Chess is inarguably a game of intrigue and strategy. This mind-sport is played on a square 8×8 board, with 32 black and white Staunton pieces with royal names like king, queen, bishop, knight, pawns and more. Essentially a game of patience, Chess involves talented players testing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills against worthy opponents. Once a game of sheer luck, Chess has undergone a lot of changes over the centuries to evolve into its present form.
600 AD: The Birth of Chess
Most historians believe that the game originated in India in either the 5th or the 6th century. However, the game at that time was not strategy-based, and was rather like a game of chance, played with the roll of a dice. The game was called Chaturanga, which means four branches of the army in Sanskrit. And similar to a real army of India at that time, the game adopted the images of foot soldiers, horses, chariots, and elephants as playing pieces.
700 AD: The Arabian Touch
Chaturanga later on spread to Persia and came to be called Chatrang. In the 7th century, Arabs occupied Persia. They also got attracted to it and popularized it in the Arab world. They changed the name to Shatranj.
Shatranj was very similar to the chess we know today. The game used an 8×8 board with pieces like the shah (king), the counselor (a weaker queen), the chariot (rook), the elephant (a weaker bishop), the horse (knight), and the soldier (pawn). If all the pieces of one side got captured by another (except the king), the game was finished with checkmate.
1450 AD: Mad Queen Conquered
Chess evolved a great deal by the middle of the 10th century. Rules were changed and now pawns, on their first move, could move 2 squares. The now-popular dark and light checkered playing board also became standardized.
However, the chess saw its most dramatic change in the year 1450 AD. The rules were tweaked in order to make the game faster and more enjoyable. Now the queen could move in any direction (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) by as many steps. This was a huge leap from the earlier standard queen move – moving just one square in a diagonal direction. The new rules were so revolutionary that French called it ‘chess of the enraged lady’ and the queen was called the ‘mad queen’.
1575 AD: Chess Tournaments Begin
Nowadays an essential part of the game, tournaments weren’t around in the earlier times. The first international chess tournament, though informal, took place in 1575 AD between the Italians Paolo Boi & Leonardo da Cutri and Spanish Alfonso Ceron and Ruy Lopez. The Italians won the game and became the first ever champions of a chess tournament.
1770 AD: A Hoax That Helped Chess Gain Popularity
In the year 1770, Wolfgang von Kempelen, the Hungarian inventor, made an ‘automatic’ chess-playing system called the Mechanical Turk. This could play with humans as opponents. It was originally made to impress an empress of Austria. However, later on, it was used to entertain the European and the American audience. The system beat almost all its opponents, notably Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte as well.
The system had a cabin that displayed a number of cogs and gears. These were made to look like they powered the system. However, that was just for show. Inside the Turk were hidden some great chess masters of the time who used magnets to move the pieces. Despite this hoax, this whole arrangement helped in popularizing chess.
1849 AD: The Staunton Pieces Standardized
From the year 1843 to 1851, Howard Staunton was considered the best chess player in the world. He also suggested a change in the style of chess pieces. This got famous as the ‘Staunton’ style. The pieces were engineered to look more sophisticated, with pleasing designs, stable bases, and ease of recognition. This is the design we use to this day.
1886 AD: Meet the Father of Modern Chess
William Steinitz became the first official world champion of chess in the year 1886, defeating Johannes Zukertort. Moreover, Steinitz made some lasting impacts on how we play the game today. Till then, Chess used to be played with random moves, without giving much thought to the sequence of the moves. Steinitz played a major role in enhancing the strategic understanding of the game. He also unveiled more ideas on the game’s positional style, with focus on knight outposts, the active bishop pair, and the pawn structure. Steinitz is also referred to as the ‘father of modern chess’.
1972 AD: Here Comes the Youngest Ever Grandmaster
Bobby Fischer became a Grandmaster of Chess at the age of just 15. He set the record at that time for being the youngest ever to become a Grandmaster. He won the world championship in 1972, defeating Boris Spassky. This is considered one of the most famous events in world chess. However, Fischer disappeared from the scene in 1975, reappearing after 20 years for a rematch with Spassky. Fischer won the match, only to disappear again!
The chess world was missing a superstar, with Fischer away from the spotlight. In 1985, Garry Kasparov came and became the very new face of chess at a global level. He became the world champion at the age of 22, and held the title for almost the next 22 years. He retired in 2005 to concentrate on charity projects and Russian politics.
1997 AD: Machine Challenges Human Capability
IBM in 1989 set on a mission to create a computer that could defeat the chess champions. Garry Kasparov played with IBM’s ‘Deep Thought’ and defeated the machine in 1989. The scenario repeated in 1996 and the machine bowed to the human. However, at a rematch in 1997, Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, which was then capable of examining 200 million chess positions each second. Today’s chess software is way more powerful than a human player.
2013 – Present: Magnus Era Begins
Magnus Carlsen is the current World Chess Champion, taking the title from Kasparov in the year 2013. This Norwegian chess prodigy became a Grandmaster at just 13. He’s seen to have an ability to tackle almost all positions. He’s also a fashion model!