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Live Chess

When Chess Comes To Life

Did you know that not all chess games are played on a 21-inch by 21-inch board? One form, known as human, living, or live chess, is played outdoors on a giant board with people (and sometimes horses) moving or trotting about the game space.

Human chess is often played during Renaissance fairs, with the tokens dressed as medieval characters and the actor playing the queen or king giving direction on moves (it’s much like watching live theater!). The actors, typically trained in stage combat, perform a rehearsed “game” and engage in fight choreography to see which piece exits the board. The game is scripted, and typically different outcomes are incorporated throughout the event to keep the scenario and gameplay entertaining and unexpected for audience members.

One example of this event occurs every two years in the town of Marostica, near Venice, Italy. The human chess game played since 1923 commemorates a real dual between two knights, which took place in 1454, fighting over the hand of a beautiful, noble woman. The event is a professionally choreographed spectacle. Characters each have a backstory, all players wear beautifully designed period costumes, and the men carry authentic weaponry. Horses are also part of the pageantry, with the players representing knights riding majestic steeds. The live chess event features hundreds of participants in a medieval setting, surrounded by a live audience of thousands of spectators.

Live chess has also been integrated into popular books. Most famously, Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871) depicts Alice’s adventures in Wonderland via a chessboard. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the entire novel is set up like the game of chess, although the author admits he took some liberties with the game’s rules. The book’s opening begins with “White Pawn (Alice) to play, and win in eleven moves,” and the story evolves with offbeat characters (and moves) from red and white chessmen.

Also, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) features a game of human (or wizard) chess with the (young) characters Harry, Ron, and Hermione playing three of the pieces. The other pieces are intimidating stone creatures that come to life. Understanding the game’s rules, Ron takes on the knight’s position and directs his friends and the tokens where to move. In this version (spoiler alert!), defeated pieces are destroyed by the opposing pieces. How did the kids fair? Find out here with a scene from the 2001 fantasy adventure film!

Chess is a game universally enjoyed by players of all ages, and throughout the years, enthusiasts have enabled the game’s evolution for broader audiences to enjoy. From live events to appearances in popular culture, it is a worldwide tradition. Much like human chess, Jimmy Q Games’ Psycho Chess is a twist on standard rules, incorporating some chaos and luck into this centuries-old staple. Regardless of how you enjoy chess, we hope you’ll keep playing!


Keith Alan Spaar
I am an accomplished and experienced Creative Director proficient in both Art and Product Development. In my career I have effectively managing 25 artists, 2D, 3D CAD Designers, Illustrators, Costume Designers, and Project Managers. I have a proven ability to effectively oversee such departments and functions as graphic design, illustration, art production, art direction, product development, conceptual, product management, market research, advertising, line planning, blue sky development, patent development, and application. I hold a BFA in Illustration from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia PA.

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