In his well-known book, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, the prominent Muslim scholar, Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:
“Chess is a very popular game, and the opinion of jurists concerning it varies. Some scholars consider it halal (permissible), others consider it makruh (reprehensible), and still others consider it haram (unlawful).
Those who consider it haram cite some hadiths in support of their view, but researchers have proved that chess did not appear until after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Thus all such hadiths must have been fabricated.
The Companions of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them all) themselves held different views about playing chess. Ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said that it is worse than backgammon and `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) regarded it as gambling (perhaps meaning when it is played for money), while some others merely expressed disapproval of it.
However, some Companions and some of the second generation of scholars allowed it. Among those were Ibn `Abbas, Abu Hurayrah, Ibn Sirin, Hisham bin `Umrah, and Sa`id Ibn Al-Musayyib. We agree with those great jurists, since the original principle is the permissibility of acts and no text is to be found prohibiting it.
Moreover, in addition to being a game and a recreation, chess is also a mental exercise which requires thought and planning. In this respect, it is the opposite of backgammon, for while backgammon is a game of chance and therefore comparable to divining with arrows, chess is a game of skill and strategy, which may be compared to archery.
However, playing chess is permissible only if the following conditions are met:
1- One should not get so absorbed in it that he delays his prayer; chess is well-known to be a stealer of time.
2- There should be no gambling involved.
3- The players should not utter obscenities or vulgarities.
If any of these conditions are not met it should be considered as haram.”