History of Chess

Though the exact age and origin of chess are not certain, it is known that chess, as we know it today, descends from a game called chaturanga. Chaturanga is believed to have originated in 6th century India, if not descending from an even earlier game from China.  The name chaturanga is a Sanskrit word, which refers to the four divisions of an Indian army.  These four divisions were elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry, and are believed to be the origin of the four types of pieces used in chaturanga.

Spreading eastward, chaturanga spread through China, Korea, and Japan.  After the Islamic conquest (638-651), chaturanga made its way to Persia where it was called by two names: chatrang was the Persian name, and shatranj was the Arabic name.  Chaturanga then made its way to Europe by way of the spread of Islam to Sicily and the Moorish invasion of Spain.  Trade routes throughout Europe helped to spread the game across the continent and through Russia.  By the 10th century, chaturanga had become very well known and was a favorite of the upper class including kings, poets, and philosophers.

Chess, as we know it today, evolved from chaturanga and first emerged in Europe some time toward the end of the 15th century.  Some of the old chaturanga rules were modified, and some new rules were added to allow for a faster game.  New rules such as the two square pawn advance and castling helped to change the pace of the game, but the most significant changes came from the power added to certain pieces on the game board.  The fers, also known as the counselor in shatranj, which was a relatively weak piece in the original game, was turned into the most powerful piece in modern chess, the queen.  Also of great significance was the change of the alfil, which moved in two square steps, into the bishop.  The game achieved great popularity throughout Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries and would make its move to America soon thereafter.