‘Check It Out, Mate’
Chess is a game that requires strategy and foresight but is frequently seen as ‘boring’ or ‘quiet’ and lacking the entertainment that is readily provided by other physical sports. While this may be subjective, there is one thing for sure – Chess has its own fair share of drama that has stirred controversies and has changed the way people think and play. (Bryne vs Fischer 1956)
However, what surprises me the most about this game is its origins. While most Indians would love to boast that Chess is an ‘Indian’ game, that is not true. Although chess definitely has its origins in the Indian peninsula, it was polished and reorganised in different parts of the world to give way to the modern game that is known to us today.
The beginning of chess dates back to nearly 1500 years ago in India where it was called ‘chaturanga’ which symbolises the four divisions of the military (elephantry, cavalry, infantry, and chariotry). The objective of this game was obviously to win but one did not need to vanquish the king in order to be victorious like it is done today. The game was played for recreational purposes and was played on an 8 * 8 board.
Then, as the Persian and the Arab world began to establish trade with India, this game reached the Persian empire and was called ‘shatranj’ by the 11th century. It is here that the earliest records of chess games are found. The appearance of the pieces was changed as Islam forbids the depiction of animals and human beings in art.
The game then took an unlikely turn and found itself in the lands of China! This time it was called ‘xiangqi’ and the pieces were completely flattened and placed on the intersections of the lines instead of the boxes. Japan also had a variation of this called ‘shogi’ where the board was 9*9 in dimensions and another interesting variation was that all the pieces that were killed could be used by the captor as a part of their army! The game was also available in further scaled-up versions like ‘dai shogi’ (15*15 board) and ‘chu shogi (12*12 board)
Finally the game, after being influenced by the Arabs and the Russians, reached Europe where it evolved into what it is today. Here, the game gained its status as a recreation for the nobility and rich. Chess sets became exquisite, expensive, and popular among artisans who took huge efforts to carve out the sets using crystals, porcelain, jade, and even emeralds. The pieces were red and white instead of the modern white and black since red ink was more easily accessible. The rules of the game were better defined and power was distributed among the pieces to make the game even more challenging and engaging. Funnily enough, the Church opposed the game that was gaining widespread popularity because it encouraged ‘acts of violence’ according to them.
Slowly but surely, chess gained momentum all around the world and was considered a ‘sport’ with a governing body established called the FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or the International Chess Federation) in 1924.
Thus chess is one of the only sports in the world that is a culmination of changes and advancements over various centuries and continents. Each country has some influence and contribution to the origin of chess and is responsible for thousands of variations in the game. Chess is ‘the game of the world’ or more fittingly ‘game of humanity’ that excites players, mathematicians, and psychologists and has applications in hundreds of different fields.
Today, Modern Chess is popularly played online and many official championships are conducted on the Internet as well. Chess engines and AI learning are being used to optimise strategies, openings, and even endgames. An engine called Deep Blue developed by IBM defeated the then-world number one and four-time Chess World Champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. While this result was highly controversial at the time, one thing was sure- machines were better at playing chess but only after studying thousands of games and analysing various permutations and combinations. They lacked the intuition and creativity which only humans could bring to the game.
Today, thousands of chess variants exist that attract different people and make the game increasingly intriguing and difficult. Some examples of these are Speed chess, Hexagonal chess, 4-player chess, and millions more.
Thus, while chess may seem boring and tedious to many, one must try it out before they declare their verdict. If you still find it boring, try watching “The Queen’s Gambit”!
- Gaargi Jamkar