Chess history has a long and rich story spanning multiple decades and centuries even. However, most people don't know where it came from and who invented it.

There are various stories, legends, and multiple theories regarding its origin. But it wasn't up until recently that we have focused on narrowing down its roots.

Customized chess pieces lined up on a brown and black chessboard. The rook, knight, queen, and pawns are visible. Playing chess requires competitors to verse themselves on what the pieces are called and how they move
Chess history has been covered with mystery, and no one has any idea how chess originated even though we all but narrowed its origins down to Central Asia. Learn how to play chess and compete in tournaments all over the world! (Source: Visualhunt)

There is a single agreement amongst people that the game was not just invented by a single person as it too complex. The concepts and rules related to the game were a collective effort.

The origins of the sport are still somewhat shrouded in mystery. There is no reliable evidence that shows the existence of the present form of chess before the 6th Century.

Pieces of the game discovered in Asia have determined chess to be older than most other related board games. Many of them involve dice and often use over 100 playing boards.

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Myth Surrounding Chess History And Origin

When there is a mystery regarding the origins of something, people start concocting juicy inaccuracies and their own myths.

However, there is one myth surrounding chess history that is believed to be quite close to the actual story.

This story takes place in Asia, specifically India. It tells of the tale of an Indian king by the name of Shihram.

Shihram's kingdom was home to a wise man, often harkened as a strategist or mathematician. This man is credited with inventing the game of chess, as he gifted it to the King as a fun activity.

The King enjoyed this game so much that he encouraged everyone in his court and the kingdom to play it. As a reward for introducing him to the game, the King offered to fulfill a single wish.

Since the man was quite wise, he asked the King to give him wheat; however, there was a catch. He asked for the King to provide him with one grain of wheat for the chessboard's first square, then two grains for the second, and continue doubling it for all the board's squares.

Even though the King was quite agitated and confused on this specific wish, he nevertheless chose to honor it.

To his surprise, he soon understood that there was not enough wheat in his entire kingdom to honor the wise man's wish.

As a result, the King was quite impressed by the man's wits and wisdom and decided to make him his advisor.

This story has been told time and again and, according to many, it is the oldest record of chess and its origins.

And if you're interested in learning about the oldest board game in existence, read our guide on how to choose a chess instructor.

Entrance Into Persia

The records also outline the journey of chess into the Persian Empire, a close neighbor to India in those days.

The Sassanid Empire of Persia was introduced to chess by Raja Hind of India. These records are detailed in the book known as Shahnama, which translates to the 'Book of Kings.'

The culture of Persia had a significant influence on the game and its development, and soon enough, the name of the game changed to 'Chatrang.'

There were various name changes, and the introduction of new phrases was also achieved during this time.

Most famous among those is the use of 'Shah mat,' which translates to 'the King is finished' in Persian. It later evolved to become what we all know as 'checkmate.'

After Persia went under Islamic rule, the name 'Chatrang' turned to 'Shatranj' in Arabic. This change paved the way for chess to be exported to Europe, brought by the Moors in the 10th Century.

A life-sized chess board designed on the floor through tiles in the park. There are life-like chess pieces, and it looks as if an intense game is going on. Playing chess is a favorite pastime among older people, especially in countries like Russia and the United States
Shatranj - or Chess - found its way into Europe through the Muslim conquests and was readily adopted by the European royalty. Playing chess was associated with wisdom and knowledge in those days (Source: Visualhunt)
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Introduction To Europe

Shatranj made its way into Europe through Persia by the Byzantines and the expanding Arab empire. According to a 10th-century manuscript, one of the oldest recorded chess games was between a Baghdadi historian and his pupil.

In the 10th Century, the game was brought to Spain, North Africa, and Sicily by the Muslims. At the same time, it was spread to Kievan Rus' by the Eastern Slavs.

The Vikings then brought it to England and Iceland. There was a walrus-ivory chess piece discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831 from the 11th-12th Century – it is believed to belong to the Vikings.

The game did see periodical bans in its time by religious leaders and kings. As an example, King Louis IX banned the game in 1254 in France.

However, its popularity never faltered, and it was boosted by the social status it carried. Owning a chess set during those times was commonly associated with power, wealth, and knowledge.

Therefore, it was quite a favorite amongst royalty. Some notable kings who were reportedly fans of the game include:

  • England: Kings John, Henry I, Henry II, and King Richard.
  • Spain: King Alfonso X the Wise and King Philip II
  • Russia: Ivan the Terrible of Russia

As early as the 15th Century, chess was considered a game strictly enjoyed by royalty.

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Journey Of Chess Via The Silk Road

Chess wasn't just popular in Europe; it was also prominent in Eastern Asia when it passed through the Silk Road to reach China and Japan.

During its travel from the middle-east to the far-east, the rules suffered a slight change, spawning newer variants of chess:

  • Shogi in Japan
  • Xiangqi in China

Some of these changes included edgy rules like placing the pieces on lines instead of inside the square. However, Xiangqi sustained its popularity throughout the ages and is played to date.

The Japanese variant of chess, Shogi, also branched towards quite interesting rules. One of them being that the pieces captured could return to the board.

And if you've started learning chess, here are some things to keep in mind during your lessons.

Modern Chess

Present-day chess has gone through multiple changes and traveled worldwide to reach its current shape and rules.

However, the early version of modern chess strayed from the annals of courts and coffeehouses into the world of writers, artists, and philosophers.

Countless theses' were written on the game by hundreds, and it became the favorite pastime for people of literature.

Chess turned into an inspirational tool, a game displaying wit and strategy. And this was apparent with the crowds it began pulling in.

However, this trend subsided during the Cold War, when the chessboards were given up for guns amongst the world's superpowers.

In contrast, a new era started when IBM introduced its Deep Blue computer. In 1996 the computer defeated the long-term reigning champion of the game Garry Kasparov.

This indicated a revolution to the game, a singularity in the domain of chess. After this, it became common for computers to defeat chess players.

Chinese elderly playing Xiangqi, a variant of chess that became popular in China. Two people play the game while four are gathered around and watching the game being played on a stone table. If you have found yourself as part of a chess audience, you may be interested in taking chess lessons online
Chess entered Eastern Asia through the Silk Road and was readily adopted by the people, albeit with slight rule changes. Playing chess turned to playing Xiangqi in China and playing Shogi in Japan (Source: Visualhunt)

The earliest adopters of chess may never have expected this. However, the game that they passed down the centuries should have predicted all the possible consequences of machine versus human.

These days, you can even find private tutors who will come home and teach you how to play like a pro. And they aren't even expensive!

Become Part Of History And Start Playing Chess

Since its apparent origins, the masses have adopted chess, and today, it is seen as a game played by intelligent people.

The game has changed over the centuries, and it will continue to change with time. It was once the game of royalty; now it has TV series being made on it!

Furthermore, it was hard to find someone to teach chess in the old days; now, you can easily learn to play chess online.

And if you are sold on learning chess, hundreds of programs and tutors are available on Superprof. Learning chess for beginners has never been this easy!

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Ian