Information for librarians & educators


A 4-part documentary investigating the intriguing history of chess and its remarkable impact on culture, art, science, and more. The films take the viewer on a captivating journey across a wide range of times and places touching on cultural history, art, literature, AI, psychology, game theory, chess variants, genius, gender issues, education, social empowerment, prison reform and much more in an attempt to comprehensively address the question of what makes the game so unique.
Year: 2023
Total duration full series (4 episodes): 240 min.
Language: English with English captions
Accompanying book: Chessays: Travels Through the World of Chess by Howard Burton
Relevant courses: anthropology, art history, computer science, cultural history, education, film studies, game theory, gender studies, incarceration studies medieval history, psychology, sociology, and many more – see the study guide below.

Public Library Event Program Guide: VIEW OR DOWNLOAD HERE
Academic Study Guide: VIEW OR DOWNLOAD HERE

NEW: DSL and 1-year and 3-year streaming licenses are now available via Docuseek (details HERE)

DVD (UPC 810103689244): now available on Amazon and through different library vendors, including Midwest Tape, Library Bound and Baker & Taylor.
EDUCATIONAL VERSION DVD INCLUDES PPR (UPC 810134940727): available via MovieZyng here and through all library vendors mentioned above.

The films offer an experience of cinematic storytelling at its best with an engaging narrative and exciting visuals.  Below is a brief synopsis of each episode: 

PART 1 – UNIQUENESS: The historical and societal importance of games, what chess is and isn’t, why it’s an ideal vehicle to explore the captivating link between games and culture and Hollywood’s oversimplification of chess.

PART 2 – THE FIRST MILLENNIUM: An examination of chess’ intriguing trajectory from Ancient India to the Sasanian Empire to the Golden Age of Islam to Medieval Europe, highlighting its many influences on art, literature and politics throughout a broad range of very different societies. 

PART 3 – ART, SCIENCE, SPORT: A detailed investigation of chess’ remarkable cultural impact from the late 15th century to the present day, from the birth of the modern game to Renaissance dialogues to artificial intelligence.

PART 4 – CONTEMPORARY IMPACT: How the chess world reveals key aspects of our current beliefs and values, along with an exploration of several specific chess-related programs, from schools to prisons to personal empowerment. 

Read a detailed review by Chief Film Critic Chris Knight, National Post: “…a fascinating stroll through the history of the game, pausing to examine its many (non-Hollywood) cultural connections to the world at large.” (here > Hollywood’s Gambit)

I asked my library to order this wonderful documentary series primarily for episode 2, the first 1,000 years of the history of chess, which documents the game’s creation in northern India around 500 CE, its evolution in the Sassanian Empire and Muslim caliphates, and its eventual emergence in Latin Christendom, nearly 500 years after its creation. Each episode links the past with the present in engaging, entertaining, and educational interviews and lectures. Highly recommended.” — Paul Milliman, Associate Professor, History Department, University of Arizona

Your film serves to motivate me and to use Chess as a metaphor for how a game can be used as an agent for societal change while simultaneously providing a safe and cheap and fun escape from life’s difficulties.” Joseph Shemtov, Free Library of Philadelphia

“ outstanding documentary series that is incredibly thought-provoking and informative. Four distinct hour-long episodes with varied appeal and structure. Through the Mirror of Chess has as much place in the classroom as it does public library documentary shelves. Highly Recommended.” – Video Librarian (4 1/2 stars out of 5)

Watching this fascinating 4-part series doesn’t require a liking of chess or even knowledge of the game but those who do play will gain an insight into the nearly two millennia-old board game that grew and morphed just as did the cultures that embraced it… – review IMDB

Featured participants:

  • Two experts involved with the biggest online chess communities in the world Danny Rensch ( and Theo Wait (Lichess)
  • Several top chess players and other experts on the culture of chess, including Daniel Gormally, Jovanka Houska, Larry Kaufman, Raymond Keene, Rick Knowlton, Elshan Moradiabadi, Elisabeth Pähtz, Bruce Pandolfini, Irene Sukandar, Elshan Moradiabadi
  • Jenny Adams, Professor of English, UM Amherst and author of Power Play: The Literature and Politics of Chess in the Late Middle Ages
  • Pontus Carlsson, GM, involved with Business Meets Chess and Kids
  • Tom Dart, Sheriff Cook County, Illinois
  • Deborah Freeman Fahid, author of Chess and Other Games Pieces From Islamic Lands
  • Mikhail Korenman, Director of Cook County Jail Chess Program, Illinois
  • David Kwan and Jenny Yan, experts on Xiangqi and its community
  • Russell Makofsky, The Gift of Chess
  • Tunde Onakoya, Chess in Slums Africa
  • Antonio Panaino, Professor of Iranian Studies, University of Bologna
  • Carl Portman, chess in UK prisons
  • Ulrich Schädler, Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Freiburg University
  • Wang-Sheng Lee, Professor of Economics, Monash University
  • David Smerdon, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Development Economics, The University of Queensland
  • Elisabeth Spiegel, chess teacher/coach featured in the documentary Brooklyn Castle
  • Hou Yifan, Chinese Grandmaster, Former Women’s World Chess Champion and Professor of the School of Physical Education, ​​Shenzhen University

The accompanying book, Chessays: Travels Through The World Of Chess, by Howard Burton is now available as well.