History of Chess – A Guide to the Origins of the Game of Kings

The History of Chess – How Did It All Begin?

History Of Chess – A Simple Guide On Who Invented Chess
  • The history of chess can be traced back around 1500 years; started in the North of India and then spread throughout the Asian continent.
  • Chess made its way via the expanding Islamic Arabian empire to Europe.
  • The rules of chess changed numerous times until the 1880’s (the romantic era of chess).
  • The first official World Chess Championship was hosted in 1886.
  • The 20th century revolutionized chess with the invention of databases and chess engines.

Who Invented Chess?

The history of chess goes back many years, decades and even centuries! But who really invented the game we all love? What was the origin of this famous mental exercise many millions of people play?

Chess is known the world over, played by numerous fans, but its roots and origins are not clear and are highly debatable. There are a variety of legends, stories, and plain guesses, starting from a dispute over where it came from and ending with when chess began.

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However, most people can agree that there was not just one individual who invented the established game because it is far too complex with all its rules and concepts for any single simple human mind to have created.

Until Wilhelm Steinitz became the first official World Chess Champion in 1886, the game of chess was in a steady flux. It was a game we could well have difficulty recognizing when we think about today’s chess: from a game dominated by intuitive decision-making, to a fight between chess engines.

So, in the following article, we will explore the different roots of the game of chess and teach you the history of chess in a nutshell.

Chess History – A Famous Legend

One ancient legend that many children might even find in their maths books is about the tyrannical Indian king, Shahram, and a wise man in his kingdom. The wise man wanted to convince Shihram of the importance of each resident of his kingdom.

So, he invented a game to represent the kingdom consisting of the king himself, his queen, rooks, bishops, knights, and pawns, all of which were important.

The king liked the game very much and understood that the game was just like real life. So, he ordered everybody in his kingdom to play chess! Shahram offered the man all the gold and silver that he wanted, but the wise man didn’t want any treasure.

Together with the king, he went to a chessboard and asked him to put one grain of wheat on the first square, two on the second and to keep doubling it until the chessboard was full.

First of all, the king felt highly offended, but then he ordered his servants to fulfill the man’s wish. Desperately, the servants conveyed that such an enormous amount of wheat did not exist!

The king understood that the wise man had given him a second lesson. Just like the pawns in chess, you should never underestimate the small things in life!

This is one of the most popular legends about the history of chess. But for sure, there are many more…

A History of Chess

History Of Chess – A Simple Guide On Who Invented Chess

One day, a man called H. J. R. Murray was keen on getting closer to the roots of the game of chess.

He decided to share his discoveries with the world by writing a book, “A History of Chess”, in 1913.

In his book, Murray assumes that the history of chess started in the North of India, traveled to Persia, and then spread throughout the Asian continent.

In the Eastern World, for example in India or Persia, chess became a part of the courtly education of the nobility.

In those days words like “Shāh!” – Persian for the king – or “Shāh Māt!” – the king is helpless – were used in the games.

These words are very similar to the terms we use today with “check” and “checkmate”. The rules were already quite similar to the chess rules we know nowadays.

Murray describes the original mold of chess, called Shatranj. Then he presents the role of medieval chess in Europe during the Middle Ages, how it traveled from the Middle East to Russia and then to Western Europe.

Finally, in the third part of his book on chess history, the author arrives at the beginning of modern chess in the 19th century as we know it today.

Chinese Roots

There are not only those who believe chess comes from India, but some people believe that chess was invented in China.

The legend says that chess was invented around 200 B.C. by a commander, Hán Xin, who invented the game to represent a particular battle.

Soon after the battle, an important battle in Chinese history, the game was forgotten and then resurfaced in the 7th century A.D. with several new rules.

The game became popular under the name “XiangQi” which means the “elephant game”, losing its reference to the ancient battle. The elephant game was very dissimilar to the chess game that we know today.

They had other pieces, another board, and even other rules. According to this belief, chess went from China to India and Persia afterward, where it slowly modified into the chess game we know today with an 8×8 square chessboard and the chess pieces that we are familiar with.

Chess History: From The Romantic Era To The Digitalized Era

Until the end of the 15th century, chess changed numerous times, survived sanctions by the Christian Church as well as complete prohibitions from time to time.

Right up until the 1880’s, the game developed into the shape of the modern chess game.  This period is known as “the romantic era of chess”.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the most famous games from the romantic era of chess, the “Immortal Game” between Anderssen and Kieseritky.

Chess slowly gained its competitive character and concrete rules, growing in popularity among the people. Strategical planning or long study of the theory were pretty subordinate topics. In the foreground, there were issues like quick tactical motifs and the reliance on intuitive moves.

The first chess tournaments started to take place and even the first official World Championship was hosted in 1886 where Wilhelm Steinitz became the first official World Chess Champion.

Until the middle of the 20th century, there were tendencies towards romantic chess play, when players relied on tactics and extremely dynamic play. However, the 20th century revolutionized chess with the invention of databases, chess engines and several methods for comfortable and efficient strategical preparations.

Chess websites and online games were invented so that the romantic era was finalized and a new technological, digitalized era began.

Conclusion – Chess History In A Nutshell 

All in all, there are a variety of hypotheses about the history of chess and there is no specific person who invented this well-known game. It has changed throughout the centuries and will probably keep changing with the times.

Hence, we presented you with the main and most popular legends and roots of the chess game. Please comment on the article and let us know any other interesting facts or your personal remarks about the history of chess.

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