Chess – An Indian masterpiece

India is one of the oldest nations of the world and the land of various inventions including the famous brain-storming activity, Chess. The name ‘Chess’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chaturanga’ meaning ‘four limbs’. ‘Chaturanga’ refers to the four main members of the Indian army. They are –

  • chariots,
  • elephants,
  • cavalry and
  • infantry

The conventional Two-Handed game of ‘Chaturanga’, is quite similar to the Persian board game ‘Chatrang’. There is a Four-Handed game in India, also called by experts as ‘Chaturaji’ (meaning ‘Four Kings’).

The word Ashtapada is a Sanskrit term describing the eight-by-eight board on which many ancient Indian games were played. Often, the board presents several cross-cut squares which signify various steps and levels in the game. The game of Chaturanga, emerged sometime around the 6thcentury in India, was also played on the 8×8 board, i.e. Ashtapada.

For many, India is the cradle of Chess. This question remains controversial; however, the fascinating diversity of Chess in India gives this country a very special role in the nurturing of this game over a period of time.

The pieces of Chess were first named in India by Ratnakara in his Haravijaya (circa 850). Although, owing to poorly developed Indian archaeological studies, it was not before the end of the 16th century that the oldest piece was unearthed and became exposed at a global level.

About Chess

Chess is one of the most famous indoor games, and it involves a lot of anxiety and drama. The game demands a high level of concentration and self-control. This two-player board game is only played on a square checkered Chessboard with 64 squares set in an eight-by-eight grid. It is very popular among all age groups and is played by millions across all nations. It can be played at home, in clubs, by correspondence, online, and in national/international tournaments.

There are two sides with two different sets and colors of pieces – the white and the black. Each player begins his game with sixteen pieces and these are –

  • one king,
  • one queen,
  • two rooks,
  • two knights,
  • two bishops, and
  • eight pawns.

Each of the six piece types moves in a different way. The opponent’s pieces are attacked and captured by the player with his own pieces. The game course is divided into three main phases:

  • opening,
  • middle-game, and
  • endgame.

The main object of the player is to attain ‘checkmate’ by seizing and gaining inescapable control over the opponent’s King.

The other way of winning the game is when one’s opponent – being unable to endure the resistance – chooses to resign from the game voluntarily. This situation typically takes place either when too much material is lost by the opponent, or when the checkmate seems inescapable.

A draw in the game may also takes place in several cases.

Chess Championships

Wilhelm Steinitz was declared the first official winner of the World Chess Champion in the year 1886. In the year 2012, Indian mastermind Viswanathan Anand won the World Chess Championship. There are separate national/international championships for different age-groups and sexes. These are as follows –

  • Women’s World Championship,
  • Junior World Championship,
  • World Senior Championship,
  • Correspondence Chess World Championship,
  • World Computer Chess Championship, and
  • Blitz and Rapid World Championships

The Chess Olympiad is a grand level competition in which different nations of the world participate. Nowadays, online Chess has paved the way for amateur and professional competitions to a wide range of players. Even the International Olympic Committee has recognized Chess as its official game, and the World Chess Federation has also sanctioned the international Chess competition. For different types of games and tournaments, different rules and different boards and pieces are permissible.

Modern Chess Techniques

With technological advancement, playing Chess has become all the more convenient as one can play the game anytime and at anyplace. In the second half of the 20th Century, the computer technology has started programming the Chess for its users with increasing success. A person can now play Chess at his own suitable time and at intervals on his home computer, tablets, phones etc.

In addition to this, computer analysis has brought new dimensions to the game tactics and has tremendously contributed to the Chess theory as conceived by the human minds. The technology has given a new thought to the ‘checkmate’ and endgame approach. In 1997, the computer Deep Blue became the first world machine to have gained triumph over the reigning world Chess champion, Gary Kasparov.

Legends behind its Origins

The origins of Chess could be traced back to the Chaturanga played on an 8×8 board, i.e. Ashtapada. Again, there is a famous myth associated with the history of Chess occurred during the medieval times. It is said that a Sultan of India (name unknown) was bored of his chores and was looking for new entertainment; he summoned the whole empire to invent a game to his liking. Thousands and thousands of citizens rushed to the Sultan’s palace and one-by-one they showed him the various games they had come up with. However, the Sultan was unimpressed. Towards the end of the day, the Sultan was furious at not finding even one game that suited him until a poor man approached him and showed him a game very similar to Chess.

The sheer possibilities of Chess tricked the Sultan. He was shocked as he had found the game he longed for all these years. The Sultan ordered the poor man to give him the game for free; the poor man, however, asked the Sultan to give him 1 grain of rice for the First Square and then double for every other square on the board. There are 64 squares on the board, which means one grain of rice for the square, two for the second square, four for the third square. The Sultan agreed and ended giving him to the 64th, which equals to 1.84467441 × 1019 making this poor man one of the richest men in the world.

Famous Theories

Sir William Jones who first proposed the existence of a relationship among Indo-European languages, mentioned in his famous 1790 book On the Indian Game of Chess about the invention of the Chess. As per Jones’s findings the wife of King Ravan of Lanka (Ceylon) first invented Chess to divert his attention when he was besieged in his own kingdom by Lord Rama. At this point of time, the first reference was given to the Four-Handed Chess by an informant named Brahman Radhakant. Hence, it can be said that, during times of Satyug, the crude version i.e. the Four-Handed Chess came into existence and the game was played in India until the 19th century. The story is apparently brought up in the Sanskrit text Bhavishya Purana. However, it should also be noted that Jones himself regarded the Four-Handed game as an alteration of primitive Two-Handed non-dice Chess.

In the year, 1801, Captain Hiram Cox had concluded in his research that the Four-Handed Chaturanga was indeed the oldest version of the Chess which was later modified as a Two-Handed board game.

Another milestone was achieved in the history of Chess in the year 1860 when Duncan Forbes in his book The History of Chess unveiled the complete theory on the origins of the Chess. In his findings, Forbes stated that in the beginning, the primitive Four-Handed dice Chess was played by many with great interest. Though, over a period, people found the process of securing four players for the game quite cumbersome. Thus, the Two-Handed game was invented. Later on, using dice got abandoned, and this may have occurred owing to religious pressure. Forbes, in his theory, rejected the legend of Lanka associated with the game. He, however, kept swearing by Bhavishya Purana, the text which is over 3000-5000 years old. Thus, the Cox-Forbes theory on Chess came into existence.

Another breakthrough in the Chess invention theory came into being when in the year 1874, Albrecht Weber (a German Professor) and Anton van der Linde (a Dutch historian) pointed out that the board game reference provided in the ancient scripture Bhavishya Purana apparently had no connections with the Chess game. The findings brought a new angle to the ongoing research, and it simultaneously doubted the authenticity of 5000 year old ancient texts.

On the other hand, authors like Edward Falkener (1892) kept on relating the antiquity of the Chess to prehistoric days.

Stewart Culin, the famous American ethnologist, in his personal hypothesis, created his own order of board-games which had occurred in the history of mankind till date. He set the board- games in the following chronicle order –

  1. Race game for 2,
  2. Race game for 4,
  3. Chess for 4 and, finally,
  4. Chess for 2.

However, Culin’s theory, if set in the current scenario, will appear somewhat artificial, assert recent scholars.

Finally, the great historian Harold James Murray, in his most famous book History of Chess, more than 900 pages of erudition published in 1913, made clear many impending questions on the game of Chess. In his book, he concluded as “…the silence of all other Sanskrit works before 600 AD makes (Brahman) Radhakant’s assertion improbable in the highest degree.”

Concerning Culin’s debate over Chess originating from evolution of a race-game, Murray politely corrected it and finally mentioned this definitive sentence: “I find these hypotheses incredible”.

Rules of Chess

The Board

The game of Chess is played by two opponents by moving pieces on a square board.

The Chess board is made up of 64 equal squares in color alternately light (the ‘White’ squares) and dark (the ‘Black squares). The Chess board is positioned between the players in such a manner that the square in the right corner of each player is always white.

The 8 rows of squares – nearest the two players – in a row, running between the edges of the board are called ‘ranks’; the 8 rows of squares forming the right angles to the ranks are the ‘files’, and rows of squares same in color, touching at the corners are the ‘diagonals’.

The Pieces

At the beginning of the Chess game, one player possesses 16 White colored (may be pale White or Yellowish) pieces while the other player possesses 16 Black colored (may be dark navy blue) pieces. A player starts on equal ground with his opponent and with a 16 member army – i.e. a King, a Queen, two Knights, two Bishops, two Rooks, and eight Pawns.

The first two ranks nearest to the player are where the battalions are placed at the start of the game, in each side.

In the first rank –

  • the Rooks are positioned at the two corner squares,
  • the Knights at the two squares just next to the Rooks,
  • the Bishops at the two squares subsequently after the Knights,
  • the King and Queen are placed at the two centre squares such that the King is on the opposite colored square to itself.

The Pawns protect the King, Queen and the rest of the army by covering the whole of second rank.


The two players move one by one, each getting one move at a time. The first move is made by the player who possesses the White pieces.

Except for castling i.e. exchanging the positions of the King and a Rook, a move is made in a simple manner by transferring a piece from one square to another. However, the square where the fresh move is made should be either vacant or engaged by an opponent’s piece. It should be noted that no one except for the Rook (while castling) or the Knight, can intersect a square engaged by another piece.

An opponent’s piece is removed from the board by the player by playing his own piece methodically, entering to the opponent’s square and taking the opponent’s piece as part of the same move.


The King – Barring castling, the King can take a stride towards any adjacent square which is yet not attacked by an opponent’s piece.

What is castling?

Castling involves the King and the Rook. It is considered as a single move where the King is moved two squares toward a Rook, following which, in the same move, the Rook is moved to the square next past the king.

Castling is not possible if either the King or the Rook has even once been moved from its original position. Castling will turn void if the square the King proposes to move or cross by has been even once attacked by the opponent.

The Queen – It shifts to any square on the rank, straight or diagonal where it is placed. However, it is unable jump over other pieces like the Knight.

The Rook – It moves to any square on the file or rank where it is placed. Again, it is incapable of jumping over other materials.

The Knight – It advances two squares in one move on the file or rank, and one square along a diagonal from its original position.

The Bishop – It moves towards any square on the diagonal on which it is positioned. It never jumps over other army members. By definition, a bishop always stays on the same colored square during the game.

The Pawn – It proceeds only forward. Except for making a capture, it advances on its very first move – one or two vacant squares – on the file where it is placed. However, subsequently it moves only one vacant square alongside the file on which it is placed. While advancing for a capture, it moves one square across either of the diagonals where it is placed.

Upon reaching the end of its file, a Pawn is directly exchanged – as part of the same move – for a Rook, Knight, Bishop, or Queen of the identical color. This action is taken only at the player’s choice and is named ‘Pawn promotion’.


The King is in the ‘check’ situation when its own square is attacked by the opponent’s piece. The check must be averted in the next immediate move, or else it is ‘mate’. The situation can be averted either by capturing the attacking piece, shifting a piece in-between the attacking piece and the King (if not the attacking member is a Knight), or moving the King to a safer position.

The Endgame

A player who has mated the opponent’s King wins the game. Again, the game may also be considered won for the player if his opponent voluntarily resigns. If the deadline is set for the moves, the player – whose opponent exceeds his allotted time – wins the game at the same moment.

The Draw Game

Under any of the following circumstances, the game is declared draw and no one wins or loses the game –

  • When the King of the player is in ‘stalemate’ position. A situation where the King gets to move; but, cannot legally move; and is not even given the ‘check’.
  • On either player’s demand when the same situation appears thrice and the same player getting the move every time. The position is counted the same if pieces of the same color or kind occupy the similar squares and also their potential moves are also the same.
  • On the player’s demand, under whose turn at least fifty moves have been made by both the players without the capture of a single piece and without a single Pawn move having been occurred.
  • When the two players enter an agreement of some kind.

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