Extraterrestrial Chess: 50 Years Of The First Earth Versus Space Game

Two Russian chess enthusiasts first wanted to take chess to space, many more have followed them since

V. Kumara Swamy Updated: Jun 9, 2020 20:21:47 IST
Extraterrestrial Chess: 50 Years Of The First Earth Versus Space Game

It is the 50th anniversary of the first-ever game of chess between a couple of astronauts and their team on Earth that took place in 1970. To celebrate this occasion, Russian Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin will, take on cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Wagner who are onboard the International Space Station tonight (9 June).

Here, we look at how the ‘Earth vs Space’ chess battle began in 1970, and other interesting facts around it.

1. On 9 June 1970, cosmonauts Andrian Nikolayev and Vitaly Sevastyanov took a break from their space-flight duties onboard the Russian spacecraft, Soyuz 9, and played the first chess match between Earth and Space.  

2. The cosmonauts' opponents were Viktor Gorbatko, a cosmonaut, and Nikolai P. Kamanin, the head of the Russian cosmonaut training programme in Moscow.

3. It was the cosmonauts' idea, both chess enthusiasts, to carry a chessboard with them to space. But the team’s psychologists opposed it saying that it could lead to "unnecessary negative emotions" in the members of the losing team. Both the cosmonauts assured that nothing of the sort would happen, as they played the game regularly. The consent was given.

4. A special chessboard set to be used in space was designed by the Russian scientists. It was made in such a way that the pawns wouldn't come off the board and each piece could be moved only with a series of grooves.

fide-chess-board_060920065341.jpgThe specially designed chessboard that was taken onboard Soyuz-9. (Photo: FIDE)

5. The game 'Earth v Space' was played over the radio. It went on for six hours. By the time the game ended in a draw, the spacecraft had orbited the earth four times.

6. Sevastyanov, who was the first to play the game, went on to become the president of the Soviet Chess Federation in 1977.

7. The name 'Earth v Space', however, was given only in 2008. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Chess Federation (USCF) came together and hosted a match in September 2008. Astronaut Greg Chamitoff took on a team comprising students and others, but lost the game, which lasted for months. Every move by Team Earth was decided upon and voted for by a large group of people on earth.

Earth won the last round in 2008. Will Space get lucky in 2020?

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