The history of chess goes back many centuries. Traced to its roots, chess can be seen as a game with 1500 years of history. Although it wasn’t always known as chess, similar games first began being played in the 7th century.
Today, the name Wilhelm Steinitz is often thrown about as the father of modern chess. However, by the time he began playing, chess had already been a popular game for many centuries. Over the years, rules have shifted so that games wouldn’t take as long. Still, Wilhelm did analyze the game thoroughly, creating many of the most popular modern strategies.
The First Game
In the 7th Century, Chaturanga began growing in popularity throughout India. The first game that could be compared to chess would have been the game Chaturanga.
In this game, there were pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop and rook. These pieces were meant to resemble the 4 divisions of the Indian military of the time. It wouldn’t take long for Chaturanga to spread, on account of India’s high-traffic trade routes.
By the end of the 7th century, it had been spread to the Sassanid Empire in Persia. Once there, its name changed from Chaturanga to Shatranj. This is where the first examples of “checkmates” started to appear. When players found themselves stuck, with their king helpless, their opponents would exclaim, “the king is helpless.” Even though the game left the Sassanid Empire, those exclamations would follow it wherever it went.
From There, Precursors to Chess Spread Over the Silk Road
At the time, India was at the center of a massive trade network, called the Silk Road. Anyone who has heard about the silk road knows how important it was to ancient trade. Linking millions together, this trade network extended from one end of the Eurasian continent to the other.
Following the 7th century, the Muslim world picked up the game. The Islamic conquest of Persia gave the game a brand-new audience, quickly becoming popular with the new nobility. In no time, it had been spread from one end of Eurasia to the other.
Europe adopted the game by the 9th century. By the year 1000, it was available across the whole continent. It first entered Europe by way of the Moors, who spread it from the Iberian Peninsula. Rules were changed in Europe to help prevent its prohibition by the church. By the end of these rule changes, chess had begun to resemble its modern form.
At the same time, chess had been gaining popularity in the Far East as well. Disseminated by Buddhist monks, chaturanga would be played by people as far as the South China Sea. However, in the Far East, it would evolve into something a little different. Most of the time, people would start playing the game based on the lines, rather than within the squares.
Changes to the Rules Over Time
Despite being quite similar, Chaturanga was played using a different ruleset than the modern version of the game. Still, compared to the modern version, there are several key commonalities. First, in each case, all the pieces have their own set of characteristics. Second, in both the old and modern versions, victory depends on the fate of a single piece. Finally, there were several pieces that would later become what we know of today as modern chess pieces.
In the original game, the king was identical to the modern piece. Victory depended on whether the king was still in play. The queen was known as the “advisor,” and it only moved one square at a time. Thus, it was far less powerful than in the modern rendition. The modern bishop was originally known as the “elephant.” It would move in an L shape, and it could jump over a piece if needed. Both the Rook and the Knight were the same as in the modern edition. Pawns were a bit more limited, only capable of moving a single square at a time.
Rise of Modern Chess
Both the Queen and the Bishop would remain weaker until around the 1500s. Somewhere in Spain, around that time, the pieces would gain their modern movesets. It wouldn’t take long for those updated moves to spread throughout Europe. Thus, making the game take on nearly its modern form. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1800s, when modern time-keeping devices were invented, that the game would take on its final form.
The First Chess Tournament Was Held in London in 1851
Modern competitive chess first gained prominence in the mid-1800s. There was a small tournament in 1834 that showcased its potential popularity.
In less than 20 years, the world’s first major competition was held in London. At the time, players would take up to 20 minutes to deliberate a single move. After the first tournament, people decided they’d rather play a speedier version of the game. Therefore, they invented what we know of today as “Speed Chess.”
Modern History of Chess
From there, the game would change a few of its rules. The main pieces would remain the same, and only minor variations would be introduced.
Many theorists would gain prominence over the years, popularizing different strategies. Nowadays, chess is still among the most popular board games ever invented. However, it’s important for us to remember its long history. As such, it’s next to impossible to say for certain who invented the game. There were many who were instrumental in the rise of modern chess.