A Closer Look at “Checkmate”

If you know anything about the game of chess, you know it all comes down to when the King on either side can move no more. Once the king is trapped, the winning side declares “checkmate” and the game is over.

There is a painting that once hung in the Louvre museum in Paris, painted by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch. Today, the painting is popularly known as “Checkmate.” It is now in private hands, having been sold in a Christie’s auction in 1999.

The painting depicts two chess players. One is Satan, who appears arrogantly confident. The other player is a man who looks forlorn. If Satan wins, he wins the man’s soul. You can view more of the creepy details below.

The Chess Grandmaster’s Discovery

According to legend, and probably fact, the story goes like this. A chess grand master came upon this intriguing painting in the Louvre museum alongside other famous art such as the Mona Lisa.

The grand mastered stared a long time at the chess board in the painting and finally noticed something surprising. The typical interpretation of the painting (that the devil had the man in “checkmate”) was incorrect.

Though the devil seemed to be the obvious victor, he was in fact not winning. The man, who thought he was losing, was actually winning.

According to the arrangement of the pieces left on the chess board, his king had one more move. This fateful move would make him the winner of the game.

The grand master called the curator and determined that the title “Checkmate” did not fit the scene because the forlorn-looking player actually had the ability to defeat his opponent, though he didn’t realize it yet. His king had one more move.

The Spiritual Implications

Now think about the spiritual implications of this painting with me about what the grand master discovered.

Repeatedly in Scripture, God assures his people that there is always a way of escaping situations that seem hopeless at the time.

  • When the people of Judah were deported to Babylon because of their sinfulness, God revealed that a future day of release would come.
  • Just as God provided water for the Israelites in the desert, he would also provide for them on their long trek homeward.
  • A little boy in John 6 only had two fish and a few loaves of bread to feed thousands of people. It looked like checkmate, but our King had another move left! They collected 12 baskets of leftover food after the meal was served.
  • In the Old Testament, Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions. It looked like checkmate, but our King had another move left and Daniel remained safe.
  • In John 8, it looked like checkmate for a woman about to be killed by angry men with stones. But Jesus told the woman to go and not sin anymore.
  • On Good Friday, the criminal next to Jesus on the cross thought it was the end, yet he still repented.

So often in life, we consider the world to be a mess. With war, violence, a deadly pandemic, unemployment, struggling marriages, depression, isolation, and more … we can easily become disillusioned. People begin to feel lost. We look for direction but often end up on the wrong path. It looks like checkmate, but we need not fear—the game is not over.

Our Creator God still has one move left! Our lives and future are in His hands. The Lord is the only King who can never be defeated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As the leader of Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” Charles is a former secular journalist, who has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He began working in the Christian world after seminary, coming to Haven as the fourth speaker in 2000. He and his wife, Janet, have written several books, including Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus.

24 Comments

  • Wan Ying Lee says:

    Thank you. Very Insightful. Great message in time of pandemic.

    • Kelly M Stronach says:

      Many thanks for this email today . It could not have come at a better time for me and is exactly what I needed for the battle field right now . My armor is a little thin and I’ve been hit on all sides . Growing in and staying strong in the spirit is a real job . God has a job for me to do and I am going now to pray for strength in body mind and spirit and also the discernment to choose His Will .

      • Lee says:

        I heard about this story in a Sermon this Sunday. So I did some research. All I can now share, God has everything under His control. I need not worry or fret. Praise God.

        • Kwesi says:

          Same here, Pastor Tim Dilena used it in his sermon last Sunday. I hope it’s the same sermon you’re referring to.

          • Alicia says:

            I too was ministered by Pastor Tim Dilena as he so powerfully delivered this story in his sermon. A powerful and encouraging message that put a fight back in me. Conclusion. We win! There is a war for the souls of men and we need to be about the King’s business, who is also our Father, by the way!! We serve the King of kings!! Ckeckmate, devil! Hallelujah.

      • L Bluebird says:

        I read your comment after reading about the chess painting. I felt moved to reply. You’re right; it is hard to be obedient but OH SO WORTH IT WHEN YOU ARE. I’m not perfect but OUR LORD blesses me DAILY & I Thank Him for so many little things throughout my day. My daughter sent me the tiktok video of a pastor telling the audience about this painting & how the KING has the last move. I pray you are feeling stronger in your faith. I feel u are. I believe from reading what u wrote, u have what it takes to make it through anything. Plus He never gives us more than we can handle, I’m proof of that more than once in MANY different ways. Hold on to faith & not things. May God bless u ABUNDANTLY ALWAYS. Lana

    • Allen voss says:

      So I’ve reviewed the board and it appears that four minor pieces have been taken plus possibly the queen and 5 pawns all from the white side. The block side is down what appears 1 night and only 1 pawn . there’s no way white could win this game from what I can see . There may possibly be one more move , but in the end , white has new hope ……

      • I thought so, too, at first. It looked like the king was taken. Then it appeared to be the Queen in his hand. But I believe the Queen is still on the board, the piece looking forward our way without wings. It looks to me the king has one more move, but after that….

  • Natalie says:

    Wow! I don’t remember seeing that painting in the Louvre, but one can only take in so much. This painting depicts how things are not always as they seem to be. You’re right – satan looks very confident, but he’s always sure of himself. Great article!

  • Connie says:

    This is an inspiration full of the mercy and love of God thank you and God bless you.❤

  • David proffitt says:

    Love this!!

  • Linda Briggs says:

    In a game of chess, you must sacrifice to win. In a game of life, strategy and sacrifice go hand in hand. Christ made the sacrifice for us, our only strategy to win is repentance and as we accept Him. Do you?

  • Pastor Matthew Drake says:

    Since 2020, when I nearly died of COVID, I have had one battle after another.

    Loosing great friends and mentors to death, several Saints and Pillars in our Church dying recently, my Mom just died – all led to my health plummeting.

    I lost over 45 pounds in less than a couple months. Spiritually I was doing fine – but mentally, emotionally and physically I was going downhill fast!

    As a Husband and Father, I was supposed to be the one who led and could take whatever came at us. As a Pastor – I was supposed to be the strong one.

    I was failing in all areas.

    A sort of force Sabbatical (God led) and I am on the mend.

    This is a great word!

    • Corum Hughes says:

      That sounds like a very difficult journey. Thanks for sharing, Matthew. I’m glad this post could minister to you and that you are on the mend!

  • Martin colwell says:

    None of this story makes sense. I’m no GM but I play chess. It’s hard to tell which pieces are which but there are only two pieces which are possibly being attacked by black. Assuming one of them is the king they do obviously have moves. However the piece on a1 looks like a woman so that’s a funny choice for king and the other looks like an angel and there appears to be two angels on the board. So my best guess for king would be the piece on d1 which is not even in check.

    Also there is no way white is winning. No matter which piece is the king white can safely resign.

  • Stephen Galvan III says:

    God is enough without theatrics. I felt this was a clear checkmate, but after seeing the pawn strategy placed in a new position from the original painting it confirms it. Means does not justify the ends, the enemy uses half truths to achieve goals. We are better than that, greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world. I recommend taking down this post.

  • Sarah D says:

    Thank you for sharing!
    I want to tell this story at a praise night we have 26th of May in Belgium!

    Bless you!

  • Garrett Hurt says:

    Most people don’t look at the details. They only see what they want to see, and hear what they want to hear. The painter painted a moment in time that all of us experience. What is my next move? If I move here I can live another day, or screw it Ill just give in. We all get to make a choice at some point to side with good or evil. Evil can deceive you into believing that you are invincible. Its the easy route. Choosing the right is difficult. God gives us the mountain but doesn’t spare us the climb. The devil tells us he can take us to the top without any resistance. All you have to do is sell your soul to it. The message that the artist gives us is, never give up and always know that as long as the King is in play there is one more move to make. It’s a battle that we all face on a daily basis.

    • Garrett Hurt says:

      ……………… one more things. Throughout time there has never been a story, movie, poem, song, painting, book or fable that ended with evil conquering good. In the end, good always triumphs. No matter what, GOD conquers all. They tried to kill Him 2000 years ago, but He became stronger. You can’t put God in checkmate ever.. He will let you choose and if you choose wrong, He will let you come home. You just have to ask. Ask and you will be answered, Seek and you shall find, Knock and the door will open up to you. Matthew 7: 7-8

  • Jose Ozurumba says:

    i also saw this picture when a pastor i dunno was preaching well i couldn’t really see which ponds were which one like the king but if what the grandmaster said is actually true then we all have a chance in our lives it’s never to late. this life is also a gamelike you just have to pass the test and win the levels in order to succed the game. THANK GOD for giving us a second chance.

  • Candido says:

    This cooberates the story as historical fact. Evidence is provided in the below link.

    The “One More Move” Story Of Paul Morphy and The Moritz Retzsch Painting
    https://www.one-more-move-chess-art.com/One-More-Move.html

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