History Of Chess (Part 1)
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History of Chess (Part 1)

History of Chess (Part 1)

This article focuses on the history of chess from its humble beginnings to where it is right now. Come with us to make this journey!

It’s been centuries and it seems chess hasn’t changed a bit when it comes to movement and the names of each piece.

Is that the actual reality or the perception that we have given ourselves? Who came up with the game and what was the reason behind it?

Who is smart enough to create such complex positions where everything is unique in its nature from the board itself until a player says checkmate!

How to Play Chess (The Game of the Mind)

Origins of Chess

Chess is an improvement of the board game called Chaturanga. Chaturanga was founded in India somewhere around the 6th or 5th century CE.

The rules which were implicated in the game of Chaturanga are as follows:

  • Pieces have different powers
  • The fate of the game depends on one specific piece.

When we look at these rules, we can clearly see that they have modern chess elements in them.

When we look at pieces having different powers, we know that a queen doesn’t have the same movement as a knight.

This accounts for all the other pieces, including knights, bishops, queen, king, rooks, and pawns.

The fate of the game simply depends on the king. If the king is captured, then the game is over.

How Chess Pieces Move

Exposure of Chess

Over time, Chaturanga started to spread out into different parts of the world and took with it different names.

The different names also came with pieces that had different values and movements from their predecessor.

China: It was known as xiangqi. The major difference was that pieces were placed on the intersecting lines of the board rather than within the squares like chess.

Iran: The game became known as Matikan-i-Chatrang, with pieces being altered in terms of appearance. This was mainly because the previous pieces had a negative impact on the Islamic religion because of the depiction of humans and animals in art.

Thailand: It became known as Makruk or Thai Chess. Currently, it is considered to be a variant of chess.

Mongolia: In Mongolia, two versions of Chaturanga were formed. The first is called Shatar, while the other variant is called Hiashatar.

Japan: In Japan, it became Shogi. A game that unlike the others doesn’t really get classified as just another variant of chess. Rather it is categorized as its own game due to its popularity.

In the video lesson below, GM Igor Smirnov shares with you a simple, effective, and universal chess opening for Black against 1.e4 and 1.d4:

Rapid Changes to Chess

Around 1500 AD, significant changes to the game started to take place. The first major change came revolving around the movement and strength of the queen and bishop.

Once these pieces became stronger because of the new rules that had been implicated, it became easier to deliver checkmates. The majority of the games were being finished faster than before.

Over time, all the pieces overwent their fair share of changes until modern-day rules were implicated.

These changes lead to us having pieces that can do the following movement:

Pawns: Pawns can move in a straight line and capture diagonally.

Rooks: Rooks can move and capture in a straight line.

Knights: Knights can move either two steps horizontally and one step vertically or two steps vertically and one step horizontally. They can capture in that direction also.

Bishops: Bishops can move and capture diagonally.

Queens: Queens can move and capture either diagonally or in a straight line.

Kings: The king can move and capture one step in any direction.

Chess Terminology

Eliminating Minor Problems

Even though the rules behind piece movement were being changed, there were still minor problems surrounding the game.

One of the major problems was time management. Players would take hours thinking about which move to play because they were not timed.

This made it difficult to have chess tournaments as when a player would notice that they were in a losing position, they will just delay moving their pieces.

Since they were not timed, this was legal and it also meant that events would theoretically not finish because of this.

To solve this problem, around the 1800s, time limits were introduced; this forced players to complete the game within their allocated time. Failure to do so (players running out of time), the opponent would be victorious.

In 1861, history was made as a tournament was held using sand glasses to ensure that players finish the match within their allocated time.

This system was then changed when analog clocks were introduced. Mainly because sand glasses were unfair to players who weren’t using as much time as their opponents in making moves.

First Chess World Champion

With the growth in chess and tournaments being an everyday thing, what was left was to determine who the best chess player in the world was.

As such, in 1886, we saw the first World Chess Championship being held. The players who took part in the match were none other than Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort.

The match was the first of 10 events that took place in the United States of America. For Wilhelm Steinitz, he had been recognized as a top player even part taking in previous unofficial World Championship matches and winning them.

On the other hand, Johannes Zukertort had won the majority of the previous major tournaments that were being held for him to be considered for this match.

In the end, Wilhelm Steinitz won 10-5, becoming the first-ever official World Chess champion.

World Chess Champions (Top 5 According to Rating)

Professionalizing the Game

Developments in chess had been noted now, but there was still a major problem that was spotted by Emanuel Lasker. Lasker noticed that even though Wilhelm Steinitz was a World Champion, he died a poor man.

Meaning during his reign as World Champion he wasn’t earning a lot of money, this lead to Emanuel Lasker demanding a lot of money to part-take in events.

As such, a system where top players were paid sufficient money to make a living began to be implemented.

Currently, a lot of elite players still complain that the money in chess isn’t enough, but considering where the issue first originated there has been massive progress.

Founding of FIDE

Chess governing bodies were formed, but there was always a need for there to be one governing body that resides over all other federations.

Along came FIDE! FIDE is an International Federation that acts as a governing body for all other federations. It was founded on the 20th of July in 1920.

1925 saw the rise of FIDE as it expressed its desire to become more involved in world championship matches.

By the year 1927, it was certain that FIDE was the main governing body. Not only was it involved in organizing world championship matches, but also events that involved ladies, junior, and senior chess players.

☉ FIDE awards chess players with titles, when they get to master chess. You can learn about this on How to Master Chess.

Implementing a Rating System

When it came to the debate as to find the best chess player, the debate was always nuclear as people would just choose their favorite chess players.

This made matters unclear as there wasn’t anything supporting that claim besides probable tournament wins.

For there to be a clear best player, a rating system had to be implemented. A rating system is used to estimate a player’s strength based on their performance against other players.

This means the following:

  • If you win you gain Elos
  • If you lose they your Elo rating drops
  • In the case of a draw, if you are the higher rated player by a certain large margin, you will lose rating.
  • But if you are a lower rated player by a certain large margin and you draw a stronger player, then you will gain a bit of rating
  • In the case that both your ratings are almost similar and you draw the game, then both your ratings wont change.

This rating system was first implicated by FIDE in 1970 with Bobby Fischer on top of  the list.

Controversies in Chess

With FIDE as the governing body also meant that any controversies would involve them. Over the years, there have been many controversies that have involved the federation with the main ones being:

Bobby Fischer World Champion Controversy

In order to play for the World title, a player had to win the Candidates Tournament, which is something that Anatoly Karpov did to challenge Bobby Fischer.

Bobby Fischer, who was then World Champion, set out to change the championship rules as he did not like them. In the new rules he wanted, he suggested the following:

  1. First to 10 matches with draws not counting. 
  2. If the score is tied at 9-9, then he would retain the title. 
  3. No limit to the number of games played

The second rule didn’t seem to be fairly towards Anatoly Karpov, and with no agreement occurring between FIDE and Bobby Fischer, he forfeited his title.

World Championship Divide

Another controversy came in 1993 while Garry Kasparov was the World Champion. Nigel Short had won the Candidates and was poised to challenge Garry Kasparov for his title.

FIDE rushed into deciding on a venue and did its ideal without consulting the players. With both players not happy, they decided to split from FIDE and form their own federation called Professional Chess Ascociation.

Under this new Federation, they played their World Championship Match, with Garry Kasparov winning it.

This split forced FIDE to create its own World Championship title and format. So, from 1993 until 2006, we had two World Champions and two governing bodies.

The issue managed to get resolved when the title was re-unified in the 2006 World Championship match between GM Vladimir Kramnik and Anatoly Karpov.

The history of chess hasn’t ended. Of course, a new chapter it’s being written every day. 😉 Please, wait for the second part of these “history of chess” articles.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

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