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Chess History

Updated on December 23, 2009
From Caxton's Game and Play of Chess, 1474.
From Caxton's Game and Play of Chess, 1474.

Chess is an ancient board game for two players, often called the royal game because of its preeminence as a contest of intellectual skill. Two opponents face each other across a checkered board and maneuver 16 chessmen apiece in a series of complex moves that suggest two warring medieval kingdoms. Each player attacks and defends with his king, queen, rooks, bishops, knights, and pawns in an attempt to capture his opponent's king and so win the game. The strategy of chess has stimulated the imaginations of men throughout history.

Despite its complexity, the game has been mastered by many young people, including some of today's foremost chess players. Robert J. ("Bobby") Fischer, who became a world champion, won the U.S. championship in 1958 when he was only 14 years old.

History of Chess

Chess originated in the 7th century A.D. in India, where it was called chaturanga. It spread to Persia and Arabia and, in the 10th century, was introduced to Europe by way of Spain, Italy, and the Balkans. By the end of the 16th century, castling, pawn promotion, and most of the other rules of modem chess had been adopted.

The most important 16th-century player, a Spanish bishop named Ruy Lopez, wrote a treatise on the game. During the next 200 years many books on chess theory appeared. Among these was Analyse du jeu des echecs ("Chess Analysis"), written in 1749 by the French operatic composer Francois Philidor, who was famous for playing blindfolded against three players simultaneously.

By 1800, chess had become popular throughout Europe and America. In 1857 20-year-old Paul Morphy, of New Orleans, won the first U.S. championship, and during the next two years beat the best European players in a series of matches. Morphy's technique demonstrated the importance of early control of the center, rather than early attacks with few pieces. Many of his theories have since become standard. As developed by his successors, William Steinitz and Siegbert Tarrasch, these theories are often referred to as the classical school of chess because of their emphasis on position and careful preparation.

As different tactical and strategic concepts are tested against each other in tournament play, chess theories are often modified. For example, many classical theories were overturned in the 20th century by a new school of players called the hypermoderns. This group specialized in unconventional openings followed by a slow development that was calculated to force their opponents to commit themselves. Today, chess players represent many different styles of play. Several major international tournaments now take place every year, as well as numerous national and regional events. Many people play postal chess, in which moves are exchanged by notation. Tournaments by maiJ are conducted by several organizations. Some experts specialize in playing the game blindfolded, merely being told their opponent's moves. In 1961, Georges Koltanowski played 56 blindfold games simultaneously, winning 50, drawing 6, and losing none. There are also exhibitions of simultaneous chess in which an expert, playing against several opponents, moves rapidly from board to board.


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