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History of Chess

Updated on May 29, 2010

Most scholars believe that chess originated in northern India (West Pakistan) as an offspring of a Hindu game under the Sanskrit name chaturanga about A.D. 500, and then spread to Persia (Iran). The name chess is derived from the Persian word shah, which means "king," and checkmate from shah mat, which means "the king is dead." The Arabs learned the game when they conquered Persia in the 600's and they introduced it into Europe by way of Spain, Sicily, and Constantinople. By the 16th century the moves of chess had assumed their modern form. Francois Andre Philidor of France (1747-1795) was the first (unofficial) champion of the modem game. Adolf Anderssen of Germany won the first modern international tournament in London in 1851. After he lost a match to Wilhelm Steinitz of Austria (1866), the latter claimed to be world chess champion. Emanuel Lasker of Germany became so by beating Steinitz (1894). In like fashion the following won the title: Jose R. Capablanca of Cuba (1921), Alexander A. Alekhine of France (1927), and Max Euwe of Holland (1935). Alekhine won again (1937) and died "intestate" (1946). From 1948 to 1952, the Russians Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassili Smyslov, Mikhail Tahl, Tigran Petrosian, and Boris Spas-sky held the world title. But in 1972, in a highly publicized match, U. S. champion Bobby Fischer took the title from Spassky. In 1975, Fischer was stripped of his title by the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE) after he refused to accept federation rules for a championship match. A Russian, Anatoli Karpov, gained the title by default. Various changes in the pieces or 'chessmen' have taken place since it originated. Originally the Queen was a male who acted as a sort of minister or adviser to the King and this piece was limited in its moves. European players elected to make the piece a Queen and gave her far-ranging powers. A Bishop was originally an elephant (a piece from chaturanga ) but English players preferred to make it a Bishop 'while the French decided it should be a court jester and named it 'le fou'. Rooks have been both elephants and chariots but became castles in the course of time. Knights have long been associated with cavalry and the modern pieces are horses' heads. Pawns have always been the infantry and are today represented as a ball on a bell-shaped mount. The game is played on a board divided into 64 alternating black and white (or light and dark) squares. The rows of squares running from a player's back row to his opponent's back row are the files. The lateral rows of squares going from left to right across the board are the ranks. The board is so placed that each player has a white square at his right-hand comer. Each player starts with 16 chessmen and these are placed on his two back ranks. The row of pawns stand immediately in front of the other pieces. White's back rank has the following pieces reading from right to left: King's Rook (sometimes called Castle), King's Knight, King's Bishop, King, Queen, Queen's Bishop, Queen's Knight, Queen's Rook. Black has pieces of the same denomination but note that the Queens stand opposite each other in the same file, as do the Kings. White Queen starts on a white square and Black Queen on a black square. The object of the game is for each player to trap his opponent's King into a position from which it cannot escape. Players move alternately and White always has first move. Who starts is decided by lottery, one player concealing in closed fists a pawn of each colour while his opponent chooses the colour he plays with. In subsequent games the players change over.


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