Is chess illegal in some countries? (Fact checked)

Chess is not illegal in any country in the world today, however, it has been highly discouraged by the Grand Mufti of saudi arabia for example, and in russian antarctic stations due to its negative influence.

There are a lot of good things in chess, it is entertaining, educational, and it teaches values that could be used outside of the game. However, it has bad sides too that can be disliked by other people.

Some countries in the past have even made it illegal, what about in modern times? Is chess illegal in some countries?

This is an interesting topic to me since I know that chess has downsides, but should not be enough to make it illegal (in my opinion). Some countries think otherwise and it is pretty important to hear what they have to say. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Which countries have recently banned chess?

As for modern times, there isn’t really any country that impedes the proliferation of this board game, the primary exception being russia and saudi arabia for good reasons.

Banning chess in russian antarctic stations

Today, the officials in Russia do not really allow the practice of allowing personnel in antarctic stations to play chess. It used to be not only allowed, but a primary pastime for people at the stations.

The ban against playing chess is due to an incident in 1959 (The Vostok Station) where two scientists were involved in a violent scenario due to a misunderstanding in their chess game.

The dispute got so serious that one of the people involved allegedly murdered their offender or at least critically injured them in the process. 

The complete story of the incident is still shrouded in mystery, but one thing is for certain. After the incident the russian officials put a permanent ban on their stations to prevent similar scenarios in the future.

In a harsh environment such as the Antarctic where the people involved are far from their families, depression and anxiety are likely to be present. 

Anything that can induce anger such as chess should be eliminated from the environment to prevent violence among personnel. It is still practiced today as a protocol and is unlikely to be lifted.

Russia as a country do not ban chess

It is important to know that Russia in their home country does not have any negative sentiment about the game, in fact, it is the opposite since it is so popular in the said country.

Multiple world champions have come from russia and many aspiring young people are looking to pursue it professionally. Russians as a whole are probably one of the strongest chess communities in the entire world.

Grand mufti proposing to ban chess in saudi arabia

This is literally the biggest information that I have found while searching around the net, which is the proposition of fatwa by saudi arabia’s grand mufti against playing chess.

Fatwa is basically a non-binding ruling that is interpreted from the islamic law exclusively done by a qualified authority, this can be a step for such an opinion to become a formal law.

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti announced a fatwa forbidding chess in islam as it was included under gambling and reportedly claimed to be “a waste of time and money and a cause for hatred and enmity between players”.

The authority claimed that there are negative implications associated with the game (within their society) and there should be a rule banning any participation from it.

The basis for banning chess has to do with wasting time and hatred but primarily revolves around the quality of gambling. Gambling is forbidden in islam and any game that has the characteristics of gambling is forbidden in saudi arabia.

Dice games and backgammon are forbidden in saudi arabia

Dice games are generally forbidden in islam as it is a game of chance (gambling is forbidden in their doctrine) as well as some other famous activities such as backgammon and monopoly.

Backgammon is basically just another board game except there is the element of chance, since the game makes main use of dice. Chess being considered in the banning row since it allegedly contains elements of luck.

Apart from this, a lot of regular players use the game as a medium for gambling, something that is directly forbidden in islam. The idea is that eliminating chess altogether will eliminate gambling that is involved in chess.

You see, chess had a history of gambling. It is treated as a royal game in other countries but can also be seen in the street played by commoners. 

There wasn’t much coverage as to how this ended so I did a little digging . . .

The fatwa for banning chess is non-binding

It is important to know that the fatwa of Grand Mufti is not an absolute expression of the law, the opinion of such a figure is deeply respected but has to indulge in several considerations.

Grand Mufti is a top religious adviser that does hold judicial powers, however, it is in the form of an opinion (fatwa) that doesn’t have any legal binding unless approved by someone more qualified.

I have seen some testaments that there was indeed a time where chess was banned in saudi arabia, however that is a long time ago and it has been lifted since.

Lifting of the chess ban in saudi arabia

It is dubious how the implementation of the so-called ban in chess (on saudi arabia) has been lifted, but we do know that chess is still allowed in Saudi arabia and other islamic countries today.

There are actual people who live in the said country that testifies the proliferation of chess in current times, a lot of vendors are even selling chess sets in the open.

With the said lifting, only the russian Antarctic station remains as the place where people are legally punished for participating in chess. 

Though gambling with chess is still punishable in most islamic countries, playing for entertainment and competitive purposes are allowed.

Punishment in saudi arabia for chess participation

The punishment for participating in any chess-related activities during the banning of chess saudi arabia is a bit of mystery, not everything has been recorded with only a few accounts. There is good news though.

During the conception of the so-called “ban in saudi arabia” there has been no reported instance where someone goes to jail for playing chess, the severest of penalty was the chess set being confiscated and destroyed (allegedly).

The idea of sending someone to jail with criminal offenders that have done the most ethically unacceptable things just for playing a chess game is mind-blowing. Thankfully there have been no reports of it.

It doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen (it might have been hidden) but it is likely there is a bit of tolerance with the implementation. 

Foreigners who traveled in saudi arabia at the time stated that their chess sets had been confiscated during their time at airports. No real serious punishment has circulated online as it being a major offense at least.

The reason probably is because other islamic countries aside from saudi arabia do not share the same sentiment.

Islamic countries that doesn’t ban chess

This is the biggest contra part of the whole saudi arabia fatwa, which is that other countries who share their doctrine do not have the same opinion about the game.

There are other muslim countries apart from saudi arabia that not only legalizes the game but actually promotes it, which is a reflection of how muslims are likely to treat the game in the future.

Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia are some of the famous examples that would have banned chess for the same reason but didn’t. This means that the grounding for the ban is quite dubious and is open for interpretation.

The opposite is actually true, such countries even promote participation in the game as can be seen from their top players.

There are a lot of muslim chess players

There is a lot of inspiring top muslim chess players who would have been influenced if this is the case, the opposite is what we see however.

Even today there are a lot of present chess masters who are verified muslims. This notion that chess is forbidden in islam is not taken as seriously by the majority of muslims (some even pursued it professionally).

It is more of an opinion, a somewhat authoritative interpretation of the law that islamic countries have to follow. The fact that a lot of muslim wants to take chess as a serious pursuit tells a lot about the general insight on this.

The idea that chess promotes gambling and has elements of chances is not supported by many people of the same faith since they don’t take the interpretation as seriously.

Chess is not banned in any country right now

Chess is not banned in any country at the present moment (station in antarctic is not a country), there has been a lot of opinions discouraging participation from the game but it is not officially illegal in any country.

This means that in any country right now you can play chess without having any worry of breaking official laws. You will face no punishment whatsoever other than criticisms from those who discourage it.

These criticisms might eventually translate into chess eventually being banned if it persists, but it is not the case at the moment. 

I think primarily chess will be legal due to an ideology that dominates modern societies, freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech ensures that chess will not be banned

Throughout history several leaders have officially banned chess, however a lot of people have accepted the game partly due to freedom of speech flourishing more than ever in society.

People can now argue and criticize officials who are at the top of society directly making these laws. The power of the people is becoming stronger and stronger by generation through the freedom of speech.

Public pressure is definitely a factor for the implementation of laws, especially those that have subjective bases. I think chess will remain free for decades to come due to this reason.

Do you now know if chess is illegal in some countries?

It’s really sad seeing a wonderful game become a target of discussion for banning, however I do see their point. Everything that is misused can have the power to ruin lives and violate ethics.

Chess from my observation can be a source of gambling addiction that comes from the rush of playing the game. However I do believe that most play it for entertainment and competitive purposes.

If they are going to ban chess, then I at least wish that they have a good reason for it. That is all for now, sleep well and play chess.