The history of chess isn’t especially clear – there’s hardly a country in the world that doesn’t claim to have invented it, including China, Egypt, Greece, Uzbekistan and (most unbelievably) Ireland. Given the evidence, however, it seems most likely than the game of chess has its origins in 6th century India, and was then refined in Persia, from where it travelled to Europe and much later on to America.
The word ‘chess’ itself is believed to be a mangled pronunciation of the Persian word ‘shah’, which means king (and is still used today, as in ‘Shah of Iran’). ‘Checkmate’, in this theory, comes from ‘shah mat’, which is Persian for ‘the king is finished’.
Chess is notable in the development of games because it does not use dice, meaning that there is no element of luck involved – it is a game of pure skill and strategy. One Indian legend has the game being created by a wise man who was asked by a king to create a game that would enhance his mental abilities and have nothing to do with luck.
While India is keen to claim chess, however, it is hotly disputed. Most Chinese people believe that China invented chess, and also believe that the game is far inferior to Go, which is both older and generally considered more difficult. The Chinese point out that Go has existed since at least 2,000BC, and is played without dice, making it a very likely inspiration for chess.
Iran (Persia), on the other hand, claims that chess is derived from its invention of backgammon, and cite writings and poems that seem to put its date further back than the Indian version. There is no doubting that the version of chess that came to Europe we play today came mainly from Persia, but it is difficult to know exactly where Persia got its inspiration from.
By John Gibb
John Gibb is the owner of Chess resources
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