Ever since chess was invented in India in the seventh century, it has transcended social and geographic boundaries. The “game of kings” is unsurprisingly played in the most opulent palaces, but it’s also one of the most popular pastimes in the confined spaces of prisons.
Today, online chess has emerged as a great equalizer, erasing barriers of class, race, and sex, while demonstrating the power of objective rules and equal opportunity.
The juxtaposition of palaces and prisons in the context of chess is not unlike the game itself. On the one hand, it is beautifully simple. There’s a perfect 8×8 board with 64 equal squares; just two players; white and black pieces. The rules of chess can be taught to a five-year-old, and they have gone unchanged for more than a century. But the game is also marvelously complex.
After just five moves on a chess board, there are 70 trillion different possible positions. There are more possible chess games than there are atoms in the observable universe. Our most sophisticated AI-driven computers haven’t been able to “solve” chess. They aren’t remotely close.
Today, the internet has leveled the game even more. Trainings from world-class grandmasters are readily available in abundance for free. Online chess platforms allow players from diverse backgrounds and geographic locations to come together and compete fairly at the click of a mouse. It’s no longer the privilege of a select few to access world-class opponents and improve their skills. Online chess transcends physical boundaries, enabling individuals to test their mettle against players from all walks of life.
Online chess also champions meritocracy. The virtual arena eliminates the potential for bias based on appearance, gender, or socioeconomic status. When two players face off on a digital chessboard, the only thing that matters is how they perform on the board. Who is more skilled? More creative? Who has the nerves of steel? Who keeps their cool with seconds to go in a bullet match? The result is a triumph of merit over prejudice, where the best player prevails.
With its well-defined rules and equal opportunities for all players, chess demonstrates the principle of equality written into the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed to all Americans by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The former says famously “all men are created equal”; the latter holds that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. Chess stands as an example of how equality, merit, and fairness can coexist within a set of well-defined rules.
At its core, chess is about strategy, patience, creativity, decisiveness, and nerves. At its core, chess is all about what an individual can bring to the board. A beautiful chess game transcends the confines of race, sex, or class. In the same way, the legal system strives to ensure that every individual is treated equally under the law, irrespective of their background. This fundamental principle of equality, rooted in the Equal Protection Clause, is the keystone to a just society.
As we contemplate the enduring appeal of chess and its journey from palaces to prisons to online platforms, we are reminded that equality and the pursuit of excellence are universal human values. The game’s history reflects a broader aspiration for a just and equal society, where rules are clear, opportunities are equal, and we are judged by the content of our character…er, chess moves.