Chess is one of the most sophisticated, difficult and beautiful games to ever exist. So, who should we thank for bringing it into our lives? Let’s take a quick trip down the memory lane and find out who invented chess.
1st stop – 6th century India
The origins of chess trace back to sixth century India to a game known as chaturanga or catur. The pieces of chaturanga are very similar to those of chess and it was played on an 8×8 grid. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the rules of chaturanga were but based on evidence that has been collected over time, it looks very similar to a game of chess. In chaturanga, the queen was known as a counselor and the bishop was called elephant and both, unlike in today’s chess, had limited moves. Also, in chaturanga, the player could have won by removing all of the opponent’s players besides the king.
This answers our question of when chess was invented. As for who invented chess, we don’t have a specific name. There is, however, a story or rather a legend that credits an old wise name with inventing chess. The story goes like this:
There once lived a king named Shihram who ruled over India. He was very cruel. To teach this king a lesson, a wise man invented the game of chess to show the king the importance of every single person who lives in his kingdom regardless of their social status. The point was that a king on a chess board needs his queen, his rooks, bishops, knights and the pawns to survive. The same thing happens in real life and the king must know this.
We don’t know if this is a true story or not but it offers a very valuable lesson and gives chess a kind of significance that it deserves.
From India to Persia
The next stop on the trip down the history lane is Persia. It is believed that by the 10th and 11th centuries because of conquests and trade on the Silk Roads, chess reached Persia and became known as chatrang. There are already records of chess or rather chatrang being played in Persia. From there chess spread to the Arab world then reached China, Japan and even Southeast Asia. In China and Japan, chess evolved to xiangqi and shogi respectively (these games are often called Chinese and Japanese chess). In China and Japan, people began to study chess closely, to analyze chess problems, openings and end games.
From the Arab world to Europe
In the 12th and 13th centuries, chess reached Europe. This was made possible due to the rise of the Byzantine Empire in the Southern Europe and Muslim Spain through North Africa. Chess quickly became the favorite game of the nobles and found its way to the palaces of medieval kings.
In Europe, chess raised in popularity during the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods. It was the game of the higher class and it was an absolute must for all young knights to learn how to play it. At some point, chess was attributed with revelry, gambling, and violence, so the Chatolic church attempted to ban it.
In Europe, chess underwent through some minor and major changes – both cosmetic and mechanical. The biggest change was in names. Europeans changed the names of the figures to medieval ones such as knight, bishop, rook. They also introduced a number of innovations in how chess boards were constructed.
In medieval Europe, a chess game lasted hours or even days, which led to changes in rules. For example, pawns could be moved two spaces on the first move, development of castling, making bishops and queens more powerful. By the end of the 16th century, we already see names of famous chess players (e.g. Spanish bishop Ruy Lopez de Segura and later the Frenchman Andre Danican Philidor) emerging who began to develop chess theory.
From chaturanga to modern chess
Now that we have the “who invented chess” and “when was chess invented” questions all cleared out, let’s see who the founder of modern chess is.
Austrian master Wilhelm Steinetz is considered to be the father of modern chess and the very first World Chess Champion. He is the man behind the theory and style of chess as we know it today. Other notable names in the history of chess are German mathematician Emanuel Lasker and American Paul Morphy. In the 20th century, we also saw the standardization of the rules of chess by the World Chess Federation (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or FIDE) for international competitions.
In the late 20th century, we have the players of the USSR namely World Champions Mikhail Botvinnik, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov changing the course of chess history.
Today, the top chess players in the world who carry the legacy of this game are:
- Magnus Carlsen
- Fabiano Caruana
- Ding Liren
- Ian Nepomniachtchi
- Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
- Levon Aronian
- Alexander Grischuk
- Wesley So
- Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
- Teimour Radjabov
As you can see, chess has a very long and complicated history. While we don’t know for sure who exactly invented the chess game, we do know that it carries influences from nearly every corner of the world.