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The 10 Most Important Moments in Chess History

  • pete
  • | Jul 28, 2014
  • | 23763 views
  • | 118 comments

There is arguably no other game with the timeless staying power and global reach of chess. Unlike most of the other games and sports played today by millions around the world, chess has a history that spans millennia.

While chess has changed a lot since its invention, the basics of the game have remained recognizable throughout its long lifetime. From its ancient origins, chess has evolved to appeal to modern players of all cultures and ages.

With even conservative estimates placing the total number of chess players today at half a billion people, there is no doubt that chess is the king of board games.

How did chess spread and grow to its current popularity? One moment at a time.

Take a look at the 10 most important moments in chess history, and let us know your favorite moments in the comments and on Facebook.

For a more complete timeline of chess history, see our sister site: A Brief History of Chess


10. Chess is Born: ~600 AD

via A Brief History of Chess

No better place to start than at the beginning.

Around 600 AD, the Arabic game shatranj developed from the Indian game chaturanga, becoming the first game identifiable as chess.

Shatranj was played on an 8x8 board and featured 16 pieces on each side, similar to today's chess: the soldier (pawn), the horse (knight), the elephant (a weaker bishop), the chariot (rook), the counselor (a much weaker queen), and the shah (king).

The game ended with checkmate, or if all the pieces of one army (except the king) were captured.

9. Meet the Mad Queen: ~1450

via A Brief History of Chess

By the middle of the second millennium, chess had already evolved considerably from its shatranj roots. Pawns were now allowed to advance two squares on their first move, and the familiar light and dark checkered pattern was standard for the board.

It wasn’t until around 1450, though, that chess saw its most radical change: the mad queen. Hoping to make the game faster and more enjoyable, some players tweaked the rules to allow the queen to move as far as she wanted -- in any direction, diagonally, vertically, or horizontally -- combining the movements of the bishop and the rook.

This was a huge departure from the original rules limiting the queen to moving one square diagonally. The change was so revolutionary that the French called the new game “ésches de la dame enragée,” or “chess of the enraged lady” -- the “mad queen.”

8. First Chess Tournament: 1575

via A Brief History of Chess

Today, tournaments are an integral part of chess. Professional players make their living in tournaments, and even beginners enter local and online chess tournaments for fun and competition.

Chess tournaments, though, haven’t been around forever. The first informal international chess tournament took place when the Italians Leonardo da Cutri and Paolo Boi traveled to the court of Philip II in Madrid to play Ruy Lopez and Alfonso Ceron of Spain.

Ruy Lopez had already beaten both of them in several earlier games, and it seemed like an easy victory for the Spanish after they won the first two games. The Italians, though, won the next three in a row to secure victory in the world’s first chess tournament.

7. The Mechanical Turk: 1770

via A Brief History of Chess

In 1770, the Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen unveiled the Mechanical Turk, an automatic chess-playing “machine” that entertained and bewildered audiences by defeating strong human opponents.

Originally designed by von Kempelen to impress an Austrian empress, the Turk had cabinets that could be opened to reveal an impressive array of gears and cogs, ostensibly to power the mechanical chess mind.

In the 84 years that the Turk wowed audiences in Europe and the Americas, the Turk beat nearly all its challengers. Famous statesmen Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin were among the humans defeated by the mysterious machine.

Of course, the Mechanical Turk was an entertaining hoax. The machine was controlled by a concealed human chess player who moved the pieces with magnets. Several strong chess masters had hidden inside the Turk through the decades it was in operation. Despite this trick, the Turk spread the popularity of chess and was a spiritual precursor to the first real chess machines -- computers.

6. The Staunton Pieces: 1849

via A Brief History of Chess

The Englishman Howard Staunton was arguably the strongest player in the world from 1843 to 1851. Staunton, a passionate chess promoter, advocated a specific style of chess pieces.

Originally designed by the chess journalist Nathaniel Cook, the pieces were enjoyable to play with due to their easy piece recognition, stable bases, and pleasing design.

These pieces came to be called the "Staunton" style, which is now the official design of chess pieces used around the world.

5. It’s About Time: 1861

via A Brief History of Chess

Chess games in the early 1800s sometimes lasted more than 14 hours! There were no time limits, and losing players would try to tire out their opponents.

In 1861, the first chess timers were introduced using sand hourglasses with three hours of sand each. Those evolved later into "tumbling" chess clocks (patented in 1884), where one clock would start when the other stopped.

The first electronic clocks weren't introduced until 1964. More accurate clocks led to faster time controls, including the now popular lightning chess where each player has only one minute to make all of their moves!

While chess clocks were once expensive and time-consuming to make, nowadays you can download a fully functional free chess clock on your Android or iOS smartphone in seconds.

4. First World Champion: 1886

via A Brief History of Chess

The Austrian-American chess player William Steinitz became the first official world chess champion in 1886 when he defeated Johannes Zukertort in a match for the undisputed championship.

Steinitz’s biggest contribution to chess, however, was his advancement of the game’s strategic understanding. Before the rise of Steinitz, chess was played in a romantic, hopeful, and daring style full of reckless attacks.

In 1873, three years before his match with Zukertort, Steinitz unveiled a more positional style of chess, with a focus on pawn structure, the active bishop pair, and knight outposts. His attacks were only launched after careful preparation.

While some contemporaries called his ideas cowardly at first, those ideas earned Steinitz the nickname “the father of modern chess.”

3. Fischer and Kasparov: 1972 and 1985 

via A Brief History of Chess

Bobby Fischer learned the rules of chess at the age of six, and when he was 11 he “just got good,” according to Fischer himself. Six months after he turned 15, Fischer was a grandmaster, setting the record at the time for youngest GM ever.

Fischer’s ascendency peaked in 1972, when he defeated Boris Spassky and the Soviet chess monolith to win the world championship in what is still considered the most famous chess event ever.

Three years later, though, Fischer disappeared from competitive chess and public life, only to reappear 20 years later to beat Spassky in a rematch. Fischer promptly withdrew from the spotlight once again, avoiding the chess world until his death in 2008 at age 64 -- the number of squares on a chessboard.

via A Brief History of Chess

After Bobby Fischer disappeared in 1975, chess lacked a superstar until the charismatic Garry Kasparov appeared on the world chess stage 10 years later.

Kasparov became the youngest world champion ever at age 22 after defeating Anatoly Karpov, and remained the undisputed strongest chess player for nearly 22 years. His peak rating of 2851 stood as the highest in history until it was surpassed by the current world champion Magnus Carlsen in 2013.

Kasparov enjoyed widespread fame as the face of chess for decades before retiring in 2005 to focus on Russian politics and charity projects.

Fischer and Kasparov are almost universally considered two of the strongest and most famous world champions of all time.

2. Computers Win: 1997

via A Brief History of Chess

In 1989, the computer company IBM hired a team of Carnegie Mellon engineers to create a computer capable of beating the world chess champion.

That champion was Garry Kasparov, who said “there is still a long way to go before a human on his or her best day is unable to defeat the best computer.”

Indeed, in 1989, Garry Kasparov defeated IBM's "Deep Thought" computer in a 6-game match. The next version, "Deep Blue,” also fell to Kasparov in 1996.

But in the 1997 rematch, Deep Blue, then capable of evaluating 200 million chess positions per second, defeated Kasparov by a score of 3.5 to 2.5.

Though Deep Blue made history, today's modern chess engines running on ordinary computers could easily defeat Deep Blue. While they cannot calculate as many positions, today’s engines evaluate more efficiently and accurately.

Chess software today is far stronger than human chess players. The human world champion Magnus Carlsen is rated 2877, while the best computer program (currently Stockfish) is rated 3290.

1. The Magnus Era: 2013 

via A Brief History of Chess

Welcome to the era of Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian superstar. Magnus is undeniably one of the most prodigious chess figures in the history of the game.

He's the highest rated player ever. He became a grandmaster at age thirteen. Last year, Carlsen defeated GM Viswanathan Anand to win the world chess championship. And he's a fashion model.

Carlsen plays a well-rounded game, with a variety of openings, blistering tactical play, unfathomable positional understanding, insane endgame calculation, and a ridiculous ability to defend almost any position.

Did we mention that he is just 23 years old? Carlsen has been the top-ranked chess player in the world since he was a teenager, and he’s a safe bet to remain the world’s dominant chess figure for years to come.


For a more complete timeline of chess history, see our sister site: A Brief History of Chess

What are your favorite moments in the history of chess? Let us know in the comment section. 


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Comments


  • 4 months ago

    burnley

    The first recorded historical occurrence of chess is in Iran, everything else is speculation

  • 4 months ago

    brigatine-66

    Susan Polgar: Net Geo: My Brilliant Brain:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wzs33wvr9E

  • 4 months ago

    Trojasnstrike

    persia>arab>europe

    Man get ur fact's right while writing the 'most' important moments.

  • 5 months ago

    nabeel_javaid

    paul morphy's Era

  • 5 months ago

    ken9119

    I'm just a newbie and rank amateur, but does Paul Morphy get a mention for inspiring generations of chess players to think outside the box with a controlled, explosive creativity and finding superstardom unheard of in prior centuries?

  • 5 months ago

    SassanianMaster

    Arabic game???!! No it was Persian , in 600 ad Arabs were bunch of barbarians living in the desert , in 640 they invaded the Persians and Byzantines and were introduced to chess, the game went to Europe during the crusade wars later on.

  • 5 months ago

    danpresh

    Revelatory

  • 5 months ago

    batgirl

    In A Brief History of Chess, the text correctly says Steinitz won the WC match vs. Zukertort in 1886, however the TITLE says 1883.  This should probably be amended.

  • 5 months ago

    gregdocot

    Thanks,I appreciate it.

  • 5 months ago

    Grey_Goose

    Thanks pete for this history.  I liked the read and to see Fisher and Kasparov mentioned.  I remember those names back then when I knew nothing about the game.   Now we are in the computer era,   I do wonder when the computer has worked out all the notations and defence will the computer be considered the new GM.  I can see a new rule re the computer at some stage in the future.

  • 5 months ago

    Grey_Goose

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 5 months ago

    matematikisto

    There are various great: the Mad Queen, the IBM vs. Kasparov, but I vote for The Turkish Cool

  • 5 months ago

    chris14122507

    I would go with "The Mad Queen"!

  • 5 months ago

    Mean-Mr-Mustard

    I agree that already calling the "Magnus Era" one of the 10 Most Important Moments in Chess History is extremely shortsighted. Magnus is without doubt the best player in the world at this moment and has been for at least the past three years; however, he still has only been World Champion for less than a year, and there is no reason at all to assume that he will stay World Champion for the next several years. It is very possible that he could reign as World Champion for the next ten years, but it will be difficult competing with the likes of Carauna, Vachier-Lagrave, So, Aronian, and possibly others who will rise to the top level in the next few years. Also, there is no way that Magnus' one year reign is more important than Lasker's 20 year reign, and what about Alekhine and Capablanca? Are those just dead guys who have no influence over how today's top level chess is played? You can argue that those players did not contribute as much to the game as others on the list like Kasparov, Fischer, and Steinitz, but study each of them just a little and you will find that all three of them had an unique style which progressed the game and influenced countless players in the same way that Steinitz did.

    I do not mean to say that Magnus is not one of the greatest chess players of all time, but his inclusion on this list is nothing but bias toward modern players and what is happening "right now." People so quickly forget past. Read from chess articles published in the past and you will see that when Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, and Karpov all became World Champions people spoke of them as they do today of Magnus - "He plays the game in a way that no one before has ever played, or at least mastered to such an extent." Everyone thought these formet World Champions would stay at the top for years and years just like people do today of Magnus.

  • 5 months ago

    mikso

    stupid article all in all

  • 5 months ago

    FM gauranga

    sorry, chess was not born 600 AD. It is being described in many places in the Vedic scriptures that Lord Krishna and others were playing chess over 5000 years ago in India. The game as we know it has probably existed a lot longer than that.

  • 5 months ago

    underOATH777

    Arabs baby yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

  • 5 months ago

    iMacChess

    According to our current FIDE president (Kirsan Ilyumzhinov) Chess was given to us by aliens from outer space... :(

  • 5 months ago

    mahesh106

    Chatur in Sanskrit means 4 (similar to quarter) Anga means division thus chaturanga most ancient indian armies rigidly followed the almost religious imposition of 4 winged army of elephant horse camel and foot soldier the game is wholly Indian in origin it was transmitted by the Arabs and Persians to the west shatranj is a modification of chaturanga the words have no Arabic or persian meaning

  • 5 months ago

    brigatine-66

    Awesome:-)

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