Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (2023)


Protests over racism have rekindled a discussion about whether chess promotes white privilege with its rule that the first move always goes to the player with the white pieces.

The Conversation

Published Jul 20, 2021

Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (1)

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(Video) Why does white go first in chess?

This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

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This article about 'Why Does White Always Go First in Chess?' is republished here with permission from The Conversation. This content is shared here because the topic may interest Snopes readers; it does not, however, represent the work of Snopes fact-checkers or editors.

Who decided that white should always go first?

Johann Löwenthal, a British master, put forth one of the first proposals of record to give white the obligatory first move. At the First American Chess Congress, held in New York in 1857, Löwenthal sent two letters to the secretary of the New York Chess Club, Frederick Perrin.

On page 84 of the congress’s proceedings, it refers to one of the letters by citing “the advisableness of always giving the first move, in published games, to the player of the white pieces…” This rule was not immediately adopted, and tournament organizers maintained flexibility on the first move. In the Fifth American Chess Congress in 1880, it was written on page 164 of the Code of Chess Laws, “The right of first move must be determined by lot. The player must always play with the white men.”

Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (2)

Wilheim Steinitz, the first world champion, repeated this idea in his 1889 book, “The Modern Chess Instructor,” where he wrote on page XII: “The players draw by lot for move and choice of color. In all international and public Chess matches and tournaments, however, it is the rule for the first player to have the white men.”

Thus, there was a growing consensus that white should move first.

Was that decision rooted in racism?

I am not aware of any direct evidence. However, chess players were not only part of the intelligentsia, but also men of their times. On page X in the proceedings of the Sixth American Chess Congress in 1889, Steinitz poetically extolled the virtues of chess as being among the “intellectual pastimes of civilized nations.” This is a time when Europeans generally did not regard Africa as a place of civilization. For instance, five years earlier at the Berlin Conference of 1884, Europeans had begun to execute their colonial plan and “aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilization.”

Further, in the 19th century, there was an awful period of satirizing and dehumanizing Blacks through darkened minstrel caricatures. There existed the perception that white was associated with that which was positive, and black was associated with that which was negative. Recent social science research shows that this perception still holds.

Does the rule give white an advantage?

It is my view that chess players, including grandmasters, overstate white’s first-move advantage.

Russian grandmaster Evgeny Sveshnikov stated back in 1994 that a player should win with white and be content to draw with black.

(Video) White goes first, so is chess racist?

Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (3)

As early as 1939, American master Weaver Adams claimed white is winning after the very first move, at least when that first move was the pawn to the e4 square – that is, the square three spaces in front of white’s king. But he ended up losing a match to I.A. Horowitz, who wanted to prove a point by taking black in every game.

Since A.D. 1475, white’s overall winning percentage has been approximately 55% in nearly 1 million games. This includes percentage of total wins plus half the percentage of drawn games. Is this result because of the first move itself? Steinitz seemed to suggest otherwise when he stated on page XXXII in his classic book, “Modern Chess Instructor,” “by best play on both sides, a draw ought to be the legitimate result.”

How would things change if black moved first?

Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (4)

In 2019, Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri – who as of July were the number 1 and number 10 players in the world, respectively – promoted a #MoveforEquality campaign as a way of acknowledging social inequalities. In their game, black moved first and the line was, “We broke a rule in chess today, to change minds tomorrow.” It was billed as an anti-racist statement, but some took it as a suggestion to change the rules of chess to black having the first move.

If black moved first, it would take some getting used to for players who are accustomed to white going first. This would be especially true for the opening moves, since the white and black chess armies are positioned slightly differently. For instance, as white, the queen is on the left-hand side. As black, the queen is on the right-hand side.

As it exists now, the lighter color always moves first. Some see this as analogous to racial privileges in society. The late Frances Cress-Welsing, a psychiatrist, made a chess analogy in her “Cress Theory of Color Confrontation,” noting that the psychology of white having the first move was as the natural aggressor against black forces.

Socially speaking, an ideal solution would be to give both colors a 50% chance to move first. That is the way it was in shatranj, a precursor to modern-day chess. Instead of picking which player gets the favorable color, something like a coin toss would determine which color gets to move first. Of course, this would be “equal opportunity” but result in a totally different approach to playing chess.

What are the psychological effects of white going first?

Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (5)

There are several psychological factors at play. A beginner of chess learns the power of “white first” very quickly. They will see that an opponent will prefer the white pieces if given a choice. They feel a sense of empowerment even when they are playing a stronger opponent. For this reason, players who play white may be more motivated to win. Conversely, we have been conditioned to believe that black should be content with a draw.

This relegation of black to an inferior status has been reinforced in many ways. The early chess books focused on how to exploit the white advantage over black. It was an attempt to show the power of the first-move privilege.

When one looks at chess books, the diagrams are generally positioned to be from the white army’s perspective. This is even true for books focusing on strategic systems for black. However, the seminal “Black is OK” series by Hungarian grandmaster András Adorján feature diagrams from the black perspective and provides a theoretical framework for why black has adequate resources.

In many of the chess puzzles, it was common to see each problem presented as white who has the winning sequence. In fact, Theophilus Thompson (1855-1881), the first Black player of note, had authored such a book of chess puzzles.

To a great extent, books are still published in this fashion. I believe that strategic literature for a black response will continue to increase, and the game will move closer to a 50-50 result in the “white first” format. There are a great many systems where black seeks to be the aggressor.

Chess is more of a conversation where both sides engage in a battle of ideas. Someone has to initiate the conversation, but throughout the flow of the game, a unique story unfolds. In my view, it is not about who starts first, but what the essence of the story ends up being.Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? (6)

(Video) Why does white always go first in chess | Fact ek

Daaim Shabazz, Associate Professor of International Business, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

By The Conversation

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Why Does White Always Go First in Chess? ›

In chess, why does white go first? - Quora. Traditionally, it was considered that Black was the lucky colour, so White was compensated by being given the right of making the first move. Today, this is an established convention in tournaments.

Why is white always first in chess? ›

Then at some point, it became customary and later a rule for white to move first. Supposedly black is the lucky color, and they said it would be too much of an advantage for a player to have the lucky color (black) AND move first!

Why is it easier to win with white in chess? ›

According to Rowson, White's first advantage is that, "The advantage of the first move has some similarities with the serve in tennis in that White can score an 'ace' (for instance with a powerful opening novelty ), he has more control over the pace and direction of the game, and he has a 'second serve' in that when ...

Why is white favored in chess? ›

White has a half-move advantage. It is true that before each black move, white is ahead one move. However, after each black move, equal moves have been made by each side.

Why is black a disadvantage in chess? ›

Why is Black a disadvantage in chess? The disadvantage that Black has in chess comes from the fact that White moves first. By moving first, White has tempo and can force Black to continually respond to its moves.

Is there sexism in chess? ›

Sexism in chess

Polgár, Shahade and Houska said that they have encountered sexism, including belittling comments about their abilities, opponents who refused to shake hands, and online trolls questioning if girls and women belong in chess. Some male players have commented negatively on women's performance in chess.

Will chess ever be solved? ›

No complete solution for chess in either of the two senses is known, nor is it expected that chess will be solved in the near future (if ever).

Which country invented chess? ›

The game of chess was born in India during the Gupta dynasty in the 6th century. Today, more than 1500 years later, it is played in 172 countries. Chess is one of India's contribution to world culture, with games played in the court of kings, to those played in villages, and now, is a professional sport.

Is white or black harder to play chess? ›

It is harder to play as black than it is to play as white. Even though material is even & the position is mirrored at the start of every game I would say white has about some place between 1/10 and 1/3 of a pawn advantage on most mainline openings.

Is chess a fair game? ›

Chess is usually considered a mostly "fair game" between White and Black because the opening position of pieces has mirror symmetry (between players).

What is the best piece to move first in chess? ›

The King's Pawn Opening

The most popular first move in chess. This move was described by Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest players to ever play the game, as “best by test”. Popular at all levels, everyone has played 1. e4 at some point in their chess career.

What is color weakness in chess? ›

Color weakness denotes a situation in which one of the players does not have sufficient control over the squares of a certain color. This is usually caused by the lack of a bishop of that color, coupled with the unfortunate pawn structure.

What are chess weaknesses? ›

Weaknesses are defined by moves that you make that allow your opponent to capatalize whether it be in the opening, middlegame or endgame. Weaknesses are made in various amount of way, you could have a backward pawn, isslated pawn, destroyed king castled position, and much more.

Why is chess flawed? ›

The greatest flaw in chess is that the player who moves first (White) has a notable advantage over the player with the black pieces. The solution to this in major tournaments is for each pair of players to play an even number of games against each other, alternating White and Black.

Has a woman ever beaten a man in chess? ›

Polgár is the only woman to have won a game against a reigning world number one player, and has defeated eleven current or former world champions in either rapid or classical chess: Magnus Carlsen, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Boris Spassky, Vasily Smyslov, Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand, ...

Why are there no great female chess players? ›

Further, there is currently only one woman in the top 100 chess players in the world. Because chess is often considered to be the ultimate intellectual activity, male dominance at chess is often cited as an example of innate male intellectual superiority.

What is the chess scandal? ›

In September, when the five-time world chess champion Magnus Carlsen accused a 19-year-old American player named Hans Niemann of cheating at a tournament in St. Louis, an uproar ensued.

Does chess prove IQ? ›

Chess has many cognitive benefits, including the ability to improve your: intelligence.

Is chess a time waste? ›

George Bernard Shaw declared that: 'Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever, when they are only wasting their time. ' H.G. Wells wrote: 'The passion for playing chess is one of the most unaccountable in the world.

Does chess predict IQ? ›

It is obvious that not all possible combinations of quantitative reasoning, fluid reasoning, etc., used in chess are also used in IQ tests; nevertheless, chess does incorporate a significant enough amount of IQ test factors to have a direct connection to IQ.

Who is the weakest chess piece? ›

1. The Pawn. The pawn is the lowest-value piece on the chessboard, and there are eight pawns per player.

Which religion made chess? ›

Chess has been called the “game of kings” and pious Christian legend attributed its invention to King Solomon himself. Hindu legend says that it came from a wise man who invented the game to instruct a tyrannical king named Shimram what his subjects were actually like, hence the variety of characters on the board.

Was chess made by Muslims? ›

The game originated in northern India in the 6th century AD and spread to Persia. When the Arabs conquered Persia, chess was taken up by the Muslim world and subsequently, through the Moorish conquest of Spain, spread to Southern Europe.

Is chess played perfectly a draw? ›

A perfect game of chess is always a draw. This is what I have discovered when matching Houdini against Houdini. If you match a very strong player against an equally strong player, the result will likely be a draw.

Can white force a win in chess? ›

While the most sophisticated chess-playing computer programs are now able to defeat the best human players, we still seem no closer to answering the question of whether chess is fair: When the players make optimal choices, neither White, who moves first, nor Black, who moves second, can force a win, rendering the ...

Can Kings check other kings? ›

A king cannot itself directly check the opposing king, since this would place the first king in check as well. A move of the king could expose the opposing king to a discovered check by another piece, however.

What is the riskiest move in chess? ›

The King's Gambit is probably one of the most dangerous one, but it is my favorite. The Queen's Gambit on the other side is probably the safest one.

What is the number 1 rule in chess? ›

Chess Rule #1: Touch move

We cannot emphasise how essential it is. Games are won and lost at a stroke with this rule. So here goes… the rule states that when a chess player intentionally touches one of his pieces, he or she must make a move with this piece (of course, if there is a legal move available).

What is the 3 times rule in chess? ›

This rule is in place to prevent games from going on forever with the same moves being made over and over! The threefold-repetition rule says that if a position arises three times in a game, either player can claim a draw during that position. On Chess.com, this draw happens automatically on the third repetition.

What is the boring chess opening? ›

Some players find the Berlin variation of the Ruy Lopez the most boring. Others tend to give that title "Most Boring Opening" to the London System or the Four Knights or whatever seems to be safe and sound. French players probably define the "French Exchange Variation" as boring.

What is the safest chess opening? ›

e4 and 1. d4. Typically, these openings are a great choice for Positional chess players, looking for a very balanced and safe-setup. The positions tend to get very solid, avoiding any immediate tactical breakthroughs, and is usually a lot safer choice for lower rated players.

What was Bobby Fischer's favorite chess opening? ›

As his first move, Bobby played c4 (English Opening, Queen's Gambit) instead of his favorite and strongest start: e4 (King Pawn). Bobby had been the strongest proponent of the e4 start his whole life but tied at 2.5 - 2.5 points, Bobby made a starting move he had played only two times in his life.

How does chess detect cheating? ›

Chess.com openly uses machine learning to predict which moves might be made by a human in any given position. In fact, it has different models of individual famous chess players, and you can actually play against them. Presumably, similar models are used to detect cheating.

Is chess a legal sport? ›

Since 1999 chess has been legally recognized and officially listed by the Association of the IOC Recognized International Sports Federations (ARISF) and the official website of the Olympics.

What is the smartest first move in chess? ›

In modern chess, the most popular opening move for white is to immediately bring the king's pawn forward two spaces. (This is notated as 1. e4.)

What is the easiest opening for white? ›

White can start by moving the Queen's pawn to "d4". This leads to openings such as the Queen's Gambit, King's Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian, Bogo-Indian, and Queen's Indian Defense, and Dutch Defense. White can start with some other move than "e4" or "d4". One example is the English Opening.

What is the rule of two weaknesses in chess? ›

When a player's position has only one weakness (an isolated pawn or a chronically weak square), a skillful defender can often take precautionary measures. But when one's postions has two weaknesses, the attacker can alternate between attacking the two weaknesses, or even try to create a third.

Why do I win more as black in chess? ›

Calm, Agressive, Positional players can take advantage of their opponent's weaknesses and tend to think logically and analytically about a move rather than automatically assuming it is useful. White usually has the initiative, and if he plays too agressively black can take advantage of those positional weaknesses.

Does chess increase grey matter? ›

A decrease in gray matter volume in the left- and right-caudate regions was found for chess masters compared to amateur controls. Additionally, a resting-state analysis with respect to connections from the caudate also found increased correlations to the posterior cingulate cortex and bilateral angular gyrus.

Does chess affect your brain? ›

Chess has been proven to increase your IQ, improve memory function, help develop higher levels of creativity, simultaneously exercise both sides of the brain, help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia, and increase a child's problem solving skills.

Are some people naturally bad at chess? ›

About 8.6% of the world's population or roughly 700 million people play chess. Majority of these players will never reach even 1000 rating level which is considered to be a beginner's strength.

What is the king's weakness in chess? ›

The King's weaknesses

The king is also a very slow-moving piece, which implies that he cannot quickly run away from danger. It also means that he needs a couple of moves to get close to the action (in the endgame stage).

Why are some smart people not good at chess? ›

There are many other factors that can impact a person's ability to excel at chess. For example, some people may not have the natural aptitude for the game, or they may not have been exposed to it at a young age when the brain is more receptive to learning new skills.

Why do people think chess is not a sport? ›

A sport is routinely known as an activity involving physical excursion and skill where an individual or a team competes against others. By this definition, chess does not fit the criteria of a sport, as it does not involve physical exertion.

Why are older chess players not as good? ›

Probably the biggest reason is simply physical endurance. Chess at the professional level is not simply a single game. It is a long, multi-day tournament. Concentrating at a board for long hours, multiple days in a row is physically demanding and exhausting.

Is it harder to play white or black in chess? ›

It is harder to play as black than it is to play as white. Even though material is even & the position is mirrored at the start of every game I would say white has about some place between 1/10 and 1/3 of a pawn advantage on most mainline openings.

Is the queen in chess always in white? ›

The white queen begins on d1 (a white square), the black queen on d8 (a black square). A good way to remember is that the queen always begins on her own color, unlike the king, who begins on the opposite-colored square.

Why am I better with black in chess? ›

Calm, Agressive, Positional players can take advantage of their opponent's weaknesses and tend to think logically and analytically about a move rather than automatically assuming it is useful. White usually has the initiative, and if he plays too agressively black can take advantage of those positional weaknesses.

What is the best first chess move for white? ›

White can start by moving his King's pawn 2 spaces, i.e. playing "e4". This move has many strengths - it immediately works on controlling the center, and it frees two pieces (the Queen and a Bishop).

Which color is more likely to win in chess? ›

Statistics on Chess

In tournament games that have a winner in chess (decisive games), White on average beats Black in 55 percent of them (Elo ratings of 2100 or above), but for elite players (Elo ratings of 2700 or above), the winning percentage is 64 percent.

Why can't king take queen checkmate? ›

the king can't get to the queen on his own, though, because the queen controls all the squares needed for the king to move right next to her. so the only way a king can take the opposing queen is if the queen moves right next to it.

Can a queen checkmate by herself? ›

The queen cannot checkmate an enemy king by herself. Instead, the king and queen must work together to finish the game. At this point, there's no need for White to move the queen again until he's ready to checkmate the Black king.

Can you have 2 queens in chess? ›

A piece may be promoted to regardless of whether it has been captured. Consequently, a player might have two or more queens, or three or more rooks, bishops, or knights. In theory, a player could have as many as nine queens, ten knights, ten bishops, or ten rooks, though these are highly improbable scenarios.

What chess opening has the highest win percentage? ›

e4. According to the database, the move 5. d4 has 59% win rate for White, which is higher than any other opening variation that White can achieve after 1.

Does chess increase IQ? ›

Chess has been proven to increase your IQ, improve memory function, help develop higher levels of creativity, simultaneously exercise both sides of the brain, help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia, and increase a child's problem solving skills.

What is the most effective chess opening? ›

In modern chess, the most popular opening move for white is to immediately bring the king's pawn forward two spaces. (This is notated as 1. e4.) The grandmaster Bobby Fischer called 1.


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