The Queen's Gambit
An ode to the greatest move in chess history
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Chess has fascinated us since our childhood and is culturally considered the ultimate board game to challenge our mental strength. Almost everyone has played this game once in a lifetime but only a few can master it and yet it can surprise even the most experienced grandmaster. Our lives uncannily imitate the game and a person's style of play is a reflection of himself. A valuable lesson to learn from the game is that we have to make little sacrifices to gain a lasting advantage. No chess move is more indicative of this than the most beautiful Queen sacrifice chess has ever witnessed. It is often characterized as the "gold coin move" and widely regarded as the greatest move ever made in chess history. Our entry for the rendering competition tries reenact the position on the chess board as faithfully as possible with our ray tracing framework.
Image generated using XBoard
The Deutscher Schachbund was holding it's masters tournament in Wroclaw, Poland in 1912. Among its participants were American grandmaster Frank James Marshall and grandmaster Stepan Levitsky from the Soviet Union. At the time Marshall was the US chess champion and Levitsky was the Russian national champion. The game between the two grandmasters started with Levitsky having the white pieces and Marshall with black pieces. After 23 moves they reached the position as indicated in the above image. It was Marshall's move and he moved his Queen from C3 to G3. At first glance it seems that Marshall has just sacrificed his queen giving Levitsky a number of options to capture it. But unfortunately whatever Levitsky plays in the next move he would either get checkmated or would give Marshall a decisive advantage. As soon as Marshall played Queen G3, Levitsky realized this fact and resigned the game on the spot. The move is so powerful and inspirational that spectators tossed gold coins on the board after Marshall played this move. Although this is sometimes disputed (full article here). If you are interested in knowing the possible winning variations for Marshall (with black pieces) see the wikipedia page on the game which has a bit of chess jargon but this video covers the entire game and is easy to understand if you know the rules of chess. You can skip the video to 5:20 for an explanation of this exact position. The game was also used as an anecdote in the movie "Tower Heist" and is titled "The American Beauty". Frank James Marshall beautifully sacrificed his queen to win the game which immortalized his name in history books.


180k Primitives

HD image: 2.5 hr

i7-8th Gen 8750H with 12 virtual CPU cores and 16GB RAM

100 SPP for HD
150 SPP for SD

Ray marching step size 0.1

We used blender to position the chess board and pieces which were obtained from sketchfab that have a CC license. Often designers mismatch the size ratio for individual pieces so we had to combine the scene from two different models that we downloaded to replicate a chess board. The knight being the hardest piece to carve from wood often serves as a benchmark for the quality of a chessboard. Enough care was taken to control the ratios of the pieces. Secondly we observed that some pieces did not have enough detail in them so we have used mesh subdivision in blender to increase the detailing which increased the number of faces to 180k after scaling and repositioning. The camera parameters were converted from blender to our ray tracing framework parameters using the scripting interface. As an addendum we placed the captured pieces on the floor. To keep the aesthetic value of our scene we had to adjust a few occluding pieces away from the exact center of the square. A black pawn which was originally on E6 in the game is placed on D6 in our scene to avoid occlusions (it still won't change the outcome of the game).

We added a floor to the scene using a triangle solid just below the chess board and a volumetric AABBox covers the floor for foggy effect. We kept the number of ray marching steps low in the interest of time.


Click on the thumbnails to expand.

Volumetric Rendering
because ray marching is life!
Performance Gains
with OpenMP and BVH
Environment Map
with horizon effect
Special primitives
Smooth triangles for the win!
Materials and Textures
The world is colourless without them

Credits and References

Chess board, knight and rook were taken from this sketchfab link.
The other pieces were taken from this sketchfab link.
Both models are licensed under CC 4.0
The backdrop image in environment mapper is from pexels [link]
The wood texture images are taken from here and here
Website template taken from with MIT license .
The full game can be seen on
Here is a lichess study with annotations [link].
If you haven't played chess in a long time and want a layman's explanation of the game then refer this video.