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Origins of Chess

Chess originated from the Indian game Chaturanga, about 1400 years ago. It reached Russia via Mongolia, where it was played at the beginning of the 7th century. From India it migrated to Persia and mutated into the game of Shatranj, and spread throughout the Islamic world after the Muslim conquest of Persia. It was introduced into Spain by the Moors in the 10th century, where a famous games manuscript covering chess, backgammon, and dice named the Libro de los juegos, was written under the sponsorship of Alfonso X of Castile during the 13th century. Chess reached England in the 11th century, and evolved through various versions such as Courier.

Speeding up the game

In an effort to speed up the game, several rule modifications were introduced. This lead to a split between the old rules, e.g., the English short assize, and the new rules, English long assize. The King and Queen were given the privilege to leap on their first move to any square they could reach in two moves. They could never capture with the leap. The King could not leap out of, in to, or through check. Before long, pawns gained the option of moving two squares on their first move and the en passant capture therewith.

"Mad Queen" chess

By the end of the 15th century, most of the modern rules for the basic moves had been adopted (from Italy): bishops could move arbitrarily far along an open diagonal (previously being limited to a move of exactly two squares diagonally) while losing the ability to jump over the intervening square, and the queen was allowed to move arbitrarily far in any direction, making it the most powerful piece. (Before, she could only move one square diagonally.) There were still variations in rules for castling and the outcome in the case of stalemate.


Castling evolved from conventional openings involving the King's leap. First one would move the rook next to the King, then the king would on a later move leap over the rook. Many forms of a combined King and Rook move evolved to capture this as a single move. The French castle by exchanging the position of the castle and the King. The Italians castle by moving the king two houses, and then placing the castle where the King was previously. In Rome the modern form of castling had come into ordinary use by 1585.

Play and Players

The greatest chess players of the 16th Century are the Spaniard, Father Ruy Lopez, and the Neapolitan called Il Bambino.

Do not play The Kid for money.

In point of fact, as chess goes, one would be well to follow Signor Castiglione's advice in The Book of the Courtier --

Signor Gaspare replied: "And what do you say about the game of chess?"
"That is certainly a refined and ingenious recreation," said Federico, "but it seems to me to possess one defect; namely, that it is possible for it to demand too much knowledge, so that anyone who wishes to become an outstanding player must, I think, give to it as much time and study as he would to learning some noble science or performing well something or other of importance; and yet for all his pains when all is said and done all he knows is a game. Therefore as far as chess is concerned we reach what is a very rare conclusion: that mediocrity is more to be praised than excellence."

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