Chess History A Timeline Of The History Of Chess

While historians are uncertain exactly how and where chess originated, most agree that chess began somewhere in the India-Afghanistan region between 100 and 600 A.D. Artifacts and historical documents track the evolution of chess from the Far and Middle East (at least 1400 years ago) to places as diverse as Japan, China and Persia (now Iran).

While the knowledge and practice of chess may have spread through a number of different avenues, war was likely the main method through which new cultures learned chess. For example, when the Moors captured Persia in the eighth century, they learned chess and spread it to other civilizations they conquered, including Spain.

From there, chess spread through other parts of Europe, notably to Italy and England. Between 1200 and 1400, the game became a fixture in European society.

History of the Chessboard and Chess Pieces

The modern chessboard is composed of 64 squares, eight columns of eight rows. The object of the game is to get a “checkmate,” a situation in which you attack your opponent’s king so that he can’t move out of or block the attack.

While early versions of chess used military symbols of the Far East, Europeans are credited with reshaping and renaming the pieces as we know them today. Modern chess pieces symbolize elements of Medieval European feudal society:

  • Kings: As in Medieval society, the king is the most important piece on the board. While the king doesn’t usually move much on the board (and really can’t given that he can only move one square at a time), all other pieces are responsible for protecting the king and attacking the opponent’s king.
  • Queens: As another powerful position in Medieval Europe, the queen is the second most important piece on the board. Interestingly, in chess, the queen is a more powerful piece than the king, even though the king determines the winner of the game.
  • Rooks: These chess pieces represent the castles or fortresses in Medieval Europe. While strong, rooks typically only come into play during the endgame when they can command entire columns or rows of the chessboard.
  • Bishops: The Catholic Church’s strength during the Middle Ages is represented by the two bishops. Starting alongside the king and queen, the bishops generally come into play during the opening and middle of a chess game.
  • Knights: These chess pieces translate quite literally from medieval feudalism as the protective knights that guarded the kingdom. Just as knights of the Middle Ages fought battles and defended kings, so too do knights on the chessboard make most of the early attacks of the game.
  • Pawns: As the most plentiful pieces on the chessboard, pawns represent the peasants (or working class) of the Middle Ages. As such, pawns are the first line of defense (and the most expendable pieces) on the chessboard.

Significant Changes in Chess

Chess as we know it today differs greatly from its birth in the Indian-Afghani region. In these early games, pieces represented four wings of the military:

  • Cavalry was the precursor for modern knights.
  • Chariots were used instead of rooks.
  • Elephants were used rather than bishops.
  • Infantry was the early version of pawns.

As chess took hold of England, Spain and Italy during the 1200s, the game started evolving. Not only were the look and names of the pieces altered, but the rules for how they could move about the board were also changed.

Perhaps the most dramatic change for the game of chess occurred in modern times as computers became worthy opponents. Because the game invites an almost infinite number of possible moves, chess theorists have been fascinated for centuries by the idea of “a chess-playing machine.”

While the first competition of chess-playing computers occurred in 1970, in 1997, Kasparov lost to “Big Blue,” a program created by IBM. From elephants to bishops to chess-playing computers, chess has clearly evolved in fascinating ways over the centuries.

Timeline of the History of Chess: Chess Tournaments

Although many people around the globe have earned reputations as great chess tacticians, the first official chess competitions weren’t held until the mid-1800s. In 1851, London hosted the first international chess tournament, which was won by German chess player Adolf Anderssen.

While notable, Anderssen’s win isn’t considered to mark the first official chess tournament or championship. Instead, experts agree that the first official chess tournament took place in 1866, with the Czechoslovakian Wilhem Steinitz earning the title of the first official chess champion.

In 1924, the Fdration Internationale des checs (FIDE), the World Chess Federation, was formed in Paris. Among other things, FIDE sets the rules and parameters of international competitions.

By 1948, Russians began to dominate the World Chess Championships. Mikhail Botvinnik took the title that year, kicking off decades of Soviet domination in chess.

In the early 1970s, American Bobby Fischer decimated the decades-long chokehold the Soviet Union had held on the Chess Championship. Fischer was reigning chess champions until 1975 when he resigned his title over a disagreement with FIDE.

His would-be opponent that year, Antoly Karpov, then took over the title by default, going on to win tournament after tournament until he was defeated by fellow Soviet Garry Kasparov in 1985. The two battled five more times, with Kasparov prevailing at each tournament.

The chess world splintered for more than a dozen years, starting in 1993, after Kasparov helped found the Professional Chess Association (PCA). During that period, both FIDE and PCA held World Championships, somewhat diluting the honor of holding the World Chess Champion title. However, the two organizations merged in 2006, giving renewed importance to the tournaments.