History and facts about chess
Chess originated nearly 1,500 years ago in northern India. This strategic marvel has conquered continents, inspired works of literature, facilitated diplomatic ties and, most recently, seized the limelight in the digital realm. We embark on a journey through the riveting narrative of chess, a game that evolved from the ancient war fields of Chaturanga — present-day India — to the silver screen's prominence in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit.
In the hazy 6th century emerged “Chaturanga,” which translated from Sanskrit means “four-imbed” or “four arms”, also known as the “four divisions of the military” — infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariotry, paralleled by the pawn, knight, bishop and rook of chess. This precursor to chess was a beautiful testament to the strategic brilliance of the Gupta Empire. It is believed to be the common ancestor not only for chess but other games throughout the world: Xiangqi (Chinese), Janggi (Korean), Shogi (Japanese), Sittuyin (Burmese), Makruk (Thai) and modern Indian chess.
The game of chess spread meanders through the Islamic world, where it morphed from a battle simulation to a cerebral pastime of tactical wit and was rechristened as “Shatranj”. Fun tidbit for the trivia buffs: “checkmate” is derived from the Arabic Shāh Māta, translating to “the King is helpless”.
The 15th-century chessboard witnessed a pivotal reshuffling. Europe’s chess maestros revolutionised the Queen, transforming her from a limited piece into the board’s omnipotent power, echoing Queen Isabella I’s reign in Spain. This turn of events spotlighted the Queen as the supreme power in chess.
A mind-boggling fact: the potential chess games outnumber the atoms in the observable universe, clocking in at a staggering ten games to the power of 120 — a testament to chess's boundless complexity. This is known as the Shannon Number.
Now, let’s talk about what makes chess truly special. It is ageless and remarkably accessible. It’s a game where a ten-year-old can compete against a 40-year-old as an equal, highlighting its intellectual rather than physical demands. This allows chess to have a unique characteristic that sets it apart from many other sports. While the enjoyment of most games amplifies as players’ skills improve, chess remains equally engaging whether it is being played by two beginners or a pair of grandmasters. Its fascination persists whether you are actively playing, still learning or just spectating.
Chess pirouetted gracefully into the digital age, trading royal courts for virtual landscapes. Internet Chess Servers in the 1990s democratised the game, culminating in Chess.com, the reigning digital titan hosting more than 100 million games every month.
The Queen’s Gambit, a gripping tale of a mid-century chess whiz, has rekindled global interest in the age-old game. The series’ impact was such that “how to play chess” Google searches and chess set sales underwent a significant surge, reinforcing the enduring charm of the game. Now, you might wonder, what’s behind the intriguing title, The Queen’s Gambit? Simply put, it is a classic chess opening move where a player risks one pawn, aiming to control the game’s centre quickly. It’s a bit like offering a piece of bait — if the opponent takes it, you might gain a better position. This strategic gamble reflects the series’ enthralling narrative, making the game’s complexities accessible and exciting.
There is a fable that came out that was said about the invention of chess. The creator of chess was offered any reward by the king for his magnificent game, and the creator put forth a simple-sounding reward. He wanted a single grain of rice to be placed on the first square of the chessboard, with the quantity doubling on each subsequent square. His ultimate reward, however, was to be the total amount of rice situated on the last, the 64th square.
Alas, the king, failing to grasp the exponential maths behind the inventor’s request, agreed without a second though. By the 64th square, the total amount of rice owed to the creator of chess would be an astronomical 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of rice — equivalent to the weight of 98 million elephants!
The magnitude of the reward, which exceeded the world’s total rice production, caught the king off guard. His failure to comprehend the power of exponential growth led to the inventor’s downfall, as the king did not appreciate being outsmarted.
This story serves as a powerful metaphor for the game of chess. Each seemingly small decision, akin to each grain of rice, can lead to an enormous range of possibilities. It is a powerful reminder to never underestimate the potential impact of a single action, be it in a game of chess or in life itself.
In the words of Garry Kasparov a chess grandmaster, “Chess is life in miniature. Chess is struggle, chess is battles”. From its origins as Chaturanga to its rise as a digital phenomenon, chess has reflected our society — encapsulating the intricacies of strategy, the charm of competition, and the thrill of victory or defeat.
So, here’s to another millennium of captivating chess games, intriguing strategies and engrossing tales. Until then, stay cunning, stay sharp and remember — the King may be checked, but it’s far from helpless!
• Christian Chin-Gurret is a Bermudian writer with a Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a Bachelor of Science in Product Design, who offers a unique perspective on shaping the future of business through innovation, disruption and technology. He can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/christianchingurret/