10 Things You Didn’t Know & Might Not Want To Know About Chess

Chess is one of the most popular board games still played worldwide, and has been a mark and symbol of geniuses for centuries. Whether you’re playing it on one of the many engraved tabletops in your local park, at home, on your phone while on the metro, or on one of those opulent life-sized boards while you pretend you’re in Harry Potter, the game is everywhere. Treading the line between sport and mental activity, chess has been a constant of ‘civilized society’ for over a millennia now. People continue to play it in coffee shops to catch up, through the mail to stay in touch, or in bars to simply pass the time between sips, but there is a lot more to the game than many know.

10 It is Super Old

The age of chess has and will continue to be disputed until we most likely get a selfie of somebody with the caption of “first chess game ever!” holding a board and a newspaper from around the 5th or 6th century. In any case, before that happens chess scholars, which is apparently a thing, have conservatively decided that roughy 600 AD is the first indisputable time period where chess was popular enough to be mentioned in texts (Link 1). This means that around this time chess was in the mainstream enough of people able to read and write that they felt it should be included however briefly that people were playing this game. That means that chess is older than most things you can think of, your grandparents, the scientific method, the postal service, the list could really go on quite a while. With this sort of tenure as a popular board game you can simply imagine all of the people big and small who must have tried their hand at it.

9 Despite Having Things Like Bishops and Knights It is Not From Europe

While chess is one of the oldest games still played around the world today, it had to start somewhere right? If you’re nodding your head you probably look a bit odd to anybody around, but you’re correct. And as with any great idea that has been around a while the exact location of where it came from is a bit hazy and it seems a lot of people are looking for the credit. For the origin, as for the age of the game, texts mentioning the game seem to be our best bet at giving an outright answer as to where the game came from. However, texts can be a bit dodgy as they’re translated over to more current languages, or simply written forms of stories or legends that have existed for a number of generations usually. That is why there are really three regions that have a realistic claim to the birthplace of chess, Persia, China and Pakistan with Pakistan’s claim holding a bit more weight than others (Link 2).

8 It Is Basically Just A Rip-Off

The game that spawned it all, Chaturanga, or at least spawned a few games including chess, Chaturanga is most likely from Pakistan and at some point some of the rules were lost after chess had evolved from it. The board and many of the pieces look very similar to the chessboard and pieces we use today with a slightly more “eastern” feel all around (Link 3). While the game can no longer be played because of the missing rules the game still has influences that are felt throughout the world with the games it ended up being turned into.

7 The Chess We Play Isn’t The Only Chess

While we know the game that started it all, another reason there is so much confusions to when and where chess actually started is because there is more than just the western chess that we know and play today. The most popular variation is Xiangqi or “Chinese Chess”, which in many ways looks very different to the chess many of us are used to but has its roots in the same place (Link 4). Xiangqi is still very popular in China and the surrounding regions and in many ways is similar, the main difference being the board used to play the game. Otherwise, the pieces behave and are named similar to the chess many of us play, because of its popularity and the similarities “chess” as many of us know it is often called western chess or international chess to avoid any confusion in certain parts of the world.

6 Chess Has A Special Place In English History

Many people know that chess has been popular in books for quite a while now, if we take a look at the first Harry Potter Novel we can see it is adapted to the “wizarding world” as the brutal game of wizard’s chess. However, when books were first being printed in English this affinity with the written word was just as strong. In fact, one of the first books to be printed in the English language was a book, published by William Caxton, Game and play of Chesse (Link 5). So it would be a bit crazy to say that chess influenced the English language, but if you were to visit a library that had books in chronological order you’d very easily be able to learn a little bit about English. That is of course if you could read and understand 15th century English, which we all know is super easy to do.

5 Some Countries Even Teach Chess In Schools It’s So Popular

With chess being an almost worldwide symbol of intelligence it is a wonder we don’t play it more often right? That’s exactly what the Armenian government thought a few years ago when they added chess classes to the school’s curriculum (Link 6). Chess has often been used as a metaphor for life and the obstacles and trials we face in it, so why not get the hang of it all at an early age right? Armenia is one of the more chess-centric countries with a large number of chess world champions for a country with such a small population. Since Armenia paved the way other countries have started adopting chess into their curriculum as well. Many schools in Hungary now teach chess as a subject and other countries are beginning to debate the idea seriously with those in charge of the curricula (Link 7). We may soon see a generation of kids playing chess for an hour a day during school, getting rid of the “chess club” nerd stereotype that exists at nearly every school. Of course who knows, maybe we’ll still think of people playing chess as nerds if they’re doing it outside of school, like kids doing homework for fun.

4 The Man vs. Machine Chess Game Has Gone On Longer Than Computers

At one time chess was so popular among the aristocracy and nobility that in order to impress them a man built what was said to be a machine that could play chess. A mechanical man skilled at chess and what was called the “knight’s tour”, a challenge where the knight had to occupy every space on the board once. While now hearing a computer that can play chess is really nothing to bat an eye at, of course computers were none to common eighteenth century Austria. The contraption housed an operator that would actually be controlling “the turk” from within the playing table in order to give the appearance of mechanical actions. The illusion was able to tour the world with famous opponents like Benjamin Franklin Napoleon Bonaparte before eventually being forgotten about in a small museum after it had long outlived its creator. A fire eventually burned “the turk” leading to the last of its secrets being revealed as the first machine to play chess wold never play another game (Link 8).

3 Playing Chess Makes You More American

The World Chess Championship of 1972 was between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, two guys with very American and Soviet names, respectively. While it may not have been the height of the Cold War and for many wasn’t as exciting as beating the “ruskies” at hockey in the olympics, Americans at this time really didn’t need telling twice that this was about more than just some board game, it was for all the marbles so to speak. Fischer won the championship and became the first American World Chess Champion and ended a 24 year Soviet streak. In many respects Fischer was expected to win, he was rated the highest in the tournament, and seemingly breezed passed chess masters early on, nonetheless the chess match served as another battleground for the United States and the U.S.S.R. to compete on, giving people another reason to get excited about a chess game that otherwise would have gone unnoticed for the most part in the mainstream media.

2 Chess Has It’s Own “Language”

While we often hear chess terms in our everyday life, such as the reference to pawns as simpletons or useless aside from strategic maneuvers or tools. There is also the language of chess that we see in movies or televisions when we’re meant to believe a character to be clever. We hear things like knight to E5 and think, “Oh he means chess, those are things from that game of chess”. While this is a somewhat subtle way to establish a character’s intelligence many of the chess “greats” and even skilled amateur players play with nothing more than this “language”. This system of values for the different spots on the grid and singular nature of the game’s moves allows for very short descriptions of moves allowing people to play with an idea of the board in their heads, through the mail, or even just passing notes which means the worlds most popular board game often doesn’t even need the board.

1 Russian Cosmonauts Are Not Allowed to Play Chess

Whether it is because of the disgrace of losing that World Chess Championship way back in ’72 (not likely) or some other reason (definitely this one just wait), cosmonauts are forbidden from playing chess in space. Now you would think that a country with such a history of chess champions and a thing like space being so big and boring for astronauts that playing chess in space would be a given. Although the gravity issue might be a bit tough at first I think I could definitely figure it out given the right tools and it could help pass the time a bit. However, after a chess game in a Russian scientific base in antarctica the losing player went on to murder one of his coworkers with an ax leading the government to decide against allowing chess to be played in situations that might stress the players psychologically. (Link 10)

Link 1:http://history.chess.free.fr/enigma.htm
Link 2: http://history.chess.free.fr/origins-texts.htm
Link 3:http://history.chess.free.fr/ashtapada.htm
Link 4: http://history.chess.free.fr/variety.htm
Link 5: http://www.bartleby.com/212/1303.html
Link 6: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16629820
Link 7: http://www.chess.com/news/chess-added-to-hungarian-school-curriculum-9186
Link 8: http://www.chessgames.com/player/the_turk.html
Link 9: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/3669446/How-Bobby-Fischer-and-Boris-Spassky-became-pawns.html
Link 10: http://books.google.ie/books?id=Wj2XYqEDiVsC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=chess+killing+antarctica&source=bl&ots=fVvR5QUgYs&sig=x_OVgvBj6xOHvk3fkK9iBBtQ06E&hl=en&sa=X&ei=U0DVUvPSGpDn7AaD1YCICQ&ved=0CFQQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=chess%20killing%20antarctica&f=false