The Conceptualization of Chess

The attacking infantry was steadily advancing, their elephant has already crossed the road of defense. The king tries to retreat, but the enemy’s cavalry surrounds him from behind. Escape is impossible. But this is not a real war – Nor is it just a “game”. Over the nearly fifteen hundred years of its existence, Chess was called a tool of military strategy. A metaphor for human affairs and a benchmark of genius. Whereas the earliest records of chess are within the seventh century, legend has it that the game’s origin is a century earlier.

When the youngest prince of the Gupta Empire was killed in battle, his brother devised a way of representing the scene to his grieving mother. In an 8×8 “ashtapada” board used for other popular pastime games, a replacement game emerged with two decisive features. Different laws for moving different types of pieces, and a single king piece whose fate determined the outcome. The game was originally called “Chaturanga” – It means “four divisions” in Sanskrit. But with its spread to the Sassanid Empire{Persian Empire}, it got its current name and terminology – “Chess,” comes from “shah,” which means King, and “checkmate” meaning “Shah maut,” Or “The king is helpless.”

After the Islamic conquest and the fall of the Sassanid empire in the seventh century, it was introduced to the Arab world. Transcending its role as a tactical simulation, it eventually became an elegant source of poetic imagery. Diplomats and King’s officials used it’s terms to describe political power. Caliphs{Religious leaders in Islam} themselves became avid players. Historian Al-Masoudi considered the game a testament of human free will compared to games of chance which were widely popular at that time.

The variants of Chess as it traveled

Medieval trade along the “silk road” carried the game to East and Southeast Asia, where many local variants developed. In China, chess pieces were placed at intersections of board squares rather than inside them, as in the native strategy game “Go”. During the reign of the Mongolian leader Tamerlane, a new variant of 11 x 10 board with safe squares called citadels. In the Japanese shogi game, captured pieces could be used by the opposing player. But it was in Europe that chess began to take on its modern form. By 1000 AD, Chess had become a key subject in courtly education.

Chess was used as an allegory for various social groups, performing their proper roles, the pieces were re-interpreted in their new context. At the same time, the Church remained suspicious of games. Moralists warned against devoting an excessive amount of time to them, with chess even being banned in France briefly. Yet the game spread widely, and in the fifteenth century, it had become to the shape we all know today. The relatively weak piece of “advisor” was changed to the more strong “queen”. Perhaps inspired by the recent surge of powerful female leaders. This variation changed the game’s pace, and as other rules are popularized, treatises analyzing common opportunities and endgames appeared.

The Game of minds and machines

Chess theory was born. from the beginning of the Enlightenment age, the games moved from royal courts to coffee shops. A fight of chess was now seen as an expression of creativity, encouraging bold moves and dramatic intriguing plays. This “Romantic” style reached its peak in the evergreen game of 1851, where Adolf Anderssen defeated the opponent by checkmate even after sacrificing his queen and both rooks.

The emergence of formal competitive play in the late 19th century meant that strategic calculation would eventually trump dramatic flair. With the rise of international competitions and world championships, Chess got a great bit of geopolitical significance. During the Cold war, The Soviet Union devoted significant resources to create chess talents, dominating the tournaments for a whole century. But the player who really thwarted Russian domination was not a citizen of another country but an IBM computer named “Deep Blue“.

Computers were playing chess for several decades before this. But Deep Blue’s victory over Garry Kasparov in 1997 was the first time when a sitting champion was beaten by a computer. Today, chess software is capable of consistently defeating the smartest of chess players. But just like the game they have mastered, these computers are products of human ingenuity and perhaps that same ingenuity will guide us out of an apparent checkmate.

Learn more here: Chess

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