The History of Chess

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The knights marching forward, the elephants raging war against the rival, the pawn retreating, the bishop scattered around and the king scared to death. And just when the escape seems impossible, comes the queen to the rescue. But this isn’t a real war nor a random game, this is a game of serious military strategy, or once was. The game of chess is one of the most interesting, baffling, and strategical games to play. 

While the origin of chess remains a mystery, not many argue about its existential importance. That’s the reason that today chess isn’t just a household game, instead a game of honor, a real game to find the best brains. Though it’s a recreational and competitive board game played between two players, chess, however, needs The Law of Equilibrium, space, time, force, and of course dynamics. Each player needs to juggle between all these elements and plan accordingly the attack. But where did chess first originated? Let’s check it out!

The Origin Of Chess

Some scholars believe that chess was first originated in the late 7th century, while others suggest that the origin could be as early as the 6th century. The precursor of chess was first seen in India known as ‘Chaturanga’, which was also mentioned in the Hindu Epic Mahabharata and as well in Ramayana. But rather than a game, it was a tool for military strategy. Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates to four military divisions- infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry. Legends believe that when the youngest prince of the Gupta Empire was killed in a war, his brother devised a way of representing the brother’s death to their grieving mother using an 8 by 8 ‘Ashtapada’ board. And thus Chaturanga came into existence. 

The Chaturanga soon reached from the Gupta Empire to Persia, where the Persian rulers first named it ‘Chess’.  Chess comes from the Persian word ‘Shah’ and ‘Shah-mat’ (checkmate) or ‘Shatranj’. The rules were further evolved during this time and the players started using the word ‘Shah’ for victory (king) and ‘Mat’ for defeat. The position of Knights and pawns remains intact, but the position of other elements experienced a regional change from time to time. In the 7th century, when Islamic countries conquest Persia, the game was then introduced to the Islamic world, and since then chess became a rich tool for political and military strategy. Soon the roots of chess started crossing borders and reached several different nations and communities such as Japan, China, Russia, and more, who named it according to their language. For instance in Portuguese chess became ‘xadrez’, whereas in Greek it became ‘zatrikion’. Though the name varies from place to place, the rules of the game seemingly also varied accordingly. The oldest record we have for chess traces back to the 10th century supposedly played by a Baghdad historian.

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It was when Europe adopted the game of chess; the game gained its modern form. The Vikings soon carried the game to Iceland and England, where it is believed to have turned into a collection of chessmen and 78 walrus-ivory pieces of various sets. By the end of 1000 AD, the game became widely popular and began teaching in schools as a part of student’s yearly syllabus. From the 11th to 12th century, the game thrived and many court men started using it to explain the military strategy for the war. But it was until the 12th century when religious leaders started seeing chess as an inappropriate game and simultaneously King Louis IX banned chess in France in the year 1254. But due to the high popularity of the game, by the 15th century, the ban was lifted and chess became the royal game.

The original and modern names of chess pieces were:

King- King

Advisor- Queen 

Elephant- Bishop

Horse- Knight

Chariot- Rook

Foot soldier- Pawn 

The Modern Chess

The start of 1300 marks the advancement of the game. The pawns could now move two squares on its first turn, and the elephant that could originally move only a two-square diagonal jump was now seen as a Bishop doubling its range. By the 15th century, the rules for chess were set and are still recognized the same. This time the weak advisor was re-casted as Queen, perhaps the idea was taken by the growing young female queens in the world. Chess soon saw a huge surge and moved from royals to the commoners who made it a symbol of creativity. Minor changes continued to happen from the 15th to 19th century according to regional variance, but the overall game remained intact.

The first major chess tournament happened in 1834 between French and British players which ended in British player’s Louis-Charles de la Bourdonnais victory and thus gained widespread popularity. It was the first major event reported by newspapers and books.

The most famous chess game was ‘The Immortal Game’ played by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky on 21 June 1851 in London during the first International tournament for chess. The bold moves from Andressen took the game to the next level. One of the favorite moves by Andressen was when he gave up rooks and a bishop, then his queen, checkmating his opponent with his three remaining minor pieces. And it was after this big win when chess took its new geopolitical importance.

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Just like any other game, chess also saw gender segregation. While the most important chess piece to date remains a Queen, women were not allowed to play the game. The widespread popularity of chess among males transformed chess into a more masculine form. But by the middle of the 19th century, the first chess-coffee house was established for women in the Netherlands in 1847. In 1860 the first chess book by a woman The ABC of Chess, by “A Lady” (H.I. Cooke) was published. Soon in 1884, the Sussex Chess Association for the first time organized and sponsored the first women’s tournament.

The first grandmaster from Asia for chess was Mir Sultan Khan. He was born in 1905 in Mitha Tiwani and was considered the master of chess by the age of 21. He became a national champion in 1928 and became the first Indian player to compete at elite levels.

The Importance Of Chess In The Modern Era

Chess in the modern age hasn’t remained the same. Now with the advent of artificial intelligence, chess is played by special AI’s who are capable of defeating even in the most elite players. Not only this, various online games for chess have introduced making youngsters even more technologically equipped to adopt the game.

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Though today, chess might not have the same popularity as other sports such as cricket or football, it still holds a prominent place in the Indian culture. In almost every household in India, one could still locate local chess players. In fact, families since a young age encourage their children to take upon chess as it improves memory, improves reading skills, helps in analysis, logic, and problem-solving. It is like a brain tonic that improves every segment of the brain into full logical reasoning. Chess is also a symbol of patience. Maybe that’s why chess-player around the world are widely known as artists.

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