Everybody’s Game: Chess in Popular Culture

Everybody knows that Queens, Kings, Bishops, and Pawns are chess pieces, but what happens when cultural icons like Miss Piggy, Homer Simpson, Darth Vader, and Piglet take their place?

Since the birth of mass media, the rich and recognizable symbolism of chess has been used to add an intellectual edge to entertainment and marketing campaigns alike. For hundreds of years, chess has been a reflection on the culture of its time, as the pieces reflected “players” in wars and characters in popular literature.

Everybody’s Game: Chess in Popular Culture takes a playful look at how the ancient sport is represented in our contemporary culture by showcasing the game of chess as it has been featured in such mass media as magazine advertisements, rock music and movie posters, and other popular venues. These examples demonstrate that while chess is a serious game, there is more to it than just the competition—chess is everybody’s game.

On View: October 18, 2012 - April 14, 2013

Chess in Advertising 

Often associated with intelligence, sophistication, inspiration, strategy, class, and success, chess effortlessly fits into marketing campaigns selling myriad products. There is something so unique about the game of chess—its far-reaching popularity and easily recognizable concept makes it the ideal tool to promote merchandise ranging from alcoholic beverages to insurance. And, because the game and terms associated with it are so ingrained into society, one does not have to be a skilled player to understand intricate details and see the connections, making it a perfect metaphor for when a company wants you to make the right “move” to buy its product. Since many chess terms and phrases, such as checkmate, pawn, and opening move, are now a part of the English lexicon, the game’s inclusion in advertisements captures a certain air of class and logic, touching on aspects that marketers believe people see, or want to see, in themselves.


View all as PDF

Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Highland Queen

Seagram’s VO, Collier’s, April 29, 1950

United States Brewer Foundation

Three Feathers Reserve, ©1946

Old Forester, ©1946, Life, January 28, 1946

Miller High Life

Carling’s Red Cap Ale

Cointreau, The New Yorker, November 5, 1973

Cognac Hennessy, ©1987

Paul Masson Wine

Puerto Rican Rum, The New Yorker, June 20, 1959

Smirnoff, ©1997

Kent, ©1972

Kent, Life, December 19, 1955

Canada Dry Water, 1945

Pepsi-Cola, Lady’s Home Journal, 1957

Coca-Cola, ©1945

Irving Trust Company

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Collier’s, July, 3, 1937

National Mazda Lamps, Saturday Evening Post, April 9, 1921

Consolidated Electrodynamics, SA, December, 1956

Cabin Crafts, The New Yorker, September 27, 1958

Archer Management Services

Standard Oil Company of California, Sunset, August, 1965

Consolidated Engineering, Fortune, November, 1955

Varian Associates, 1961

Pirelli Tires, Road & Track

Hamilton Watches

Harvé Benard, GQ, October 1986

De Beers Consolidated Mines, McCalls, April 1978

Celanese Acetate

Command Hair Spray, Playboy, June 1969

Van Heusen, Playboy, December 1970

Neiman Marcus, Town and Country, August

Chen Yu Nail Polish and Lipstick, 1949

Tacori, Alive, June 2011

Sanforized, Life, 1952

Bonjour Paris

Hanes Silk Reflections, ©1988

All advertisements Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Chess Sets

Widely believed to have originated during the 6th century, the rules of chess have changed relatively few times in a 1500-year span. The pieces, however, have changed radically and have consistently represented a snapshot of the contemporary culture, history, and lifestyles. Much liberty has been taken in the creation of the elaborate characters represented by the pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, queens, and kings; yet despite endless reinterpretations of each piece, the game remains recognizable regardless of differences in age, culture, or language.

Chess sets represented in Everybody’s Game appeal to a wide audience familiar with contemporary popular culture as well as satisfying a love of nostalgia. In a savvy marketing ploy, companies have created a variety of collectible chess sets that showcase our passion for television, movie, and literary characters. What could be sweeter than seeing Kermit the Frog as a king and Miss Piggy as, of course, a queen? What could be more satisfying than having Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker checkmate Darth Vader?


Super Mario™ Chess: Collector’s Edition, TM & © 2009 Nintendo

Created and distributed by USAOPOLY, Inc.

PVC pieces, cardboard board

King: Mario 2 3/8˝, Bowser 2 ¾˝, Board: 15 ¼ x 18 ¾˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Mario’s Heroes

Bowser’s Troops 

King: Mario

Queen: Luigi

Bishops: Peach and Daisy

Knights: Yoshi

Rooks: Toad

Pawns: Coins

King: Bowser

Queen: Bowser Jr.

Bishops: Magikoopa

Knights: Birdo

Rooks: Goomba

Pawns: Green Shells

Super Mario Bros.™ is a video game developed by Nintendo in 1985 as a sequel to the 1983 Mario Bros. game. The main character, Mario, is an Italian-American plumber, who, along with his fraternal twin brother Luigi, travels through the Mushroom Kingdom in a quest to rescue Princess Toadstool from the villain Bowser and his evil forces. The game consists of eight worlds with four sub-levels called “stages” in each world. The final stage of each world takes place in a castle where Bowser or one of his decoys are fought. The Mario Bros. franchise was designed by Sigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka and composed by Koji Kondo. Super Mario Bros. has sold 40.24 million copies, making it the best-selling video game in the Mario series and the second best-selling game in the world behind Wii Sports.


New York Chess, © 2001 Big League Promotions

PVC pieces, cardboard board

King: 3˝, Board: 14 x 14˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

King: Empire State Building

Queen: Statue of Liberty

Bishops: World Trade Center

Knights: Wall Street Sign and Broadway Sign

Rooks: Apple

Pawns: Taxi Cabs

Many companies create chess sets based upon cities to reach a broad audience who may be nostalgic for a place they used to live or a favorite vacation spot. Created after the 9/11 attacks, Big League Promotions commemorates the Twin Towers in this set.


Graeme Anthony

Lord of the Rings Chess Set

Cast Pewter

King: Good: 5 ¼˝, Evil: 4 ½˝, Board: 18 ¾ x 18 ¾˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame



King:  Strider

Queen: Galadriel

Bishops: Gandalf

Knights: Ent

Rooks: Tirion

Pawns: Hobbit

King: Sauron

Queen: Shelob

Bishops: Saruman

Knights: Smaug

Rooks: Mordor

Pawns: 7 Orcs and 1 Gollum

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by English philologist and University of Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 children’s fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, much of it during World War II. It is the third best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.


Famous Old Crow Distillery Co. Frankfort, KY

The Old Crow Limited Edition Ceramic Chessmen Ceramic Whiskey Vessels, 1969

King: 15 ½˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Old Crow is a low-priced Kentucky-made straight bourbon whiskey distilled by Beam Inc., the producers of Jim Beam. The product originated with James Crow, a Scottish immigrant, in the 1830s in Frankfort, Kentucky. As a very skilled distiller, he made whiskey, which was sold as “Crow” or, as it aged, “Old Crow.” 

In 1969, the Old Crow company created a limited-edition chess set filled with Old Crow bourbon. Each bottle came with a collectors box and a coupon to send in to get a “Chessboard Rug” to use as the board for the 32 pieces. The rugs were $22.95 and are extremely rare. The “pieces” came with the following information:

This superb decanter is part of what is surely the most unique Chess Set ever produced: The Old Crow Limited Edition Ceramic Chessmen. The complete Chess Set consists of thirty-two hand-glazed pieces ranging in height from 12 to 15 ½ inches, in opposing colors of gleaming golden bronze and almost black Verdian Green. Each contains a very special distillation of Old Crow, aged a full ten years for the occasion. Together they form the most impressive chess set ever to grace a board—and the board itself is a luxurious 45 x 45˝ deep-pile carpet with a 2 ½ inch border. A Single Old Crow Chessman is a collector’s item; the complete chess set is a treasure. You can build your set a piece at a time—but if your goal is all 32 pieces, do not wait too long; when the Limited Edition is gone, the decanters will never be reproduced!


LEGO® Chess

Plastic Pieces

King: 2˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame   


LEGO® Kingdoms Chess Set, 2012

328 Plastic Pieces

King: 2˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

LEGO®, a popular line of construction toys, are recognizable by all generations. The company, created in 1949, uses a color system of interlocking plastic blocks that can be transformed into a variety of sculptures, vehicles, and figures. Celebrating the popularity of the game of chess, LEGO® has produced several versions of chess sets including the two shown here. 


Doug Anderson

Hollywood vs. Broadway, c. 1990s

Ceramic with luster glazes and gold details

King: Hollywood 8 ½˝, Broadway: 7 ½˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of Bernice and Floyd Sarisohn



King: Singing in the Rain

Queen: Funny Girl

Bishops: Top Hat

Knights: Oliver!

Rooks: Fiddler on the Roof and Cinema Sign

Pawns: The King and I, Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz,

The Jazz Singer, Cabaret, Paint Your Wagon

King: Phantom of the Opera

Queen: Hello Dolly

Bishops: Peter Pan and Sunset Boulevard

Knights: Sweeney Todd and Les Misérables

Rooks: Evita and Broadway Sign

Pawns: Starlight Express, Little Shop of Horrors, Annie,

Cats, Dreamgirls, Annie Get Your Gun

Doug Anderson (b. 1957) is best known for sculptural, free form, humorous ceramic work called “A Beginning.” These character figures have gone on to decorate lids of cookie jars and tea pots. His chess sets and related works are in the collections of Robin Williams, Merv Griffin, Steve Wynn, Sharon Stone, Barry Bonds, and Bernice and Floyd Sarisohn.


The Franklin Mint

Coca-Cola® Chess Set, c.1996

Cast Pewter with 24 karat gold plate with white and red enamel trim

King: 2 ¼˝ Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Sold in over 200 countries, Coca-Cola® or “Coke” is produced by The Coca-Cola Company and was first introduced in 1886. Originally intended as a patent medicine when it was invented by John Pemberton, it was sold for five cents a glass at soda fountains and it was claimed to cure many diseases including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence. When first introduced, Coca-Cola’s two main ingredients were cocaine (from the coca leaf) and caffeine (from the kola nut), hence its name. Coca-Cola is the most popular and best-selling soft drink in history and is the best-known product in the world. The company has been in business for 126 years and employs over 146,200 worldwide.

These beautiful chess pieces represent the first Coca-Cola® chess set created by The Franklin Mint. Missing is a chess board inspired by the early 1900s Coca-Cola stained glass lamps. The chess pieces are based on the design of a 1890s Coca-Cola syrup dispenser and accented with 24 karat gold. 


Anheuser-Busch, Inc.

Anheuser-Busch Collectors Chess Set, c.1998  

Pewter and brass, marble board

King: 3 ½˝, Board: 13 ½ x 13 ½˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Anheuser-Busch began in 1852 in Saint Louis, Missouri and is now the leading American brewer with the world’s largest-selling beers, Budweiser and Bud Light. It is fitting that this company would be the subject matter of a chess set as Budweiser, introduced in 1876 by Adolphus Busch, is known as “The King of Beers.”


Star Trek: The Next Generation®

PVC pieces, cardboard board

King: 3 5/8˝ Board 19 x 15 ¼˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

TM, ® & ©1999 Paramount Pictures

King: Jean-Luc Picard

Queen: Beverly Crusher

Bishops: Worf

Knights: William T. Riker

Rooks: Data

Pawns: Brown: U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-B

Pawns: Black: U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D

Star Trek: The Next Generation® is an American science-fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry as part of the Star Trek franchise. Created 21 years after the original Star Trek series, the show takes place in the Milky Way galaxy during the 2360s—about 100 years after the original show. The series starred notable actors such as Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise; LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, the ship’s helmsman and later chief engineer; and Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher, son of the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. It ran for seven seasons and had a total of 178 episodes from September 28, 1987 to May 23, 1994 in syndication.


The Franklin Mint

The Official Star Trek® Tridimensional Chess Set, TM ® & ©1994 Paramount Pictures  

Cast pieces with sterling silver or 24 karat gold, plastic board

King: 1 11/16˝ Board 13 x 10˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Star Trek is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966 and is now known as an entertainment franchise. Following the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701), the show takes place in the Milky Way galaxy in the 2260s. The crew is led by Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner; first officer Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy; and Dr. Leonard McCoy, played by DeForest Kelly. Additional cast members included George Takei as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu and Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. Produced from 1966-67 by Desilu Production and by Paramount Television from 1968-69, the show aired from September 8, 1966 to June 3, 1969 on NBC. Beginning as Star Trek, the show later became known as Star Trek: The Original Series to differentiate it from the growing franchise. Despite low ratings and airing for only 79 episodes over three seasons, Star Trek went on to inspire five additional television series and eleven theatrical films, along with books, games, and related products.

This exclusive Franklin Mint chess set is the first and only authorized re-creation based upon the futuristic chess game seen on board the starship the U.S.S. Enterprise™ and first introduced by Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in the classic episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”™ It contains three large playing boards plus four smaller “moveable attack boards.” The playing pieces are precision cast and coated with sterling silver or 24 karat gold. 


Star Wars Chess Set

PVC pieces, cardboard board

King: Darth Vader 3 ¾˝ Han Solo 3 ¼˝ Board: 18 ½ x 18 ½˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame 

© Lucasfilm Ltd.



King: Obi-wan Kenobi

Queen: Princess Leia

Bishops: Han Solo

Knights: Luke Skywalker and Yoda

Rooks: R2D2 and C3PO

Pawns: X Wing Fighter

King: Darth Vader

Queen: Darth Sidious

Bishops: Storm Trooper

Knights: Royal Guard

Rooks: Boba Fett

Pawns: Ecliptic Evader Droid the Fighter 

In a galaxy far, far away, the Star Wars saga existed. Playing on the ideas of chess as a game of war, Jedi, or the good side plays the Sith, or the bad guys. The set is based upon the film Star Wars: A New Hope that was originally released by 20th Century Fox on May 25, 1977. After three successful films, the story took a sixteen-year hiatus before three prequel moves were released. The entire line-up of films include A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983),The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005). The movies have grossed $4.49 billion at the box office, making it the third-highest-grossing film series, behind the Harry Potter and James Bond films. The franchise includes additional movies, novels, video games, memorabilia, and animated series.


SAC-Games, Hull, England

Winnie the Pooh

Hand painted cast pieces, cardboard board

King 3 ½˝ Board 18 ½ x 18 ½˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame 

© Studio Ann Carlton, ©Disney

King: Winnie the Pooh

Queen: Kangaroo

Bishops: Owl

Knights: Eeyore

Rooks: Tigger

Pawns: Piglet

Winnie the Pooh was created by A. A. Milne in 1926 and has grown to become a significant franchise now owned by the Disney Corporation. Milne named the character after a teddy bear owned by his son Christopher Robin Milne, who was the basis of the little boy in the stories. His other toys, Tigger, Kanga, Eeyore, Piglet, and Roo were names of his other toys, and all still exist except for Roo. Owl, Rabbit, and Gopher were all added by Disney. Young Christopher named his beloved stuffed animal after Winnie, a Canadian Black bear, which he saw many times at the London Zoo, and the name Pooh came from a swan they had “met” while on vacation. Two main versions of the “Pooh” characters exist—the “Classic Pooh” which closely resembles the original drawings by E. H. Shepard and the later red-shirt Pooh developed in 1932 by Stephen Slesinger.


The Simpsons Chess Set

PVC pieces, cardboard board

King: 3 3/8˝ Board: 17 ¼ x 14˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame 

TM & © 1997 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Matt Groening

King: Homer

Queen: Marge

Bishops: Abraham

Knights: Maggie

Rooks: Lisa

Pawns: Bart

For 24 seasons, Americans have been watching the dysfunctional Simpson family on the Fox television show created by Matt Groening. Premiering on December 17, 1989, The Simpsons takes place in a fictional town of Springfield and makes constant pop cultural references parodying the middle-class American lifestyle. On February 9, 1997, The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones with the episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” as the longest-running prime-time animated series in the United States. In 2004, The Simpsons replaced The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952 to 1966) as the longest-running sitcom in the United States. As of the beginning of this exhibition The Simpsons has aired 510 episodes. 


The Muppet Show Deluxe Collector’s Chess Set, 1999

PVC pieces, cardboard board

King: 2 ¾˝ Board: 18 ½ x 18 ½˝

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame 

TM & © Henson

King: Kermit

Queen: Miss Piggy

Bishops: Fozzie and Swedish Chef

Knights: Gonzo and Animal

Rooks: Statler and Waldorf

Pawns: Rizzo

The Muppet Show was a primetime television show produced by puppeteer Jim Henson and featured the work of Frank Oz and Dave Goelz. Featuring a wacky cast of Muppets led by showrunner Kermit the Frog, the series showed a vaudeville or variety show, featuring song and dance, skits such as “Pigs in Space,” “Muppet News Flash,” “Veterinary Hospital,” as well as glimpses of back stage antics by beloved characters such as Gonzo, Animal, Miss Piggy, and Scooter. Each episode featured a live human celebrity guest star/host and the gig became quite popular amongst stars including Alice Cooper, Steve Martin, Elton John, Dom DeLuise, Sylvester Stallone, and Rita Moreno. It aired for five seasons with a total of 120 episodes from September 13, 1976 to March 15, 1981 on CBS and in syndication. The Muppet Show received 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning 4 including Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series in 1978.


Chess in Concert: Royal Albert Hall, U.K., 2008

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Warner Bros. Records produced a concert version of the musical Chess with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall on May 12 and 13, 2008. Staring Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, and Marti Pellow, the version follows the original play released in London’s West End in 1986 but comprised almost no dialogue or set. More information on the musical Chess can be located in the exhibition. The production was recorded and released as a 2-CD album and DVD. It was also broadcast on American PBS channels in June 2009.

Seventh Seal Movie Theater Poster, 1957


Film Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Private Collection

One of the most iconic chess scenes in cinema history takes place in the 1957 Swedish film, The Seventh Seal, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. The movie follows the journey of a medieval knight, Antonius Block, played by Max von Sydow, as he plays a game of chess during the Black Plague against the personification of Death played by Bengt Ekerot. The chess game begins with the knight holding out his hands with chess pieces hidden in each hand; a white and a black piece. Death chooses the hand that contains the black pawn. Block exclaims, “You are black” and Death replies “It becomes me well.” The film’s title refers to Revelations 8:1 “And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” The film was released in Sweden in 1957, and premiered in the United States on August 13, 1957.


Still from Star Trek Episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”,

Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 3

Directed by James Goldstone, Written by Samuel A. Peeples

Original Air Date: September 22, 1966

Private Collection

The Star Trek episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was the second pilot episode of the series. It was created allegedly on the recommendation of Lucille Ball, who owned Desilu Studios, the producer the pilot. The first pilot entitled “The Cage” was rejected by NBC. The episode opens with Captain Kirk (in his first appearance) and Spock playing a game of tri-dimensional chess. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was broadcast on television third in the sequence of the show and it was the first episode to be shown by the BBC on July 12, 1967. A replica of this chess set, created by The Franklin Mint, is on display in this exhibition.


Methane Studios

Dave Matthews Band Posters, 2010


16 x 24˝

Private Collection

06-03-2010 02 Arena, London, UK

Edition of 400

07-09-2010 Hershey Park Stadium, Hershey, PA

Edition of 1250

07-16-2010 Citi Field, Flushing, NY

Edition of 1250

07-25-2010 Hullabalou Festival, Louisville, KY

Edition of 500

09-17-2010 Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Edition of 1250

The Dave Matthews Band (DMB) was formed in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1991 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Matthews, bassist Stefan Lessard, drummer/backing vocalist Carter Beauford, and saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Their music focuses on social justice issues such as racism, political issues, and anti-war messages, as well as the enjoyment of life. In 2012, the DMB released their album Away from the World which debuted at number one on the Billboard Music Chart. They have sold over 30 million albums worldwide, have produced 29 singles, 8 studio albums, and 50 live albums. They are heavily involved in philanthropic efforts and have donated over $8 million to causes involving disadvantaged youth, disabled persons, the environment, and arts and humanities.

As part of their annual, summer-long tours of the United States and Europe, the DMB produces elaborate collectible signed and numbered posters for many of their shows. Methane Studios has created posters for DMB since 2005 and in the summer of 2010 five of their posters had chess themes.


Playbill, Imperial Theatre, New York

Private Collection

Flyer, Imperial Theatre, New York

Private Collection

Program, Prince Edward Theatre, London

Collection of Frank Huhn

Playbill, Imperial Theatre, London

Collection of Frank Huhn

The musical Chess was created by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus both of ABBA and Tim Rice and was released in 1984. The plot centers around a romantic triangle between two top chess players, “The American” originally played by Murray Head and “The Russian” played by Tommy Körberg during a World Chess Championship the female lead, “Florence” was played by Elaine Page. Though not intended to be a non-fiction tale, the American character was loosely based on Bobby Fischer and the Russian was inspired by Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. In addition, the story highlights the parallels with the Cold War struggle and the battle between the Americans and Russians both on and off the chessboard.

Inspired by the success of the concept albums created with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess was released originally in 1984 with stage productions following in London’s West End in 1986 and later on Broadway. While the British version ran for three years with success, a heavily altered version flopped in New York in 1988, playing for only two months.

A recognizable single from the musical, Murray Head’s “One Night in Bangkok” became a world-wide hit and reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart while “I Know Him So Well” was number 1 on the U.K. singles chart for 4 weeks.

Photos by Michael DeFilippo


2/24/13: Belleville News–Democrat — Your move: World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis is the place to play

11/26/12: Where Traveler — Odd Travel: The World Chess Hall of Fame


Everybody's Game: Chess in Popular Culture Exhibition Brochure