Chess seems to have originated in or near India. The oldest name for chess, chaturanga, is a Sanskrit word referring to the four branches of the Indian army: elephants, horses, chariots and footsoldiers. Chess was originally played with dice; in fact, the forerunner of the modern chessboard, the ashtapada, was used for many dice games. Both two player and four player versions of the game existed. The four player version was played both with and without dice, in which each player had eight pieces. The diceless version is still played today in India. The exact age of dice is hard to pin down; the four branches of the Indian army did not exist after the birth of Christ, and 5000 year old references to skilled "dice" players may or may not be refering to chess players.

Some variations:
The Burmese start the game with the King-side pawns on the third rank and the Queen-side pawns on the fourth rank. Before any movement begins, the major pieces can be placed by the player anywhere behind the pawns. The moves today are identical to the original Hindu chess moves.

The Chinese place their pieces on the intersections of the lines rather than on the squares, and add a celestial river, akin to no-man's land, between halves on the board. Their version only has five pawns to a side, but adds two cannons ahead of knights and a counselor on either side of the King. In China, the King is called the general, because an emperor was so insulted at seeing a figure of himself in a "lowly" game that he had the players executed. In order to play the game without risk of execution, Chinese players demoted the piece on the board.

The Japanese allow captured pieces to change sides and rejoin the game against their old army at any vacent spot on the board.

The spread of chess to Europe was courtesy of Muslims, who inherited the game from the Persians, after conquering the empire in the 7th century. The Persians weren't too fond of either dice chess or four player chess, so the diceless two player version is what we have in dominance today. Chess became very popular in the Muslim world, and the Muslims created a greatly detailed literature about it, but only after almost 100 years of debate amongst theologians to determine whether or not chess playing was contary to the teachings of Mohammed.

Russia was the first place chess made its mark in the European world, perhaps as early as the 8th century. By the 16th century, travelers to Russia reported that people of all classes played chess, whereas chess was strictly the game of nobility until the 18th century. Modern rules of chess (such as castling and the move en passant) were not in use in many parts of Russia until the 20th century.

The first major rules changes came at both European and Muslim hands around the 13th century. The first known chessboard with alternating white and black tiles was introduced around this period. Muslim documents from the 15th century note that the great Mogul Timor played a verson of chess requiring a 10x11 square board, which he called 'Great Chess.' Meanwhile, impatient Europeans started changing rules to speed things up. Originally, the Bishop could move only two squares diagonally, but could jump over pieces as a Knight. The Queen could move only one diagonal square at once. Both pieces were strengthened to range over the whole board, though the Bishop lost its power to jump.

Checkmate became rather easy to achieve given the Bishop and Queen's new found strength, so the move to castle was created. Around the same time, pawns were given the option to move one or two squares as an initial move. To prevent such a move to be used to avoid capture, the move en passant was created. Since the 16th century, no major changes to the game have been made.


Source: http://bulk.microtech.com.au/angelcat/history.htm
According to the November 2002 issue of Discover magazine, archaeologists recently discovered that chess arrived in Europe 500 years earlier than previously believed. A team of archaeologists led by Richard Hodges of Britain's East Anglica University excavated a chess piece from the remains of a fifth-century port city on the coast of Albania. Hodges says, "The piece was found in a wealthy Byzantine home, probably belonging to a Roman merchant capitalizing on trade between Europe and the far east."

Many chess pieces have been found in Europe from Scotland to Italy, and they date from around the 12th century. Previously, it had been believed that this was when chess became popular in Europe.

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