Unlike other board games, chess is not known by many names and most alternative names describe different variants. One name, however, is the game of kings. It may seem obvious why as the objective of the game is to ensure that your king is kept safe while trapping your opponent’s king, but it goes all the way back to the sixth century in India.
Why is chess called the game of kings?
Chess is known as the Game of Kings because of the most important piece in the game is the King, or Shah, in Persian where the game originated. And the game ends when in Shah Mat, which means, “The King cannot escape”. When the game originated in India, the game was primarily only played by royalty.
Many players know that the game of chess as we know it today stems from India many centuries ago, but not many know the full history of Chess. While some details have been lost as time has gone on, there is still a lot that we know about the rich history of the game so let us get into it.
It is likely that the first game of chess ever played was in India and then spread to Persia and China through trade. While this is the best theory, there is no definitive proof of this and in fact, certain people will argue that it began in Persia or China or even elsewhere. The exact location for the game is not too important, though, as we have seen it evolve over time with new rules from different cultures, such as the special move, en passant. In any manner, chess is truly a global game.
If you’re curious, you can read more about who invented Chess.
In what is believed to be the original game of chess, there are some differences compared to the game that we play today. For example, the bishop is a European adaptation of the elephant originally used. Pawn promotions are not well understood of the old game, but all theories point to it being very different.
Many pieces’ moves were also limited. Another interesting part of the game is that it was played on a board likely borrowed from another game without dark or light squares. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that games did not end in checkmate or stalemate. A player would win by capturing the other king (something that would occur after a “checkmate,” but could also happen without it). You would also win by stalemating your opponent. The implications of this on your ELO would change dramatically!
The only piece to keep the same name between the Indian game of Chaturanga and today’s game of chess is the king. This is symbolic of the significance that the King has in the game and the societies that the game was played in when it was first invented.
Legend states that Chaturanga was invented by the tyrannical king Shahram to stress the importance that each individual played in his kingdom, Shihram. In many ways, the game was centered around the king, including the objective to win and the kings starting in the middle of the two back ranks, protected by all the other pieces. He supposedly ordered everyone to play the “game of kings.” This quickly spread to other kingdoms as the game grew in popularity.
Why was Chess Played in Ancient Times?
Chess has obviously always been a game of strategy. Since it is turn-based, you cannot necessarily rely on speed or any quality other than predicting the response to your own moves. As a strategy game based on wit, there were a few uses at the time. The first was as we discussed earlier as a symbolic tool, but it wouldn’t have worked unless there were other reasons to play. Chess was a recreational game played by almost everyone, but it was also taught to younger persons in order to get them thinking about strategy and become wiser.
As a game of wisdom and strategy, chess naturally became a measurement of those two concentrations in people. Soon, it became used as a way of representing war and was even used for training and modeling warfare.
Many military leaders throughout history have touched on the differences and similarities between war and chess and while it is not a perfect allegory, the use of strategy and tactics can enhance the decision-making required when moving real troops around a real battlefield. Even as it made its way through Europe, the knights and serfs (pawns) were represented in military, life, and the game.