An original story conceived by Tim Rice, Chess centers around the political and personal tensions between an American and a Soviet chess champion at a world championship match played during the cold war.

Featuring a score by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, the show was first launched in the form of a concept album in 1984. "I Know Him So Well", sung by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, occupied the number 1 spot on the UK charts for four-weeks. "One Night In Bangkok", sung by Murray Head, reached the number 3 spot in the charts in the States and number 12 in the UK, and topped the charts in Australia, West Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, and Israel. Singing stars Elaine Paige, Tommy Korberg and Murray Head who had performed on the concept album later recreated their roles for the theatre when Chess premiered on the West End stage in 1986.

Although successful in England with a three-year run, a completely re-worked book by Richard Nelson did not lead to Broadway popularity despite leads Judy Kuhn, David Carroll and Philip Casnoff. Future productions which relied up Tim Rice's book have met with more acclaim, most notably the sell-out Royal Albert Hall Concert in May of 2008 (starring Idina Menzel, Josh Groban, Adam Pascal and Kerry Ellis) which was also released on CD and DVD.

The main characters of Chess are the American player Freddie Trumper, his chess second Florence Vassy, the Soviet player Anatoly Sergievsky and his chess second / KGB agent Alexander Molokov. The chess championship Arbiter and FBI agent Walter de Courcey have supporting roles as does Anatoly's wife Svetlana who sings "I Know Him So Well" with Florence.