The History of Chess

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A Game of Chess. Image: Public Domain

The history of the game of chess dates back 1500 years. Its origins have been debated between India (where it was called Chaturanga) and China. From Asia the game spread to Persia, and then Southern Europe after the Arab invasion of Persia. It’s in Persia that archaeologists have discovered the oldest chess pieces. From Persia the game spread across the world, for example in Russia through Mongolia, where it was played from the 7th century, cementing its presence and importance there.

The spread of chess has resulted in some modifications. For example, the power of the queen increased in European versions of the game. Modifications have also taken place through time. For example in early European versions of the game bishops were allowed to continue only two spaces diagonally, the queen could only move one space diagonally, and the pawn weren’t allowed two spaces at the beginning of the game.

In the 15th century the influence of the Italian game, chess pieces and their movements began to modernise.

Chess is played regularly by millions of people around the world and statistically played once a year by 70% of the Indian population and 12% of the British population.

A summary of the Chess Game

Chess is a game with two opposed players. It is a game of strategy, and it can be very tense as it’s never possible to predict the opponent’s movements. Each game is unique as expert players always develop new strategies to defeat their opponent. The objective of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king, this means that when your attack is final and the king can’t escape, the game has been won. Checkmate is the point at which the king cannot escape, therefore the king is never technically captured.

Chess Competitions

There are discussions to have chess included as an Olympic sport. FIDE (the official chess body) organises a world tournament every two years applying the rules set up for Olympic sports, including a doping test. In 1924 only 16 countries joined the tournament as opposed to 133 countries in 2006. Russia won the last tournament organised by FIDE, and has achieved the title 18 times since 1924.

Chess and the Arts

Artists have been fascinated by chess through the centuries making it the subject of their manuscripts and artworks. Manuscripts illustrating the rules of chess have been found, the most popular being medievalist Scacchia ludus, by Marco Girolamo Vida. Chess was an inspiration for poets too. The first known painting currently featuring chess dates from 1143 and is located in Norman Palace of Palermo. Another famous chess painting is The chess game by Sofonisba Anguissola, from 1555.

In the 20th century artists took inspiration from famous players (such as Vladimir Nabokov in The Defense). Other artists such as Terry Pratchett invented new moves in the game such as the stealth chess, or the tri-dimensional chess of the Star Trek.

Marcel Duchamp and Chess

Marcel Duchamp was obsessed with chess. He almost gave up his career as an artist to become a professional chess player. His painting The Chess game 1910, reflects his passion for the game. He also made charcoal and ink studies depicting two chess players in which he focussed a representation of the mental activity of the chess players.

Chess Auctions

The value of chess games depends on two main factors: the material used for the board and pieces, as well as their quality. Last year Sotheby’s hosted the “Islamic World” auction, which included chess from the collection of Lothar Schmid. He owned a vast collection of chess books, said to be the largest known private chess library in the world. It also included chess art, chess boards and chess pieces from all over the world.

Value My Stuff chess game specialist has valued many chess sets. Amongst them is a very interesting Japanese ivory chess set from 1947. The set was made after the second world war during the US occupation of Japan. Japanese sets are rarer than Chinese sets.

Another example is a decorative chess board and carrying tray from Southern France dated 1877. The area of Southern France received a lot of influence from Italy in that period. The inlaid work of the chess set comes from Sorrento.

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