Chess During World War II, World Chess Hall of Fame

“Battle on the Board: Chess During World War II” highlights artifacts, stories, and imagery related to how chess aided service members as well as how the war affected the world of competitive chess. Though often used as a metaphor for battle, during times of conflict chess was often a source of relaxation, a means of passing long hours, and an aid in recuperation.

Chess Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, January 1944
The cover of this issue of Chess Review illustrates the stakes of World War II using toys sold by F.A.O. Schwarz. Leaders of the Allied powers are depicted: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, along with soldiers in various poses.

World War II Themed Chess Set, late 20th century
In this chess set, the leaders of the Allied and Axis powers, supported by members of their militaries, meet over the board. Dr. George Dean, a noted collector of chess sets whose pieces have been exhibited at the World Chess Hall of Fame, commissioned the set from artist David Warther Stevens.

Prisoner of War Chess Set, c 1944

Like other games and sports in POW camps, chess proved a means of fighting boredom and depression and provided a distraction from the fear and monotony of prison life. This prisoner-of-war chess set was carved by 1st Lt. Harold L. Weachter while at Stalag Luft I, a POW camp near Barth, Germany, so that he would have a means of passing time in the camp.

William Howard Chittenden’s Prisoner of War Chess Set and Tea Box, c 1940

Owned by three separate prisoners of war during World War II, this set tells a fascinating story of three different Marines’ experiences in prisoner-of-war camps. It was once owned by Mr. William Chittenden, who served in the Marines during World War II. Captured in China shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Chittenden purchased the set using rationed Red Cross cigarettes while in the Woo Sung POW camp. Separated from his chess set after he was transferred to another camp, Chittenden was reunited with the set 70 years later.

Indian Ivory Chess Set, c 1940s

Made of walrus ivory, this simple but elegant chess set was purchased purchased by Stuart Canning as a souvenir while he was serving in the Merchant Marine in India. The Merchant Marine provided critical support for the war effort during World War II by transporting troops and supplies.

“Paul Sample’s Naval Aviation” in Life Magazine, January 4, 1943

Regionalist artist Paul Sample illustrated scenes of everyday life on a Navy aircraft carrier for civilian audiences. From pilots awaiting action to dramatic rescues of downed pilots, Sample shared vignettes portraying the broad experiences of men at war.

1936 Munich Unofficial Chess Olympiad Sculpture, 1936

This sculpture depicting a knight was created for the 1936 Munich Chess Olympiad, which was considered unofficial due to the German Chess Federation’s expulsion from the International Chess Federation (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or FIDE). The German Chess Federation’s anti-semitic policies banning participation of Jewish players in its activities led to this policy.

Tak-Tik Wehr-Schach, 1937-1938

Tak-Tik Wehr-Schach was a German board game inspired by the game of chess. The German military, Wehrmacht, distributed the game. Unlike chess, Tak-Tik Wehr-Schach has 121 squares and 18 pieces on each side.

WM. F. Drueke & Sons Pocket Chess Game, 1939-1945

Philanthropic efforts to create connections with civilian life were complemented by the activities of corporations of the era. The Drueke Company began production of pocket games, including chess. These could easily be shipped to soldiers due to their small sizes.

The Coca-Cola Company Advertisement in The National Geographic Magazine, August 1945

As part of an outreach program during World War II, the Coca-Cola Company donated game sets to military camps to boost the morale of soldiers overseas in addition to their shipment of ten complete bottling plants to the European Theater.

The Coca-Cola Company Game Set, c 1941-1945

The Coca-Cola Company’s game sets include a chess/checkers/backgammon board, chess pieces, checkers, playing cards, marbles, and dominoes.

The American Red Cross Chess, Checkers, and TIC-TAC-TOE Pocket Set, c 1944

The Red Cross assisted prisoners of war (POWs) by checking the conditions of camps, sending aid parcels, and facilitating mail between POWs and their families. The Red Cross also provided compact and lightweight pocket sets like this for entertainment.

Chess Review, Vol. 11, No. 7, August 9, 1943

Both the editors of Chess Review and the leaders of the newly-formed United States Chess Federation (USCF) used military chess clubs and aid efforts aimed at injured veterans to promote the game.

Chess Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, March 1945

The cover for the March 1945 edition of Chess Review features Technical Sergeant Louis Barry playing chess against Red Cross Assistant Field Director Jane C. Sickler, at the Army Air Force Convalescent Hospital in Pawling, New York. There, recreational activities and morale boosters became as much of a priority as physical rehabilitation.

Chess Review, Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1945

The USCF partnered with Chess Review to found the organization Chess for the Wounded in 1945. They aimed to unite disparate war relief efforts through a national organization with five sections reflecting the regional structure of the Red Cross. 1944 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion Gisela Gresser was a committee member of Chess for the Wounded. Gresser visited several army and naval hospitals, boosting morale of soldiers by teaching them to play chess.

Chess for the Wounded Postal Chess Recorder, 1946

Given by the director of Chess for the Wounded, Herbert Holland, to H.H. Krueger, this postal set contains notation of each of the injured veteran’s games.

American Junior Red Cross Poster, c 1940-1945

Founded in 1917, the American Junior Red Cross collected comfort and recreational materials for the United States’ armed forces as well as for foreign refugees and children suffering due to the destruction of war. Numbering over 18.5 million members by 1945, the organization allowed children the opportunity to participate in relief work on the home front.

Vitrine Installation View of Battle on the Board: Chess during World War II
World Chess Hall of Fame

“This exhibit allows visitors to explore the subject of chess and war through the lens of World War II and offers insights into how wartime had a meaningful impact on the game. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of WWII, this exhibit is not only relevant but demonstrates how a game – modeled upon battle – can also provide a sense of home and community.” Emily Allred, Assistant Curator at the World Chess Hall of Fame