Home » Dictionary » skittles room

skittles room

skittles room
 n.Gloss: at the venue of a chess tournament, an area or room where players can play informally, either for fun or to hustle each other for money. Note: A commenter remarks that he’s known this term for 40 years, which makes it perfect catchword fodder: it does not appear in any of a dozen mainstream dictionaries that I checked. «He went straight to what is known as the “skittles room,” which was not actually a room, but a series of tables where people could play chess for fun before their formal matches. The skittles tables doubled as the gambling pit for several dozen hustlers, who’d come to the tournament not to compete but to ply their trade against skilled players willing to play for high stakes.» —“The Days and Knights of Tom Murphy” by Wells Tower Washington Post Sept. 25, 2007. (source: Double-Tongued Dictionary)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • “Skittles room” is long-standing chess slang. I’ve seen it in print since the 1960s, referring to events considerably earlier. A Google search turned up 458,000 hits for it…

  • Yes, but is it in a mainstream dictionary? That’s the whole point of this site: finding terms that seem to need more work done. It’s about putting them on the record so more attention is paid to them.

    Google hits count for nothing unless they are vetted for date, source, accuracy, and context.

  • google SKITTLES—Berea College Crafts. the board game is wonderful. most sites list it as a british pub game, but it’s very popular in KY. check it out . . . interesting that the word shows up in this context . . .

  • About Skittles room:
    An interesting quotation of Garry Kasparov, in Batsford Chess Openings (1989). He pooh-poohed a move in the “English opening” sequence with “chess is not skittles”
    ROO-BOOKAROO, Paris, France.

  • Point taken about Google hits.

    This is a bit more precise: Edward Winter, a well-respected chess historian, citing an article in Chess Review by the grandmaster Saveilly Tartakover:

    “below is an excerpt from ‘End-game secrets’, on pages 328-329 of the November 1951 issue: ‘This position is from a skittles game played recently in Paris…’”


    So it would appear the term “skittles” for casually played chess was sufficiently common for a writer to use it, in a chess-oriented publication, without needing to define it by the early 1950s.

  • I have found some suggestion on the web that “skittles chess”, meaning quick informal chess (possibly with wagering), takes its name from the bowling game called skittles. This is supposedly because the pieces fly around like wooden skittle pins.

    Can anyone find any evidence to support / refute this?

Further reading

Folding Money (episode #1616)

Barbara Kingsolver’s book Demon Copperhead is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield set in today’s Appalachia. Martha...

Takes the Cake (episode #1615)

What do you call a long sandwich filled with lots of ingredients? Whether you call it a sub, a hoagie, a grinder, or something else entirely depends...

Truth and Beauty (episode #1499)

Malamute, kayak, and parka are just some of the words that have found their way into English from the language of indigenous people in northern...

Blessing Box (episode #1613)

Is there such a thing as a “neutral” accent, and if so what does it sound like? And that quirk in the way southern Californians talk...