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Origins of Chess

Origins of Chess

Dec 11, 2008, 12:00 AM 12 Fun & Trivia

550 AD - Northwestern India

- Persian poem in 600 AD describes chess coming to Persia (Iran) from India

First called: "Chaturanga" - a Sanskrit word translated as "4 limbed" or "4 parts"

The four divisions of an army: five foot soldiers, three cavalry, one chariot, one elephant

"Ashtapada" Sanskrit for spider -"a legendary being with eight legs" was played with dice on an 8x8 checkered board. There were no light and dark squares like we see in today's chess board for 1,000 years

Indian rules varied greatly from place to place, and as is spread Eastward the rules were altered to suit local tastes.

The game was claimed to be used to educate Persian princes. It served as a surrogate for noblity with no actual enemies to fight.

Around 700, Sa'id bin Jubair (665-714), a black African judge who lived in the Middle East, became famous for his ablity to play blindfold chess. He became the first blindfold player to turn his back on the board and play without sight of the board. Earlier blindfold players continued to feel the pieces while playing blindfold. Jubair was later condemned to death for his part in a revolt.

The Persian empire fell to the Moslems in the 7th century. Many worried chess would be banned by the "Qur'an" an Islamic law banning gambling. Chess become very popular after their theologians decided that chess playing wasn't contrary to the teachings of Mohammed. This decision took about 100 years and illustrates the curious power of a simple game. After the official decision that there was no harm in chess, the Moslems created a greatly detailed literature about it.

The design of pieces become more abstract or nonrepresentational because of Muslim pratice banning the worship of images.

Around 800 the first reference to chinese chess (xiangqi) appeared in the HUAN KWAI LU (Book of marvels). Chess was probbably introduced to China by Buddhists who traveled from India to further their religion or escape persecution.

In Chinese chess, the pieces are placed on the intersections of the lines rather than on the squares and a celestial river, akin to no man's land, was added between halves on the 9 x10 board. Their version only has five pawns to a side, but adds two cannons ahead of knights and a counselor on either side of the King.

In China, the King is called the general because once a Chinese emperor was so insulted at seeing a figure of himself in a lowly game that he had the players executed. In order to play the game without undue risk of life, Chinese players demoted the piece on the board.

The Burmese start their game with the Kingside pawns on the third rank and the Queenside pawns on the fourth rank. Before any movement begins, the major pieces are located anywhere behind the pawns according to the tactical discretion of the individual player. The moves today are identical to the original Hindu chess moves.

Through Korea chess reached Japan around 800, taking the name Shogi (the Generals Game). The game is played on a 9x9 uncheckered board with 20 pieces. There are some references that in 800 Byzantium Emperor Nicephorus and the fourth Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid (763-809) of Baghdad, conducted a chess game by correspondence. ar-Rashid is allegedly the first of his dynasty to play and sponsor chess. He granted pensions to the best chess players of his day. Under his caliphate, the golden age of shatranj began.

Interestingly, the Japanese allow captured pieces to change sides and rejoin the game against their old army at any vacant spot on the board.

The Moslems spread the game to Europe where it persisted until 14th century.

In 712 Seville, Spain was conquered by the Arabs. Moorish invaders brought chess with them and it spread throughout Iberia.

In 720 the first literary reference to chess in Arabic appeared. Charles Martel (688-741) introduced living chess around 735 with humans acting out the chess moves on a large board (10 x11).

Around 780 the Moorish invaders of Spain introduced chess to a large part of Western Europe. The abstract piece designs became more representative.

Around 820 chess was introduced in Russia through the Caspian-Volga trade route.

In 875 the famous knight's tour was reference in the Sanskrit writing, KAVYALANKARA, by Rudrata.

Around 920 the chess pieces were all given Persian names.

In 1005 al-hakim of Egypt banned chess and had all chess sets burned.

Around 1013 chess was brought to England with the Danish invasion. In 1027 Canute (980-1035), King of Denmark and England, learned to play chess while on a pilgrimage to Rome.

Around 1060 William the Conqueror was playing chess. There is a reference that he broke a chess board over the head of the Prince of France during one of their games.

The checkered board with its light and dark squares were a European invention around 1100. In 1090 the revenue department, of Normandy and England, called Eschecker and exchequer, adapted the chess board for accounting purposes, after the chess board. The board was used to calculate money owed. Boards with alternating light and dark squares were later introduced.

In 1061 Cardinal Damiaini (1020-1072) of Ostin forbade the clergy to play chess. Cardinal Damiani was later canonized.

In 1125, the first folding chess board was invented by a priest. Bishop Guy of Paris threatened to excommunicate any priest caught playing chess. One such enthusiast devised a secretive folding board - one that simply looked like two books lying together.

By 1093 chess was condemned by the eastern orthodox church.

The oldest known chess set is called the "Lewis Chessmen" dated 1120. They were an incomplete collection of 12 different sets found on the island of Lewis in the Outer Herbrides. The chessmen are of Viking origin and date from around 1150. At that time the Outer Hebrides were an important part of the Viking world and there was regular sea traffic between Lewis, Iceland and Scandinavia.

Chess may have arrived in Russia as early as the eighth century, about a hundred years before it reached Western Europe. 16th century travelers to Russia reported that people of all classes played chess there. In the rest of Europe, chess playing was the game of nobility until the 18th century. In certain parts of Russia, the modern rules didn't take hold until the 20th century.

By the 12th century, a description of knightly accomplishments lists chess along with riding, hawking, and verse writing. Chess was often played for money or other stakes. The most common form of a win during medieval play was the "bare king", where the winner captured all of his opponent's pieces, leaving the king standing alone. The relatively rare checkmate was commonly worth double stakes.

By the late Middle ages, Europeans and Moslems had started tinkering with the rules:

1) In the 13th century, the first known instance of the chessboard with it's light and

2) Europeans were frustrated with the amount of time it took to complete a game, and typically made some rule changes designed to speed things up. In the original version, the Bishop could only move two squares diagonally, but had the ability to leap over pieces in its way.

3) The Queen, at the time, was easily the weakest piece on the board, moving only one diagonal square per turn.When a pawn reached the 8th rank, it was promoted to a Queen, this was the only way to keep the pawn in the game.

Over a period of time the Bishop and Queen grew in strength to what they are nowadays. Literature of the time refer to the new game as "The Queen's Chess", or less complimentary name: "Mad Queen".

4) Given the offensive power of the Bishop and Queen, the King became too easy to capture. The answer to this problem was castling. The ability to suddenly move the King two squares increased the depth of stratagy to avoid checkmate.

5) At about the same time, the pawns were given the option to move one or two squares as their inital move. So that this move could not be used to avoid capture, the move en passant was devised.

*There have been no other alterations to the game since the 16th century.

1496 Luis de Lucena - wrote "Art of Chess". It described 11 opening stratagies and 150 problems. Bound to it was a discourse on love.

1512 - Was the first best seller. Damino's chess book was published in Italian and Spanish and reprinted with 8 editions.

Benjamin Franklin learned to play chess in Paris. His essay in 1779, "The Morals of Chess", is a source of chess etiquette, such as You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing of insulting expression, nor show too much pleasure; but endeavor to console you adversary, and make him less dessatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression, that may be used with truth; such as, You understand the game better than I, but you are a little inattentive; or, You play too fast.

One of the popular myths of chess was that it was invented by one person, the Brahmin, Sissa, who invented the game to teach his king that he could not win without the help of his subjects. When the king asked Sissa what reward he wanted for such a fine game, Sissa replied that he wanted one grain of wheat for the first square of the board, two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth, and so on to the 64th square. That number turns out to be 18,445,744,073,709,551,515 grains. The king then kills him when he realizes it is impossible to get so many grains.

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