Home Aims Laws of Chess Training Tournaments Hall of Fame Donations Links NECL



The laws of Chess and the movement of the traditional Chess pieces have been the same since the sixth century of the second millennium. The changes that took place have quickened up the rate of play, such as allowing the Pawns to move two cells on the first move option (FMO). The origins of Chess are obscure. Some evidence presented by David Li in “Genealogy of Chess” quite clearly shows it was developed in China in the 2nd century B.C. but it is not until the 7th century that there is a reference to the game in literature. The first mention of Chess is found in a Persian poem according to which the advent of the game took place in India. Chess migrated to Persia (Iran) during the reigns of King Chosroe-I Annshiravan (531-579) as described in a Persian book of this period. This book described Chess terminology and the names and function of the pieces in some detail. According to some sources (Forbes, History of Chess, 1860) the game was invented between four or five thousand years ago, by the wife of King Ravana of Ceylon, when the capital was besieged by Rama.

Chess is also mentioned in the poems of Firdousi, a Persian poet of the 10th century in which he describes gifts being introduced by a convoy from the Rajah of India at the court of the Persing King Chosroe-I. Amongst these gifts was a game depicting the battle of two armies. Records show that there were originally four types of piece used in Chess. Shatrang (Indian Sanskrit) means ‘four’ and anga means ‘detachment’. In the Sassanid dynasty (242-651 AD) a book was written in the Middle Persian Pahlavi language called ‘Chatrang namakwor’ (A Manual of Chess). Shatrang (Chess) represents the universe, according to ancient Indian mysticism. The four sides being the four elements (fire, air, earth and water), and the four ‘humors’ of man. Although the names of the pieces are different in various countries today, their movements are strikingly similar. In Persia the word ‘Shatranj’ was used for the name of Chess itself.

In the 8th century the Moors invaded Spain and Chess spread to Europe. The game found its way to the western world after the Moslems conquered lands from India and Persia to the East, and Spain to the West. The first reference to Chess is found in the Catalonian Testament of 1010 AD. A Chess set was presented as a gift to Charlemagne from the famous Moslem ruler Haroon-al-Rashid. The Muslims also conquered Sicily, and the game reached Russia probably through the Caspian-Volga trade routes. The names of the Russian pieces clearly indicates the Persian and Arabic origin of the game.

In Russian folk poems Chess is mentioned as a popular game. The Vikings carried the game to north-western Europe via the Baltic. Chess arrived in Germany around the 11th century, with the earliest reference to Chess being made by a monk ‘Froumund von Tegermsee’. Chess spread to Italy from Germany and later on to England and Ireland. Chess also reached Scandanavia by the 11th century and Bohemia from Italy. The growing popularity of Chess is proven by the vast amount of literature that has been printed over the last few centuries. 

The oldest of these (Mansubat) were penned by the Arab author Al-Aldi in the 9th century who also mentioned the differences between the Hindu and Persian rules of the game. Blindfold play, qualifying contests, Chess problems (mansubat), the first Chess book and tournaments were known as early as the 7th century. Today, the game of traditional Chess is very similar to the original game that was played in India 1400+ years ago (i.e., the game-tree has not been altered significantly). Chesmayne allows any game-tree to be used for play. 

Today there are 149 Chess playing countries belonging to FIDE. In the last few centuries traditional Chess has truly become international in appeal. Chess is exciting, demanding skill, and the result is unpredictable. It is not a physical contest, and there is no element of luck as in card games. In oriental warfare, a battle could be decided by the death or capture of the King, which in Chess is known as Shah-mat (checkmate, ++CM). So two armies line up against each other. One can try head-on assault or patient outflanking manoeuvres. One can try bluff, or offer poisoned pawns, or make sacrifices in order to ambush the enemy and capture the commander-in-chief, the King. 

The Persians took up Indian Chess with enthusiasm. The caliphs, rulers of the Moslem world, kept Chess professionals at court through the 9th and 10th centuries. Chess was brought to Europe by the Moors in Spain before AD 1,000. There was great confusion throughout medieval Europe concerning the pieces names. The elephants became archers in Spain, Standard-Bearers in Italy, couriers in Germany, court jesters in France, and BSs in Portugal, England, Ireland and Iceland. The ‘rukh’ (war chariot) was another enigma. In 1527, an Italian poet, Vida, fancifully identified the Rook as an elephant with a tower on his back, as used by Hannibal seventeen centuries earlier. This caught on, but the elephant was costly to carve, and disappeared leaving only the tower.

Europe’s first big contribution to Chess came about AD 1,000 - a chequered board to assist the eye (before this time the board was unchequered). Please see Shogi for further details (Japanese Chess). A century later came the second - speeding the :&O (opening) by giving pawns the option of moving two cells on the first move (FMO). About 1580 an Italian suggested making the Queen the strongest piece instead of the weakest. Promotion of a pawn, hitherto a minor incident, became cataclysmic. The average game was halved in length. At the same time, the piece we call a Bishop, previously very restricted was de-limited. The new game was nicknamed ‘Scacchi all rabiosa’ (crazy Chess) by the Italians, and by the French, ‘Echecs de la dame enragee’ (Chess of the maddened Queen).

But it swept Europe like a forest fire, except Russia, where the masses stuck to the old game for over two more centuries. Italy took over from Spain as the leading Chess country in the 17th century. In the 18th century, supremacy passed to France. About 1840, London became the main Chess center. The first international Chess tournament was held in London in 1851.   It was won by Adolf Anderssen, a German professor of mathematics. The fantastic advance of Chess in the 20th century is best shown by figures. Before 1923 there were rarely more than four international tournaments in a year. Between 1923 and 1939, the average was six. After WW II this quadrupled. In 1974 it jumped to 60, in 1975 to 75, in 1976 to 100.

By the end of 1990 the number had increased to well over 1,000 registered tournaments. In 1924 FIDE had a dozen member countries. In 1990 it had 127. Every two years, a world teams’ tourney is held, known as the Chess Olympiad. The number of entries in 1927 was 16. By 1990 it reached 108 teams. Women’s Olympiads started in 1957 with 21 teams, increasing to a record 65 in 1990. Russia (or the former Soviet Union) first competed in an Olympiad in 1952 and has won all but two since then. Only for three years since 1948 has there been a non-Russian (Soviet) champion. Bobby Fischer (USA) won crushingly in 1972 but did not defend in 1975 when the title went to Anatoly Karpov by default. In 1985 Karpov lost the title to 22-year old Garry Kasparov in a marathon struggle lasting 72 games, starting in September 1984.

The challenger is found after three years of elimination tournaments, and matches start with Zonal tournaments, continuing with interzonals and culminating with Candidates’ matches. Women’s World Championships are played under similar procedures. The title of Chess Champion of the World dates strictly from 1886, but it has been conferred retrospectively from 1866 by general consent. Before that, there were players recognized as supreme in their time. The following list will not be disputed by most mature players:

01 Andre Danican Philidor (France) 1747-1795 • 02 Louis Charles Mahe de la Bourdonnais (France) 1821-1840 • 03 Howard Staunton (England) 1843-1851 • 04 Adolf Anderssen (Germany) 1851-1858 • 05 Paul Morphy (U.S.A. Irish/Spanish/French) 1958-1959 • 06 William Steinitz (born Austrian) 1866-1894 • 07 Dr Emanuel Lasker (born German) 1894-1921 • 08 Jose Raul Capablanca (Cuba) 1921-1927 • 09 Dr Alexander Alekhine (born Russian) 1927-1935 • 10 Dr Max Euwe (Holland) 1935-1937 • 11 Dr Alexander Alekhine (died still Champion, FIDE took control) 1937-1946 • 12 Dr Mikhail Botvinnik (Russia) 1948-1957 • 13 Vassily Smyslov (Russia) 1957-1958 • 14 Dr Mikhail Botvinnik 1958-1960 • 15 Mikhail Tal (Russia) 1960-1961 • 16 Dr Mikhail Botvinnik 1961-1963 • 17 Tigran Petrosian (U.S.S.R.) 1963-1969 • 18 Boris Spassky (Russia) 1969-1972 • 19 Bobby Fischer (U.S.A.) 1972-1975  •  20  Anatoly Karpov (Russia) 1975-1985  •  21 Garry Kasparov (Russia) 1985-

Until the present century, traditional Chess (:L01 of Chesmayne) was regarded as a game for the wealthy and leisured classes in society. It is the national sport in Russia, where it is more popular than football. Indeed, Russian Chess players have dominated world Chess since the 1940s, although their superiority is fast being challenged by Britain, which is now established as a strong Chess playing nation. Compare it with draughts or the Japanese game of Go (nearly all strategy). Chess also has the advantage of its finely differentiated playing pieces. They are not merely rounded lumps of wood or stone but individuals, each with h/er own power and attributes.

It is easy to identify with one’s Chess pieces. Losing a game of draughts never results in the same sense of deep personal loss that one has when the KI is ++CM. It is a game that involves the mind completely. Chess combines elements of both art and science, what the Dutch call Denksport. Analyzing a Chess game is primarily an exercise in logic, yet arriving at a beautiful checkmating attack or a profound strategical position can bring a genuine sense of creative satisfaction. There is also the competitive aspect of the game. Chess is not a solitary exercise, like solving a crossword puzzle, but a battle between two individuals, a struggle of mind and will.

Above all, Chess provides a sense of continuity with the past - of belonging to a great Chess-playing family extending through thousands of years and embracing all nations from the time of the Egyptian Kings to the present day (and probably before as well). In the text you will find games played over a century ago (:L01) which still arouse admiration in those who play through them today. Perhaps one day, new players who are now taking up Chess (Chesmayne) will find some of their own efforts gracing the literature of this fascinating game. 

Traditional Chess is one of the world’s most played board games. It has an old and distinguished pedigree, developed for over five centuries. The wisdom of antiquity has bequeathed it to succeeding generations. Of the various occidental board games, Chess is the King. It is the one practiced most widely and has the most-documented and carefully written theory to back it up. Goethe called Chess ‘the touchstone of the intellect’. The story of Chess is amongst one of the most extraordinary inventions in our history, which draws extensively on legend, mythology and symbolism and must rank amongst the greatest stories ever told.

Its theme is the vast and bewildering complexity of the universe of thought - an inspiring symbol of the desire to explore and penetrate the uttermost reaches of the imagination. An eternal book - somehow impinging on infinity itself - a never-ending story - a mirror of the infinite possibilities of the human mind and one of the purest forms of communication with a unique and unusual set of symbols. This symbolic world of weightless thoughts is real, vital, and filled with significance. It seems we are mysteriously connected to the universe. We are mirrored in it, just as the entire evolution of the universe is mirrored in us. However, like frogs, sooner or later we have to step outside our limited sensorium. 

In this section the reader is taken through the delightful account of the landmarks and discoveries and pays tribute to the Chess players who made contributions, both large and small, not only as painstaking observers of the game, but also as outstanding wo/men of vision whose conclusions were often ahead of their time. We have traveled through the ages to accumulate a battery of sound Chess theories and along this road circuitous detours carried many thinkers far and wide through a wilderness.

At this juncture we must put the whole achievement into perspective and it is well to make some preliminary comments about the state of Chess as it now stands. To settle a group of students a teacher will first tell them a light story when they first come into the classroom, just to put them at ease, focused, and then kind of lead them into.

revised Oct 10 2011