International Chess Day: Tracing The Game's Indian Roots And Its Gradual Evolution

In December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly declared 20 July as World Chess Day

Aindrisha Mitra Updated: Jul 20, 2020 18:13:45 IST
2020-07-20T17:36:51+05:30
2020-07-20T18:13:45+05:30
International Chess Day: Tracing The Game's Indian Roots And Its Gradual Evolution Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Some may be intimidated by chess. But for the lovers of the game, there’s nothing better than chess to get those grey cells working. According to the United Nations, 605 million adults or 60.5 crore adults play chess regularly. On International Chess Day, a look at the game’s evolution to its present-day form:

1. It is difficult to tell when exactly was the first game of chess played. However, it is largely believed that modern-day chess traces its roots to ‘chaturanga’, a game of rolling the dice on a 64-square board that originated during the Gupta period (319-543 CE) in the Indian subcontinent. ‘Chaturanga’ or four divisions may have referred to infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry—in modern-day chess, these pieces are pawn, knight, bishop and rook—or to the fact that the game was played by four players.

2. By the time the game arrived in Persia, it came to be known as ‘Shatranj’ and involved two players. The earliest record of the game comes from a Persian manuscript from around 600 CE that refers to an ambassador from the Indian subcontinent gifting the game to king Khosrow I. Over the next four centuries, the game reached Europe.

3. The chess sets that now most of us use are Staunton chess sets, developed in London in 1849. The set, however, is not designed by chess master Howard Staunton, but by architect Nathon Cook. “The work of architects like Christopher Wren, William Chambers, John Soane, and many others inspired the column-like, tripartite division of king, queen, and bishop. A row of Staunton pawns evokes Italianate balustrades enclosing of stairways and balconies,” writes Jimmy Stamp for Smithsonian Magazine.

4. On 12 December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly declared 20 July as World Chess Day. The resolution was tabled by Armenia and co-sponsored by 52 other countries including India, Bangladesh and China. While introducing the draft of the resolution at UN, Armenia’s delegate Mher Margaryan described chess as a game that can transcend boundaries and teach “respect”. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) was established on the same day in 1924, in Paris. FIDE has been observing 20 July as the International Chess Day since 1966. This year marks the 96th anniversary of FIDE.

5. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a virtual chess conclave has been organized this year with participation from the UN representatives, members of civil society as well as grandmasters. Viswanathan Anand from India along with former world champion Vladimir Kramnik from Russia has been invited to the global event, which is titled ‘Chess for Recovering Better’.  

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