Chess is a game of skill and strategy between two people, played using specially designed pieces on a square board made up of 64 alternating light and dark squares in eight rows of eight squares each.
In chess each player controls an army comprised of eight pawns and eight pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks (sometimes called “castles”), two bishops, and two knights. Although the term pieces is sometimes used to refer to all 16 chess figures, it technically does not refer to pawns. The two armies are of contrasting colors, one light and the other dark, and are always called White and Black regardless of their actual colors. The vertical columns on the board that extend from one player to the other are called files, and the horizontal rows are called ranks. The diagonal lines across the board are called diagonals.
Chess is a popular game played around the world. It has a history that extends back thousands of years. Historians cannot tell for sure how old the game of chess is and who invented it.
THE ORIGIN OF “CHESS”
Chess is one of a group of games descended from chaturanga, a game believed to have originated in India in the 6th century or perhaps earlier, which itself may be related to a much older Chinese game. Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word referring to the four arms or divisions of an Indian army; elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry which inspired the four types of pieces in the game.
Chaturanga spread eastward to China, and then through Korea to Japan. It also appeared in Persia after the Islamic conquest (638-651). In Persia the game was first called chatrang, the Persian form of chaturanga and then shatranj the Arabic form of the word. The spread of Islam to Sicily and the invasion of Spain by the Moors brought shatranj to Western Europe, and it reached Russia through trade routes from several directions. By the end of the 10th century, the game was well known throughout Europe. It attracted the serious interest of kings, philosophers, and poets and the best players recorded their games for posterity. Problems or puzzles, in which the solver has to find a solution such as a forced checkmate in a given number of moves became popular during the 12th and 13th centuries.
MODERN HISTORY OF “CHESS”
The game of chess as it exists today emerged in southern Europe toward the end of the 15th century. Some of the old shatranj rules were modified, new rules were added such as castling, the two-square pawn advance, and the en passant capture also the powers of certain pieces were increased. The most important changes turned the fers (i.e. counselor), a weak piece in shatranj was turned into the queen, the strongest piece in chess, and the alfil which moved in two-square steps, into the far-ranging chess bishop. The new game achieved popularity all over Europe. Some of the best players of the 15th and 16th centuries, notably Lucena and Ruy Lopez of Spain and Damiano of Portugal, recorded their games and theories in widely circulated books of chess instruction. In the second half of the 16th century, Italian players such as Polerio and Greco dominated the game.
The greatest figure in the early history of modern chess was the 18th-century French player François-André Danican Philidor. He was the leading chess player of his time and a renowned composer. In 1749 Philidor published one of the most influential theoretical works in chess history, L’analyse du jeu des Échecs (Analysis of the Game of Chess), which was eventually translated into many languages. Philidor was the first to analyze many of the main strategic elements of chess and to recognize the importance of proper pawn play.
French players continued their dominance of the game into the 19th century.
In 1834 Louis Charles de la Bourdonnais played a series of six matches in London against the best English player, Alexander McDonnell. Bourdonnais won 45 of the 85 games and lost 27 (there were 13 draws). The games played in these matches were published and analyzed worldwide. In 1843 English player Howard Staunton decisively defeated the leading French player, Pierre Charles de Saint-Amant, by a match score of 11 wins, 6 losses, and 4 draws. Staunton, the world’s foremost chess figure in the mid-19th century, wrote several important theoretical works and commissioned a new design for chess pieces which remains the standard. He also organized the first international chess tournament, held in London in 1851, which was won by German player Adolf Anderssen.
The first great American chess player was Paul Morphy. In 1858 Morphy traveled to Europe, having demonstrated his superiority over all his American rivals at an early age, to prove himself against the finest players in the world. Within six months he had won matches by overwhelming scores against several prominent players, including Anderssen. Because of his youth and the extraordinary quality of his games, Morphy was hailed as a genius and was recognized as the best chess player in the world. But after returning to the United States, Morphy became mentally ill and never again played chess competitively.
In the mid-19th century the center of chess activity returned to Europe, where Wilhelm Steinitz, Siegbert Tarrasch, Emanuel Lasker, and other great masters advanced the theory and practice of chess through their games and writings. Chess had long been popular in Russia, and after the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Communist government began a program of chess education for children, sponsored many important chess events, and provided financial support for its best players. As a result, players from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) have long dominated international chess. The only interruption of Soviet chess power came in 1972 when American Bobby Fischer won the world championship from Boris Spassky in the most widely publicized chess match in history. However, in 1975 another Soviet, Anatoly Karpov, won the championship by default when Fischer’s demands for new match rules were not accepted and he refused to defend his title.
Although the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, the highest levels of world chess are still dominated by players trained under the Soviet system. The hegemony of these players is being threatened by a new influence on the game: which is computers.
The first computer programs that could play chess emerged in the 1960s. Although the programs played according to the rules, they were easily defeated. Rapid improvement followed and today computer chess programs can defeat top players. During the 1990s, computer scientists working for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) developed a chess computer named Deep Blue that was capable of analyzing millions of chess positions every second. In 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov defeated the computer in a highly publicized match, 4 games to 2. Kasparov faced an improved version of Deep Blue a year later in a rematch. The enhanced computer was capable of processing 200 million positions per second. (It is estimated that Kasparov is capable of analyzing 3 positions per second.) Kasparov won the first game of the rematch, but after Deep Blue secured draws in games 3, 4, and 5 and victories in games 2 and 6, Kasparov lost, 3.5 games to 2.5. The event marked the first-ever series defeat of a world chess champion by a computer.
Computer chess is increasing the popularity of the game, especially in the United States and particularly among children. The growing availability of computer programs that can play chess from the beginner to the master level makes it possible for enthusiasts to improve their game by competing against any level of player at any time.