Take out your chessboard!
Pick up a piece, say the Queen. Hold her in your hand. Feel her weight, her
texture, study her features.
Look at your board. The "64 square jungle" as Kasparov called it.
The pieces, the board, the moves, the strategies and tactics....
They seem so ancient, so immutable.....
Chess, as we know it today, didn't exist until about
What happened in
Until then, there was no Queen......
The King had a counselor who could move diagonally
one square at a time.
One other major difference concerned promotion. A
pawn, reaching the 8th rank,
could only become a counselor.
Around 1475, the counselor underwent a sex-change
and emerged as the powerful Queen
with whom we are all familiar. Promotion rules
changed to the modern European version.
played an important role in stabilizing chess at this point in time:
the printing press!
Books were written and more freely distributed and
within 100 years, modern chess (chess, as we know it)
was an established fact with only minor changes
(castling, promotion to more-than-one Queen, en passant)
occurring through the 19th century
OK.... what about
Much of this is
Chess came to Europe via Persia .. in a form of
chaturanga (more on that later)
Muslims had introduced chess to North Africa,
Sicily, and Spain by as early as the 10th century.
It took 500 years and many religious prohibitions
for chess to develop.
Despite the religious ambiguities of the times,
most of modern chess owes it's existence to the religious communities.
Much of this is
Where did chess originate?
It's commonly accepted that chess started in India,
though this is far from clear.
Chaturanga, Shatranj, Xiang Qi (Chinese Chess),
Shogi (Japanese Chess), Sittuyin (Burmese Chess)
are all forms of
ancient board games
similar to chess.
Some people give good arguments for
are the birthplace of chess.
Some people argue for
Some just look at the facts and
scratch their heads.
At any rate, check out Bill Wall's famous
originally developed from games played in China or India or Persia or
there seems to be little argument that it's a
direct descendant of Chaturanga.
appeared during the 6th century.
The name Chaturanga, literally translated means "of
It's the Sanskrit name for a battle formation
mentioned in the Indian epic, Mahabharata
The Four Parts refer to Indian military which had
four kinds of troops:
- Boatmen -A ship
which could only move 2 squares diagonally but could jump over intervening
(riders) -A horse which could move like a Knight in Chess
- Elephants -An
elephant which could move like a Rook in Chess
(soldiers) -4 Pawns which moved as pawns do in Chess
There were also two
Rajahs, human-like pieces who moved like modern Kings.
The game was played by four players with dice on a
64-square board. Two players were loosely united. A figure's movement
depended on a roll of the dice.
A short time before
it reached Persia; chaturanga changed from a gambling game with four players
to a game of intelligence with only two players.
It had two key features found in all later chess
variants--different pieces had different powers (unlike checkers and go),
and victory was based on one piece, the king of modern chess.
into the Pakistani game Chatrang.
The Hindu religion developed a prohibition against
gambling. So, the dice were eliminated.
Allied armies were united into single units, making
it now a two-player game.
The movements of the Elephants and the Boatmen were
Rajahs became Prime Ministers.
A firzan (counselor) piece was introduced.
The game was won by "baring" the
King....eliminating all your opponent's pieces, exposing the King to
mentioned about 600 A.D., Chatrang is described in detail in a 13th
at this time:
- One of the
prime ministers now became a King.
- The King (Shah)
- moved like a King in Chess
- The Prime
Minister (Firz) - moved one square diagonally only.
- The Elephant (Fil)
- moved two squares diagonally only but could jump over intervening
- The War Horse (Faras)
- moved like a Knight inChess
- The Ruhk - moved
like a Rook in Chess
- The Pawn - moved
like a pawn in Chess and when a pawn reached the far side of the board it
was promoted to a Prime Minister
directly into chess as we know it today.
History of Chess
King is the most valuable piece on the board. But to be so
valuable, he is inherently weak.
The king figure corresponded to the
Indian emperor, the "Schah-in-Schah". This "King of kings" was a wise ruler
and not a warrior. When the emperor was taken captive, the empire
collapsed. That is why the King is captured. The King went from Rajah to
Prime Minister to King, but he always remained at the heart of the game.
The Queen has gone through many changes through time. First she was a
man, the Firzan, the advisor to the King who could only move one square,
diagonally, at a time. Later, Europeans interpreted the Firzan as a queen
because of it's proximity to the King and her powers increased greatly.
Bishop was also already known in Chaturanga. He was represented as an
armed attendant who sat on the back of an elephant. The
Arabs called this figure "al-fil", which means "elephant".The problem was
that in Central Europe elephants were not known, so they could not
recognize the figure. The bishops were interpreted differently by the
different nations. That is why the bishop is a "Läufer"(runner) in
Germany, a "fou" (fool) in France and a "alfiere" (standard-bearer)in Italy.
The bishop also profited by the development of chess in the 15th
century. At first he could jump one field diagonally. Later the jump was
abolished and he could move diagonally as far as he wanted.
Knight has changed very little throughout history. Already in
"Chaturanga" he moved with his special jump. The Indians represented him as
a mounted warrior with a shield and a sword. As the Arabs took over the
figure, they simplified it.
Rook was also already known in Chaturangaas a carriage and was called
"rukh". The war carriages have been a part of the old Indian army
until the 5th century. At the time the game came to Arabia the
name did not change but the portrayal was simplified. In Europe the English
name "rook" reminds us of the descent. The "rukhs"(rooks) were
fortifications on the back of an elephant. The European chess players took
over the description. Finally they left out the elephant for the
Pawn has always had the role of a soldier. But in the Middle Ages
monks tried to represent the pawns as citizens. The first pawn
(a2) was an agricultural worker, the second a furrier, the third a weaver,
the fourth a businessman, the fifth a doctor, the sixth an innkeeper, the
seventh a policeman and the eighth a gambler. But these characterizations
never caught on.
The two square first move and "en-passant", as a direct result, were
introduced in the 15th century.
Pieces has alternated between simple and
ornate since the beginning. The pieces began as simple representations and
gradually became more figurative, depicting animals, warriors, and
noblemen. Because of the Islamic prohibition of images of living creatures,
Muslim sets of the 9th - 12th centuries were often
nonrepresentational and made of simple clay or carved stone . This return to
simpler, symbolic pieces allowed them to be easier and more cheaply
obtained, increasing the popularity of the game.
"Stylized sets, often adorned with precious and semi-precious stones,
returned to fashion as the game spread to Europe and Russia. Playing boards,
which had monochromatic squares in the Muslim world, began to have
alternating black and white, or red and white, squares by 1000 A.D. and were
often made of fine wood or marble. Peter I the Great of Russia had special
campaign boards made of soft leather that he carried during military
efforts. The king became the largest piece and acquired a crown and
sometimes an elaborate throne and mace. The knight's close identification
with the horse dates back to chaturanga. The pawn, as the lowest in power
and social standing, has traditionally been the smallest and least
representational of the pieces. The queen grew in size after 1475, when its
powers expanded, and changed from a male counselor to the king's female
consort. The bishop was known by different names--"fool" in French,
"elephant" in Russian, for example--and was not universally recognized by a
distinctive mitre until the 19th century. Depiction of the rook also varied
considerably. In Russia it was usually represented as a sailing ship until
the 20th century. Elsewhere it was a warrior in a chariot or a castle
Staunton Chess Set
The standard for modern sets was
established about 1835 with a simple design by an Englishman, Nathaniel
Cook. After it was patented in 1849, the design was endorsed by Howard
Staunton, then the world's best player; owing to Staunton's extensive
promotion, it subsequently became known as the Staunton pattern. Only sets
based on the Staunton design are allowed in international competition
(seemingly, a dead link)
Sloan's arguments for China as the birthplace of chess
Arguments for Persia as the birthplace of chess
Arguments for/against India as the birthplace of chess
A balanced article dealing with possible origins of
Bill Wall's Chess History
A brief descriptions of ancient board games
A cute little page on the origins of chess
(seemingly, a dead link)
An esoteric phantasmagoria on the origins of chess
Everything you ever wanted to know about Chinese Chess
Historic chess variants
On the Origins of Chess