Checkmate!!! Don’t you just love saying this at the end of every game of chess? Well, this is the ‘epic word’ that announces the winner’s victory at the game and the utter defeat of the opponent. If you’re a chess fanatic, then we’re sure that you will have wondered at some point in time as to who invented these chess terms and this awesome game.
So, if you’re interested in finding out about and digging deep into the history of this game, then continue reading as we unravel the past, take you back in time and fill you in on how your favorite board game actually came into existence, and has evolved over time.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Did you know that the game of chess originated in India and that too, 1500 years back? Surprised…? Well, that’s true… at least this is what is commonly believed. History states that chess was originally invented in India in the sixth century AD during the Gupta Empire, also known as ‘the Golden Age of India’.
During that period, the game of chess was called ‘Chaturanga’. Chaturanga, by the way, means four military divisions. Come to think of it, this word does make sense as it represents the four divisions of the game—infantry, elephantry, cavalry and chariotry—the pieces of the game of chess that we, in the modern times, refer to as pawn, bishop, rook and knight.
If any of this interests you, then you’ll also be amazed to find out that it was originally played with a dice. The throw of a dice helped the players to move their pieces.
According to the sources and theories, it shows that the development of this game in India was pretty much due to their mathematical enlightenment that involved the creation of the number ‘0’. And as per the archaeological findings, it is said that the other chess pieces come from distantly but related board games—games that had 100 squares or more at that time. Though no actual chess boards that we use to play chess have been found by archaeologists, but findings in the Indus Valley Civilization sites like Harappa and Mohenjodaro do confirm the prevalence/existence of a board game that can be compared to chess.
The game of chess spread from India to Persia where it gradually became a valuable aspect of Persian nobility education. The name of the game then slowly evolved from ‘Chaturanga’ to ‘Shatranj’. This was because of the lack of the ‘ng’ and ‘ch’ native sounds in the Persian language. The Shatranj players also started saying ‘Shah’ when they attacked kings of their opponents. Shah in Persian means King and that led to the birth of the golden term in the world of chess ‘Shah Mat’ which means helpless king and what we today refer to as ‘checkmate’. The game of chess was seriously taken up by the Muslims after the Islamic conquest of Persia. The Mongols called it shatar while the Ethiopians referred to it as ‘senterej’.
The game then spread to the Middle East, China, Western Europe, and then all the way to Russia by the 9th century. After the 13th century, the game of chess spread pretty much worldwide and many variants of this game began to take shape. The credit goes to Buddhist pilgrims and Silk Route traders who carried Shatranj to Far East, Iberia, Sicily and North Africa.
The world saw the true and extensive evolution of this game once chess reached Europe. In fact, it was in Europe that the game of chess took its current form. And did you know that the queen in the game of chess got notable powers after the game’s massive popularity in Europe? The popularity of chess in the elite Western European society truly peaked in the 12th and 15th centuries. This can be backed by the fact that many works in Europe were written both on and about chess during these centuries.
Also, soon enough, chess was also incorporated into the European knightly life style. And you’ll be astonished to know that chess was listed among the 7 skills of a great knight in Europe. Furthermore, it was also introduced as a subject during that time with pendants and caskets decorated. Did you know that England’s Queen Margaret had green & red colored chess sets made of crystal and jasper? It symbolized chess’s position in the royal-art treasure. And you know who the patrons were? Kings of England, Henry I and II, & Richard I. Besides them, Ivan IV of Russia and Castile’s Alfonso X— the monarchs—also earned similar status as the kings of England at that time.
During the thirteenth century, the massive and widespread popularity of this game let people gamble and play chess for good money. However, the act of gambling while playing chess was forbidden by France’s Louis IX who issued and enforced an ordinance against it in the year 1254. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring about much change as the public largely didn’t abide by it and neglected it.
It is believed that originally the chess pieces had no shapes. The pieces were non-representational during the Islamic time. However, things began to change or let’s just say, began to take shape, when the game got popular and spread in other parts of the world. Images of animals and men began to appear. Initially, the rook’s shape was rectangular and had a cut on the top that was V-shaped.
However, by the 12th century, the chess set was depicted as kings, bishops, queens, knights and chessmen. They were made of ivory and even ornate-pieces of knight warriors which were used in the 13th century. Pawn, that was earlier nondescript, soon found its association with the footman or pedinus that symbolized infantry, or loyal foot guards.
Initially, when chess was introduced in the early Middle Ages, the game lasted for days. However, by 1300AD, things started to change. New variations and rules were introduced that began to change the game’s shape. One of the many notable changes in the rules of the game which raised many eyebrows and was not liked by the public was the pawn’s ability to move 2 places in its 1st move. This change though, as mentioned earlier, was not so much appreciated but the players began to adjust to it with time as it did allow the game to pick up the pace. It made the start of the game of chess much faster, letting the opposing pieces come into contact quickly.
The game was played in the ancient times on a board of eight by eight squares just as we play it today. However, it was not checkered. And yes, as mentioned in the beginning of the post, the game also included the use of a dice. Some say that chess might have been inspired by the backgammon type race game (dice driven race game) that is still played in South India. The dice in chess was used to decide which chess piece to move. Though there is no evidence on this but it is believed that the dice aspect of the game was removed with time as people started gambling at this game and that it led to religious objections.
Coming back to the chess set, the pieces of the game even back in the days were arranged the way they are today. Nonetheless, the identities and moves of some of the chess pieces were slightly different. Here’s a look, for example:
.Bishop: It could only move 2 spaces, that too, by jumping diagonally
.Queen: She was quite weak as a chess piece until 1500 AD. She could only move 1 space, diagonally
Things began to look good for these chess pieces at least after the 15th Century, when rules began to modify for the better. According to the sources, the modern rules come from the way this game was played in Italy. It was in Italy where the pawns were allowed to move 2 squares in their 1st move and the queen was also made more powerful.
Not many people know this but the queen was formerly known as the king’s advisor in chess during the Persian era; also known as Vizier in the Persian language. If you’re wondering why then It was because there were no women on the battlefield in those times, and chess is no less than a battlefield. So, it’s definitely not that surprising that the queen was formerly referred to as the King’s advisor or vizier. It was a weak piece and could only move 1 square diagonally at a time. However, it did serve as a useful piece when it came to guarding the king from the opponent’s attack.
The first ever modern day chess tournament took place in the year 1851 in London, England. It was won by Adolf Anderssen from Germany. This victory earned him the title of chess master and he undoubtedly lived up to it. Throughout 1850s & 1860s, Adolf continued to prove himself as the leading and undisputed chess master. He achieved most of his successes after he turned 50. This German player not only had the wit and the moves but was made his mark and great impression on opponents and the public because of his unmatched, brilliant and energetic style of attacking. He was best known for his strategic game play which is what is needed by players if they want to bring home victory.
After Adolf, there were many players who made their place in the world of chess based on their awesome game play such as Paul Morphy (who was an American chess player), Wilhelm Steinitz, Johannes Zukertort (German), and Emanuel Lasker (German). Emanuel Lasker maintained defended his title for almost 27 years—possibly the longest tenure. The German dominance in chess ended when Jose Raul Capablanca entered the scene, also recognized as the Cuban prodigy. He remained Chess World Champion from 1921 to 1927. After him came Alexander Alekhine (Russian French).
During the World Wars, the game of chess was revolutionized by hypermodernists such as Richard Reti and Aron Nimzowitsch. They brought in new theoretical schools and were the ones who advocated controlling the chess board center with distant pieces instead or rather than with pawns which invited the opponents to quickly occupy the board’s center.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the chess matches and tournaments began to grow as more and more people started to understand this game and realize how intriguing it was.
Though the popularity of the game of chess still remains unmatched, it is nonetheless recognized as one of the most difficult and complex board games ever invented. Chess requires wit, tactics, energy, strategy and of course quick brainwork—keeping both opponents on their feet at all times. Where some may say that it is slow and boring but those, who truly understand the power of this game and how to play it, appreciate it and love the fun it brings to the table.
The best way to become a great chess player is to first understand the rules and the moves of every chess piece on the board. Knowing the basics and history of this game can help you truly tap the potential of every piece in your army and defeat your opponent by announcing ‘checkmate’.
People have been playing this game for centuries, and those who understand the game know how amazing playing chess can be. So, now that you know the history of chess and how it came into existence, we hope that the next time you sit down to play it with your friends and family, you’ll share your knowledge about the game and amaze them too.