This Is How Chess was Started

Facts and Information About the Game

It is widely accepted by most historians that the game of chess originated in India in the fifth or sixth century AD. The earliest known form of chess is two-handed chaturanga, Sanskrit for “the four branches of the army.” Like real Indian armies at that time, the pieces were called elephants, chariots, horses, and foot soldiers. Unlike modern chess, chaturanga was mainly a game of chance; results depended on how well you rolled the dice.

From India, chaturanga spread quickly to Persia, where it was called chatrang. When Arabs invaded Persia in the seventh century, they called it shatranj and popularized it throughout the Arab world. Chess made its way to Europe in the tenth century as a result of Arab expansion. It was first popular among the upper class, as they were the only ones with the luxury of money and time. In the late Middle Ages, the merchant classes took up the game and made it available to everyone.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the evolution of chess took a quantum leap; the queen became the most powerful piece on the chess board. The pawns were also permitted to advance two squares on the first move, and the en passant (“in passing”) rule permitting pawn captures under these circumstances was introduced to the game, along with the revolutionary concept of castling (this is the version of chess that we play today). Italian players began to dominate the game, taking the supremacy from the Spanish.

The Italians, in turn, were superseded by the French and English during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when chess (until then the game was mainly played by royalty and the aristocracy) spread amongst the common folk. With the public now playing chess, the level of play improved considerably; matches and tournaments were played with greater frequency, and prominent players of the game developed schools and followers.

Until recently, men dominated the chess world—the majority of good chess players were (and still are) men. But then the Polgar sisters of Hungary have smashed that perception. All of them are high-ranked masters. Sofia Polgar won the women’s world championship in the spring of 1996, and Judit Polgar, who plays exclusively in men’s events, is one of the top-ranked players in the world.

With such widespread global presence, an international chess organization was needed to be established. The Fédération Internationale des Échecs has had its troubles, but since 1924 it has been a force for unification and world standards.

FIDE maintains a numerical rating system for chess master players, awards titles, organizes the world championship, and runs a biennial chess championship that brings together teams from many of countries.

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