Part of chapter 2

May 3, 2008, 4:26 PM |

If you haven't heard yet, I am planning on writing a chess book. Updates can occasionally be found on my blog. This is the first part of chapter 2: The history of chess. It deals with the development of the game throughtout the ages, untill it reached it's current form and international tournaments began. The second part will pick up there and go through now. It will talk about famous players, tournaments, and games. (note: this may come in more than one post, depending on its length) As always, I welcome the help and advice of any and all you here at Without further ado, here it is:


    Before we study the game itself, let us ask ourselves the question, "where did chess come from?" Nobody today knows exactly where chess comes from, but it does have a long and interesting history throughout time.
    One story about the origins of chess, though highly unlikely true, was that a king once asked a peasant to create a game to amuse him. The peasant created a game similar to chess. The king liked this game so much that he offered the peasant anything that he wanted - anything! The peasant, being smart, gave the king a choice: the peasants weight in gold, or rice. But not just any amount of rice, but 1 grain of rice for the first square, 2 grains for the second, 4 for the third, 8 for the fourth, and so on. The king, thinking that this would not be much rice, agreed. Big mistake! This amounted to a total of a whopping 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice, more than the human race has produced! The king of course could not pay this. At this point, many stories differ. Some say that the king had the peasant killed, others say that he gave the peasant his weight in gold. Either way, this is an unlikely, but interesting story about the origins of chess.
    Whether or not this story is true, we can track the progression of chess throughout time. We know that in India, there was a game called chaturanga, which became widespread in the 6th century. The two main characteristics which set it apart from checkers were the facts that the pieces had different abilities and the fact that the capture of one piece - the king - would be the end of the game. The pieces did not necessarily use the same movements that we use today, but they were different from each-other, which was a big step forward.
    We know from historical documents from Persia, written in the 10th century, that chess was, in some form or fashion, present at that time in the Middle East. We know that these chess pieces were much different from the chaturanga pieces, representing shapes and not animals, because Islam forbids depiction of animals and human beings in art, and chess pieces were considered art.
    Chess developed in China as a combination of chaturanga and the game of Go. Because of the influence of Go, Chinese chess is played on the intersections of the lines on the board, rather than in the squares themselves. The Chinese variation of chess, possibly a predecessor of our current chess, was called Xiangqi.
    Chess, or some variation thereof, soon reached Europe. It did not catch on immediately, but once the abstract shapes of the pieces were returned to being representative of real animals and people, it quickly gained popularity. There were soon books written on the subject of chess puzzles, method of playing, etc. Chess was once listed as one of the seven skills that a good knight must have. Many monarchs of the time had personal and extravagant chess sets, and played often. It was denounced evil by saint Peter Damian in 1061, because he said it had evil effects on the society. Also, two separate incidents in London involving men of Essex resorting to violence which resulted in death as an outcome of playing chess caused further sensation and alarm. When Louis IX of France banned gambling, because of gambling on chess, in 1254, it was impossible to enforce this rule because chess had become so widespread and popular. Not long after this, pieces began developing into their current form. Around the 15th century, Chess was very similar to the game that we play now. Also around this time, people began to write books analyzing approaches to chess. Soon books became popular. The first international chess tournament was held in London in 1851.