Does chess reflect war? Warfare in a board game

Ever since I was introduced to chess there is one relation to the game that I have always been taught, that it reflects the circumstance of medieval warfare. Now that I have established a good connection with the game, I think this is an interesting question to answer, that is how much does chess relate to military warfare?

How does this peaceful game stand up to a bloody word (war) truly? does chess reflect war?

Some names of pieces in chess reflect positions in medieval society that could be associated with medieval war, however war is much more bloody, something where things aren’t fair unlike with chess. Furthermore, there are no winners in any war unlike with a simple chess game.

I think a lot of chess enthusiasts exaggerate the imagery between chess and war, I think the two are something that can never be compared truly. This is contrary to what other websites are talking about (regarding this topic), I think for the moment I am the only one who has this position.

But first let’s talk about the similarities:

What similarities does chess have with war?

The king in chess can be a symbolism of a real-life king who sits back behind the lines while letting their army fight the war. The soldiers can also be promoted into a recognized veteran if they did enough bravery in the war, like with the pawn promotion mechanic in chess.

Chess has a similar motif that can be seen in most wars where the king (or the president in modern times), sits back in a safe place while their army does the battles. Even going so far as having their own personal guards with only the sole purpose of protecting the king.

It is similar to the castling mechanic where in one move, the king can hide into the corner in front of his pawns in order to give commands in the front line. 

The king in real life (or the president) also does not specialize in fighting unless they are forced to do so being the only ones left in the kingdom (endgame in chess). 

Similarly, the game will end if the leader of a country (king) has been killed by the opponent’s army since the said side would lose the motivation for continuing the war.

The leaders of the country (in real life) are usually the one who starts the war, whenever the perpetrator has been killed (leaders) it would eliminate any motivation to continue further damage. In the sense of portraying the role of leadership in the war and how it works, I think chess in this regard accurately represents reality.

Soldiers of war are promoted into recognized veterans

In chess, pawns can be promoted into a queen (one of the strongest pieces in the game, though not most valuable) just as how a regular soldier can get a high ranking position if they achieved enough in the war (or even become a hero).

Usually, it is also when the soldier has reached far into the enemy camp and does something courageous that other people will find very daunting to accomplish (just like how the pawn has to reach the other side of the board to promote).

However there is a distinction that honorary veterans don’t necessarily have to infiltrate the enemy camp to be recognized, as long as they have played an important role in the war they will still be awarded.

It is unlike in chess where even when a pawn has captured an important piece (rook for example) they still wouldn’t be converted into any other piece.

And finally, regular soldiers can only be converted (most of the time) into a higher ranking official after the war, a pawn in chess will be promoted during the war (game) and would be able to use its promoted position.

There is a symbol of status in chess

In chess different units will have different statuses such as in a war, some will be pawns (regular soldiers) and some would be commanders (rooks) that will do different purposes on the battlefield.

Some will be handling a more powerful and important position of strategically allocating units (commanders) that is a more important role than what a regular soldier does (since they will manage more people).

The soldier (in a war) is also a dispensable unit of the full military arsenal, there are more important positions that are valuable and have to be protected first (a commanding officer for example).

The status is also a hierarchy (where it gets higher and higher until the highest point) instead of having multiple equally powerful individuals just like in chess (which is a hierarchy).

What makes war and chess different?

Now this is the interesting part, which shows how a war is far different from a quiet game such as chess.

The far that chess reflects war are mostly symbolisms, there are many elements of a war that are absent from chess such as the lack of winning equality for both sides, the luck factor, and the chaotic gruesome events of war.

If you can notice from all the examples that I have given above, there will be a certain mechanic in chess (not even exactly) that can be said to reflect war. 

However, the extent to which chess resembles war is really about the symbolism for the most part, as well as the name of the pieces and the condition for achieving a checkmate.

I will go through all the reasons why that is the case, and why I think that chess does not reflect modern warfare or even a medieval one at that.

War is not equal unlike with chess

In chess it is commonly known that white has a slight advantage over black, however, this advantage is so small that it can not only be brought out by professionals. For beginners, black will have about the same chances of winning as white does.

A real war is far different, both sides will not have an equal army (some will have more soldiers than others), there are definitely no rules and everything is open for deceit and betrayal, and there is no winner unlike in chess (everyone loses in the war).

The situation in chess is way different from a war between multiple countries, some will have more manpower, technology, and resources, it is rare that both sides will have equal chances of winning (or only one side has a slight advantage), the difference is usually overwhelming.

In war there are no rules that both sides have to follow agreeing, it is open for tricks or ethically reprehensible actions that even the human mind cannot fathom (visually).

And the greatest distinction of all is that there’s no side who actually wins at the end of a war, there are only sides that lose and those that didn’t (but not necessarily winning either). 

In chess, yes, there are certain circumstances where one side would have given all their pieces in order to defeat the other side, but there is no life beyond the game that has to continue. In a real war, the citizens of a country still have to live on and can feel the losses much severely.

Chess has no luck involved unlike a real war

In chess it is heavily debated if luck is an important factor during play, I mean it cannot be denied that there are certain situations that seem lucky (for example, not expecting a continuation that suddenly blossoms from an attack) which some consider as lucky, but not really.

If you look at an average decent game, the luck factor is so low that statistically it can be said that there is no luck at all, everything is calculated and thought out to some extent even if both players are somewhat below average. 

In war though there is a certain element of luck involved, such as being in a place where firearms can be easily produced, being in a cold territory that is harder to invade, or being ahead in research, it is unlike chess where everything is planned.

In chess it can feel really amazing since the player knows that the victory is achieved through their own abilities, in a war though, sometimes even bigger country losses due to unprecedented accidents.

Chess is a peaceful game, war is pure destruction

I would not go too far to say that it is disgusting that some people think that chess reflects war, but it is pretty inaccurate. Chess is a peaceful game played on a board where nothing gruesome is happening, it is a simple fun competition between two players.

War on the other hand is extremely chaotic, there are a lot of sounds from gunshots, grenades, and people dying. It is a far more gruesome reality than sitting with a chessboard and playing some board game.

War is basically the time where all crimes that are forbidden for humanity becomes permissible since no one is able to enforce the law, chess is a very rule-centric game that follows some mechanism. It may have names and some symbols, but it doesn’t symbolize the cruel reality of war.

If on every move in chess there is blood spilled (for capturing every piece) then it may come close, but the word war is being underestimated these days, it is something that humanity has to totally avoid in the future.

Does a war veteran automatically become good in chess and vice versa?

This is the question that maybe some of you are thinking, that if chess reflects war then war veterans would find it easier to play chess? or do they?

War veterans would not be able to transition their strategic skill in the war during a chess game, chess reflects war mostly on symbolisms, and there is no strategic relation to war tactics and chess tactics.

The strategy involved in chess is far different from any type of warfare in history, a war veteran would not suddenly play like a grandmaster in chess just because they are good on the battlefield (and vice-versa).

Maybe some would argue that the initial position of the pieces is a medieval type of formation to protect all sides of a unit, but I do believe that other board games have similar initial positions without having association with war.

Plus any advantages that could be derived from such a formation in real life would not be applicable to chess since there are only limited spaces on the board, there are no sides to make a surprise attack. 

The units in real life have guns that can fire in any direction, the pieces in chess can only capture in limited spaces, it is different. You would actually realize this once you started studying chess, it is more theoretical (non-transitional knowledge) than having relation to any war strategy.

The capture mechanic of the pieces are not based on war

Some think that the limited capture range of the pieces is to follow some agenda of a medieval military position, this is not true.  

The capture mechanic and movement of the pieces do not come from any military position, it has nothing to do with warfare at all and is created to accommodate a board game. 

There might be some military formation where some units would only prioritize certain directions, but chess is so focused that other units could not switch directions when someone dies (captured), it is different in real life.

In any military position, there should be a certain strategy when some components of the formation are missing, this is different from chess where it goes all over the place even when someone is missing (in the formation).

There are names in chess that cannot be seen in a war

I don’t think I am the only one who thought of this, but the knight and maybe the pawns (recruits) are the only pieces that are really involved in a war. The king and queen will be somewhat involved but not to the degree that they are associated with it (the king and queen are somewhat involved indirectly with everything in monarchy).

Some names of the pieces don’t even have anything to do with war, two of which are the rook and the bishop, the bishop, of course, is synonymous with a priest, but the rook has no meaning that is even tangentially related to society.

I think the pieces are named after those who are respected in medieval society rather than those who are involved in a war (the knights for example are an honorary position in medieval society).

I mean the bishop (priest) is not in any way related to war unless the actual war is based on religion, but still, what most people mention as war is not necessarily based on religion since it can be on anything.

Do you now know if chess is based on war?

This is really something that I’ve heard since I was just beginning, and since there is a knight in chess it may be onto something. But later down the road I have figured that there is really nothing, some aspects of chess can be symbolism but that is it.

It’s not really something that you would say to reflect war, it only symbolizes some pieces and names on it. I wouldn’t blame you though if you think that it is the case since I’ve thought about it too, it is perfectly normal when there is not a lot of information you have gone through yet.

But at least you read this article now right? That is the goal of this website, to educate readers, sleep well and play chess.

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