Why are chess pieces white and black? (Explained!)

One of the most controversial color combinations has been standardized in international sets, white and black. Due to the racial history of the world, such choices are always in the dubious area and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Why is it that pieces of the Staunton chess set (international set) have been formed in the color of white and black? Also, we’re going to discuss how it is actually good to go for this color pair.

The white and black color of the pieces are chosen to represent an opposition, it makes the pieces easier to identify, other colors are too distracting, and it is two of the most common colors at the time, it is unclear if there are racist origins for the choice of the colors.

White and Black offer unique features that made the game interesting as it is today, I’m going to explore all the details.

Is the coloring of chess pieces being white and black a symbolism?

White and black are two of the most contrasting colors available, it is a good symbolism for an opposition or a duel between two different forces, the theme on which chess is based on.

The coloring could be a representation of two different races, an opposition, something on different sides. Good and evil, the light side and a dark side, white and black have a tone that signifies two different positions.

This is a good choice for delivering the feel of the game, that is this a duel between two different opponents. Other colors like red and blue, yellow and green, may have contrasting qualities but fails to uphold the same intensity.

By having a white and a black, the contrast is so clear that it is easy to differentiate an ally from an enemy. This opposition also complements the idea that this is a battle between two different nations, perhaps even a good side and a bad side.

The symbolism aspect is confirmed by the fact that white pieces are also called light-colored instead of only white-colored, while the black pieces are called dark colored instead of only black-colored. A black knight for example can also be called a dark knight, not just a black knight.

A white square also for example, can also be called a light square, not just a white square. This means that the coloring of white and black does not necessarily pertain to actual white and black, but could be to light and dark color.

It just so happens that white and black are two of the best colors to represent a light side and a dark side, which other colors cannot do. This symbolism reason may not be the direct intent but definitely plays a role in the selection of this color.

Do the color of chess pieces being white and black racist?

There is no direct evidence to suggest that the creators of the Staunton chess set (international set) intended the color of the pieces as a representation of skin color, which would make it racist.

The Staunton chess set has proliferated in Europe and America which have a racist origin, so it might have something to do there. If you want a full discussion whether chess has racist origins my other article (will open in a new tab) talked about that beautifully.

Though even in that article, I have come to the conclusion that there is no causation for whether the coloring is due to a racial preference. Parts of Europe where the Staunton set is conceived may be racist, but the first move hasn’t been created there.

The first move has been implemented far way in America, if the situation were a little bit different Black may actually have the first move. This tells us that there is no intent for making a representation of racial supremacy in the design, and there must be another reason.

The coloring can be related to race, but no evidence has been shown to support that it is the intent or is it just an accidental correlation. But I’m not going to deny that it is possibly the case, it’s just that there is not enough evidence to suggest that it is a case and therefore not conclusive.

Are the white and black colors of pieces helpful in playing chess?

White and Black provide two distinct colors that highlight the unique features of the pieces making them distinguishable, other colors are too distracting that it will affect the gameplay.

Chess is a complicated game with so many pieces that have unique movements, one player have to consider everything at the same time, the coloring should have a lot of contrast. There is an excellent contrast between black and white, making the pieces easier to identify.

If similar pieces have been put side-by-side, the color of white and black makes it clear which side it belongs to, unlike other colors. This provides a reliable way to help with the excessive number of pieces one needs to consider when making a move.

Plus, the white and black color can exaggerate the feature of the edges making pieces easier to identify. It is much easier to recognize a Black knight as an actual knight, then a red knight as a knight since the contrast is extreme.

On the other hand, if the colors are too crazy it can be distracting. It is pain in the eyes to see moving pieces of red and blue since the contrast is not as identifiable as white and black.

I have played with such colors before (red and blue) and I’m telling you it made me dizzy on just move ten, it is indeed distracting. The reasoning for the white and black color may just be because it compliments the pieces so much than any other color. 

Is there a timely reason why chess pieces are made white and black?

The White and Black color are some of the common colors that can be produced during the conception of the Staunton chess set, therefore it is likely that the commodity influences the coloring.

There was no standard color until the conception of the Staunton chess set (international set) which made the white and black colors. A lot of variations of chess can be seen in ivory colors or again, with the red/blue or green/yellow.

The standard set has been produced just slightly after the industrial revolution, where coloring materials are not as common. Red for example is also a common color material, but white and black also is abundant and can be easily produced.

White and black are some of the easiest colors to produce in comparison to other options, there are only a few that can contest it. This may just be the reason why it was eventually chosen since the options are limited and not as many as we have today (the number of the color spectrum today is crazy).

Are chess pieces only available to be white and black?

The standard set (Staunton chess set) features only color of white and black, though there are other variants ranging from the color red and blue, green and yellow, light and dark ivory, and many more

Technically only the standard sets are black and white, you can play other sets that have different colors. The coloring is just standardized to provide a consistent setting for competitive play, you can play with any color you want.

This means that chess pieces are not necessarily white or black in color, it is just the most popular one that is practiced today. If you play with pieces that are in different colors (red and blue for example) it is still considered chess, the color is just a little bit different.

If the question then is why White and Black have been made to be the international standard, then I believe it is likely due to other reasons. As I have said the other colors affect the mechanic of the game, and this is unacceptable in serious competitions. 

There has to be a color that the competitors can get used to and practice with, and White and Black are suitable for that. It could’ve been other colors if not for the extreme contrast that lets the players identify the pieces effectively.

But still, there is no true form for chess only the popular one, and the color can change depending on the board’s pieces. Therefore we cannot say that the piece’s colors are really white and black since it is not even the true form.

Do you now know why chess pieces are made white and black?

The White and Black color of the pieces may not be the true form of chess, but cannot be denied that it is the popular one for years to come. Finding out why the color of the international set is made this way is important specifically to address any potential racist intent.

But the biggest reason likely is it makes the pieces easier to identify, and the symbolism associated with them. It turned out great though for its consistency with the game’s mechanics, I would choose this color pairing as a player that participates in competitive play.

I hope you learned something helpful with this article, sleep well and play chess.

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