Brief History of Chess

What are the origins of the royal game? I will try to create a brief overview with as accurate information as possible.

500 – It is widely acknowledged that chess originated from India around this time.

500-600 – Chaturanga, a four-player war-related board game, flourishes in north-western India. This game is the “earliest precursor” to chess because it had two features that made it stand out from the crowd – different pieces had different abilities (as opposed to a game like checkers) and victory was centred around what we know as the king in modern chess.

600-640 – Historians believe chaturanga was gradually altered into shatranj, a two-player game, which became popular in northern India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and southern parts of Central Asia. After the Arabs took control of Persia in the 640’s, the rules of ‘chess’ (which probably went by another name) spread across Persia and neighbouring countries.

700 – Muslims invade Spain and introduce chess there.

750 – Chess reached China via Silk Road traders and Buddhist pilgrims, where they likely started to label the pieces on “inscribed disks” and placed pieces on the intersections of lines rather than inside squares. This probably evolved into the modern game of Chinese chess or XiangQi.

750-900 – Muslims took chess to North Africa and Sicily.

900 – The oldest recorded chess game is written in a manuscript. The game was between a Baghdad historian and a pupil.

900-1000 – The Vikings established the game in England and Iceland.

1000 – Chess is introduced to Japan and Korea. The game was also spread far throughout Europe as far north as Scandinavia. At this time, chessboards were often made of fine wood or marble.

1300 – The pawn acquires the ability to move two squares from its original square, although this was not fully assimilated into Europe until 300 years later.

1400 – Chess becomes known as the “royal game” as it was popular among nobility.

1475 – The counsellor was replaced by the modern queen, hence increasing the value of a pawn (due to its potential promotion to a queen). The chaturanga/shatranj piece called the elephant was replaced by the bishop. The rules of castling and en passant are introduced, but not widely accepted.

1620 – Gioacchino Greco, an Italian master, wrote about contrasting approaches to chess. He emphasised tactics and his games made a significant contribution on popularising chess.

1700 – Castling and en passant are acknowledged.

1749 – François-André Philidor of France, possibly the world’s best chess player for nearly 50 years, wrote L’Analyze des échecs (Chess Analyzed), a highly influential book.

1800 – The rook is universally acknowledged. Previously, in Russia it was a sailing ship and in other places, a warrior inside a chariot.

1849 – What would later be known as the Staunton chess set (a standard for international competition today) is patented.

1850 – Many minor disputes about the rules of chess are fixed up. An example is that it was sometimes unacceptable to promote a pawn to a queen if one already had a queen on the board.

1886 – First official world chess championship held, where Wilhelm Steinitz triumphed against Johann Zukertort.

1900 – Chess goes through explosive growth as players began to play professionally, prizes were larger and world championships were on offer. (In addition, your guide to this brief history of chess is born in this century.)

I laced together this timeline with information from Encyclopædia Britannica and World Book. There were minor conflicts in some of the information, but generally, the timeline worked out quite well.

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