The game of chess has a long and distinguished history. The game has been thought to have originated in what is now northern India or Afghanistan sometime before 6OO A.D. The oldest written references to chess date from then, but there are other unverified claims that chess existed as early as 100 A.D. There are chess pieces that have been found that date from about 1200 A.D. which were found in a robbers’ stash on the Isle of Lewis, northeast of Scotland.
The interest in chess escalated out of the early trade routes of India. Due to this there are several variations of chess that are played all over the world. One variation of chess (called Shogi) is now popular in Japan; while another variation is played in China. Many local variations in chess rules persist even today especially in isolated rural areas. For example in India there are several hundred variations played throughout the countryside.
The variation that is familiar to Europeans and Americans traveled through Iran (Persia) to the main commercial centers of Italy and Spain around about 1000 A.D. A short time later it is speculated that sea-faring Vikings carried the game into Scandinavia and Iceland. By 1100-1200 A.D, the game became well known in central Europe, and was well-established across all of Europe by 1400 AD. This is the variation with the game rules which we use today.
Russia’s dominance of chess is recent, dating from the communist revolution of 1917, after which the government schools for talented chess players were established.
The modern design of chess pieces bears the name Staunton, who was an English master in the mid-18OO’s. These are the type of pieces that are now used in all tournaments worldwide.
The first international chess tournament was the London Tourney played in 1851. The tournament was won by Adolf Anderssen of Germany, who after winning became known unofficially as the world’s best chess player, though he did not receive any award or title.
The first great American-born chess player is Paul Morphy, who was of Irish ancestry and lived in the civil war era. Paul traveled to Europe in the 185O’s, where he beat all challengers, including Adolf Anderssen. However, the English champion of the time (Staunton) refused to play him, so Morphy never became a world chess champ. The first official championship chess tournament was played in 1866. The tournament was also played in London, with sand clocks to restrict the length of a game. This tournament was won by Steinitz, a Bohemian (Czechoslovakian) Jew. After winning he then became the world’s first official chess champion, holding this title until 1894. Emanuel Lasker, an American born in Germany, became champion by defeating Steinitz. He remained champion until 1921, at which time Jose Capablanca, a Cuban, took the title until 1927. Many people today consider Capablanca as one of the top 3 chess players who ever lived, with the others being Morphy and Bobby Fischer. Fischer was 14 years old when he became the United States champion and is the first native-born U.S. citizen to have held the title of World Chess Champ. Fischer recently died at the age of 64 in Iceland where he lived during the last years of his life.
Since 1927, many of the top chess players have been citizens of the former USSR, and include: Tal, Alekhine, Petrosian, Spassky, Smyslov, Anatoli Karpov, and Gary Kasparov. A dispute over tournament procedures between Kasparov and the international chess organization known as the F.I.D.E. has resulted in two World co-champions: Karpov and Kasparov. Recently, however, Vishy Anand has won the F.I.D.E. championship and is seen by most as the world’s chess champ.