Chess has changed over the years, with new rules being established as time goes on. However, the first game that created the foundations of chess was a game called chaturaga, which originated in India in the 6th century. Chaturaga was a strategy game that centered on the infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry, which were the four branches of the military. These military roles were represented on a board by pawns, knights, bishops, and rooks, which are now known as pawns, knights, bishops, and rooks. The modern-day monarch, as well as the game’s fate, depended on one piece. Many people believe that the game of chaturaga is centuries older, potentially dating back to 255 BC.
Chaturaga was played on an 8-by-8 board, which did not contain the chequered pattern found on modern chess boards. Like contemporary chess, the various pieces could travel in different directions and over varying distances. Chaturaga had been imported from India to Persia by 600 AD, when it was taught to kings and members of the court as a noble game. When attacking the King, the Persians introduced the notion of calling things out, which has evolved into “check” and “checkmate” today. Persia was invaded 50 years later by Arab Muslims who had taken up the game for themselves.
The game extended from Islamic countries in the Middle East through Russia and across Europe during the following few centuries. It had expanded throughout Europe by 1000 AD, aided by contacts with Islamic-controlled territories in Spain. It became a highly popular game in medieval Europe, and it is mentioned in several works of literature. It was once again seen as a game for the elite, and possessing a costly chessboard was a display of wealth and prestige; Queen Margaret of Anjou (15th century) possessed exquisite chess sets made of jasper and crystal. Chess grew so essential that Petrus Alphonsi, a 12th-century writer, considered it one of the seven qualities that a good knight must possess.
Despite the game’s link with knightly values and European monarchs and queens, some church members were concerned about its growing popularity. Because many medieval games had elements of gambling, the church became worried that chess may be considered a vice. There was even an event in 13th-century London where individuals were slain over the outcome of a chess game. Some regions attempted to control it, but the rules were mostly ignored, and the game’s popularity grew.
Following the adoption of chess by Christian Europe from Islamic lands, the game began to take on a life of its own. While Islamic pieces did not resemble the characters they portrayed, Christian countries began carving men and animals onto their pieces. They also tweaked the pieces to make them seem like kings, queens, bishops, knights, and men-at-arms. As the medieval period drew to an end, the power balance of some of the pieces began to shift. The queen and bishop were once weak pieces in chess, but in the late 15th century, they began to take on their contemporary movements.
The oldest mention of the new movement of the queen piece is in a Catalan poetry called Scachs d’amor, or “chess of love,” written in Valencia in the 1470s. The poem is the first to fully document a complete chess game, as well as the first to record current chess rules. While the poem depicts a chess game, it also depicts a lady’s wooing, since the game is being played between Mars and Venus.
With the new queen and bishop moves, the game became much easier to win, and the focus of the game shifted to rapid, tactical plays and everything related to chess openings rather than long-term preparation. The style was known as Romantic chess from this period until the late nineteenth century. Competitive chess tournaments grew popular in the 19th century, but individuals would spend hours analyzing their next move, making tournaments difficult to administer. As a result, techniques for changing the game’s tempo arose, such as speed chess and allocating a set number of time and moves before the game finished.
In 1851, London hosted the first modern chess tournament, and the game’s influence in popular culture lasted far into the twentieth century. However, chess was not immune to politics, and in the 1930s, Nazi Germany disseminated propaganda hailing Aryan players as the founders of Romantic chess, which was ultimately defeated by timid Jewish players. As depicted in The Queen’s Gambit, Soviet players began to dominate international chess after WWII. Despite the fact that chess no longer makes the news, it remains a popular activity with large tournaments hosted throughout the world. And, despite a few differences throughout time, someone now might easily play a game with someone who lived hundreds of years ago.