May one play chess on Shabbos?
- Letter of the law:
It is permitted to play a game using [pre-designated] bones so long as one is not doing so for gambling purposes. [Some explain that this bone game refers to chess. Others explain this to refer to “five stones” or “Kugalach”. Practically, the Poskim conclude that it is permitted to play chess on Shabbos.
The law by sore losers: Some Poskim rule that a person who becomes saddened and depressed if he loses a game may not play a game on Shabbos against another person, lest he lose and bring himself to sadness on Shabbos.
Borer: There is no Halachic prohibition against separating the pieces and setting them up on the board in order to play right away. However, one may not do so to play later on, on Shabbos, and also may not separate the pieces after the game is over in order to put them away in an organized manner, due to the biblical prohibition of Borer.
Designating a special chess set for Shabbos: Some Poskim rule that one is to designate a special chess set for the sake of playing with on Shabbos and is not to use the regular set that is played with during the week. Accordingly, some were accustomed to make silver chess pieces for the sake of playing on Shabbos. Practically, however, it is not necessary to do so and one may use his regular chess set that he plays with during the week to also use to play with on Shabbos.
- Spirit of Shabbos:
Due to the holiness of Shabbos, adults should avoid playing games on Shabbos even if the game has no Halachic prohibitions involved. The Jerusalem Talmud states that the city of Tur Shimon was destroyed for the sin of playing ball on Shabbos. Some explain this to mean that the city was destroyed due to the sin of using their time on Shabbos for ball playing instead of learning Torah. The Taz writes in the name of the Rashal that it is a wonderment that playing ball is allowed on Yom Tov when in truth it is a game of children and not meant for adults. Thus, he rules that it is an evil custom for adults to spend their time playing ball, and “if I had the power, I would nullify it”. Even during the weekdays playing games are to be avoided, being that they are not obligated in learning Torah. This applies even towards games that are intellectually challenging and help develop one’s mental capabilities. In the words of the Reishis Chochmah, “Those who play games on Shabbos and Yom Tov, woe onto their soul as they cause it much evil, as Shabbos was only given to the Jewish people for the sake of learning Torah.”
One who is exhausted and does not have the mind to learn: The above discouragement of playing chess on Shabbos is only if a person’s ability to learn Torah. If, however, one is mentally or emotionally exhausted [i.e. depressed or anxious and worried] and is unable to focus on studying Torah, then it is better that he play chess which stimulates his mind rather than play other games, and so was done by Gedolei Yisrael.
Women: There is greater leniency to allow women to play chess on Shabbos even from the aspect of the spirit of Shabbos, although practically even women should use their time on Shabbos for Torah study and inspiration.
Children: There is greater leniency to allow children below the age of Bar Mitzvah to play chess on Shabbos even from the aspect of the spirit of Shabbos, although they too are to be educated to spend some time studying Torah on Shabbos.
Non-fully observant, modern, struggling: All those who are not on the level of a Ben Torah to be expected to spend their entire day studying Torah on Shabbos, may play chess on Shabbos, especially if doing so will prevent them from performing actions that are forbidden on Shabbos in order to entertain themselves [i.e. read a secular novel, etc etc].
From the letter of the law, it is permitted to play chess on Shabbos, although this should not be done due to it breaking the spirit of Shabbos which is meant to be used for Torah study, with exception to women children and those who are unable to learn Torah, who may be lenient. Nonetheless, one who is a sore loser who has a history of being emotionally distraught when he loses, should not play. Likewise, one is to beware of transgressing the Borer prohibition upon playing.
 Admur 338:6; Rama 338:5; Darkei Moshe 338:5; Shiltei Hagiborim Eiruvin 35b; Aruch Hashulchan 338:12
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that it is forbidden to play any game on Shabbos being that they do not bring one to a needed wisdom. [M”A 338:8 in name of R”A Sasson 180; Shut Harav Meir Gagin 66; Radbaz end of Vol. 5; Elya Raba 338:6; Birkeiy Yosef 338:1; Tosefes Shabbos 338:11; M”B 338:21; Kaf Hachaim 338:39] Admur ibid omits this opinion from his Shulchan Aruch.
 P”M 338 M”Z 3; Kaf Hachaim 338:37
As although they make noise during the form of play, one has no intent to make this noise. [ibid]
 Implication of Admur and Rama ibid who write the word “Chech; M”A ibid according to some Girsaos that it is the game called Iskaki; Makor Chaim of Chavos Yair 338; M”B 338:21; Minchas Yitzchak 3:33; See Toras Shabbos 338:10; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:13 footnote 107
 Implication of Shiltei Hagiborim ibid; M”A ibid according to some Girsaos that Iskaki is not Tzech; Yam Shel Shlomo Chulin 4:11; Bach Y.D. 56; Taz Y.D. 55:1; Chelkas Yaakov 1:71, Tinyana O.C. 162; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:13
 M”A ibid “Iskaki”; Minchas Yitzchak 3:33; Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:15-2; Piskeiy Teshuvos ibid
 Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:15-2; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:13 footnote 109; See regarding crying on Shabbos: Rama 288:2; Iggur in name of Shibulei Haleket; Taz 288:2; Elya Raba 288:3; Tosefes Shabbos 288:3; Mateh Yehuda 288:10; P”M 288 M”Z 2; Aruch Hashulchan 288:6; M”B 288:4; Kaf Hachaim 288:9; Piskeiy Teshuvos 288:2
 Shabbos Kehalacha Vol. 2 p. 223-226
 Piskeiy Teshuvos 338 footnote 113; See Shabbos Kehalacha Vol. 2 p. 188; Some Poskim rule that separating both items for later use is permitted, or questionable. [P”M 319 M”Z 2 and 12] Others rule it is forbidden. [Biur Halacha “Hayu Lefanav”]
 M”A 338:8; Kneses Hagedola 338; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid; Tehila Ledavid 338:8
 The reason: As otherwise it appears like Uvdin Dechol. [M”A ibid]
 Setimas Admur ibid who omits the ruling in the M”A ibid; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:13 footnote 108 in name of Michabrei Zemaneinu that the custom is unlike this opinion
 M”A 338:8 in name of Rav Sasson; Birkeiy Yosef 338:1; Pesach Hadvir 338:4; Reishis Chochma Shaar Hakedusha 12; Shelah Shaar Haosiyos Shin; Pachad Yitzchak Erech Shavua; Mur Uketzia 338; Toras Shabbos 338:10; Even Yekarah 3:59; Kaf Hachaim 338:39; Chelkas Yaakov Tinyana O.C. 162; Shevet Mussar 42; Minchas Yitzchak 3:33; Beir Moshe 2:27; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:13 footnote 109
 Taanis 4:5, brought in Beis Yosef 338
 Ketzos Hashulchan 110 footnote 16
 Taz 518:12
 Reishis Chochma Shaar Hakedusha 12; P”M 338 A”A 8; Ketzos Hashulchan 110 footnote 16
 Reishis Chochma ibid, brought in Minchas Yitzchak ibid
 ibid, brought in Minchas Yitzchak ibid
 See Kneses Hagedola C.M. 370:4; Birkeiy Yosef 338:1; Mur Uketzia 338; Kaf Hachaim 338:39; Piskeiy Teshuvos 338:13
 See Admur 338:6
 See Admur 338:6; Beir Moshe 2:27