History of Chess
History of Chess


Origin of chess and changes thereafter...

According to chess historians, chess is one of the oldest games in existence, that originated around 6th century AD.

In those times, The Indian Rajah (King) believed that war was the most effective school to learn the values of valor, decision-making, endurance, circumspection and bravery. Because of this it is believed that war was chosen as the model of the game.

The most fascinating and frequently repeated story credits the invention of the game to the holy saint, Sissa, at the courts of the Indian King, Balhait. The King was disturbed by the prevalence of gambling and the addiction with the games of pure luck. He summoned Sissa and requested the wise man to create a game, which would require pure mental qualities of prudence, foresight, valor, judgment, endurance, circumspection and analytical and reasoning ability, to oppose the teaching of games in which chance (luck) decides the outcome by the throw of dice.

At some time thereafter, Sissa returned to the court of the King with a board (Ashtapada) consisting of 8x8=64 squares with rules not much different from the ones we use today. There were two armies of different colors consisting of 32 men each in which the object was to capture or slay the king of the opposing army.

In this game there used to be four participants due to which it was named ‘CHATURANGA’ meaning ‘four bodies’ to be elephants, Horses, chariots and foot soldiers. Another name for this game was Ashtapada meaning ‘eight steps’.

Sir William Jones, laid that chess under the Sanskrit name Chaturanga was exported from India into Persia in the 6th Century AD and by the natural corruption, the old Persian changed the name into Chatrang; but when their country was afterwards taken possession of the Arabs, who had neither the initial nor the final letter of their alphabet, they altered it further into ‘SHATRANJ’.

The Persian Poet Firdousi, in his historical poem, ‘The Shahnama’, gives an account of the introduction of Shatranj into Persia in the reign of Chosroes I Anushirwan, to whom ambassadors from the sovereign of Hind (India), with a chessboard and men asking him to solve the secrets of the game, if he could or pay tribute. The King asked for seven days grace, during which time the wise men vainly tried to discover the secret. Finally, King’s minister took the pieces home and discovered the secret in a day and a night.

Shatranj as Forbes has pointed out, is foreign word among the Persians and the Arabians, whereas its natural derivation from the term chaturanga is obvious.

Even the word ‘check-mate’ is derived from the Persian term ‘Shah-mat’, which means ‘The King is Dead’. The Sanskrit translation of this term would be Khastra Mruta.

1400 years went by before the game reached the western world. The Moors brought it to Spain; the Italians learned it from the Saracens with remarkable speed.

In India His Majestic Beneficence and his Vizier led the pieces represented division of the king’s army – Elephant, Horse, chariots, and foot soldiers, into battle. The Vizier was to become a Queen in the European version of the game and in the course of history The Indian Elephants metamorphosis into Bishops and the Chariots into Rook.

One of the set of counters used in the chess are ‘The Rooks’. Rook is similar to Indian chariot, protecting the army’s flank. The term originated from the Persian term ‘Roth’ that means a Soldier. The Persian term is derived from the Indian term ‘Rukh’, which is obviously seems to have generated in the Sanskrit word Rakshak which means a soldier which means, “to protect”.

‘The Bishop’ amongst the Persians was called Pil (Elephant) but the Arabs not having the letter ‘P’ in their alphabet, wrote it ‘Fil’, or with their definite article, Al-Fil (The Elephant). It was the next in command and a force assisting counselor or minister. The elephant were represented by short upright pieces deeply split on top, symbolizing the tusks of these animals. This shape was erroneously interpreted as ‘a fools cap’ in France and as ‘a Bishops miter’ in Portugal and in many English-speaking countries.

‘The Queen’ in Europe where women did not play the subordinate role assigned to them in the orient represented ‘The Advisor’. The Queen is the curvaceous of the modern pieces and has undergone changes in name, sex and power. In Shatranj, this piece was called ‘Firz' or 'Farz’ meaning counselor or General.

‘The Knight’ as a symbol has come to represent the virtues of chivalry with their mane and tail exquisitely sculpted and flowing in the breeze. Their features have been delicately accented in the Staunton chess set.

Phidias was the sculptor who worked on the Parthenon (Elgin Marbles) and is considered the greatest sculptor of ancient Greece. The Grecian statues were designed in accordance with a set of mathematical proportions and Phidia’s Supreme masterpiece was the Parthenon of Athens.

The Horse became identified with rider on horseback, Knight in English, Cavalier in French, Cavaliere in Italian, Springer in German and so on.

The game framework has remained fixed since this period. It is a square board on which horizontal and vertical lines mark off eight rows of eight cells each. The squares on the traditional boards are always referred to as black and white, the same as chessmen regardless of their actual color.

Many Jewish and Christian scholars have played chess. The early Christian church condemned the game, which shows the full force of the intolerant medieval mode of thinking prevalent during that period of florescence.

Chess is played in many eastern countries, which shows that the game has global appeal. For 500 years chess was played in Europe with the rules inherited from the Moslems. But it took so long to play a whole game that most players confined themselves to solving special positions. During the later part of the middle ages, leading Spanish and Italian Players proposed sweeping changes in the rules that shortened the game considerably.

By the end of the 15th century, the new rules had been accepted in all European countries and gradually the oriental countries followed suit. As players everywhere preferred the shorter game, it transpired that within 100 years it was again played with same rules but on a near global basis.

Because of its previous preeminence among intellectual pastime favored by the Upper class, Chess is also called THE ROYAL GAME.