Fribliss

Why Chess Fans Hate the Movies

It’s pretty well known that military service members have a problem with war movies, in that every little mistake stands out for them, such as the way a uniform is worn or a weapon is handled. Scientists are used to seeing science mistakes in film that the rest of us would never catch -so much that they’ve developed a consulting system. Most experts are excited to see their specialty in a movie, then are disappointed in the actual portrayal. And then there’s chess. Filmmakers seem to always get chess wrong on one way or another, often in many ways, and that’s bothersome to those who love the game.  

Chess errors come in a few different flavors, these experts say. The most common is what we’ll call the Bad Setup. When you set up a chessboard, you’re supposed to orient it so that the square nearest to each player’s right side is light-colored. (There’s even a mnemonic for this—“right is light.”) Next, when you array the pieces, the white queen goes on white, and the black queen goes on black. “When I teach six-year-old girls, I say ‘the queen’s shoes have to match her dress!’” says Klein.

Six-year-olds may get this, but filmmakers often do not. Along with The Seventh Seal, movies that suffer from Bad Setups include Blade Runner, Austin Powers, From Russia with Love, The Shawshank Redemption, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. Shaft and What’s New Pussycat may not have much in common, but they do both feature backwards chessboards.

That’s only the beginning of the grievances chess players have with movies. Read about quite a few others, some with video evidence, at Atlas Obscura.

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