The Origin Of Chess





I will take you through from the origin of chess to the present day in this series. If you need more than the brief history the comprehensive version of chess history starts right here. The exact time and place where man first moved a chess piece in anger is inconclusive. Quite a few countries have claimed the credit for bestowing the great game of chess upon the world. If you like you can join the debate.

But the fact is that the game has been with us for as long as there has been anything approaching civilization. Conventional wisdom has it that the game we know today can be traced back to Asia in the 6th Century AD. All this really means is that this is the earliest documentation that we currently have to confirm the existence of the game.

It does not mean that chess was a new phenomenon at this time. It was probably regarded by people then much as it is by people now, as an ancient and intriguing reflection of the human psyche.


Competing Claims




Origin Of Chess: Competing Claims

Origin Of Chess: Competing Claims

Of all the various nations claiming chess as originally coming from them there are two standing head and shoulders above the others. These are the only plausible possibilities given what we know.

All of the countless variants of which European chess is only one belong to one of two branches of the chess family. One branch is all variants descended from an early chess game from China. The other branch consists of all variants descended from an early chess game from India.

These two while certainly distinctive have to many similarities to each have emerged without any influence from the other. It seems inconceivable that one did not evolve from the other. Which is the parent and which is the child? It's been a bone of contention for some time.


Chinese Case




Origin of Chess: Chinese Case

Origin of Chess: Chinese Case

Chinese chess is more similar to our chess than it appears at first glance. The pieces are represented by discs with drawings on them and the positions that they are moved between are points or intersections instead of squares.

Also the it is played on a 9x9 board instead of an 8x8. The pieces have different names but their movements though not identical are broadly similar.

It is claimed by some that Wu Ti, a Chinese emperor invented a game called hsiang ch`i in the 6th Century. Hsiang ch`i of course means chess. Another story goes much further back to 204 BC when a Chinese general called Han Xin needed a way to keep his troops occupied and keep their minds sharp during the winter. Legend has it that he created a strategy game and it was the embryonic form of Chinese Chess.


Indian Case




Origin of Chess: Indian Case

Origin of Chess: Indian Case

It is believed by many that chess originated in the 6th Century AD in northern India and spread from there to Persia (modern day Iran). The Arabs overran the Persians in the 7th Century AD and learned the game from them falling in love with it.

Texts found dating from that era show that both the Arab Muslims and the Persians themselves consistently state that chess came to Persia from India.

The chess army also seems to be an uncanny representation of the Indian armies of this era. Both were in four parts with the infantry, cavalry, elephants (the elephants were only changed to bishops by the Europeans much later), and chariots represented by the pawn, knight, elephant (later bishop), and rook respectively.


Beginnings In The Mists Of Time




Origin Of Chess: Beginnings In The Mists Of Time

Origin Of Chess: Beginnings In The Mists Of Time

Many of the numerous archaeological finds achieved across North Africa and southern Asia illustrate clearly that chess in some form or another has been with us pretty much since the dawn of civilization.



We know that chess was played in Egypt as long as five or six millennia ago. In tombs dating between 3600 BC and 3400 BC paintings were discovered there showing people playing chess.



There is no shortage of literature from India and Persia showing that the origin of chess coincides with the origin of civilization.









Early Chess Story




Origin Of Chess: Early Chess Story

Early Chess Story

There are many myths and legends associated with chess and one concerning a man named Sissa springs to mind. Sissa was a trusted aide of the King of India and was credited by some with inventing chess. The King was very concerned that gambling was beginning to take hold. He asked Sissa to invent a game of strategy that would require ingenuity and tactical awareness to succeed. Sissa left to begin the task and returned at a later time when he had completed it. What he returned with was the game of chess. The King was so pleased with Sissa's efforts that he granted him any reward of his choosing. "Majesty place 1 grain of wheat on the corner square of the board, 2 on the second square, 4 on the third, 8 on the fourth and keep doubling in that fashion until you cover the 64th square. I will take the wheat on the 64th and last square as my reward", said Sissa. The King laughed because it seemed to him that the 'reward' would not come to much. But he wasn't laughing when his mathematicians calculated the total. It was more than the entire kingdom could raise. Not much was seen of Sissa after that!


Symbolism Of The Pieces




Origin Of Chess: Symbolism Of The Pieces

Origin of Chess: Symbolism Of The Pieces

As touched on earlier the chess army is a reflection of the ancient Indian army. Chaturanga means "having four limbs" or "having four parts". The pieces were representations of the Indian army of the time.


There was a battle formation that the Indians were particularly fond of at the time where under the watchful eye of the King and his Vizier an army of four divisions would march into the fray. The divisions as we said were the infantry (pawns), the cavalry (knights), the elephants (elephants) and the chariots (rooks).


This formation which was the Indian's preferred military strategy at the time and it was referred to as Chaturanga and the game which was modeled on it took the same name.


European Game




Origin of Chess: European Game

Origin of Chess: European Game

Chaturanga spread westwards along the trade routes to Persia where it was known as Shatranj. Following the Arab conquest of Persia it took the Muslim world by storm, spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa like wildfire. When the Moors later conquered Iberia, chess crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into Europe. The game was immensely popular in Spain and moved along the Mediterranean capturing the imagination of those in the Italian peninsula. Spain and Italy were for many centuries Europe's leading chess nations.

The Europeans changed some of the pieces making their chess army an accurate reflection of European society. The Indian/Persian Vizier (a male advisor to the King) in Europe became a Queen. The Indian/Persian elephant became a bishop. In the 15th Century the Spaniards and Italians introduced a number of rules designed to speed up the game. The Queen, the weakest piece, was handed the power she enjoys today, castling was introduced and the pawn was given the ability to move two squares on the first move. Voila modern chess!


India or China? Shed some Light on the Origin of Chess

The saga rumbles on. India, China. China, India. Personally I lean towards the India theory but you never know. Or maybe you do know something. Can you shed some light on this? Who originally came up with the embryo for this amazing game? If you have some info on this contentious topic, don't keep us in the dark. India or China? Shed some Light on the Origin of Chess.

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Moving On






That's your primer on the origin of chess. You will appreciate that much of the early history of chess is clouded in mystery since it dates back to the dawn of civilization.


On the question of which branch is older I'm inclined to lean towards the theory that India is the parent and China is the child. It has the stronger circumstantial evidence. But as yet no evidence has been unearthed to give one a definitive 'rest my case' over the other.


During this discussion I mentioned the pieces a couple of times. I want to have a more in depth look at the history of chess pieces.


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