Where Chess Meets Christmas

Chess and Christmas

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How does the world of chess join in the festivities of one of the most popular holidays in the world? Are there chess theories, sets, events that make this season sweeter?

Stay fixed on this post to find out, and If you need advice on how to extend the Noel spirit into your love for chess, then you’re in the right place.

Maybe you have a friend or family who loves chess, and you don’t know the Christmas present to get them. Consider this post on the affiliation between chess and Christmas as our present to you!

A Chess Christmas Story

Let’s travel back to the early years of the 20th century. A column from Russell Ramsey on the Philadelphia Sunday Item told an interesting story.

The piece published on the 20th of December 1908 showcased a fictional game between a chess player and Yuletide icon, Santa Claus.

Here is the game below. Touch the moves or move the board around for a better interactive experience.

It’s not strange for a chess player to dream about a game with Santa Claus at Christmas, as many who read this post will likely follow suit.

This was the case for the chess player who was eventually awoken by his wife to perform Santa duties for their kids.

The unnamed chess player did enjoy a solo banter blitz game that lasted 69 moves with the jovial elf, even though he lost with the White pieces.

Xmas chess set
Xmas chess set. Image: ebay

We’d like to picture the board above as what was used in the game. A fitting set, wouldn’t you agree?

Quite disappointingly, the theory of the fictional game didn’t include any Noel trademark, but what if it did? What chess openings have something to do with Xmas? They did play an unusual opening though; The Urosov Gambit of the Russian Game.

Christmas in Chess Openings

Santa Claus Opening (by X_PLAYER_J_X)

image 32
Santa Claus Opening

A chess.com user was in the Christmas spirit and went on a mission to discover a chess opening dedicated to the season. His mission was completed on the Christmas Eve of 2015 when he discovered an unnamed sequence of opening moves.

The King’s pawn game (1.e4 e5) did not have a name for a 2.b3 continuation. He called this line the Santa Claus Attack. Quite expectedly, many fellow chess.com users trooped into the forum post to share their thoughts.

They impressively coined some variations from the Santa Claus Attack. We have:
The Grinch Defense (2.Nf6)

The variation is poetically named after a staunch hater of Christmas and Santa Claus

The Caroling Countergambit (2.f5)

The Caroling Countergambit Accepted and Declined

And a few other lines suggested by several users.

Although the concept of the Santa Claus attack is a reasonable one, it’s yet to be recognized as a standard chess line. Let’s look at another opening variation, slightly more popular than the Santa Claus Opening, but also not officially recognized by the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO).

Dutch Defense: Christmas tree variation

image 33
The pawns from e to b for Black forms the peak of an Xmas tree.

The variation, made popular by the Muzychuk sisters, is the only other opening variation informally dedicated to Christmas. Sad but true.

Christmas birthdays

christmas chgess cake
Christmas chess set cake. Image: Cakecentral.com

Now, we take a look at grandmasters who share a birthday with baby Jesus. These veterans are the epitome of “where chess meets Christmas.”

Alexis Cabrera (1976)

Alexis Cabrera
Alexis Cabrera

He is a Spanish player and coach who got his GM title in 2004. He’s rated 2488 as of December 2021.

Johan Hellsten (1975)

Johan Hellsten
Johan Hellsten

He is a Swedish player and chess writer who got his GM title in 2004. He’s rated 2550 as of December 2021.

Christmas tournaments

What better way to celebrate the Noel period between chess players than with a chess tournament? Many tournaments are held both online and offline on Xmas Day to mark the celebrations.

Zurich Christmas Open

The Zurich Open was first played in 1977. The Swiss-organized tournament was held annually but has not been held since 2018.

Hastings International Chess Congress

This tournament is held in Hastings, England, and is approaching its 100th edition. It is also called the Christmas Congress because it is held at the turn of the new year. The last winner of the Christmas Congress is English grandmaster David Howell.

World Rapid and Blitz Championships

This major tournament typically holds immediately after Xmas. The intensity the time-controls brings makes the event more exciting for spectators. Magnus Carlsen currently holds the titles(triple crown) and is ready to defend them against vicious opponents like Hikaru Nakamura and Alireza Firouzja.

Chess Xmas games

If you’re looking to further get into the celebrations, you can cry out a couple of Christmas-themed chess games.

Christmas chess (Online)

Christmas Chess on 247chess.com
Christmas Chess on 247chess.com

This is simply standard chess played with a different theme on 247chess.com. You might get a bit confused because the pieces don’t look like the conventional 2D or 3D pieces, but it’s a small price to pay to be in the Yuletide mood, right? As a heads up, we have Santa as the King, a reindeer as the queen, a gift box as the rook, a gingerbread man as the knight, elves as bishops, and Christmas tree ornaments as pawns.

Christmas chess (Offline)

Offline Christmas game.
Offline Christmas game. Image: twinkl.com.ng

If you have kids that enjoy chess, then this is a great option for them this season. The pieces and board are cut out of the pack, and the pieces are folded to stand. It comes with standard chess rules, but with a design that compliments the season. You can check it out on twinkl.com.ng.

Chess Christmas gifts to share

Xmas can not be complete without giving. And what better way to impress a chess lover than presenting them with a chess-related present. You can even scratch your own back by getting yourself these cool chess items.

A subscription on Aimchess, chess.com, chess24, and the rest

Remember that neighborhood tournaments are abundant in this season. So, take advantage of them by getting yourself well-prepared for the action!

Chess books

Classic, but never gets old.

Chess merch

There are cool Christmas chess Merch on Amazon, zazzle.com, and spreadshirt.com

Chess tree ornaments

Wanna make a cool memory? Decorate a Christmas tree with a loved one. Wanna make a cooler memory?! Use chess ornaments to decorate a Christmas with a chess-crazed loved one!

Chess movies

You can also recommend a great chess movie to see on Christmas Day. Seeing the movie would create a memory that would be a good Xmas present to yourself or your loved one.

Christmas greetings from top chess players

Lastly, we take a look at some of our favorite world elite chess players who took out time to celebrate Christmas with us. The short link includes:

Magnus Carlsen

He released a video in 2014, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas on behalf of himself and the Play Magnus group.

Levon Aronian

The Armenian GM released a video in 2019 holding a pet dog and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Fabiano Caruana

He tweeted an Xmas greeting in 2015.

caruana tweet
Caruana’s tweet

Garry Kasparov

He replied to a fan who was reading his book through a quoted tweet.

kasparov tweet
Kasparov’s tweet
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Chessforsharks Editorial Team


Our team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers and chess experts with combined 28 years of experience.

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