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Chess History

Origin and Early History

The earliest written mention of a chesslike game appeared around 600, and the fact that it was mentioned without explanation suggests that it was already well known by that time. Chess is one of a group of games descended from chaturanga, a game believed to have originated in India in the 6th century or perhaps earlier, which itself may be related to a much older Chinese game. Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word referring to the four arms (or divisions) of an Indian army-elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry-from which come the four types of pieces in that game. Chaturanga spread eastward to China, and then through Korea to Japan. It also appeared in Persia after the Islamic conquest (638-651). In Persia the game was first called chatrang, the Persian form of chaturanga, and then shatranj, the Arabic form of the word. The spread of Islam to Sicily and the invasion of Spain by the Moors brought shatranj to Western Europe, and it reached Russia through trade routes from several directions. By the end of the 10th century, the game was well known throughout Europe. It attracted the serious interest of kings, philosophers, and poets, and the best players recorded their games for posterity. Problems, or puzzles, in which the solver has to find a solution-such as a forced checkmate in a given number of moves-became popular during the 12th and 13th centuries. While chess has historically enjoyed a reputation as an elite pastime, the advent of computers has placed the game on a very democratic footing. The growing availability of computer programs that can play chess at master level or better makes it possible for any enthusiast to have a chess companion at home that can be adjusted to play at any level.

Modern History

The game of chess as it exists today emerged in southern Europe toward the end of the 15th century. Some of the old shatranj rules were modified, new rules were added-such as castling, the two-square pawn advance, and the en passant capture-and the powers of certain pieces were increased. The most important changes turned the fers (counselor), a weak piece in shatranj, into the queen, the strongest piece in chess, and the alfil, which moved in two-square steps, into the far-ranging chess bishop. The new game achieved popularity all over Europe. Some of the best players of the 15th and 16th centuries, notably Lucena and Ruy Lopez of Spain and Damiano of Portugal, recorded their games and theories in widely circulated books of chess instruction. In the second half of the 16th century, Italian players such as Polerio and Greco dominated the game. The greatest figure in the early history of modern chess was the 18th-century French player François-André Danican Philidor. He was the leading chess player of his time and a renowned composer. In 1749 Philidor published one of the most influential theoretical works in chess history, L'analyse du jeu des Échecs (Analysis of the Game of Chess), which was eventually translated into many languages. Philidor was the first to analyze many of the main strategic elements of chess and to recognize the importance of proper pawn play. French players continued their dominance of the game into the 19th century. In 1834 Louis Charles de la Bourdonnais played a series of six matches in London against the best English player, Alexander McDonnell. Bourdonnais won 45 of the 85 games and lost 27 (there were 13 draws). The games played in these matches were published and analyzed worldwide. In 1843 English player Howard Staunton decisively defeated the leading French player, Pierre Charles de Saint-Amant, by a match score of 11 wins, 6 losses, and 4 draws. Staunton, the world's foremost chess figure in the mid-19th century, wrote several important theoretical works and commissioned a new design for the chess pieces (which remains the standard). He also organized the first international chess tournament, held in London in 1851, which was won by German player Adolf Anderssen. The first great American chess player was Paul Charles Morphy. In 1858 Morphy traveled to Europe, having demonstrated his superiority over all his American rivals at an early age, to prove himself against the finest players in the world. Within six months he had won matches by overwhelming scores against several prominent players, including Anderssen. Because of his youth and the extraordinary quality of his games, Morphy was hailed as a genius and was recognized as the best chess player in the world. But after returning to the United States, Morphy became mentally ill and never again played chess competitively. In the mid-19th century the center of chess activity returned to Europe, where Wilhelm Steinitz, Siegbert Tarrasch, Emanuel Lasker, and other great masters advanced the theory and practice of chess through their games and writings. Chess had long been popular in Russia, and after the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Communist government began a program of chess education for children, sponsored many important chess events, and provided financial support for its best players. As a result, players from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) have long dominated international chess. The only interruption of Soviet chess power came in 1972 when American Bobby Fischer won the world championship from Boris Spassky in the most widely publicized chess match in history. However, in 1975 another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, won the championship by default when Fischer's demands for new match rules were not accepted and he refused to defend his title. Although the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, the highest levels of world chess are still dominated by players trained under the Soviet system. The hegemony of these players is being threatened by a new influence on the game: computers. The first computer programs that could play chess emerged in the 1960s. Although the programs played according to the rules, they were easily defeated. Rapid improvement followed, and today computer chess programs have defeated several of the world's top players. Computer chess is increasing the popularity of the game, especially in the United States and particularly among children. The growing availability of computer programs that can play chess at master level or better makes it possible for enthusiasts to have a chess companion at home that can be adjusted to play at any level.

World Champions Although players such as Philidor and Morphy clearly were stronger players than their contemporaries, it was not until 1886 that a match was held specifically to decide who could legitimately claim the title of world chess champion. The players were Wilhelm Steinitz, from Prague (now the capital of the Czech Republic), and Johann Zukertort, from Poland. Each had achieved great successes in previous tournaments and matches. Steinitz defeated Zukertort in a match in 1872, but when Zukertort won the great London tournament of 1883 ahead of Steinitz, another match was arranged in 1886. Steinitz won it decisively with 10 wins, 5 losses, and 5 draws, and he became the first official world chess champion. In 1894 Steinitz lost the title to 25-year-old German player Emanuel Lasker, who subsequently held the title for a record 27 years. Lasker was deposed as champion in 1921 by Cuban player José Raúl Capablanca, who was replaced as champion in 1927 by Russian-born Alexander Alekhine of France. Alekhine lost the championship to Dutch player Machgielis (Max) Euwe in 1935, but regained it in a rematch two years later. When Alekhine died in 1946 he still held the title, so the World Chess Federation (FIDE, the Fédération Internationale des Echecs) set out to find a new champion. FIDE had been founded in 1924, but not until Alekhine's death in 1946 was the organization able to take control of the world championship. In 1948 FIDE organized a special competition among the world's five best players. Mikhail Botvinnik of the USSR won the title. Since 1948 FIDE championship matches have been held every few years. Botvinnik reigned as world champion for almost 15 years, losing his title briefly to two Soviet players-in 1957-1958 to Vassily Smyslov and in 1960-1961 to then 22-year-old Mikhail Tal. Botvinnik lost to Soviet Tigran Petrosian in 1963, and subsequently announced his retirement from championship play. Boris Spassky defeated Petrosian for the world championship in 1969, but in 1972 Spassky lost to Bobby Fischer, who became the first American world champion and the first non-Soviet to win a world championship under the rules adopted after 1945. Recent world champions Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov have met in five title matches. The first match (1984-1985) was halted by Florencio Campomanes, the president of FIDE, after it had lasted for six months without producing a winner. Campomanes said he was trying to protect the health of the players, who appeared exhausted. But Kasparov believed that Campomanes wanted to save the title for his friend Karpov. In their next match in 1985, Kasparov won the title from Karpov and then successfully defended it three times. In 1993 Kasparov and his official challenger, Nigel Short of England, rejected FIDE's proposed arrangements for their world championship and set up a rival organization, the Professional Chess Association, hoping to gain commercial sponsorship and television coverage on a much larger scale than FIDE was able to accomplish. After he defeated Short under the auspices of the Professional Chess Association, Kasparov claimed the title of world champion. But Karpov, who remained loyal to FIDE, also claimed the title after winning a FIDE-sanctioned match against Jan Timman of the Netherlands.

Contributed by: Burt Hochberg -- Encarta Encyclopedia


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