History of Chess

A game older than most civilizations

Chaturanga, and ancient Indian board game, which some historians date as far back as 3000 BC, is known as the ancestor of modern chess. The game featured an 8x8 checkered board with 4 types of military units: infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry. It wasn’t until around 600 AD when chaturanga spread westward to Arabic civilizations through the silk road, and evolved into Shatranj. Shatranj, meaning chess in Arabic, is collectively agreed upon as the first iteration of chess. By the 13th century, chess had spread to Europe. Around the beginning of the 16th century, a new version of the game called “Mad Queen’s Chess” became popular in Spain, which allowed the queen and bishops to move diagonally (the way they move today), whereas before the queen could only move like a rook, and bishops could only move diagonally exactly 2 tiles away from their current location, like how the knight moves. This change made the queen significantly stronger, making checkmate easier to achieve, and games therefore quicker. This version of the game would become so popular, that it was adopted as the current version of chess. In 1861, tournament matches in Bristol, England, began using sandglasses to employ time limits. This idea would spread across Europe, and tournaments would later begin using pendulums.

The Modern Era of Chess

Before the 19th century, the predominant playstyle of chess is what is known as “romantic chess”. This playstyle is characterized by daring and risky moves, with an emphasis on fast paced gameplay and reckless attacks, rather than the strategic gameplay we know today. Essentially, chess was played as a more casual game up until this time. With chess tournaments becoming more popular, the first world championship was organized in 1886. To the dislike of many, Wilhelm Steinitz, of Prague, was crowned as the first Chess World Champion. His playstyle was regarded as very cautious, focusing on pawn structure development, and calculating careful attacks. Although at the time, chess contemporaries thought of his playstyle as boring and cowardly, his ideas would usher the world of chess into the modern era.

Standardization of Rules

By the 20th century, chess is well established as a competitive “sport”, with tournaments being held around the world. In 1924, FIDE, or the International Chess Federation, was formed and began hosting annual tournaments. This organization would later go on to create the universal rulebook for tournament chess that we use today.

Significant Events


Shatranj, first iteration of chess is created, with influence from chaturanga


Queen movement is changed


Chess timer is introduced


First world champion is crowned, the modern era of chess begins


FIDE founded in Paris, France


Computers beat humans for the first time