the history and evolution of chess

The game of chess, also known as the game of kings, goes back hundreds of years. There has been much dispute over where it originated and who created the popular and well-loved game. Chess has a fascinating and complex history, and most people believe that it was not invented by just one person, but several individuals.

The intricate nature of the game has pushed this belief into people’s minds as it seems highly improbable that only one person could have created the varied and strategic game that is chess. As with many things, the answer to who invented chess is more complicated than pointing to simply one man's brilliant innovation.

who invented chess

Chess Evolved As It Migrated From India To Europe

The earliest examples that we know of a two-player strategic war game that resembles the modern European-style chess game come from India around 1,000 AD. As European and Middle Eastern traders moved back and forth between Indian and Europe, it is likely that the game was also imported along with spices and other treasures. As it became popular among the feudal European nobility, pieces were adapted to resemble their own military and monarchic structures. 

However, the core game that we play today can be traced back to this original game and the variations that became popular in Persia (modern Iran) all resemble a striking similarity. 

The Indian game of chaturanga though evolved from even earlier strategy games that involved moving tokens across different squares on a board as a mock battle between two or more players. While there were similar games, chaturanga has multiple unique elements that are directly linked to the modern European game. This includes the fact that different game pieces have distinct roles and abilities (unlike checkers for instance where all the tokens are the same) and that there is a singular King piece that the game's victory condition revolves around.

There are many legends and rumors about how this came to be. However, one famous legend about how chess came to include the tale of a tyrant king in India, who had little interest in the people that he ruled. This despot was shown by a wise man that each resident in his kingdom was important. To make his point, the wise man created the game of chess.

The legend continues that he started the game of chess by putting a king in the game, along with his queen and pawns. By making these enhancements to an earlier game, he was trying to demonstrate that even the pawns played an important role in the monarchy's success. These seemingly unimportant people were shown in the game to be vital for the kingdom to thrive and could be more than simply fodder in the event of war.

Whether you want to believe that tale or not, it does an excellent job illustrating the game's complexity and intrigue. However, realistically, this legend attributes the invention of chess to an unnamed person who is more likely not an actual person but rather a tale told among men discussing politics and war.

Strategic Games Like Chess In China Too

While the vast majority of people believe that chess originated in India, many think it actually started in China. A popular story is that China had a great commander named Hán Xin, who created the game to simulate a well-known battle during his time. However, the game was buried in memory over the years, and when it finally resurfaced, the rules changed dramatically. By this time it was entirely different from the current game of chess and was known as “XiangQi”, or, more commonly, “the elephant game”. Additionally, the board for the game was different, along with the pieces and rules.

In addition to China, archeological evidence of early strategy games similar to chess have been found in Russia, Central Asia, and Pakistan. Even checkers itself is part of this evolution. The earliest forms of that game date back to more than 3,000 BC in the Sumerian city of Ur and later spread to Egypt, Rome, and eventually modern Europe.

Modern Chess Draws From European Feudal Society

After surviving the 15th century of persecution by religious figures banning content, the rules of chess eventually solidified and the game we know today became standardized in the 19th century. One commonly known game occurring in 1851 was between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Keiseritsky, and became known as the “Immortal Game”. In this scenario, nearly all Anderssen’s chessmen had been knocked out of play to checkmate the opponent’s king and win the game.

International Chess Tournaments And Consistent Rules In The 1880's

After many years of gaining more popularity for those attracted to the game's strategy, there eventually followed tournaments for avid chess players to compete in. The first World Champion of chess was a man named Wilhelm Steinitz in 1886, and soon after chess tournaments became a common occurrence. While in the past, chess was a game mostly used by the wealthy or privileged, in time it became a fun recreational pastime for those of all classes. When the technological age of the 20th century kicked in, chess could be played online and on chess sites.
Overall, there is no one person who invented chess, as it was a collection of individuals strategizing new rules and tactics within the ever-changing evolution of the game.

Chess Becomes An Important Measure Of Modern AI

For hundreds of years, chess prowess has been recognized as a measure of mental ability and a man's ability to create the perfect strategy in war. As computer technology and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, it is no surprise then that chess is being used as a measure of man vs machine.

This process started back in 1956 when a computer became the first to defeat a human opponent using the MANIAC computer at Los Alamos Scientific Library. Matches continue to evolve with the best computers and artificial intelligence technology facing off against the best human competitors. Despite massively improved technological development since the 1950s humans aren't out of the game.

However, when the top computers go head to head against the top human grandmasters, it is clear that the virtually limitless processing power that modern computers offer makes it virtually impossible for human opponents to succeed. As such, it isn't a surprise that no human has beaten a computer in a top chess tournament in more than 15 years.

That doesn't mean that the game is over though, chess is a great tool to continue refining human-like artificial intelligence and decision making and so the new challenge is to train computers to play more like humans and as such, create an enjoyable and challenging environment to push human ability.

One example of this is the chess engine Komodo that is among the most popular options for chess players to test their skills.

The Origins Of Chess Will Continue To Be Debated

There will always be a debate on the official origin of chess and about who created it and the original location where it had its beginnings. However, other than educated hypotheses, historical trends, and documentation of the game, there is no exact answer to who invented chess. All we can do is appreciate the many legends, myths, and stories about how chess became a favorite for those who love a good game of strategy.

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