History of Chess

The origin of chess is still a mystery.

It has been said that chess originated in a four-player game called Chaturanga, which uses dice. The information available in Japan is often quoted or copied, and the four-player chess theory is still taken up, but the latest research is dominated by the two-player chess theory.

At the end of the 20th century, many new archaeological discoveries were made, and the existing materials were re-examined. The conclusion that emerged was that the four-player chess theory was not sufficiently convincing in the face of new materials. Thus, it should be taken seriously that the front-line researchers who had supported the four-player chess origin theory have turned the corner toward the two-player chess origin theory. (Koichi Masukawa, Chess, 2003, Hosei University Press)

There is evidence that two-player chess was popular in northern India (Kanauj) in the 6th century(about 1500 years ago), and it is certain that primitive chess was played in ancient India.

Pieces excavated in Kanauj, 650-750
(Koichi Masukawa, Chess, 2003, Hosei University Press)


Later, in the 10th century, there were many written records of the introduction of two-player primitive chess from India to Sasanian Persia. In Arabia, primitive chess was actively played and developed.

A 14th-century manuscript depicting chess played in a Persian palace around the 10th century.
(@Wikipedia “History of chess”)


Chess was later introduced from Arabia to China, Japan, and other countries, where it was transformed into local chess. It is said that the ancestors of Shogi and Chess are the same game. On the other hand, chess, which was introduced from Arabia to Europe, developed around the 15th century, when the current rules were established. There are books written in Europe during that period that are of a level that is still applicable today. After that, chess spread widely in Europe as a culture of the aristocracy and intellectuals, and became a subject of literature and art, as is well known.

Thus, chess was a culture born in the East and nurtured in the West.

A painting of chess played in a Spanish palace around 1575, painted by Luigi Mussini in 1883.
(@Wikipedia “Il Puttino”)


The first world championship was held in the 19th century, and Steinitz became the first champion. The International Chess Federation was founded in 1924, and chess began to grow into a full-fledged world culture.

Chess was especially encouraged in the socialist countries of the time, and in Russia (former Soviet Union), chess became so popular that there was not a citizen who did not know the rules. While the World Championship was dominated by Russia (former Soviet Union), it was Bobby Fischer, a lone wolf from the United States, who broke the monopoly. He took the title of world champion from Russia in 1972. This was a battle of wits between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the two military powers that divided the world at the time. Fischer’s victory was the beginning of the popularity of chess in the West.

Bobby Fischer
(@Wikipedia “Bobby Fische.


Fischer then disappeared while still champion. However, he was suddenly found and imprisoned in Narita, Japan in 2004 for violating immigration laws. He was treated as a criminal by the US for various reasons and was about to be deported to the US. But thanks to the efforts of Ms. Watai of the Japan Chess Association, Mr. Habu of Shogi and others, Fischer was released and went into exile in Iceland where he played the World Championship.In 2008, Fischer ended his mysterious life there.

Nowadays, chess is flourishing in both the East and the West, and has spread to China, South America, the Islamic world, and Africa. 195 countries are members of the World Chess Federation. In the age of the Internet and the age of AI, chess is gaining momentum.



(Written by: Akihiro Yamada 2021)