The universality of chess is an intriguing topic as you dive deeper into the culture in which it has grown since its inception. However, chess came a long way before being recognized as the household name it is today.
This begs the question: When was chess invented?
There is a debate as to when chess was invented. A school of thought suggests that chess began as early as 2620 B.C.E., while a vast majority would agree that chess began in the 6th century through the game Chaturanga.
Either way, the beginnings of chess have been around for at least multiple centuries, and its development into the game we know today was a slow process.
Was Chess Invented During B.C.E?
Some schools of thought debate that the origin of the game comes from the earlier civilization of Egypt in 2620 B.C.E. with a board game called senet.
Senet is a game that consists of a 30-square board with 10 in each row. Pieces move from square 1 to 30 in a zig-zag motion. The player starts at square 1 found at the top left. Square 30, on the other hand, is at the bottom right.
Both players compete to have all their pieces cross the final square.
Senet was passed down to the succeeding Greek and Roman civilizations as petteia or ludus latrunculorum, respectively. The main proposal is that petteia was a variant of chess that emerged from merchants that would play and bring the game along the Silk Road.
The argument against this perspective is that the game senet contains more differences than similarities. Apart from both being board games, there is little to no similarity between how senet‘s and chess’ gameplay is structured.
It could be that senet was the first board game to exist, making it an indirect origin of chess. Otherwise, there is little evidence to connect the two directly.
What Game Did Chess Come From?
A vast majority that studies the history of chess recognizes the origin of chess as a game called Chaturanga. The name references a battle formation stated in the Mahabharata, an Indian-Sanskrit epic about the war between two prominent families.
Chaturanga was invented somewhere in the 6th century. The name comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “four limbs.” The meaning alludes to the four different types of pieces one can use. In addition to these four main pieces, a player possesses a general and a raja, or the king.
Historians see Chaturanga as the predecessor of chess because the foundations of the game are similar to how we play chess today. The key similarities include different roles and powers between set pieces and the win condition depending on the central piece’s condition.
These two conditions became significant characteristics of the multiple variants of chess that grew from this period.
How Did Chess Evolve?
Eventually, Chaturanga gained popularity, evolved, and grew through the developing trading routes along almost all sides of Asia for the next centuries.
The game has taken on multiple variants since then. What started in India in the 6th century only introduced itself to China in 750 C.E.
Since multiple countries had different versions of the game, marking its progress linearly during this period has proven tricky.
The most relevant development in the history of chess during this time was the Persian civilization’s take on Chaturanga, called chatrang. Chatrang would then be adopted by the Muslims following their conquest of Persia, leading to the introduction to Europe in the 12th century.
How Did the West Develop Chess?
We recognize Chaturanga‘s entrance to the West as a milestone not only because of its contributions to the rules of chess, but also how the West was able to standardize these changes into one coherent game for the world to play.
Encroachment Upon Europe
Through Persia, chatrang found its way to Europe in the 12th century. The game would see most of the developments that made it into the chess we know today in the different countries of Europe.
An example is the ability of the pawn to move two squares for its first turn. Established somewhere between the 13th-14th century, players only properly accepted the rule centuries after.
Rules of the Game
Perhaps the most notable year concerning the game’s development came in 1475. In Valencia, Spain, different circles would develop new rules that made chess much more recognizable compared to its present counterpart.
The two most significant changes were the inclusion of the queen and the bishop, and the updates to the different pieces’ movements. In addition, the pawns’ mobility now had the ability to move two squares for their first turn.
Players across Europe slowly observed these new mechanics. However, much like the prior developments of Chaturanga, these changes were not accepted immediately. It took another few centuries before they were officially recognized and observed.
The Search For Competition
Chess is a game driven by competition and continues to grow based on how different players approach this competition.
The following two centuries after the establishment of the rules of chess would shift most of its focus toward developing theories and strategies for playing and assuring success in the game.
In 1749, Francois-Andre Philidor began to develop chess theory by providing a layout of the different phases of the game, namely the opening stages, the middle game, and the endgame. Each phase involves different approaches and strategies to set the player up for success.
In 1851, Howard Staunton held the first-ever international tournament for chess. The tournament was not officially recognized during this time but marked the start of serious competition for the game.
The tournament was won by one Adolf Anderssen, a German school teacher.
While there is a dispute regarding the origins of chess, there is a consensus that it started in the 6th century through Chaturanga.
However, chess is a game that continues to grow ever so slowly, and you may even argue that it continues to reinvent itself today.