Home Home


Shatranj Manuscript

Chess may have had its origins in a 4th century game called "chaturanga" (from North-West India), although there is little definite evidence of the game before the 6th century in Persia. From there it appears to have been learned by Arabs (who named it Shatranj) and then spread to Europe in the 8th century at the time of the great Arab invasion, reaching Germany and England from France at the time of the Norman Conquest. This early form (substantially the form still played in the East) was characterised by the use of abstract pieces (the use of images being banned in most Islamic cultures), and differed slightly in its playing rules from modern chess, which began to evolve in Europe during the 15th century.

Early Europe

The earliest European source to mention chess is the will of a Catalan nobleman Count Ermengol of Uthell who in AD1008 bequeathed his chess pieces to a convent in France, and by the end of the 11th Century the game was established throughout Europe in aristocratic circles, from Spain and Italy to Scandinavia, the German lands and the British Isles. However the only physical evidence that remains of the early game in Europe is the world-famous group of 12th Century "Lewis Chessmen", discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (93 pieces carved in walrus-ivory, being 82 held in the British Museum and 11 held in Edinburgh).

First Books
Caxton Page

In the medieval period chess was mentioned in courtly tales and romances, but the two earliest surviving printed books on chess belong to the 15th century: "The Game and Playe of the Chesse" printed by William Caxton in 1474 (and incidentally only the second book ever printed in English), and a "Repeticion" (or discourse) by a Spaniard named Lucena in 1497. Certain rule-changes were then introduced in the 16th century to make the game more dynamic (for example the pawn initial double-move, the bishops' speed and castling), and in 1561 a Spanish nobleman bishop named Ruy Lopez (1530-80) published a treatise marking the beginnings of what is termed modern chess.

Growing Popularity

The game also spread to Italy, from where Paolo Boi (1528-98) toured most of civilised Europe, playing and defeating all the masters of chess (including Lopez). Another player, Greco (1600-34), had an important influence on the game by teaching and presenting to patrons his manuscripts about openings. In this period the systematic naming of openings also began to emerge. Ideas about fast development followed by attack were promoted by players from Modena near Bologna (Del Rio, Lolli, Ponziani), who published books that later formed the "Modenese" school. Until the middle of the 18th century however there were no players (with the exception perhaps of the Frenchman Philidor, 1725-96) whose play could bear comparison with the great modern masters of the game.

Golden Age

From the 1730s onwards chess began to be played in the fashionable Coffee Houses (ie. cafés) of London, Paris and other European centres, popularising the game among the newly forming middle classes of society. Then in the early 1840s a further surge of interest began, leading to the emergence of the first modern masters such as Staunton (1810-74), Andersson (1818-79), Steinitz (1836-1900) and Morphy (1837-84), each of whom contributed greatly to the theory of openings and positional play. Staunton also organised the first International Tournament (in London in 1851).

Modern and Hyper-modern Schools

Shortly before the First World War another group of young and gifted players (notably Nimzovitch (1886-1935) and Réti (1889-1929) came to the fore with strategies that eventually came to be known as the hyper-modern school. At one time Nimzowitsch was ranked third in the world behind Capablanca (1888-1942) and Alekhine (1892-1946), two former world champions (and great rivals). All of these as writers and players further revived the game in practice and principle, but it was probably Steinitz (first world champion and founder of the modern school of chess) who has contributed most to chess theory.

20th Century

Since then, except for the brief reign of an American, Bobby Fischer, chess in the 20th century has been dominated by the Russians with Anatolie Karpov and Garry Kasparov its greatest exponents. Indeed, many regard Kasparov as the greatest chess player of all time, despite his losing to new world champion Vladimir Kramnik in November 2000 after a fifteen year reign.

Basics - Notation History History 1 - World Champions Basics - Chess Terms
HomeBasicsOpenings GuideShort Group-ListFull Alpha-ListSight Tests