According to Chess Directory, the origins of chess can be traced back to the Gupta Empire in India, sometime in the 6thcentury. However, it was not the same chess game that we know today.
The game Chaturanga meaning “four arms” refered to the four arms of the Gupta military which consisted of infantry, cavalry, chariots, and elephants. The game was developed on the Ashtapada board, a Sanskrit term describing the boards 8×8 dimensions. This board was already being used for other popular games of the time and had distinct markings on some of the squares. These markings are believed to have been used for other games but were simply ignored when playing chess.
Chaturanga could be played by a maximum of four players, each starting off with a total of eight chess pieces. The game could be played in teams of two or as a free-for-all. Like chess, each piece had unique abilities and the game was over after capturing the other sides king.
The game soon spread to other cultures. In Persia the game was referred to as Shatranj. The Persians began shouting “Shah” meaning “king” when they were closing in on an attack and “Shah Mat” meaning “the king is helpless” when victory was inevitable. These terms later turned into “check” and “checkmate”.
The Muslim culture further influenced the game after the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7thcentury. The chess pieces in use at the time were considered idolatry because they resembled animals. Therefore, the pieces were given abstract shapes in order to stay consistent with religious practices.
During the 9thcentury, chess had spread to Russia and the majority of Europe. Thanks to merchants traveling along the Silk Road, chess also made its way into Asia where it developed into the popular game “xiangqi” or Chinese chess.
Between the 12thand 15thcentury, chess continued to grow. Pieces resembling bishops, queens, kings, and knights began to appear. By 1500 AD modifications designed to speed up game play were gaining popularity. Pawns could move two spaces on the first move and Bishops were allowed greater movement on the board. The queen, which was previously a weak piece, was also given greater mobility on the board.
By the 19thcentury, professional chess organizations and competitions began to appear. Events were covered by newspapers which continued to spark public interest.
Chess continued to grow as a competitive sport and in 1924 the World Chess Federation was formed.