The Burning Boards

Developed by Glenn Kaino in 2007 for the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Burning Boards brings together figures from the worlds of art and chess in the format of a unique chess competition.

Thirty-two players, novice and expert, will compete using chess sets made from burning candles, in a performance imbued with a sense of danger and urgency. 

About The Burning Boards


Glenn Kaino

The Burning Boards, 2014

World Chess Hall of Fame

Photo © Carmody Creative

Developed for the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2007, Glenn Kaino’s The Burning Boards explores concepts of winning through the medium of chess. Kaino uses the format of a unique competition to draw together friends from the worlds of art, chess, technology, and music. In the piece, thirty-two chess players, both expert and novice, compete in a dark room at sixteen closely-arranged tables. They use burning candles as chess pieces, imbuing the performance with a sense of danger and urgency. 

Kaino has used indeterminacy to structure the performance, meaning that each participant becomes a co-creator of the larger spectacle, choosing his or her moves, but unable to control the outcome of their game or the performance as a whole. The lighting in the playing hall builds and diminishes over the course of the performance. “Burning boards” is sometimes defined as the act of using fire to level a playing field. Here, the advantages of experts over novices are leveled, and the value of skill diminishes as the element of chance increases. Unidentifiable pieces cannot be played, nor can those burned out or stuck to the board. Soon players realize that they are battling their shared situation—the board and pieces, not each other. They can better survive through mutual accommodation than through zero-sum aggression. Competition gives way to comity and onerous constraints lead to comical, collegial outcomes. The World Chess Hall of Fame’s presentation of The Burning Boards is the third staging of the piece, which is intended to be performed anew rather than to be a static historical event.

Participant Pairings


GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave v. Andre Escarameia

Photo © Carmody Creative


WGM Jennifer Shahade v. Martin Brief

Photo © Carmody Creative


Bradley Bailey v. GM Yasser Seirawan

Photo © Carmody Creative


Francis M. Naumann v. GM Maurice Ashley

Photo © Carmody Creative


Mary Gould v. IM John Donaldson

Photo © Carmody Creative


Matt Strauss v. GM Ben Finegold

Photo © Carmody Creative


Jean Hoffman v. Bruce Burton

Photo © Carmody Creative


Rex Sinquefield v. Sarah Robayo Sheridan

Photo © Carmody Creative


GM Hikaru Nakamura v. Ben Kaplan

Photo © Carmody Creative


Shannon Bailey v. Lennart Ootes

Photo © Carmody Creative


Peter Manion v. Chris Bird

Photo © Carmody Creative


Paul Ha v. GM Levon Aronian

Photo © Carmody Creative


Fabiano Caruana v. Liliya Lifánova

Photo © Carmody Creative


Veselin Topalov v. Larry List

Photo © Carmody Creative


Tony Rich v. Christian Burton

Photo © Carmody Creative


GM Magnus Carlsen v. Glenn Kaino

Photo © Carmody Creative



The World Chess Hall of Fame acknowledges Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, whose generous support has made this event possible.

Special thanks to Glenn Kaino, Luke Lizalde, Larry List, Honor Fraser Gallery, Kavi Gupta Gallery, and the participants in The Burning Boards.


4/28/15: The Justice — Candles as chess pieces light up the Rose

9/24/14: — The World Chess Hall of Fame celebrates art and chess with Glenn Kaino's The Burning Boards

9/16/14: Forbes — Artist Glenn Kaino On Ferguson, Equality And Tommie Smith's Iconic Salute

9/3/14: Alive Magazine — Glenn Kaino’s ‘Burning Boards’ Candle Chess Performance Illuminates The Possible At The World Chess Hall Of Fame

9/1/14: — Fire, Water and Sport During Sinquefield Rest Day


The Burning Boards Event Program