A Brief Dive Into The History Of Chess

A Brief Dive Into The History Of Chess

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Dear all,

Today I would like to invite you on an exciting journey through the history of the most famous and beloved board game in the world! The common hobby that unites all of us here and has captured the hearts of so many genius players and their passionate fans for over a thousand years. Of course, you can easily guess that I am talking about... checkers! No, just kidding, it is obviously chess. Sorry for trying to fool you.

But since I know that the history of chess can easily be found in numerous articles around the web and probably many people have already written about it much earlier and much better than me, I tried to think what I could do to present it to my readers in a different and entertaining way. After reflecting on this for a while, I decided that it might be a good idea to show it not only as a straight and direct informative text, but to add a pinch of literature and fictional story.

So let me introduce you to Kaida, a 9-year-old girl who has just found an old chess book in her house and is curious to know more about this fantastic game she is discovering. I hope you will enjoy her adventure below:

Table Of Contents

1.     Introduction

2.     6th-century India

3.     Persia and the Middle East

4.     Middle Age Europe

5.     Romantic Era

6.     Post-World War II and the 21st century

7.     Back to the future


1)      Introduction

It was a cold autumn day in 2087 when the young Kaida, alone in the basement, found an old book at the bottom of her late grandfather's trunk. There was a dedication on the first page, revealing that it had been given to him in 2024, when he was her age. The girl soon became interested when she saw that the contents of the book were about a game called chess, which she had never heard of before.

Not surprisingly. After all, her parents, two of the most brilliant scientists of the time, were always too busy to give her any attention, let alone to play or teach her any kind of game. All they cared about was finishing their “Time Machine Project”, which Kaida couldn't care less.

She spent a few minutes leafing through the book and trying to understand what was that all about. Despite her interest, it was hard for her to comprehend everything without the help of an adult. Full of curiosity in mind, she decided to enter alone and hidden in the lab of her parents. Her goal was to find any bizarre equipment that could help to unravel the mystery of this strange game she was discovering.

Kaida found a silver helmet wirelessly connected to a small box, which she innocently thought was some kind of device capable of absorbing the knowledge in the book and implementing it in her brain, saving her from all the reading. She put the book into the box, held it in her hands, put on the helmet, and pressed the red button.

What she didn't know was that this was the time machine her mother had talked about so much, but never let her get close to. Feeling everything around her spinning and a severe headache, Kaida passed out. When she woke up, she seemed to be in a completely different world.


2)      6th-century India

Part of what is believed to be one of the ancient 8x8 boards used in 6th-century India

"Where am I?" she asked as she slowly opened her eyes.
The man in front of her, an imposing figure with tanned skin, who had been trying to wake her up for the last few minutes, spoke something incomprehensible. Fortunately, Kaida remembered the microchip implanted in her brain, which could instantly translate any language ever known into English and vice versa. She pinched her nose to activate it.

"Can you repeat, please? Where am I?"

"Oh, you speak Sanskrit! You are in Bhāratvarsha. What is your name?"

Kaida recognized the ancient name of the country she knew as India. She looked at the box in her hands and noticed the display indicating that she was in the 6th century. It was then that she became suspicious of what had happened. 

"Oh my God!"

"Here, take this hat, it looks good on you. This helmet you are wearing is too ugly. Where did you buy it?"

She put on the hat, diverted from the question, and spoke to him again, worried.

"Sorry to interrupt you. What are you doing?"

There was a group of six or seven people playing around an 8x8 square board they called Ashtāpada.

"Oh, we are playing Chaturanga, it is a battle-simulation game. Actually, we just invented it, so it is in the testing stage. Would you like to learn?"

The friendly man showed her how it worked. The infantry, 8 foot-soldiers who started in the second row, could always move one square forward and capture enemies diagonally. He then explained the confusing L-shaped movement of the cavalry, represented by horses; the elephants, which should always move two spaces (no more, no less), and like the horses, could jump over a piece in between; the counselor, which moved only one space diagonally; the chariot, which could move freely vertically and horizontally through the entire board; and finally, the most important, the king, who could move one square to any direction.

Comparison table between the original Chaturanga game and modern chess, showing the names of the pieces and their respective moves.

She became very interested in learning more and even made some suggestions, such as allowing soldiers to advance two squares on their first move, which was immediately rejected by her older colleagues. Eliminating the need for dice, however, was something they promised to think about.

"What happens when the soldier reaches the end of the board?"

"Oh, then the brave warrior will be promoted to a counselor!"

Kaida was also amazed at how beautiful the pieces were, with detailed shapes, well-polished, and handmade with great care, showing that these people took their newest creation seriously.

Examples of pieces used in the original game of Chaturanga, the predecessor of chess.

"Thank you for teaching me this game! I hope it will become more popular as time goes on. I am sure many people may like it."

"Oh, little girl. I don't think so, but thanks for the encouragement!"

They gave her a set of pieces as a gift. Kaida left the small hut and opened the book she had hidden from them. To her surprise, the first chapter was about the very game she had just seen being invented. Her eyes widened as she realized that she was witnessing and making history herself. 

"I just hope I don't mess up the future..."

She placed the bookmark at the beginning of the second chapter, titled "Persia and the Middle East", and pressed the button on her helmet, now hidden under her new hat.


3)      Persia and the Middle East

A painting depicting an Indian merchant introducing the game of Chaturanga to the Persians.

Kaida arrived in the middle of the desert, near a palace of the Persian nobility, around 600 CE. Scared but determined, she entered the building, unaware that it belonged to the king himself. Upon noticing her presence, a guard exclaimed: 

"Stop! Who are you? You don't look like a Persian. And what kind of hat is that? Are you from Bhārat?"

The king, who happened to be passing through the entrance hall in a good mood at that moment, turned to his soldier.

"Come on. Let her in, she's just a little girl. What do you want, young kid?"

"I wanted to ask where I can play Chaturanga."

"Chaturanga? What is that?"

Realizing that they had no idea what she was talking about, Kaida decided to present the game to the king and his nobles, patiently explaining everything as she remembered. They loved it, but suggested some changes to the rules and the shapes of the pieces, which she preferred not to discuss. They also renamed the game Chatrang, which was easier to pronounce in their language. 

"I don't mind changing the name. As you wish, Mr. King."

"We should create a battle cry for when the king is attacked. What do you think?"

He began to shout "Shāh!" (Persian for "King!") when attacking the opponent's king, and "Shāh Māt!" (Persian for "the king is helpless") to checkmate. The nobles had the idea of creating a manuscript explaining the basic rules of the game, called "Matikan-i-chatrang" (The Book of Chess).

In Persia, Chatrang no longer required the use of dice to play, and the elephant's movement was limited to the diagonals.

After a few games, Kaida gave them her own set of pieces and left the palace, thinking about the potential of Chatrang. If the king of Persia liked it, wouldn't other civilizations appreciate it too? Well, she had a time machine to check it out with her own eyes, on a journey through different places and times, spending a few minutes in each of them to watch her beloved game spread around the world. 

First, she visited the 8th-century Muslim world in the Middle East, where it was renamed again, this time Shatranj, and witnessed the oldest known complete manual being written by al-Adli ar-Rumi, entitled "Kitab ash-Shatranj" (also "The Book of Chess").

Kaida then followed the game spreading eastward and westward along the Silk Road to Central Asia, where some of the oldest artifacts were handmade by local artisans, and from there to China. 

The oldest archaeological chess artifacts - ivory pieces - were excavated in ancient Afrasiab, today's Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, Central Asia, and date from around 760 CE.

She saw it reach Russia in the 9th century via the Volga-Caspian trade route, from where it also went to Eastern Europe. The girl followed the Arabs introducing it to the Iberian Peninsula and the Emirate of Sicily, today's Italy, during the 10th century, reaching as far as the Byzantine Empire.

In Baghdad, she watched the oldest recorded game, registered in a 10th-century manuscript, played between a historian and his pupil. Then, in a bold move, she traveled to the 11th century and decided on her own to teach the game to the Vikings, who later took it to the British Isles, the Nordic countries, and even Iceland.

Satisfied to see that Shatranj was now known throughout the North of Africa and the whole Eurasian continent, Kaida again bookmarked the next chapter of her book, the "Middle Ages," and pressed the button of her helmet to see what the future of the past would look like.


4)      Middle Age Europe

Segura de León, Spain. The birthplace of one of the pioneers of modern chess.

This time, it took her to the heart of medieval Spain, circa 1560. An imposing castle in the region of Segura de León stood before her eyes. In the garden, a man of about 30 was sitting, apparently analyzing positions on a Shatranj board. Kaida approached him cautiously, so as not to disturb his concentration, and watched him for a few moments until he finally noticed her.

"Good morning, child. What brings you here? And where did you get that unusual hat?" 

"Hi, I am Kaida. Is this a Shatranj board?" 

"Well, yes... but we are not in the ancient Arabian Empire. Here we call it chess, let me show you. Anyway, please call me Ruy López."

The Spanish master explained the basic rules of modern chess. She recognized the knights, the rooks, the king, and the pawns. It was very satisfying to hear that they could now advance two squares on their first move. Kaida was a visionary. However, two pieces were different from what she was used to. 

"What are those pointy-headed guys?" 

"Those are bishops. They move diagonally. There is one for each squares’ color. Like this..." 

"But can they move as many squares as they want? Where are the elephants?"

Ruy López, though surprised that she somehow learned the old rules and pieces of the game, patiently explained that it had changed a bit. In addition to the bishops, he introduced her to the queen. 

"Queen? Is there a woman on the board? 

"Yes, dear. She is the most powerful piece and can move any number of squares in any direction. Vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. You can thank our former esteemed Queen Isabel la Católica for that.”

Isabel la Católica (April 22, 1451 - November 26, 1504). During her reign, and thanks to her influence, the old counselor was replaced by a queen and became the strongest piece on the board.

"Cool! But why were you playing alone?" 

He then clarified that he was not playing alone but studying some ideas for the first moves, called openings. He shared his knowledge with her, emphasizing the importance of developing the pieces, controlling the center, and protecting the king. Kaida was astonished as she realized that the simple game she had witnessed being born and spread was now taken so seriously, with so many new things discovered.

"Wow! Are you the first to study chess so deeply?" 

"Oh no... I may be one of the first, but some giants came before me, like my compatriot Luis de Lucena, or my Italian rival Paolo Boi. But none of them went as deep into the opening as I am trying to do.”

Ruy López showed her the book he was writing, concentrating mainly on the opening lines, especially the one that he considered the most promising for the white pieces, quickly developing the knight and bishop on the kingside and preparing for the protection of the king. (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5) 

The book written by Ruy López was one of the first about modern chess in Europe.

"That makes sense. Do you think people will start playing this opening after you publish it?"

"Oh, I am not so optimistic, but who knows. Imagine how crazy if it becomes the most popular opening in chess. Ha-ha, it costs nothing to dream". 

Kaida thanked him for the lessons and for showing her the new version of the game. She found it very interesting and dynamic, and now looked forward to seeing what it would be like in the future. The next chapter of the book was called "The Romantic Era". She placed her bookmark there, closed the box, and continued her journey.


5)      Romantic Era

The 19th century marked the beginning of major chess tournaments, with players exclusively dedicated to the sport, and also media coverage.

The landing place this time was St. Petersburg, Russia, in the year 1914, where a huge tournament was taking place between the best players in the world. Kaida carefully watched the final round of this historic event, which ended with the victory of German player Emanuel Lasker.

She was thrilled to realize that chess was now an organized sport. Great players, making a living at it, competing point for point, with clocks marking the time, while hundreds of fans watched the games. After a few mesmerized moments watching Lasker give his post-victory interview, Kaida was determined to talk to him as soon as he stood alone on the street on the way to his hotel.

St. Petersburg 1914 was one of the strongest chess events in history, with the participation of several of the best players of the era.

"Mr. Lasker, excuse me. May we talk?" 

"Hallöchen, little Mädchen! What is your name? Sure, we can talk. Oh, and I love your hat, so elegant!"

"Thank you. I am Kaida. I wanted to ask you about the tournament. Congratulations on winning. Are you the best player in the world?"

"Ha-ha, that is so nice of you. I am the world champion, but I think I cannot say that I am the best in the world."

"Why not?"

Lasker found an outdoor chess table in a park, so common in Russia at that time, and took the girl there. It was a joy for him to talk about his favorite subject with such a fascinating and interested child.

He explained to her that there had been many other great players before him, such as the legendary Paul Morphy, his German colleague Adolf Anderssen, and the first official World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz. He also mentioned Tarrasch, Marshall, Tartakower, Schlechter, Rubinstein, and Nimzowitsch, as well as the rising stars José Raúl Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, whom he assured would be world champions in the years to come.

"Ah, and don't let me forget the great François-André Philidor and his book 'Analyse du jeu des Échecs', written in the middle of the 18th century. It was certainly a great contribution to modern chess".  

The book written by François-André Philidor, published in 1749, was a symbol of the great advance in chess knowledge after 200 years of slow development.

"By the way, would you like to play a game? I always have a set of pieces with me."

Kaida was struck by how beautiful the Staunton-style pieces were, especially the knights. It would be a great pleasure for her to play with such well-designed figures.

"Sure, let's play!"

Despite her best efforts, the little girl was easily outplayed. Lasker won by exploiting many of her positional weaknesses.

"Good game, my young friend. You have potential. Let us analyze this game together!"

While analyzing with her, Lasker took the opportunity to explain some principles that had developed over the last few years, such as the slow change from the attacking and sacrificing era to what was now the initial concepts of a more positional game.

He showed her the importance of placing pieces on active squares, cooperating with each other, and waiting for the right moment to attack. The man also pointed out the value of castling and the en-passant rule. She listened intently, trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible from the legend before her.

"Thank you for the game and the lessons, Mr. Lasker! It was a pleasure!"

"The pleasure was all mine, Kaida!"

After saying goodbye to him, she knew very well which year she would like to go to now. 


6)      Post-World War II and the 21st century

Chess after the Second World War was marked by the rapid development of computers until it culminated in advanced engines, especially at the beginning of the 21st century.

Kaida skipped the most troubled period of the 20th century and suddenly found herself in a world completely taken over by new technologies that seemed to have made the fastest leap in history, but not enough to kill such a centuries-old game. She landed in the year 2024, when the book she was holding was given to her beloved grandfather.

To her surprise, she recognized him as a child chatting with his friends at the same school where she was studying. The curious girl entered discreetly and approached her grandpa, trying to talk to him in a rare moment of pause.

"Excuse me, boy. Do you recognize this book?" she said, showing him the time-worn version she was holding.

"Hello, who are you? I haven't seen you around the school before. Nice hat!"

"I don't study here... I just wanted to ask if..."

"I don't know this book. Chess? What's that?"

"It's a board game! Come with me to the library and I will show you more."

For some reason, the boy felt a deep connection with that strange girl and decided to follow her. They turned on the computer and began eagerly searching for more information about chess on every website she knew. 

"Look! This is Ding Liren, the current world champion! But the number one in the world today is... let me check... Magnus Carlsen".

They spent hours researching and discovering together the wonderful world of contemporary chess. The creation of FIDE, the development of opening and endgame theory, the great world champions such as Botvinnik, Mikhail Tal, the legendary Bobby Fischer, Karpov, and many others.

One of the greatest events in post-war chess was the famous match of the century between Bobby Fischer (USA) and Boris Spassky (USSR).

"And then there was this match in 1996. Kasparov, the world champion at the time, against a computer called Deep Blue."

"It seems to be the first time a machine beat the best human player."

"That's right. It completely changed the game! And look, we can even play online now!"

Deep Blue, developed by IBM, represented a major milestone in the technology development of chess engines, becoming the first computer to win a match against the human world champion in 1997.

The two also watched videos about Kramnik, Anand, Carlsen, and the revolution that the introduction of unbeatable engines had brought to chess. The fascination and sparkle in their eyes made other children around them take an interest in the subject as well.

Kaida looked at her watch. It was after 10 pm in her world and she knew her parents would be worried about her by now.

"Sorry, I have to go."

"Oh, okay. When will I see you again?"

The girl swallowed and let out a tear. She wasn't ready to say goodbye to her grandfather, whom she knew she wouldn't find alive after returning to 2087.

"I guess it won't be for a few more years... but I promise I'll do everything I can to make it as pleasant as possible."

As she left, she said quietly to herself, but still loud enough for him to hear.

"Bye, Grandpa!", and she closed the door.

The little boy looked out the window, confused for a while.

"What did she call me?"

But before returning home, Kaida went to a bookstore and bought the same book she had with her. She opened the first page and wrote:

"I hope you enjoy this book and this game. From your mysterious chess friend, with love. - June 30th, 2024.”

The girl left it in the mailbox at his house, adjusted the time machine button one last time, and returned home.


7)      Back to the future

Kaida finally returned to 2087, to the lab, to the exact same place she had left. The difference is that she found her parents looking at her with worried expressions as soon as she opened her eyes. 

"Kaida, what have you done? This machine is not fully tested! That was so dangerous!"

They seemed to feel a mixture of anger, concern, and disappointment. The little girl immediately became quiet, knowing that what she had done was wrong and that she would probably receive a deserved punishment. After being forced to listen to a long lecture about the danger of her attitude, she was finally able to speak up in an apologizing tone.

"I just wanted to learn more about this game", she said, showing the book to her mother. "It's called chess, and it's a lot of fun."

"Why didn't you ask me or your father to teach you? Did you have to sneak into our research room and risk your own life like that? You almost killed us with worry!"

"Sorry! I thought you were busy... you always are... why would you want to play with me if you had to work?"

It was then that her parents understood how lonely their daughter was and how little attention she received from those who should love her the most. Realizing that Kaida's attitudes were a consequence of their own absence from her life, they decided it was time to finally change this cruel routine.

From that day on, Kaida began playing chess with her parents every day, which became the family's main hobby. Needless to say, after taking lessons from so many legends of the past, she was the best player in the house. 

"Aaaand... checkmate!!" she exclaimed.

Her mother smiled, feeling a deep sense of pride for her daughter who, with the attention of her parents, now had everything she needed for a happy and promising future.



I hope you have enjoyed reading Kaida’s journey through the history of our beloved game and could learn more about it in a different way. This text was written after a special request from my friend @Aditya_exp, who also helped me choose the name of the main character. But despite that, all my articles are written thinking mainly on my audience, so please let me know any feedback in the comments. Also feel free to add any details about the topic that you consider interesting, which I may have forgotten or decided not to include. Thank you for reading!