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Rules of Chess through the Ages
February 16, 2005


In 1913 Harold James Murray published the history of chess bible appropriately called, The History of Chess. It's considered unparalleled in it's scholarship and completeness and is still used today as a basic chess history reference.

Many years ago I came across a web page that was made in 1993 by a man named Timothy J. Thompson. Mr. Thompson had summarized a portion of Murray's History that deals with the rules of chess in different places throughout the ages.

The page still exists. Here is the link to it. But I'm also going to include the text here (in case the page disappears - it's too valuable to lose).


First, a general observation: remember that chess was originally a gambling game, where dice were used to determine what piece was to be moved, and players played for money. Of course, we still do, but somewhere along the line, fairly early on, the dice were ditched.
I suspect that the dice persisted in some places through the medieval period.


MUSLIM RULES: These are the earliest know rules for chess in Europe,
dating from circa 1100, and are essentially the same as the rules for
the arab ancestor of chess, "shatranj"

BOARD is unchequered (no colored squares).
PIECES are set up as in modern chess, but the K and Q may sit on
either d1 or e1, although opposing monarchs must face each other.
KING, KNIGHT, ROOK, and PAWN move and capture as in modern chess.
EXCEPTIONS: PAWNS have no initial two-square move.
QUEEN: moves one square, diagonal only.
BISHOP: "leaps" to second square, diagonal only
(i.e., "leaps" from b2-d4, over anything on c3).
PAWN PROMOTION: Pawn promotes only to a queen
STALEMATE and "bare king" both win. Hence, you have 3 ways to win
instead of 1. Win by checkmate, win by stalemate, or by taking
everything but the king.
There is no "king leap", or anything like castling.


SPANISH RULES: From a manuscript dated 1283.

BOARD is now chequered. Evidently this became popular quickly.
PIECES are set up as in modern chess.
KING, KNIGHT, ROOK, and PAWN move and capture as in modern chess.
EXCEPTIONS: PAWNS may make the 2-square advance, on their first
move, but only until any capture is played.
QUEEN: moves one square diagonally only.
EXCEPTIONS: On the first move a queen may leap over 1 square,
on the rank, file, or diagonal, but cannot make
a capture when doing so.
BISHOP: "leaps" to second square, diagonally only.
PAWN PROMOTION: Pawns promote to queen only, and only if the
first queen is gone. The new queen also has the
right to make the "special" first move leap.
A pawn may advance to the last rank, but it must
sit and wait if it cannot promote yet.
There is no indication of stalemate, or "bare king" at this time.

By circa 1500 the Spanish rules had changed thus:
1. The PAWN could make its first two-square move without any
restriction concerning captures. The EN PASSANT rule was
in force as we know it today.
2. The PAWN could promote, to a queen only, whether or not
there was already a queen on the board. The new queen
continues to enjoy the right to make the special first move
3. The KING on its first move could "leap", from e1, to any of these
squares: c1,c2,c3,d3,e3,f3,g3,g2, or g1, only if it was not in
check, and had never been in check, and did not cross over an
enemy controlled square.
4. Win by stalemate, or by "bare king" were considered "inferior"
wins, so the winner could claim only 1/2 the stakes for the game.


ITALIAN RULES: circa 14th century, were basically the same as the Spanish
rules given above, as circa 1500, but with these notable exceptions:

1. The EN PASSANT capture was not allowed. The phrase "passar bataglia"
refers to the ability of pawns to pass one another unmolested.
2. The PAWN promoted likewise, and the new queen continues to enjoy
the right of the special first move, but may not check or capture
3. The KING may make the same first move leap, but add the squares
b1 and b2 to the list.
4. Stalemate is a draw. Bare king does not win.
5. The queen and king could move simultaneously, if it was the first
move for both.


GERMAN RULES: Circa 1420 were, again, basically the same as the Spanish
rules, with these exceptions:

1. Pawns were reistricted in their first 2-square move, as in the 1280
Spanish rules.
2. The KING leap was at least the same as in the Italian rules, and
he may even have been allowed to leap farther.
3. Stalemate normally a draw, but a win in some places.
4. Bare king normally a win, but in some areas, he of the bared king
actually won.
5. The Italian K and Q combined first move was not "official", but it
was allowed in some areas. Also, some allowed a pawn to join in, if
it was moving out of the way of the King, making a K+Q+P combined
first move possible.

FRENCH and ENGLISH rules from the mediaeval period are not given, and may
be known only fragmentarily. It seems the Italian and Spanish adjustments
to the Muslim rules were slowest in reaching these areas.


The modern rules we know date from convulsive changes to the rules in the
15th century. That's when the queen changed from a 1 square wimp to a
monster, and that's when the king's "leap" was replace by castling.
I have no documentation for dates and places, however, I can address
one question specifically: was castling originally accomplished in
one or two moves? The following fragmentary game comes from "The Oxford
Encyclopedia of Chess Games". Specifically, observe how Black castles
at move 11, using two moves, while the white king "leaps" to g1, but
doesn't bother to finish "castling". However, remember that the King could
not cross check, even in the 1280 Spanish rules.

Scovara-Boi, Madrid, 1575:
1. e4,e5; 2. Bc4,Bc5; 3. Nf3,Nc6; 4. c3,Qe7; 5. d4,exd4;
6. cxd4,Qxe4+; 7. be3,bb4+; 8. Nc3,d5; 9. Bd3,Qe7; 10. h3,Nf6
11. Kg1,Rf8; 12. g4,Kg8; 13. Rh2,Bd6; 14. Rg2 ...

In my 1777 edition of "Philidor's Analysis of Chess", the rule for
castling is as we know it now, but with this footnote:

"The old way of castling in several countries, and which
still subsists in some, was to leave to the player's
disposal, all the interval between the King and the Rook,
inclusively, to place there these two pieces"

So, at least as recently as 1777, in many places you could put
the King and Rook where ever you darned well chose to.

Stalemate has always been a problem, being interpreted in the early days
as a win, and later as a draw. However, in 1614, we find this passage in
the English work "Saul's Famous Games of Chesse-Play":
"He that hath put his adversary's King in a stale, loseth the game,
because he hath disturbed the course of the game, which can only
end with the grand Check-mate"

This interpretation of stalemate, that the one who stalemates his
opponents King loses, persisted in England for a very long time.
In my edition of Philidor, the rules read:

"In England, he whose king is stalemated wins the game, but in
France, and several other countries, the stalemate is a drawn game".

This rule remained in force in the London Chess Club until 1820, and
continued to be printed in general chess "handbooks" at least through
1857. I do not know if the rule was widespread in America, but one
traveling American student used the rule in a game against von der Lasa,
in 1861.

See also:

 Rules of Chess from the 1813 book, An Easy Introduction to the Game of Chess

 Italian Chess 1560-1880: The Special Moves and Their Consequences by Alessandro Nizzola


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