The strategy of chess has changed dramatically through the ages as the game itself has evolved. Early games of chess used fewer pieces and much less complicated strategy. Today’s chess masters have complicated moves that are sometimes even designed on computers to test all outcomes. The history of chess strategies provides as with a historical look at a game that is part of our social landscape.
Chess is believed to have originated in India, where its early form in the 6th century was called Chaturanga, which translates as “four divisions of the military”. These divisions were known as the infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots, which were represented respectively by pawn, knight, bishop, and rook. The game was used as an exercise in military strategy with the victor winning at all costs. In Persia around 600 the name became Shatranj and the rules were developed much further. Shatranj was taken up by much of the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia, with the pieces largely retaining their Persian names.
Historical records show that even the medieval Knights Templar played chess. They used the strategies of chess as a mental exercise. Early in the 9th century the game reached Western Europe and Russia by at least three routes. By the year 1000 it had spread throughout Europe and was introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors during the 10th century. References to chess were even it described in a famous 13th century manuscript covering shatranj, backgammon, and dice. It was at this time that the strategies chess players use today were beginning to be developed.
Around 1200, the rules of Shatranj started to be modified in southern Europe, and around 1475, several major changes rendered the game essentially as we know it today. Some of these strategies were pawns gained the option of advancing two squares on their first move, while bishops and queens acquired their modern abilities. This made the queen the most powerful piece; and modern chess was referred to as “Queen’s Chess” or “Mad Queen Chess”. These new rules and strategies quickly spread throughout Western Europe, with the exception of the rules about stalemate, which were finalized in the early nineteenth century.
This was also the time when chess started to develop a body of theory. The oldest preserved printed chess book is believed to be the Repeticion de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez (Repetition of Love and the Art of Playing Chess) by Spaniard Luis Ramirez de Lucena and was published in Salamanca in 1497. Many different authors went on to write about the developed elements of openings and started to analyze simple endgames.
France also became an important country in the history of developing chess strategies. The two most important French masters were Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, a musician by profession, who discovered the importance of pawns for chess strategy, and later Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais who won a famous series of matches with the British master Alexander McDonnell in 1834 using a far more complicated strategy than had been seen before.
The first modern chess tournament was held in London in 1851 and won, surprisingly, by German Adolf Anderssen, who was relatively unknown at the time. Anderssen was hailed as the leading chess master and his brilliant, energetic (but from today’s viewpoint strategically shallow) attacking style became typical for the time
It was from this point on that each chess master began developing strategies that would fit their style of play. For example: The first American chess champion Paul Morphy success stemmed from a combination of brilliant attacks and sound strategy as he intuitively knew how to prepare attacks. Prague-born Wilhelm Steinitz later described how to avoid weaknesses in one’s own position and how to create and exploit such weaknesses in the opponent’s position through the development of his own strategy.
Between the World War I and II, chess was revolutionized by the new theoretical school of so-called hypermodernists like Aron Nimzowitsch and Richard Reti. These masters advocated controlling the center of the board with distant pieces rather than with pawns, inviting opponents to occupy the center with pawns which become objects of attack. This school of thought brought a new sophistication to the game.