Can you imagine a chess game without chess pieces? Neither can we! Chess pieces are the central and most important part of chess sets. They have transformed and evolved throughout history, taking on different characters and costumes. As chess spread all around the world, by the mid 19th century, there were so many different styles of chess pieces, that players often refused to have matches on each other’s boards, having trouble with differentiating the characters.
This problem was solved in 1849, when journalist and illustrator Nathaniel Cook came up with the most simplistic and symbolic design, which we all know and love today, and named it after the English chess master Howard Staunton. That’s how now-classic Staunton chess pieces were initially created. And since then, it’s the official style of sets for any chess tournament around the world.
Chess, as we have already mentioned several times, is mostly played on a wooden board with wooden pieces. And if you are looking for the best handmade wooden chess pieces, then you are in the right place: Kaoori offers the highest quality wooden chess pieces of different types:
But let’s dive back into the history of chess. How it all began and how the pieces changed their appearance and general-purpose throughout centuries!
The exact time and place of the invention of chess are unknown. Chances are, a single person did not invent chess in a particular year. But the most common version is that this great game (in one version or another) was born in India in the 6th Century AD (originally named chaturanga), and only then moved through to Persia, from where it later spread to Europe.
The rules to this game, naturally, changed numerous times, depending on the historical period, and the region where it was played. The last version that we all got to enjoy and play, was finalized around the 15th century. Plus, the chess pieces underwent so much transformation both in style and material!
The oldest known partial chess set was found during a dig in Uzbekistan and dated roughly around 750 AD. This set had quite large chess pieces too! It was made of ivory and featured a few pieces no longer in use in the modern version of the game. Ivory was a trendy material for chess pieces for a very long time until wood became more mainstream, long after the middle ages.
Chess was perceived very differently in various parts of the world, as well. In the Russian Empire, it was considered to be a universal game since it occupied all layers of society. From simple cobblers up to the royals. So the pieces could feature very different styles. From simplistic wooden small chess pieces for commoners to luxurious sets, featuring intricately carved large chess pieces, created for each person individually, and hand-painted. In Europe, for a long time, it was mainly perceived as a game for the elite. Thus the evolution of the pieces took a very different turn. That’s when themed sets came along, featuring various monarchs in ancient and recent history.
Now, let’s talk some more about the game itself and the modern rules. Each player in a game of chess has to start with a total number of 16 chess pieces - eight Pawns, two Bishops, two Knights, two Rooks, a Queen and a King. So let’s take a minute and go over each of them and the moves they make across the board.
Pawn is the most basic of all chess pieces, with the lowest value. But don’t overlook it. A Pawn can be a great weapon in your arsenal. It moves forward only one square but moves one square diagonally during a capture. And, unlike a real battle, a pawn can be promoted, and transform from a soldier to even a King or a Queen, once it reaches the end of the opponent’s side of the board. Each of the players has eight Pawns in total, situated in the front row, which makes them the least valued chess piece. But, as we mentioned before, a Pawn can still help you out of a tight spot and be rewarded for it.
As the transformation of chess pieces through history went from intricate to simplistic, the Pawn underwent a journey from a soldier figure holding a shield to a basic round top on a widening leg, as in a classic Staunton set.
A Knight chess piece is usually presented as a horse’s head and mane. Each player has two knights on the board and they move in a peculiar way, unlike any of the other chess pieces. It moves like the letter “L” with two possibilities. You can move the Knight two squares ahead and one to the side, or vice versa. As the Knight chess piece moves in this unique fashion, it can also jump over the other chess pieces (just like a real horse!). So you can imagine how valuable it can be in the situation when the opponent’s pieces tightly surround your army. So try not to move it far towards the edges of the board, and let your knight chess piece stay in the heat of the action closer to the middle. Remember how we talked about the value of the Pawn? Well, the Pawn can easily take a Knight if they are placed close enough. As the Knight only moves in an “L”-shaped pattern, there’s no way it can threaten the Pawn when he’s right next to him. At the same time, this is an excellent opportunity for the Pawn to take the Knight and remain unharmed! So, as you see, it’s not all that simple!
Originally, the knight chess piece was presented as an armored cavalry but gradually transformed into a horse, as that was the essence of the chess piece and how it moves across the board. In many languages, it is still referred to as “horse”. The Knight is among the oldest pieces in chess, and the moving pattern hasn’t changed since the invention of this ancient game in the 6th Century AD.
A Bishop chess piece resembles a character in a pointy hat (like a bishop’s mitre, hence the name). Each player has two of them, placed on either side of the King and the Queen. That’s why they are commonly referred to as the King’s Bishop or the Queen’s Bishop. The Bishop is not limited in the number of squares he can cover in one move but moves only diagonally. As a result, Bishops move across either light or dark squares only. The predecessor of these chess pieces was an elephant or a camel, which is still the name for Bishop in some languages. It moved in a slightly different way but had the same purpose.
A Rook is a chess piece that resembles a tower. It was referred to as the “tower”, or the “castle” for a long time. There are two Rooks on each side of the board, situated in the corners. The only limit in the movement for the Rook is occupied squares and diagonals. Rooks jump to action later in the game, as there are still soldiers in front of them initially. Ever wondered where the word “rookie” came from? It literally means a person who has a late start at something, much like the Rook in chess. That’s just an example of how deeply chess is rooted in our culture and language.
A Rook is a very powerful tool in your arsenal, much more powerful than the Knight or the Bishop. And it gets more force towards the end of the game, as it can move freely across the board and not worry about Pawns anymore. Also, a Rook is a strong piece to deliver a checkmate.
Originally, the Rook was represented as a chariot, which was very powerful on the battlefield in the middle ages in the East. This chess piece is still known as “chariot” in some countries. However, after chess took Europe by storm, some translation issues occurred, and this chess piece changed its name over time, gradually became widely known all over Europe as the “tower” and was usually presented as a crenelated turret.
Believe it or not, the Queen chess piece wasn’t nearly as powerful in older versions of chess as she is in the modern one. According to contemporary order, the Queen can, literally, move however she wants, there is no limit in direction or length (the only thing the Queen can’t do is jump over others). This is the case since the rules were finalized in the 15th century. However, in the olden days, in the ancient Indian ancestor of chess, there were no “female” pieces allowed on the board, so the Queen chess piece was known as a ferz, which was quite weak, and moved in a very limited fashion.
Since the Queen chess piece is so powerful, a question arises of when to expose her to the game. Some people want to do that right from the beginning, but more experienced players prefer to protect her until it’s safe enough, so that she won’t be at risk of being taken out by lower-ranking chess pieces on the board, and is free to attack the opponent’s higher-ranking chess pieces.
Needless to say, the King chess piece is the most important piece you have, as the whole objective of the game is to capture the King. If he is merely threatened, the situation is called a “check”, and the threatened player has to remove the possibility of defeat in the next move. If the King chess piece is captured, the situation is called “checkmate”, which means “the king is dead” in Arabic, and the opponent wins the game. Because of its infinite value to the game, the King chess piece will not participate in the action until much later into the game, when it’s relatively safer for him to be playing offense against the opponent.
As you probably guessed already, the King chess piece is the oldest one on the board. It had been a part of the game since its inception, although it had had different names across the world.
We thoroughly discussed the pieces and how they changed through time. You can see how chess is a game that reflects the culture and the mindset of people and how it changed accordingly. You can sense how deep and old this game is - kings, pawns, knights - even the chess pieces display historical figures and, overall, the lives of ancient and sometimes of modern realities.
Chess is a whole strategy. It requires a high concentration of mind, to understand which are the right and wise moves leading to victory, just like being the head of an army going into an important battle.
Thankfully, we are not going into a real battle anymore. Instead, we can enjoy the rush of strategy, enjoy our victories and learn from defeats, and better our skills!
So choose the best set from our store, the one that will comply with your taste and pocket, and let the game begin!Read Less