grooming the name of the line is command." The chess board is set up wrong.
In May 1973, Laugh Comics No. 266, published by Close-Up and distributed by Fawcett, features Archie playing chess on stage with a demo board in the background. The board is set up wrong (black to the left), but the demo board is correct. Archie is getting a phone number from one of the girls in the audience and Veronica is saying, "I don't dig that last move of Archie's!"
In December 1979, Archie's Joke Book No. 263, by Archie Comics Group, the cover shows Archie losing chess to cousin Leroy. The board is set up wrong.
In April 1992, Justice League of America #61 was published by DC. On the cover, two of the characters are playing chess with pieces in the shape of the JLA characters. The board is set up wrong.
In August 1998, Superman, Vol. 2, No. 137, was published by DC Comics. The cover has superman playing chess with the Malevolent Muto. The cover was penciled by Paul Ryan and inked by Joe Rubinstein. The chessboard is set up wrong.
In October 1999, Invisibles #7 was published by Vertigo Comics. The grim reaper plays chess with a lady. The chessboard is wrong. It is 7x7 instead of 8x8. The cover was repeated in the Invisibles HC Deluxe Edition #4-1ST, July, 2015.
In June 2001, Heroes Convention Volume 1, #20, was published by the Heroes' Aren't Hard to Find, Inc. The cover shows Thor playing chess with a villain. The chess pieces are other action heroes. The villain says, "I've got this game rigged so that every time Thor makes a move, a member of the Heroes League disappears from the face of the earth." The yellow and black chessboard is set up wrong.
In May 2012, FF #16 was published by Marvel. The cover shows a boy and a girl playing chess as pawns are thrown in the air. The board is set up wrong (black square to the right instead of white square).
Chess Mistakes in Photographs
There is a photograph of Richard Branson studying a chess position at a chessboard. The board is set up wrong.
There is a photograph of Frank Sinatra playing the late Walter Browne, 6-time U.S. chess champion. The board is set up wrong.
There is a photograph of Marlon Brando playing chess. The chessboard is set up wrong.
There is a photograph of Usain Bolt playing chess. The chessboard is set up wrong and his king is not on the chessboard.
There is a photograph of professional basketball player Matt Bonner playing chess. The board is set up wrong.
There is a photograph of Senator Ted Cruz's $800 chess set and board. His kings and queens are on the wrong squares.
Chess Mistakes in Art
In 1550, Giulo Campi (1500-1572) painted "Partita a scacchi." It shows a pretty lady playing chess with an armed and helmeted knight. The painting, oil on canvas, is now in the Museo Civico arte Moderna in Turin, Italy. (The chess board is set up wrong with the light-squared corner square on the left instead of right).
Around 1600, Le Caravage (1571-1610), painted "Chess Players." It shows two players playing chess while a third person watches. (The chess board is set up wrong with the light-squared corner square on the left instead of right).
In 1755, Johann Baptist Jakob Raunacher (1705-1757), painted "Schachpartie" (The Chess Game). (The chess board is set up wrong with the light-squared corner square on the left instead of right).
In 1864, Charles Meer Webb (1830-1895) painted "checkmate." Two men are playing chess in a domestic interior. He also painted Die Schachpartie. The board is set up wrong.
In 1875, William Quller Orchardson (1832-1910) painted "Mrs. Charlex Moston." She is sitting at a chess table. The board is set up wrong. It is part of the Tate collection.
In 1902, Carl Probst (1854-1924) painted "The Chess Match" depicting a boy and a girl playing chess. The board is set up wrong.
In 1922, Otto Moeller or Maler (1883-1964) made a wood-cut called "Joueurs d'echecs" (Games of Chess). The board is set up wrong.
In 1925, Jean-Paul Kayser (1869-1942) painted "Jouant aux echecs" depicting a man and a woman playing chess. The board is set up wrong.
In 1936, Nicolai Cikovsky (1894-1987) painted "Chess," depicting two men playing chess, and another man watching. The chess board was set up wrong (black square was to the right).
In 1964, Akira Tanaka (1918-1982) painted "The Game of Chess." The chess board is wrong with 9 files instead of 8. He was a Japanese artist working in Paris.
In 1986, Riccardo Tommasi Ferroni (1934-2000) of Italy painted "Una partita a scacchi" (A Game of Chess). It depicts two artists playing chess as another artist watches. The board is set up wrong.
Also see Cara Giaimo's excellent article Why Chess Fans Hate the Movies. at Atlas Obscura.
Please report broken or duplicate links to the Webmaster.
Copyright 2016 by William D. Wall
All Rights Reserved