There are other theories for the origin of Chess. Some people say that the earliest ancestor known was Shaturanga, which is a 4 player version of Chess. The bulk of opinion, though would have it that this didn't turn up until around 1000AD. The other primary theory is that Chess came from China. A long and forceful treatise to this effect called The Origin of Chess has been written by Sam Sloan. Naturally enough, this theory is not short of its critics and other people have equally vocal opposite points of view.
- Infantry - 4 Pawns which moved as pawns do in Chess
- Boatmen - A ship which could only move 2 squares diagonally but could jump over intervening pieces
- Cavalry - A horse which could move like a Knight in Chess
- Elephant - An elephant which could move like a Rook in Chess
- Rajah - A human figure which could move like a King in Chess
Those who believe that this is the earliest clear ancestor of Chess say that under Hindu law, gambling became forbidden early on in the Hindu civilisation and, to avoid the gambling laws, Shaturanga players dispensed with the dice. Other changes happened at the same time - the merging of the allied armies into a single army making the game a two player form and duplicating the pieces, both developments which have survived until today. The other main changes between Chaturanga and the 2 player form of Chess, Shatranj, are the two Rajahs were demoted to Prime Ministers in the change to the two player form and their movement reduced making them much weaker while the moves of the Elephant and the Ship were swapped around.
There are three versions of the story of arrival of Shatranj in Europe.
One says that the Saracens brought it into Spain when they settled in Analusia following their conquest of North Africa in the seventh century. From there the game may have travelled eventually to France and the court of Charlemagne around 760 AD.
A second claims that Charlemagne and the Empress Irene of the Byzantine court at one point were contemplating marriage. During their meetings one of the presents exchanged was a Shatranj set given to Charlemagne. Unfortunately, instead of two Prime Ministers, the set contained two Queens with enhanced powers, making them the most powerful pieces on the board. Charlemagne thought this was not a promising sign and decided that the marriage wasn't such a good idea after all!
The most popular theory, however, is that the Knights of the Cross obtained the game from Arab lands during the Crusades. It is known that Shatranj was held in some esteem at the court of Saladin, who created the Ayubite dynasty in Egypt and Syria and the Christians certainly obtained medical secrets from physicians in this dynasty.
The famous Alfonso manuscript and the Cotton manuscript of the thirteenth century describe Shatranj in its form at the time. The pieces are shown on a non-chequered board in a virtually identical pattern to that of today. One of the prime ministers is now a King. The details follow:
- King (Shah) - moved like a King in Chess
- Prime Minister (Firz) - moved one square diagonally only.
- Elephant (Fil) - moved two squares diagonally only but could jump over intervening pieces.
- War Horse (Faras) - moved like a Knight in Chess
- Ruhk - moved like a Rook in Chess
- Pawn - moved like a pawn in Chess and when a pawn reached the far side of the board it was promoted to a Prime Minister
As time progressed a variety of exotic variations came about in forms such as Circular Chess and The Courier Game which was a kind of extended Chess played on a board of 12 x 8 chequered squares. At about the same time that Shatranj entered Europe, it was also heading Eastwards back through North India and into Burma, China and Japan. The games Sittuyin (Burmese Chess), Mak-ruk (Siamese Chess), Shiang K'i (Chinese Chess), Korean Chess and Sho-gi (Japanese Chess or The General's Game) are the resultant modern forms; Chinese and Japanese Chess join Modern European Chess as being the primary modern day forms of Shatranj.
The pieces are simple disks with Chinese characters on them to differentiate and are played on the points of the board rather than within the squares. The un-chequered board consists of 10 x 9 points with two notable distinguishing features. Firstly, dividing the players in the middle is the 'River', an open area. Also, each player has an area of 9 points in the middle at the nearest edge called the 'Fortress'.
- The General - moves orthogonally one space but cannot move outside the Fortress or such that the opposing general is on the same file with no men between the two.
- The Mandarins - move one point diagonally only but must stay within the Fortress
- The Elephants - move two points diagonally but cannot jump over intervening pieces and cannot cross the River.
- The Horsemen - move like a knight in Chess but cannot jump over intervening pieces
- The Chariots - move like a Rook in Chess
- The Cannons - move any distance orthogonally but can only capture if they have jumped over a single intervening piece (known as the 'Screen')
- The Soldiers - move one point forwards until they reach the other side of the River whereupon they are allowed to move one point sideways as well. There is no promotion
Some of the pieces upon entering enemy territory are 'promoted', if the player wishes, to a superior piece of a rank defined by the rules. Those pieces that can be promoted are noted in the follow descriptions.
- Jewelled King - moves like a King in Chess
- Gold General - moves one space orthogonally or one space diagonally forwards
- Silver General - moves one space diagonally or one space forwards. Promotion is to a Gold General.
- Honourable Horse - two spaces forward and one sideways only. Promotion is to a Gold General.
- Flying Chariot - like a Rook in Chess. Promotion is to a Dragon King which can move like a Jewelled King OR a Flying Chariot
- Angle-going - like a bishop in Chess. Promotion is to a Dragon Horse which can move like a Jewelled King OR an Angle-going.
- Lance - forwards only any distance. Promotion is to a Gold General.
- Soldiers - one space forwards only. Promotion is to a Gold General.
Chess in Korea, as can be seen from the picture, is similar to Chess in China. The board omits the river of Chinese Chess and some of the moves are slightly different but probably the most significant difference is that players can "pass" their go if they wish. One effect of this is to slightly increase the chances of a draw since when one player is reduced to a lone King, repeated passing forces a drawn game.
MakrukUnlike Korean and Burmese Chess, Makruk or Thai Chess is presently thriving well in its home country where proponents outnumber those who play European Chess by a huge proportion and the game is a nationally televised attraction. It is played in Cambodia as well as Thailand, although this country sports yet another historical variant - Cambodian Chess. The game is related to both the Japanese and Burmese versions of Chess and many people believe that Makruk predates both these other games.
The attractive pieces are shaped like the Stupas or Thai temples that are found throughout Siam, as Thailand used to be called. In the past, pawns were often represented by cowrie shells, mouth down until promotion when they were turned upwards.
In 1749, Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, a composer and leading Chess player at the time, published 'L'analyse du jeu des Echecs' (Analysis of the game of chess). This is one of the greatest Chess works of literature ever written and has been translated into many languages since. Howard Staunton, the top player in the mid 19th century also wrote several important theoretical works and organised the first international chess tournament in London in 1851. This was won by Adolf Anderssen from Germany. In 1858, Paul Charles Morphy came to Europe from the USA and managed to take the mantle of best player at a very youthful age.
The history of chess pieces is also a story worth telling. Until the mid 19th century, pieces tended to come as one of two extremes. The rich would display very ornate expensive decorate pieces with delicately crafted representations of kings, queens etc. which were often top-heavy and impractical while everyone else mostly used roughly hewn wooden lumps with only the height of the pieces to distinguish between them.
In 1847, John Jaques of London created a new design which hit a happy medium between the two and was both practical and elegant. On the one hand, the pieces were easily distinguishable by easily recognisable symbols atop a pedestal - the King with a crown, the Queen with a coronet and the bishop by a mitre. The pawn is supposed to be a representation of the mason symbol for square and compasses while the piece de resistance, the knight, is an copy of the horse cut into the Elgin marble in Italy. On the other hand, by using different heights of pedestal, the useful idea of representation by height was retained. Howard Staunton apparently immediately realised the overall benefit of such a new design and lent his name to the new pieces which were duly launched in 1849. These Staunton pieces were immediately popular and soon became all the rage. At the end of the century, the design had evolved slightly - the protruberances of certain pieces were reduced or made more robust to prevent breakages and enable easier mass production. The newly released 1890 design quickly became the de facto standard for Chess all over the world and it has stayed that way ever since. Jaques of London, uniquely, are still owned and run by the Jaques family and their Staunton sets are still used worldwide by most National Chess organisations and tournaments. They also produce expensive hand made replicas of their original 1847 and 1890 chess sets - for more information see Buying Historical Chess sets
Computer programs which can play Chess were first written in the 1960's
but these were easily beaten. Since then Chess programs have become increasingly better at the game and can now beat all but the best Grand Masters. In 1997, history was made when Deep Blue 2, a machine running the best Chess program yet written, managed to beat Kasparov, the undisputed best player in the world at the time.