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These Historical Photos Of Chess Will Make You Want To Play

If you've been considering getting into chess à la The Queen's Gambit, let us give you an extra push.

Posted on December 5, 2020, at 11:00 a.m. ET

Chess has always held a sort of magic for me. The people who play it are smart, and the game draws true obsessives to it in a way that just makes me want to understand what higher plane they're reaching. Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, based on a novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, took us by storm this fall. I am not the only person who felt drawn to the game, as I learned scrolling through Twitter. Over the course of seven episodes, we went from not knowing much about it to searching through eBay for the fastest shipping estimates for a Federation chess set from Belarus. Here are 22 photos of people from all walks of life enjoying the game. Reminder: If you haven't asked for that chess set for Christmas, it's not too late.

Three women in a backstage green room, wearing robes, underwear, and pearls, sit around a chessboard
Gordon Parks / The Life Picture Collection via Getty Images

Three women play chess backstage at the Latin Quarter nightclub in New York, 1958.

Two men seated in the snow play chess as one man, standing and wearing an ushanka, watches them play
Frank Barratt / Getty Images

Two players practice outdoors in the snow in Hastings, England, 1970.

Two Black men in overcoats and hats play chess on three stacked-up milk crates behind a maroon minivan
Wendy Maeda / Getty Images

Joseph Soares (left) and Mike Bentley (right) brave the cold to play a game of chess in the Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.

A young girl in a checkered dress plays chess in front of trophies on a shelf
William Vanderson / Getty Images

Elaine Saunders, a 10-year-old chess champion, practices in west London's St Margarets suburb for an upcoming chess championship for girls, 1936.

A man in a polo shirt plays large-scale chess with a man in pink bathing shorts
Bill Eppridge / The Life Picture Collection

People play a game of chess in the Soviet Union, circa 1967.

A young woman and an old man in a hospital bed playing chess.
Dale Brazao / Getty Images

Joe Smolij (right), in a hospital bed, plays chess with Joy Scott (left) in Toronto.

A redheaded girl stares intently at a chessboard while a crowd watches behind her
Rick Maiman / Getty Images

Judith Polgar, the world's youngest chess grand master, during a "chessathon" against the chess team of Harlem, 1992.

Two men in scuba suits play chess underwater as a big fish swims over their heads
Fairfax Media Archives / Getty Images

Dave Gannicott and Ian Gordon play chess underwater for a charity fundraiser in Sydney, 1983.

A girl in a wheelchair plays chess with a young boy
Al Moldvay / Getty Images

Susan Ring, an eighth-grader, thinks about her next move in this game at the Boettcher School in Denver, 1957.

A woman dressed as a chess queen, with a crown and checkerboard dress, has her arms outstretched, standing on a giant chessboard and surrounded by other people dressed as pieces
Getty Images

A living chess game in Moscow, 1965.

A hand depresses a chess clock on a table between two chessboards in the sunlight.
Chris Hondros / Getty Images

People play speed chess for money in New York City's One Liberty Plaza, 2003.

Two men in uniforms and turbans playing chess indoors
Harry Todd / Getty Images

Two Indian chess players, 1929.

An older woman and an older man play chess outside on a sunny day
Ed Clark / Getty Images

Two older people play chess outdoors, 1952.

Boys in red-and-white uniforms huddle around a green-and-white chessboard
Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

Children participate in a chess tournament in Matanzas, Cuba, Nov. 18, 1999.

Five women and a toddler, all in aprons and old-fashioned clothing, huddle around a chessboard on a stoop
Getty Images

People in a French village play chess.

Three child soldiers play chess on a blue tarp outside
Marc Charuel / Getty Images

Child soldiers of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front play chess near the village of Nong Chan, Thailand, 1985.

A group of people sitting on stairs at a park surround two men kneeling and playing chess
Weegee / Getty Images

Two men concentrating on a game of chess are surrounded by office workers sitting on steps in Washington Square Park in New York City, circa 1942.

Four men hang out in a backstage green room; two of them in the foreground play chess
Scott Gries / Getty Images

Masta Killa of the Wu-Tang Clan (right) plays chess backstage at MTV studios, 2000.

An old photograph of two women sitting across a table and playing chess with a man
Royal Photographic Society / Getty Images

A man plays chess against two women in this albumen-print photograph, May 14, 1894.

Two women with head coverings playing chess
Kaveh Kazemi / Getty Images

Two young women in hijabs play chess in north Tehran, June 1995. Chess was banned as "un-Islamic" by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini from the end of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 until the late 1980s.

A man and woman play chess in a hotel lobby
Klaus Morgenstern / Getty Images

Two people play chess in the Hotel Oasis in Varadero, Cuba, 1972.

Two men sitting in the water in beach chairs play chess on a board that floats on an inner tube
Pictorial Parade / Getty Images

Two men play a game of chess in the ocean in Mexico, circa 1950s.


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