Checkmate! The one word all chess players dread. But chess isn't just about winning and losing. It is about conflict, a struggle to harmonise your army. A struggle that at times can mirror real life situations. Chess is an art form, a black and white jungle tangled with intricate strategies and moments of brutal tactics. Once you immerse yourself into the beauty and subtle complexities of chess, you will be hooked for life.
So when did it all start? What are the origins of chess? As yet, there is no definitive answer to this question. The prevailing theory is that chess originated from a game played in Eastern India sometime between the third and sixth century. This game was known as chaturaṅga. This name literally means "four divisions (military divisions)". These divisions were infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry,. The pieces on the board represented these divisions. These pieces are said to have evolved into the modern chess pieces we are familiar with today - pawns, knights, bishops, and rooks.
As the Indian game, chaturaṅga, spread west along the Silk Road, its rules further evolved. By the time it reached Persia c. 600, it was known by the name chatrang. After the Islamic conquest of Persia, the Muslim world continued playing chatrang. In fact, the oldest chess manual was written in Arabic and dates to around 850. This book was written by al-Adli ar-Rumi (800–870), a renowned Arab chess player. This book, which unfortunately no longer exists, was called Kitab ash-shatranj (Book of the chess). Further, the oldest chess pieces, carved from ivory, were excavated in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. These pieces date to around 760.
There is, however, an alternate theory that chess had its origins in China with the game called, Xiang Qi. Even though the earliest reference to this game that we know of dates to around 800 in the xuán guaì lù (record of the mysterious and strange). there are those who think this game is much older, and is therefore the earliest version of chess.
Whatever its origins, the game reached Western Europe around the 9th century. By this time it was called shatranji. Starting around 1200 the rules of the game were gradually modified. By the end of the 14th century the game was essentially the one we know and love today. The rules of the game were finally standardised in the 19th century. It stands to reason that from the advent of a system of standardised rules came formal international competition. The first recognised World Chess Champion was the Austrian Chess Master, Wilhelm Steinitz. He claimed this title in 1886 after defeating Adolf Anderssen in London. Up until that point Anderssen was regarded as the world's strongest player.
On 2 May 1983 Faroe Islands issued a set of two stamps to celebrate the ancient game of chess. This set was sold only in booklets, and all stamps are horizontally imperforate. The stamps were engraved by Czeslaw Slania. Looking below you will see that the piece on the left is a King, and on the right we have a Queen. Gorgeous chess pieces that, I believe, date from around the 18th to 19th centuries. And, of course, these lovely pieces were masterfully engraved by Slania (please note, this is a borrowed image and not of the best quality. When I relocate my copies I will update the scan).
Until next time...