Where was Chess Invented – The Origins

Chess, the Game of Kings, has captivated many minds for centuries, fascinating players worldwide with its intricate rules and dynamic gameplay. But where did this enthralling game originate from?

Embark on a journey through time and culture as we unravel the history of chess, tracing its roots back to its early beginnings.

The Mysterious Origins of Chess

The game of chess has a rich history dating back centuries, but its exact origins are shrouded in mystery. The invention of chess is a tale that weaves through cultures and civilizations, making it a captivating subject for historians and chess enthusiasts alike.

What we do know, however, is the ancestor of chess.

The Birth of Chaturanga – India’s Influence

The earliest known precursor to chess was a game called Chaturanga, played in India during the Gupta Empire (around the 6th century). Much like modern chess, Chaturanga was a game of strategy where two players maneuvered their pieces to victory.

Chaturanga featured pieces representing the four divisions of the Indian military at the time: infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots.

Back then, there was no queen, but a counselor instead.

Chaturanga setup.
Chaturanga setup

Here is how the pieces move in Chaturanga:

  • Infantry can only move one square at a time.
  • The elephant can move two squares diagonally.
  • The chariot moves just like a rook.
  • The counselor can move only one square diagonally.
  • There is no castling.

To win, you must checkmate your opponent OR take all of their pieces.

The Spread Across Continents

The influence of Chaturanga spread far and wide, reaching Persia in the 7th century. Here, the game became known as Shatranj, and the Indian pieces transformed into the more recognizable chess pieces of today: infantry became pawns, cavalry became knights, elephants transformed into bishops, and chariots turned into rooks.

Shatranj quickly gained popularity, becoming a favorite pastime among the Persian nobility. Persian scholars penned some of the earliest chess manuals, adapting the game to the Persian culture.

As trade routes expanded, Shatranj continued its journey, reaching the Arab world in the 8th century. Here, the game underwent further transformations, adopting the Arabic alphabet for its piece names and incorporating new rules and strategies. The game evolved into a form more closely related to the modern chess game we know today.

Arab scholars and mathematicians made important contributions to Shatranj. They wrote influential books and treatises analyzing its strategic intricacies and refining the game’s mathematical aspects.

From the Arab world, Shatranj embarked on a voyage to Europe, arriving in the Iberian Peninsula along with the expansion of Islam in the 8th century. It reached regions like Spain and Portugal through the Muslims and eventually made its way into medieval Europe. The rules continued to evolve, with Europe’s adaptation of chess pieces and strategies, eventually leading to the modern chess game we know today.

Chess in Medieval Europe

In Europe, Shatranj evolved into chess, the game we know today. The pieces took on their modern forms, the rules were further refined, and the game adapted to European sensibilities

Around the 15th century, the queen was introduced, becoming the most powerful piece in the game. Recall that the queen was originally a much weaker piece called a counselor (or vizier).

The game of chess spread throughout the continent, gaining immense popularity among royalty and commoners alike. Chess as a game of strategy and tactics flourished.

The Evolution of Modern Chess

The 19th and 20th centuries saw significant advancements in chess, with the birth of modern chess as we know it. The rules were standardized, leading to the development of chess organizations and the international chess community.

The World Chess Championship was established in the late 19th century, and players like Wilhelm Steinitz and Emanuel Lasker contributed to the development of chess theory and strategy. The 20th century witnessed the emergence of great chess masters like Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, who pushed the boundaries of the game.


The invention and evolution of chess is a fascinating tale of cultural exchange and transformation. Starting as Chaturanga in India, it traveled through Persia and Europe, adapting and changing with each new culture.

The chess we play today is the result of centuries of refinement and innovation. Understanding the game’s historical journey adds depth and appreciation for this ancient and enduring game that continues to captivate minds around the world.

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