Chess: The Original Game of Thrones

May 22, 2019

Estimates show that more than half a billion people worldwide play chess. It's the oldest war game where planning, cunning and courage are necessary. A Museum of Texas Tech exhibit is now showcasing the game. Chess: The Original Game of Thrones looks at the game's popularity through history, describes chess pieces and spotlights some famous champions.

An exhibit at the Museum at Texas Tech is showcasing chess, one of the world's oldest war games. "Chess: the Original Game of Thrones" looks at the centuries-long history of the game, as well as descriptions of the chess pieces and the popularity of the game from its beginnings through today.

While the exact origin of the game is not known, historians believe it began in the 6th century in India. From there it moved to Persia, and by the 10th century had spread across Eurasia and North Africa.

"Chess is such a wonderful game. There's so much in this game. There are elements of science, art in Chess, and sport, because we compete. So it's a long game, it's survived 15 centuries and yet it's still so popular right now."

That's Alex Onischuk, a chess grandmaster who coaches Texas Tech's men's and women's chess teams and been one of the world's top 100 players for 20 straight years. Andy Gedeon, exhibit manager at the museum, says Onischuk and museum officials worked long and hard on the presentation.

"It takes time to develop and identify the content, develop the texts and then create the gallery design so parts of it, the content, identification and the texts, that had been going on two years ago, probably finished up about a year ago. In earnest we've been working on this for probably the last three months trying to finalize the gallery layout and installation"

Gedeon says other than those who play chess will enjoy the presentation.

"I think people who are Chess players, and interested in Chess, I think, I would hope that the appeal and draw is kind of automatic. For those who aren't familiar with chess, I think it's an opportunity for them to learn about it and perhaps get interested about it, so that if they wish they can start playing Chess."

Onischuk says the game can be of great benefit to young people.

"Concentration, when kids learn how to play Chess. They learn so many skills, they learn how to focus, how to calculate several moves ahead, so I believe it helps their ability to get better at math and even other subjects. Overall time management, how to make decisions, this is all very important for young people."

The exhibit details the game's popularity through history, including in popular culture. Movies, television shows and books have referenced the game. Chess is part of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Star Trek and Harry Potter. It's also been featured in The Simpsons, Star Wars, Batman and The Office.

Part of the gallery presentation will describe chess pieces and spotlights some famous champions. Curious about your level of chess ability? There's also a portion at the exhibit that allows people to test their skill level. Gedeon says chess grandmasters are brilliant.

"You'll get glimpses of that type of genius with clips about Bobby Fischer and we also have some with Kasparov playing against Deep Blue, the first computer that was developed that could defeat a world champion, the world champion. But you also see how competitive they are. It's win at all costs. Defeat is not an option."

The exhibit also highlights the successes of Tech's chess team and its members over the years. the team won the 2015 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship for the first time in program history.

The OS Ranch Museum in Post has loaned about a dozen chess boards for the Tech exhibit, collected by the museum's founder Giles McCrary. They're made of glass, hand-carved wood and marble.

"The rules of Chess don't change, what the pieces do don't change, but how those pieces are designed and kind of the fun you can have with what subjects you want those pieces to become. It's diverse, broad and can help make the game very appealing."

The exhibit, which is being funded through the museum's support from the CH Foundation is open to the public through Thanksgiving.