Religion and Chess

  • billwall
  • | Jun 2, 2007

Chess and religion did not always get along.  At one time or another, chess was forbidden by  Muslims, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Jews, the Puritans, and the Taliban.

Chess (shatranj) was a legal issue after Mohammad died in 642.  In 655, his son in law disapproved of the game for his sect of Muslims because of the graven images (carved figures of the chess pieces).

In 680, the 50th rule of canons was interpreted as forbidding chess.

In 780, the caliph al-Mahdi wrote to Mecca religious leaders to give up chess played with dice.

In 1005, chess was banned in Egypt and all the chess sets and pieces were ordered to be burned.

In 1061, Cardinal Damiani (1007-1072) of Ostin forbade the clergy to play chess.  He even wrote to the Pope complaining that chess was being played by some clergy and lay people.

In 1093, chess was condemned and forbiden by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In 1125, the Eastern Orthodox monk John Zonares issued a directive banning chess as a kind of debauchery.

In 1128, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) forbate the Knights Templars from playing chess.

In 1195, rabbi Maimonides (1155-1204)  included chess among the forbidden games.

In 1208, the Bishop of Paris decreed that chess be banned from the clergy.

In 1240, the Worcester Synod of England forbade chess to the clergy and the monastic orders.

In 1254, King Louis IX issued an religious edict forbidding chess as a useless and boring game.

In 1260, King Henry III instructed the clergy to leave chess alone.

Around 1280, chess moralities were written which began as sermons.  These chess moralities rivalled the Bible in popularity and number of printings.

In 1291, the Archbishop of Cantebury threatened to put the prior and canons on a diet of bread and water unless they desisted from playing chess.

Priests were forbidden to play chess up to 1299.

In 1310, chess was forbidden to the clergy in Germany in a decree from the Council of Trier.

In 1328, some Jewish leaders allowed chess to be played, but not for money or gambling.

In 1329, chess was banned by the clergy in the Synod of Wurzburg in Germany.

In 1375, King Charles V of France, under the influence of the church, prohibited chess.

By 1500, chess was a recognized pastime for Jews on the Sabbath.

In 1551, leading clerics of Russia compiled the Stoglav Collection which included the prohibition of chess.

In the 16th century, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was proclaimed patroness of chessplayers by church authorities in Spain.

In the late 16th century, clergymen in Russia associated chess with witchcraft and heresy.

The Puritans greatly dislked chess and discouraged any chess play.

In 1981, chess was forbidden in Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini.   It was allowed by the Ayatollah in 1988.

Chess was forbidden by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 15 years.  It was banned by Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Popes that played chess included Pope Leo XIII (Gioacchino Pecci), Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Ope Leo X.


  • 3 years ago


    Dear BillWall, Thank you for your paragraph but please if  you want to know any thing ask the person who Specialist in this thing.. For example you sayed: (Chess (shatranj) was a legal issue after Mohammad died in 642.  In 655, his son in law disapproved of the game for his sect of Muslims because of the graven images (carved figures of the chess pieces). you mean Ali ben Abi Taleb (his son in low) .. but you didnot know that this story is in doubt because Maysara (the person who tell this incident) never see Ali ben Abi Taleb, because he born after the death of Ali !

    Also, you said :
    (In 1005, chess was banned in Egypt and all the chess sets and pieces were ordered to be burned.) but you didn't tell us if this true, who are this person .. this person who banned the chess is (Al-Hakim) who be considered a mad man and the scholers of muslims considered him Libertine!!

    Finally, I asked , why you didn't tell us about Abu-Horairah (the friend of prophet mohamed and the most person tell about him) played chess? .. and why you didn't tell us about Al-Hassan (Grandson of prophet mohammed) when he found people played chess and stay noticed thim and said to player: move this move..?

    - Also Al-Shafey one of the greatest muslims scholers ( 767-820 A. D) played chess in his prison..

    Dear, let me tell you that chess like any thing else in Islam forbidden only if it make us busy about God worship.

    Thank you..Smile

  • 3 years ago


  • 6 years ago


    As I mentioned in my previous post, some lower level clergy thought it a waste of time.  Maybe they didn't like to play.  I have done some research as I have one doctorate and may work on a second (in theology) as I am disabled.

    One sermon in modern times a pastor preached against playing chess as idolatry.  He got picked apart in the theological publications but of course the news reported it.  Millions of sermons are given a week in this world.  One mentioned chess.  I think reasonable minds prevail.

    Did you know that Ruy Lopez was a Christian monk?  

    Kings lost often.  Many had "chess advisors" so they could play better.  Many sponsored tournaments so they could have a front row seat to the best chess in the world.  Back then, there were no clocks.  People would sit quietly for the whole day to watch chess.  Imagine that today!

  • 6 years ago


    It's wonderful to know that chess has outlasted most of these phony baloney religions, and that it will outlast them all.

  • 7 years ago


    Figrock, that was an amazing statement.  I am a part-time pastor.  The religious leaders were NOT against chess early on because of any reason except idolatry.

    Carved images were not liked by most religions.  In Judeo-Christian world, such carved images were either considered idols, or too close to idols.  And in many cases, lots of "games" were banned due to it being considered a waste of time.  One should be in prayer or study instead.

    But as we emerged from the dark ages, theology changed.  And we could see that some of the rules the church handed down were to control fractions and elements on the fringe of the church.  A newer view of Scripture saw games and chess as a pastime meant for enjoyment.  

    Once Scripture was translated into native languages, a God of love and a God wanting humankind to enjoy life emerged.  This took some of the power away from Rome.  This all happen in the Reformation.

    From here, I would be preaching, so I will refrain.   Some of the greatest early players and "masters" were clergy.  This was because often they were the most educated and it was (as it is today) a good way to meet people.

    Chess has long thought to have been brought to Europe when the Moors conquered Spain.  The knights were elephants at one time and the queen was a man (the King's advisor).

    It caught on in Europe and was changed to keep from being "graven" images.  The pieces were changed to fit Europe.  King and Queen, knights, castles (rooks) and foot soldiers (pawns).  Bishops had great power 400-500 years ago in Europe and actually had their own armies.  Hence the Bishop fit nicely.

    I would like to see a set with a King's advisor, elephants and the like.  Rules stabilized about 500 years ago except for the rule "en passant" which was not accept in Italy until the 1880s.

    I agree, this is a good summary and a very nice timeline.  But when you look into the history of modern chess, you will see great influences by clergy.

  • 8 years ago


    This is a great entry!  Thanks for summarizing the history of religion and chess!

  • 8 years ago


    So basically, high religious leaders and kings got pissed off when there butt's got kicked. Cry babies..!

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