The story depicts decadent royalty of Central North India. It is set around the life of the last independently ruling Nawab (noble) Wajid Ali Shah and concludes with the British annexation of the Nawab's kingdom of Awadh in 1856. The two main characters are the aristocrats Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Raushan Ali who are deeply immersed into playing chess. Their desire for the game destroys the competency of the characters, and makes them irresponsible in their duties towards their families and society. They derive immense pleasure in developing chess strategies and ignore the real life invasion by the British. Their city Lucknow falls to British attackers as they are busy playing a game of chess.