Chess History
Click the picture for a condensed history of Chess!
Origin and Early History

The earliest written mention of a chesslike game appeared around 600, and the fact that it was mentioned without explanation suggests that it was already well known by that time. Chess is one of a group of games descended from chaturanga, a game believed to have originated in India in the 6th century or perhaps earlier, which itself may be related to a much older Chinese game. Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word referring to the four arms (or divisions) of an Indian army-elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry-from which come the four types of pieces in that game. Chaturanga spread eastward to China, and then through Korea to Japan. It also appeared in Persia after the Islamic conquest (638-651). In Persia the game was first called chatrang, the Persian form of chaturanga, and then shatranj, the Arabic form of the word. The spread of Islam to Sicily and the invasion of Spain by the Moors brought shatranj to Western Europe, and it reached Russia through trade routes from several directions. By the end of the 10th century, the game was well known throughout Europe. It attracted the serious interest of kings, philosophers, and poets, and the best players recorded their games for posterity. Problems, or puzzles, in which the solver has to find a solution-such as a forced checkmate in a given number of moves-became popular during the 12th and 13th centuries. While chess has historically enjoyed a reputation as an elite pastime, the advent of computers has placed the game on a very democratic footing. The growing availability of computer programs that can play chess at master level or better makes it possible for any enthusiast to have a chess companion at home that can be adjusted to play at any level.

Modern History

The game of chess as it exists today emerged in southern Europe toward the end of the 15th century. Some of the old shatranj rules were modified, new rules were added-such as castling, the two-square pawn advance, and the en passant capture-and the powers of certain pieces were increased. The most important changes turned the fers (counselor), a weak piece in shatranj, into the queen, the strongest piece in chess, and the alfil, which moved in two-square steps, into the far-ranging chess bishop. The new game achieved popularity all over Europe. Some of the best players of the 15th and 16th centuries, notably Lucena and Ruy Lopez of Spain and Damiano of Portugal, recorded their games and theories in widely circulated books of chess instruction. In the second half of the 16th century, Italian players such as Polerio and Greco dominated the game. The greatest figure in the early history of modern chess was the 18th-century French player François-André Danican Philidor. He was the leading chess player of his time and a renowned composer. In 1749 Philidor published one of the most influential theoretical works in chess history, L'analyse du jeu des Échecs (Analysis of the Game of Chess), which was eventually translated into many languages. Philidor was the first to analyze many of the main strategic elements of chess and to recognize the importance of proper pawn play. French players continued their dominance of the game into the 19th century. In 1834 Louis Charles de la Bourdonnais played a series of six matches in London against the best English player, Alexander McDonnell. Bourdonnais won 45 of the 85 games and lost 27 (there were 13 draws). The games played in these matches were published and analyzed worldwide. In 1843 English player Howard Staunton decisively defeated the leading French player, Pierre Charles de Saint-Amant, by a match score of 11 wins, 6 losses, and 4 draws. Staunton, the world's foremost chess figure in the mid-19th century, wrote several important theoretical works and commissioned a new design for the chess pieces (which remains the standard). He also organized the first international chess tournament, held in London in 1851, which was won by German player Adolf Anderssen. The first great American chess player was Paul Charles Morphy. In 1858 Morphy traveled to Europe, having demonstrated his superiority over all his American rivals at an early age, to prove himself against the finest players in the world. Within six months he had won matches by overwhelming scores against several prominent players, including Anderssen. Because of his youth and the extraordinary quality of his games, Morphy was hailed as a genius and was recognized as the best chess player in the world. But after returning to the United States, Morphy became mentally ill and never again played chess competitively. In the mid-19th century the center of chess activity returned to Europe, where Wilhelm Steinitz, Siegbert Tarrasch, Emanuel Lasker, and other great masters advanced the theory and practice of chess through their games and writings. Chess had long been popular in Russia, and after the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Communist government began a program of chess education for children, sponsored many important chess events, and provided financial support for its best players. As a result, players from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) have long dominated international chess. The only interruption of Soviet chess power came in 1972 when American Bobby Fischer won the world championship from Boris Spassky in the most widely publicized chess match in history. However, in 1975 another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, won the championship by default when Fischer's demands for new match rules were not accepted and he refused to defend his title. Although the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, the highest levels of world chess are still dominated by players trained under the Soviet system. The hegemony of these players is being threatened by a new influence on the game: computers. The first computer programs that could play chess emerged in the 1960s. Although the programs played according to the rules, they were easily defeated. Rapid improvement followed, and today computer chess programs have defeated several of the world's top players. Computer chess is increasing the popularity of the game, especially in the United States and particularly among children. The growing availability of computer programs that can play chess at master level or better makes it possible for enthusiasts to have a chess companion at home that can be adjusted to play at any level.

World Champions Although players such as Philidor and Morphy clearly were stronger players than their contemporaries, it was not until 1886 that a match was held specifically to decide who could legitimately claim the title of world chess champion. The players were Wilhelm Steinitz, from Prague (now the capital of the Czech Republic), and Johann Zukertort, from Poland. Each had achieved great successes in previous tournaments and matches. Steinitz defeated Zukertort in a match in 1872, but when Zukertort won the great London tournament of 1883 ahead of Steinitz, another match was arranged in 1886. Steinitz won it decisively with 10 wins, 5 losses, and 5 draws, and he became the first official world chess champion. In 1894 Steinitz lost the title to 25-year-old German player Emanuel Lasker, who subsequently held the title for a record 27 years. Lasker was deposed as champion in 1921 by Cuban player José Raúl Capablanca, who was replaced as champion in 1927 by Russian-born Alexander Alekhine of France. Alekhine lost the championship to Dutch player Machgielis (Max) Euwe in 1935, but regained it in a rematch two years later. When Alekhine died in 1946 he still held the title, so the World Chess Federation (FIDE, the Fédération Internationale des Echecs) set out to find a new champion. FIDE had been founded in 1924, but not until Alekhine's death in 1946 was the organization able to take control of the world championship. In 1948 FIDE organized a special competition among the world's five best players. Mikhail Botvinnik of the USSR won the title. Since 1948 FIDE championship matches have been held every few years. Botvinnik reigned as world champion for almost 15 years, losing his title briefly to two Soviet players-in 1957-1958 to Vassily Smyslov and in 1960-1961 to then 22-year-old Mikhail Tal. Botvinnik lost to Soviet Tigran Petrosian in 1963, and subsequently announced his retirement from championship play. Boris Spassky defeated Petrosian for the world championship in 1969, but in 1972 Spassky lost to Bobby Fischer, who became the first American world champion and the first non-Soviet to win a world championship under the rules adopted after 1945. Recent world champions Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov have met in five title matches. The first match (1984-1985) was halted by Florencio Campomanes, the president of FIDE, after it had lasted for six months without producing a winner. Campomanes said he was trying to protect the health of the players, who appeared exhausted. But Kasparov believed that Campomanes wanted to save the title for his friend Karpov. In their next match in 1985, Kasparov won the title from Karpov and then successfully defended it three times. In 1993 Kasparov and his official challenger, Nigel Short of England, rejected FIDE's proposed arrangements for their world championship and set up a rival organization, the Professional Chess Association, hoping to gain commercial sponsorship and television coverage on a much larger scale than FIDE was able to accomplish. After he defeated Short under the auspices of the Professional Chess Association, Kasparov claimed the title of world champion. But Karpov, who remained loyal to FIDE, also claimed the title after winning a FIDE-sanctioned match against Jan Timman of the Netherlands.

Contributed by: Burt Hochberg -- Encarta Encyclopedia
Fun Chess Facts
Click the picture to learn more about Chess!
  • The number of possible, unique chess games is far greater than the number of electrons in the universe! The number of electrons is estimated to be a mere 1079, while the number of unique chess games is 10120. In English, that's a thousand trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion games.

  • Chess is called the game of kings, because for many centuries it was played primarily by nobility and the upper classes.

  • The Isle of Lewis chess pieces are the oldest surviving complete chess set known. Discovered on they Isle of Lewis, they are made from walrus tusks and show their characters in a range of bad moods - from anger to depression. Click here to see images of the pieces.

  • The names of the pieces-- the queen, king, knight, rook and bishop came about during the Middle Ages, when society was extremely oriented towards war and rigidly stratified. During the Renaissance period, society became more dynamic and rules were added to enable rapid attack techniques. These include making the queen more powerful, and permitting pawns to move two squares on the first move.

  • The rook is named from an Arabic word rukh, meaning chariot. This reflects its ability to move quickly in straight lines, but not leap over obstacles. During the Middle Ages, when chariots were no longer in use, the rook was gradually modified to look more like the turret of a castle.

  • The knight's role has been stable over time. Even in the earliest versions of the game, it represented the cavalry and had the unique ability to leap over its opponents.

  • The word "checkmate" comes from the Persian phrase "shah mat," which means "the king is defeated."

  • The Arabic world, the Chinese, and later the Europeans used the chessboard as a tool for calculating and a means for expressing mathematical concepts. In medieval England, financial accounts were settled on tables resembling chessboards. When the Normans created the royal office of collection for the crown, they called it the Exchequer, and its minister the “Chancellor of the Exchequer”, because the court originally used a checkered cloth to cover the table where judgments were made. Exchequer comes from Old French, where eschequier meant counting table, and eschec meant chess. This makes the "Chancellor of the Exchequer" literally the "Chancellor of the Chessboard!"

  • Lewis Carrol’s novel “Through the Looking Glass” was based on a chess game, much the way “Alice in Wonderland” was based on playing cards. The idea for picturing the countryside as a chess board came from Lewis Carrol’s days in Oxmoor, where his apartment overlooked a cultivated moor, separated into neat, rectangular farmer’s fields.

  • The folding chess board was originally invented in 1125 by a chess-playing priest. Since the Church forbid priests to play chess, he hid his chess board by making one that looked simply like two books lying together.

  • if you know a fun fact you would like to contribute, send it to
  • Chess History<br>by Edward Lasker
    Excerpted from his famous "Chess and Checkers - The Way to Mastership".
    Here is an interesting chess history written in 1918 by the great Edward Lasker. This was included in his seminal work, "Chess and Checkers - The Way to Mastership".

    The History of Chess

    The game of Chess in the form in which it is played to-day is usually assumed to be of a much older date than can be proved with certainty by documents in our possession. The earliest reference to the game is contained in a Persian romance written about 600 A.D., which ascribes the origin of Chess to India. Many of the European Chess terms used in the Middle Ages which can be traced back to the Indian language also tend to prove that India is the mother country of the game.

    We are, therefore, fairly safe in assuming that Chess is about 1300 years old. Of course we could go farther, considering that the Indian Chess must have been gradually developed from simpler board games. Indeed we know from a discovery in an Egyptian tomb built about 4000 B.C. that board games have been played as early as 6000 years ago; but we have no way of finding out their rules.

    The game of Chess spread from India to Persia, Arabia and the other Moslem countries, and it was brought to Europe at the time of the Moorish invasion of Spain. It also reached the far East, and games similar to Chess still exist in Japan, China, Central and Northern Asia, the names and rules of which prove that they descended from the old Indian Chess.

    In Europe Chess spread from Spain northward to France, Germany, England, Scandinavia and Iceland. It became known with extraordinary rapidity, although at first it was confined to the upper classes, the courts of the Kings and the nobility. In the course of time, when the dominance of the nobility declined and the inhabitants of the cities assumed the leading role in the life of people, the game of Chess spread to all classes of society and soon reached a popularity which no other game has ever equaled.

    While in the early Middle Ages the game was played in Europe with the same rules as in the Orient, some innovations were introduced by the European players in the later Middle Ages which proved to be so great an improvement that within a hundred years they were generally adopted in all countries including the Orient. The reason for the changes was that in the old form of the game it took too long to get through the opening period. The new form, which dates from about 1500 A.D. and the characteristic feature of which is the enlarged power of Queen and Bishop, is our modern Chess, the rules of which are uniform throughout the civilized world.

    In the Seventeenth Century Chess flourished mostly in Italy, which consequently produced the strongest players. Some of them traveled throughout Europe, challenging the best players of the other countries and for the most part emerging victorious. At that time Chess was in high esteem, especially at the courts of the kings who followed the example of Philip the Second of Spain in honoring the traveling masters and rewarding them liberally for their exhibition matches.

    Towards the beginning of the Eighteenth Century the game reached a high stage of development in France, England and Germany. The most famous master of the time was the Frenchman, Andre Philidor, who for more than forty years easily maintained his supremacy over all players with whom he came in contact, and whose fame has since been equaled only by the American Champion, Paul Morphy, and by the German, Emanuel Lasker.

    During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries the number of players who obtained international fame increased rapidly, and in 1851, due to the efforts of the English Champion Staunton, an international tournament was held in London to determine the championship of Europe. It was won by the German master Anderssen, who maintained his leading place for the following fifteen years, until he was beaten by the youthful Morphy. The latter, at twenty years of age, was the first American master to visit Europe and defeated in brilliant style all European masters whom he met.

    Morphy withdrew from the game after his return to America and did not try to match himself with the Bohemian Steinitz, who in the meantime had beaten Anderssen, too, and who had come to America. Steinitz assumed the title of the World's Champion and defended it successfully against all competitors until 1894, when he was beaten by Emanuel Lasker, who is still World's Champion, having never lost a match.

    The next aspirant for the World's Championship is the young Cuban, Jose Raoul Capablanca, who has proved to be superior to all masters except Lasker. He entered the arena of international tournaments at the age of twenty-two in San Sebastian, Spain, in 1911, and won the first prize in spite of the competition of nearly all of Europe's masters. In the last international tournament, which was held in Petrograd in 1914, he finished second, Emanuel Lasker winning first prize.

    The present ranking of the professional Chess masters is about the following:

    1. Emanuel Lasker, Berlin, World's Champion. 2. J. R. Capablanca, Havana, Pan-American Champion. 3. A. Rubinstein, Warsaw, Russian Champion. 4. K. Schlechter, Vienna, Austrian Champion. 5. Frank Marshall, New York, United States Champion. 6. R. Teichmann, Berlin. 7. A. Aljechin, Moscow.

    Other players of international fame are the Germans, Tarrasch and Spielmann, the Austrians, Duras, Marocy and Vidmar, the Russians, Bernstein and Niemzowitsch, the Frenchman, Janowski and the Englishman, Burn. Up to the time of the outbreak of the war the leading Chess Clubs of the different countries arranged, as an annual feature, national and international tournaments, thus bringing the Chess players of all nationalities into close contact.

    This internationalism of Chess is of great advantage to the Chess player who happens to be traveling in a foreign country. There are innumerable Chess Clubs spread all over the globe and the knowledge of the game is the only introduction a man needs to be hospitably received and to form desirable social and business connections.

    It would be going beyond the limit of this summary of the history of Chess if I tried to give even an outline of the extremely interesting part Chess has played in French, English and German literature from the Middle Ages up to the present time. Suffice it to mention that Chess literature by far exceeds that of all other games combined. More than five thousand volumes on Chess have been written, and weekly or monthly magazines solely devoted to Chess are published in all countries, so that Chess has, so to speak, become an international, universal language.
    A Review of <br>Luxury Chess
    A nice-to-find website for unique chess sets.
    I just found while doing some early holiday shopping and I must say they have one of the most attractive and interesting chess websites I have found so far.

    First of all, I want to compliment them on the wide selection of unique chess sets that they have. I could go to any website and find the same 3 standard sets, but I have to come to their site to find the truly unique and exotic products. I really appreciate a store owner that takes the time to search out new and unusual items, and that is one of the reasons I am going to bookmark them, and come back all of the time to check out what they have found.

    The most interesting set that I saw was the Isle of Lewis / Harry Potter set. At first I couldn’t understand why this set was called a Harry Potter model, but a quick inspection of the text revealed that this was the model used in the first movie. Ah hah!

    I happen to be a huge Harry Potter fan and love the idea of having a little piece of that magic in our own Muggle world. I was also interested to read that it was a replica of the oldest complete chess set ever found, and was discovered by fisherman off the coast of Britain. What a fascinating story.

    I also have to compliment them on the way they offer the pieces and the boards separately. That is something I have always hated about chess stores, they always bundle everything as sets. I would much rather be able to mix and match pieces and boards to create exactly the custom set that I want.

    They have done a great job on their site. Being a fan of unique chess sets, and chess in general, I will be sure to stop by their shop regularly.

    Review provided by Joseph, an associate and designer of severalPebbleArt stone chess sets