A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHESS:
The beautiful game of Chess as we all know it is one that has witnessed numerous evolutions in its long history. Its origins have been hugely debated by Historians, however, many believe that its earliest predecessors dates back to the early 6th Century - about 1500 years ago, in the Indian Gupta Empire where it was known as Chaturanga (meaning 'army comprising of four divisions'), which were the infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry all of which have evolved into the modern-day Pawn, Knight, Bishop and Rook respectively. The Queen was then called the Counsellor. A minority of historians still argue that the game originated in China.
From India, the game spread to Persia. In Persia, the rules were refined, and players started calling Shah! (meaning 'King' in Persian) when threatening the opponent's king (as in modern day 'check'), and Shah mat! (Persian for 'the king is helpless') when the king was trapped (as in modern day 'checkmate'). These phrases persisted in chess as it journeyed to other lands. In fact, the game became associated with the education of Persian nobility! On conquering Persia, the Arabs took over the game and so it became associated with the Islamic world. Most of the pieces kept their Persian names. The ancient words for chess in both Arabic and Old Persian are Shatranj and Chatrang respectively — words derived from Chaturanga. Chess was subsequently spread to Southern Europe through the Moorish conquest of Spain. From its arrival in Europe, the game has since seen many changes in the design, names and relative values of the pieces, its rules (making it more fast-paced and thrilling such as with the introduction of the initial pawn double-step move in the 15th Century and openings dominated by gambit and the introduction of the chess clock), popularity (with an International Chess body - FIDE, established in Paris in the summer of 1924). The game was developed extensively in Europe and it had survived a number of prohibitions form the Christan church to become the game we know it as today!
A timeline of the game highlighting key milestones in its development is shown: (Wikipedia)
- 600AD: First clear reference to chess, in a Persian manuscript.
- ~700AD: Date of first undoubted chess pieces.
- 800AD: Moors of North Africa bring chess to Spain and Sicily
- 900AD: Early Muslim chess masters, as-Suli and al-Lajlaj write works on the technique of chess.
- 1000AD: Chess widespread in Europe, including Russia.
- 1300AD: First European comments on chess in sermons and stories.
- 1475–1500AD: Birth of the modern game: especially, new moves for queen and bishop.
- 1495: First printed chess book.
- 1497: First printed chess book to survive to the present day.
- 1600: First professional player-writers.
- 1780s: First master games to be recorded as they were played.
- 1836: First chess magazine.
- 1849: First national chess tournament.
- 1851: First international chess tournament.
- 1866: First match to be timed by clock.
- 1883: First tournament to use specially designed chess clocks.
- 1886: First acknowledged world championship match.
Despite all the changes, the backbone of this beautiful game has remained the same. The pieces have remained more or less unchanged from 1300 years ago, with their movements and relative powers remaining constant for more than 500 years. After it gained popularity in the old Soviet Union in the 1930s (it is for this reason that Russia and other Eastern European countries are the current chess superpowers), it has seen unprecedented growth both in the media and teaching. India and China are becoming the new chess superpowers although Japan and Korea still have their own versions of chess like the 'Shogi' (Japanese chess).
The University of Essex Chess Society aims to create greater awareness about the game of chess and get more people playing more frequently. You may have heard of the saying that chess is a game without boundaries; this is very true! It can be played and enjoyed by both young and old, regardless of sex, race, class, religion and physical disability. It can be played at any pace of your choosing, with games lasting anywhere from a few seconds to many years! It can be timed or untimed. Chess is a game with numerous health benefits. It strikes a balance between strategy and tactics and helps in building self-discipline, patience and planning, tactical reasoning, problem-solving and pattern recognition skills. It also helps older people keep their brains active, reducing chances of dementia and Alzheimer's; improving memory and focus. These qualities are not only beneficial to study at University but also to life afterwards.
Benjamin Franklin (a polymath and one of the founding fathers of the US) in his article 'The morals of chess' stresses the relevant of chess to a person's life. He compares life to a game of chess; in which we gain points and have to contend with our adversaries, scrupulously seeking and ready to utilise any opportunity we can get, capitalising on the errors of said competitors. He stated in the article that playing chess develops three aspects of our being: Foresight, Circumspection and Caution. This links in with the aims of our society. We understand that chess is synonymous with the constant striving for self-improvement. The fact the game is all about advancing forward constantly with no back turns whilst keeping one's mind solely on a final goal (checkmating the king) is what captivates me about the game.
In order to achieve our aforementioned aim, the University of Essex Chess Society will:
- Organise weekly meetings in order for chess games to be played in a friendly yet competitive setting.
- Strive to develop the interest of beginners in the game by encouraging regular play and learning sessions
- Arrange regular meetings with the sole objective of training in order to build a stronger team of players.
- Affiliate ourselves with an external body such as the Colchester Chess Club so as to be able to take part in regional tournaments
- Organise mini-tournaments and other events within the University in order to draw in non-players.
- Organise monthly trips to local schools in order to give talks about the game and help in developing an interest in chess in the younger generation.
- Encourage the use of chess software, the internet and other means available in order allows members to train outside meeting times
- Make use of the available chess sets free to use around campus as a result of the Project X, thus further encouraging regular play.
We meet thrice every week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 18:00 to 20:00 in room 6.348. Come and witness what we do. Remember to bring a friend along!