The game of chess enjoys incredible popularity across the world. It is a game that is enjoyed by people of all age groups and backgrounds. Chess is played for fun and it is also played at the highest competitive levels where Grandmasters pit their skills against one another.
Though it is an indisputable fact that chess is one of the most popular and recognizable games in the world, it is also a game with a history full of facts that many players are unaware of. With this point in mind, these are 20 interesting facts about the history of chess.
Fact 1: The History of Chess Extends Back Nearly 1500 Years
The game that we currently know as chess has experienced a truly fascinating history that extends back nearly 1500 years. The earliest version of chess developed in India in the 6th Century CE and was known as Chaturanga. From there, the game spread to Persia and soon became popular across the Islamic world. After this, chess spread into Europe and continued to develop. The game that we know today had finally evolved into what can more or less be called its current form by around the year 1500 CE.
Fact 2: The Second Book Printed in the English Language Was on the Subject of Chess
William Claxton’s 1476 book entitled The Game and Playe of Chesse holds the distinction of being the second work that was printed and published in the English language. Claxton was also the printer behind the release of The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. This was the first book that was ever printed in English.
Given the fact that Gutenberg’s moveable type printing method only originated in 1439 in Germany, Claxton’s initial offerings in the English language take on a new level of significance. It is another one of those fascinating facts that is associated with the game of chess.
Fact 3: The Modern Chessboard Dates to 1090
Though the earliest form of chess dates back to 6th Century India, the game itself has undergone many transformations since that time. The game board itself has seen many different changes over the years as chess has passed through different cultures across the world.
One of the key elements that brought us closer to the game we know today is the arrival of what we can consider the first modern chessboard. This chessboard with light and dark squares that alternate made its first appearance in Europe in the year 1090.
Fact 4: It Took 269 Moves to Conclude the Longest Every Official Chess Game
In 1989, Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic engaged in what became the longest ever chess game played in an officiated tournament. This game was played in Belgrade, Serbia. After 269 moves, the game finally ended in a draw.
Fact 5: Chess Playing Computers Have Defeated Some of the World’s Top Human Players
Chess-playing computers have made quite an impact on the game in recent decades. These computers, with names such as Deep Blue, Deep Fritz, and Hydra, have compiled wins over some of the world’s most respected Grandmasters such as Gary Kasparov, Veselin Topalov, and Alexander Khalifman, among others.
Fact 6: The Longest Possible Chess Game Is Nearly 8,850 Moves Long
The longest possible chess game involves thousands of potential moves. Though some sources claim that the longest possible game is 5,949 moves, others have calculated that it is as much as 8,848 moves. Regardless of which one of these calculations you choose to believe, the number of moves for the longest possible chess game is truly impressive.
Fact 7: The Total Number of Possible Chess Games Is Mind-Blowing
The number of possible chess games is truly mind-blowing. Famed American mathematician Claude Shannon came up with a figure, commonly referred to as the Shannon Number, of 10 to the power of 111 to as much as 10 to the power of 123. This number represents the total number of moves that are possible in chess. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that this number is likely to be greater than the total number of atoms in the universe.
Fact 8: The Queen Was Not Always The Strongest Player on the Chess Board
Though it is a point of fact that the queen is the strongest player in the modern game of chess, this was not always the case. It was during the reign of Spain’s Queen Isabella that the queen on the chessboard took up her current position as the strongest player in the game.
Prior to this change in the late 15th century, when Isabella rose to become Europe’s most powerful woman, the queen was only able to move a single square at a time. It was Isabella’s rise to power that inspired the rule change that allowed for the queen to move in all directions!
Fact 9: There Are Some Chess Masters Who Can Successfully Play the Game Blindfolded
Blindfold chess might sound like a novelty but it is actually a skill that only high-level players can truly master. In blindfold chess, the players involved do not see the positions of the pieces. They are also not allowed to touch them. The moves are instead communicated using accepted chess terminology.
Blindfold chess is a practice that forces players to remember the positions of all the pieces by memory. Grandmasters such as Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik are particularly notable for their skill in blindfold chess.
Fact 10: Russia Has Produced More Chess Grandmasters Than Any Other Country
It isn’t exactly a secret that chess is one of the most popular games in Russia. Beyond this, Russia has produced many of the world’s best players. The world chess rankings always include many players from Russia. The country has also produced more Chess Grandmasters than any other with a current total of 227.
Fact 11: The Concept of Checkmate Has Persian Origins
The concept of checkmate in chess stems from the game’s history in the Islamic world. It stems from the Persian term shh mt which translates to the king is helpless, the king is left unable to escape, or the king is frozen. It is this word that evolved into the current term of checkmate.
Fact 12: The Term Rookie Derives From the Game of Chess
The term rookie is used to describe a first-year player on a sports team. It is also used to describe pretty much anyone who is new whether it is a team, activity, or job. One of the fascinating facts about the term rookie is that it derives from the rook in chess. This is due to the fact that the rook is usually the last piece to go into action.
Fact 13: Playing Chess Can Help to Improve the Player’s Memory
Chess is certainly a lot of fun to play which is one of the primary benefits of Chess in and of itself. Beyond this, chess has also been shown to have the additional benefit of improving memory ability for those who play it. This is due to the fact that memory skills are such a key aspect of chess success.
Fact 14: Prior to 1561, Castling Required Two Moves
Though castling is one of the most important moves in chess, it did not start to evolve toward its current form until 1561. Before that year, castling in Chess was two separate moves as opposed to the single move that we know today.
Fact 15: The Longest Reigning World Chess Champion Held His Title for 27 Years
The longest reigning World Chess Champion in history was German chess player and mathematician Emanuel Lasker. He held the title of world champion for an incredible 27 years from 1894 until 1921.
Fact 16: Sandglasses Were Used Before the Invention of the Chess Clock
The world’s first chess clock was invented by England’s Thomas Bright Wilson in 1883. Prior to Wilson’s invention, the role of the chess clock was filled with sandglasses.
Fact 17: The Very First Folding Chess Board Dates to the 12th Century
Folding chessboards add a great deal of convenience when it comes to storing one’s game set between uses. Though it might come as a bit of a surprise, the first folding chessboard was invented by a priest in 1125 CE.
Fact 18: The First Chess Game Between Earth and Space Was Played in 1970
On the 9th of June in 1970, Russian cosmonauts Vitaly Sevastyanov and Andrian Nikolayev took some time away from their duties during a space flight. They did this so that they could play a chess game against players back on earth. Their opponents on earth were Nikolai Kamanin and Viktor Gorbatko.
Fact 19: The Youngest Ever World Chess Champion Was 17 Years Old
In 2021, Uzbek Chess Grandmaster Nodirbek Abdusattorov became the youngest ever Chess World Champion at the age of just 17. He accomplished this feat by winning the 2021 World Rapid Chess Championships.
Fact 20: The Sport of Chess Boxing Is a Real Thing
You might not normally associate the sport of boxing and the game of chess. Though this seems reasonable enough, the truth is that chess boxing is a real sport and it is gaining in popularity. It is a sport that includes alternating rounds of chess and boxing. There are even official sanctioning bodies for the sport such as Chess Boxing Global.
That concludes this list of interesting facts about the history of chess. If you liked this list, you may also be in the complete list of facts about Chess.