History of Chess

History of Chess

Chess Table GameDid you know that the history of chess dates back to around 1500 years? Let’s have a look at the history of one of the oldest games that have ever existed

In a Nutshell

The earliest origin of the game is uncertain, but the oldest records suggest that chess might have originated from India and that too in 6 A.D. Other scholars believe China to be the place of origin, but most of the scholars agree that the game went to Persia from China.  It is said that when the Arabs invaded Persia, the game was incorporated in the Muslim world and that is how it spread to Europe. A few amendments were made to the game and it was in the 15th century that chess got its current form. Chess is a famous game even in today’s world. This can be seen, thanks to a survey done in 2012, according to which chess is played by more than 605 players on a regularly. The numbers of people who play chess at least once a year are as follows:

  • 70% of Indians
  • 43% of Russians
  • 23% of Germans
  • 15% of Americans
  • 12% of British
Milestones of the Game

·         600AD: First time we learnt about chess in a Persian document.

·         ~700AD: When chess pieces were developed.

·         800AD: When Chess was taken to Spain.

·         900AD: When the game was developed by early Muslim chess masters.

·         1000AD: When chess became famous in Russia and in Europe.

·         1300AD: First European comments on chess.

·         1475–1500AD: How the game got its modern form.

·         1495: A chess book was printed for the first time.

·         1497: The printed chess book survived and we even have it today.

·         1600: We got the first professional players.

·         1780s: The game was recorded as it was played.

·         1836: First chess magazine was published.

·         1849: First national chess tournament took place.

·         1851: First international chess tournament took place.

·         1866: First match that was timed.

·         1883: First tournament was held that was timed by chess clocks.

·         1886: First world championship match.



Origin of the Game

Chess history and Time MapIt is said that the game took its birth in 6th century during the Gupta Empire in India. Back then the game was known as chaturaṅga, literally meaning four military divisions. These four divisions were infantry, cavalry, chariotry, and elephantry. These divisions are what evolved into the knight, bishop, modern pawn, and the rook. Other experts suggest that the history of the chess dates back to the Kushan Empire in Afghanistan during 50 BCE to around 200 CE.

Chess travelled to Persia, all the way from India and became a very popular among the royals of the country. In Persia, the name of chess changed from chaturaṅga to chatrang. Chatrang was finally changed into shatranj due to Arabs, since Arabic doesn’t have ‘ch’ and ‘ng’ sounds. People called the king ‘Shah’ and when they attacked their opponent’s king, they called it ‘Shah Mat’ which meant that the king is helpless (checkmate as we know it today).

The game became popular in the Muslim World post the Persian conquest. In North Africa, the name changed from ‘shatranj’ to ‘shahterej’, which is how it was known as acedrex and ajedrez in Spanish, xadrez in Spanish, and zatrikion in Greek. The name got different names in different languages, such as szachy in Polish, skak in Danish, schaken in Dutch, sjakk in Norwegian, Schach in German, scacchi in Italian, šakki in Finnish, sakk in Hungarian, šahs in Latvian, šah inSouth Slavic languages, şah in Romanian, schack in Swedish, ludus scacchorum  in Latin, escacs in Catalan, and échecs in French (Old French eschecs).

Some languages derived the name from shatranj. In Ethiopia it is known as senterej, whereas the Moguls called it shatar.

According to experts, two reasons explain why that happened:

  • The way check and checkmate is pronounced in different languages.
  • The way chess was brought in by Muslim traders.

Experts say that game made its way to Russia and Western Europe in three different ways, and this dates back to the 9th century. It had completely spread in Europe by 1000 and it was in the 10th century that the game was introduced. Within a few years, different versions of the game were being played all across the world. It was introduced in the Far East through travelers who took the Silk Road. The game got its modern form in Europe after the sanctions that were posed by the Christian Church.


Playing chess in IndiaChess was introduced to India in 6th century and was known as chaturanga. It is one of the first games that introduced two fundamental features that were found in all the later versions. It was during this time that the fate of the game was dependent one version, and that is the game. It is said that the game was developed keeping the basics of mathematics in mind because the region was undergoing numerical enlightenment that evolved around the time when number 0 was created. According to archaeologists, the chess pieces that were found were related to other games that may have been played on similar boards with 100 or more squares.  There are several evidences that suggest that the Indus Valley Civilization played games that were similar to chess. Chess was originally designed for ashtāpada, which had an 8×8 board. Similar games are still played all across South India.

The word Chaturanga is used to describe four limbs in Sanskrit, whereas in poetry it refers to an army that may consist of chariots, soldiers, elephants, and horsemen. The inspiration of the game was taken from Mahabharat as that was the strategy of the soldiers that time. During that time some people even played the game with a dice so that they can decide their next move. In India, however, the names of the pieces were varied in some regions.

  • Rook became boat
  • Knight became horse
  • Bishop became elephant

The following is a table of moves each piece can make:

Original name Modern name Version Original move
king king all As it is now
adviser queen all Diagonally- only one square.
elephant bishop Persia Diagonally- only two square. Could jump in between.
Old local version Sideways- two squares. Could jump in between.


southeast Asia Diagonally- only one square.
horse knight all As it is now
chariot rook all As it is now
soldier pawn all One square forward and only the queen was promoted

Iran (Persia)

In Iran it is said that the game of chatrang was the accomplishment of a great hero Ardashir I, the man who laid the foundation for the Sassanid Persian Empire. One of the earliest recorded games of chess is from Persia (dates back to the 10th century) and was played by a historian and his student. A manuscript on how to play chess, “Matikan-i-chatrang” was introduced and it still exists today.


In China, it is believed that chess was derived from Chaturanga, an Indian game. The game slowly changed into xiangqi, and in it all the pieces were placed on the lines instead of on the squares. Chinese chess also borrowed a lot of strategies from a game known as Go that is being played in the country since 6th century B.C.  The chess pieces for this game are flat and it resembles checkers.


A variation of chess in the region is known as shogi and it made its way from India to China to Korea and then finally Japan. Some of the factors that add to the uniqueness of the game are:

  • The pieces that get captured can be played with and it can be a part of the captor’s forces.
  • The pawns can capture when they move.
  • The game is played on a board that have dimensions of 9×9


Chess was also played in places that were inhabited by Magnolians.

  • Rook: cart
  • Queen: dog (the livestock guard)
  • Pawn: boy (the piece often showed a puppy)
  • Knight: horse
  • King: lord
  • Bishop: camel

Mongolian chess is now played with the modern rules.

East Siberia

Chess was popular in the area and there are evidences that it was played in Tunguses, Yakuts, and Yukaghirs. In Chukchi it was played as children’s game.

Arab World

The game was passed to the Arab World from Persia but the name changed to shatranj. From the Arab world the game was sent spread to Spain and Western Europe. It is seen that with time the features similar to that of the European chess made its way to the Islamic areas. There are still some regions, like Ethiopia that still use the old moves of the bishop dn the queen.


Early history

Shatranj made its way to Europe during the time of Muslim conquests in Europe. With the passage of time, the game entered the Byzantine Empire where it was known as Zatrikion. The game gained popularity in northern Europe when the figured chess pieces were introduced, as before that it wasn’t played much. In the 14th century, a larger variation was introduced that was known as the Tamerlane Chess. The game was much more complex in nature and each pawn had a specific purpose.

The sides are now known as white and black but back in the days, the Europeans used red and black because they were the most easily available colors. With time the game became associated with social value and it was seen as a past time that was fit for nobles and royals. In the medieval era, exquisite chess pieces were made for people of high ranks. The popularity of the game rose between the 12th and 15th century. Most of the text related to chess was also written during this time. The work has been divided in three distinct parts by H. J. R. Murray.

  • The didactic works
  • The works related to problems in the game
  • The works of morality

It was seen that with time chess was thought of as an important part of a knight’s life.  In Disciplina Clericalis, Peter Alfonsi wrote that chess is one of the seven skills that a knight must possess. Chess was also associated with art during that year and the artists created beautiful pendants that were associated with chess. If you would have a look at Queen Margaret of England chess set that has been done in crystal and jasper are a symbol that chess was considered to be something very important.  Some of the important chess patrons of that time were Alfonso X of Castile, Richard I, Henry I, Henry II, and Ivan IV of Russia.

In the 13th century, chess was played for money until an ordinance was passed in the year 1254 by Louis IX of France that stopped people from gambling. However, this was ignored by most of the people and the common men continued to gamble.

Shapes of pieces

Since the pieces were made by Muslims, it was changed in Europe. Carved pieces of animals and men were back and the rook started to look like a horse’s head instead of a V shape, whereas the bishop was represented by a fool’s cap. The figures got their modern form in the mid 12th century as the set then started including figures of king, queen, bishop, knights, and of course soldiers.

Names of pieces

All the chess piecesHere is a picture of the chess pieces, and also the name of the pieces, and what they were known as earlier on:

Sanskrit Persian Arabic English Spanish
Raja Shah Malik King Rey
Mantri Vazīr Wazīr Queen Reina
Gajah Pil Al-Fīl Bishop Alfil
Ashva Asp Hisan Knight Caballo
Ratha Rokh Rukhkh Rook Torre
Padati Piadeh Baidaq Pawn Peón


Early Changes to the Rules

The game was very slow in its early days of inception, which is why some of the changes were made. One of the changes was that the pawn was allowed to move two places instead of one. Let’s have a look at some of them:

  • The pawn can move two places in its first move.
  • The king jumps once, so that it is in a safe position.
  • The queen can move two squares, and this can be either diagonally or straight.
  • The short assize.

How the Modern Game Came In To Existence

The king and the queen did not have a lot of lot of power until changes were made. With time chess was known as Mad Queen chess that gave more power to the previously insignificant pieces. The new changes were great because the game could be wrapped up in a few moves and did not take days like before. The new rules were very effective and quickly became popular all over the world. In some of the areas the Queen could also move as the knight, which made the game even more interesting.

Gioacchino Greco’s work is renowned because of the way he analyzed the whole game and made chess popular with his theories. François-André Danican Philidor of France was perhaps the first person who came up with a list of winning combinations and remained known as the best chess player in the world for as long as he lived. He was known for writing L’Analyse des échecs (The Analysis of Chess) a book that boasts more than 100 editions till date.

In the 15th century, books about how to play chess became very popular. This was the reason why Spanish churchman Luis Ramirez de Lucena’s book “Repetición de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez”, literally meaning “Repetition of Love and the Art of Playing Chess”, was published in 1497 and is known to be one of the oldest texts of its kind. In the 19th century, chess organizations started developing and a number of books, clubs, journals, and publications appeared. In 1984, matches were held between cities, like the Edinburgh Chess Club against the London Chess Club. The first manual that informed people about chess theory was known as Bilguer’s “Handbuch des Schachspiels” or “Handbook of Chess”, was written by von der Lasa and was published in 1843.

More About Rule Changes

It won’t be wrong to say that chess is actually two different games. The first one is the original Indo-Arabic game and then there is international chess, as we know it today. The transition in the game happened when we moved from a medieval to a modern world. You might not know this but one of the few topics that became the new technology of printing was the new and modified version of chess.

The Indo-Arabic game

In order to understand better, we need to see the old moves of the pieces. They are:

  • Shāh: as King now.
  • Rukh: now known as the Rook.
  • Pawn: one square forwards (not two), and is promoted to Firzān.
  • Firzān: one square diagonally. This is now denoted by Q
  • Fīl: two squares diagonally. This is now denoted by B.
  • (Horseman): now known as the Knight.

This game could be won by doing the following things:

  1. Mating the king
  2. Giving stalemate
  3. Capturing the opponent’s pieces

Changes in Europe

A lot of changes were made in Europe and the pieces got new names

  • Firzān became the Queen and could be next to the king.
  • Fil became the bishop.

It was almost five centuries later that chess became how it is today. Some of the changes made were:

  • Pawn can move two squares in the first move, which then leads to the en passant rule.
  • The king cam jump once, so that the king can be safe. This lead to castling.
  • Queen became a very important figure and had a high rank.

Due to these new changes, old chess has become obsolete. Earlier on, the development of the game was slow, but with time it was replaced with rapid attacks. You can now only win the game if you check mate or you resign. Games that earlier on people won with the old rules now end up in a draw.

Changes in Values of the Pieces

Here are the values of the pieces compared to what they were earlier on:

Shatranj Value Modern Value
Baidaq 1 Pawn 1
Faras 4 Knight 3
Fīl 1.5 Bishop 3
Rūkh 6 Rook 5
Firz 2 Queen 9


Theory of The Game

Chess theory slowly developed and after the introduction of new moves, players now spend their time trying to mate each other.  One interesting thing that should be noticed at this point is that the Arabs divided their game in three stages, which is how it is played today. The stages are:

  • Opening
  • Middle game
  • End game

Modern Chess

Chess became a competitive game in 1834 thanks to the 1851 London Chess tournament and the LaBourdonnais-McDonnel matches. During these matches, it was seen that the players took a lot of time in deciding their moves. The following year, speed chess was introduced and the players faced penalties if they exceeded the given time.

In 1851,  German Adolf Anderssen became a renowned chess master after winning the first ever chess tournament held in London. By the end of 19th century a number of tournaments took place, but the most notable one was held in 1927, because it was the first Women’s World Chess Championship and was won by Vera Menchik.

Chess after the Second World War

In 1948, the soviet became very dominant in the chess world, thanks to Mikhail Botvinnik. Botvinnik ruled for several years and the world then met Bobby Fischer in 1975, who won several matches till 1985 and his successor was Garry Kasparov. Kasparov is known for winning the game online against the world team that had more than 50,000 participants.

In conclusion, this is the history of chess from the ancient era till the modern times. Learning about the history of chess? Check, mate!