by Bill Wall
Allusions to chess first began to appear in Sanskrit literature in the 7th century. Sometimes the only reference is not to chess but to the chess board, or ashtapada. This could be a chess board or an older Indian race game played by dice on an 8x8 board. Ashtapada in Sanskrit means having 8 legs. The term was used for a spider, a legendery bing with 8 legs, and a game board.
Perhaps the first reference to game pieces that
could be chess or a similar game is found in Vasavadatta
by Subandhu (550-620). It was written in Sanskrit
around 600 AD. This was a romantic story which tells the story of Princess Vasavadatta (daugher of King Pradyota) of Ujjaini falling in
love with King Udayana of Vatsa.
There is a description for chessmen (nayadyutair) and
chess squares (koshthika) on a two-colored chess
board. The game itself was probably Chaturanga (not
mentioned by Subandhu), the earliest precursor of
modern chess. Chaturanga in Sanskrit means four
Perhaps the first reference to Chatrang
(later becoming shatranj), the Persian word for
chess, was The Karnamak-i-Artakhshatr-i-Papakan
(The Records of Ardashir, son of Papak).
It was a text to honor Ardashir (Artaxerxes),
the founder of the
Around 620 Harshacharita
(memoir of Harsha) by Bana Bhatta (Bhattabana) was written
in Sanskrit. It was a text to honor Harshavardhana (Harsha), an emperor in northern
Around 700 AD Xusraw
Kawadan ud redag (Khosro, son of Kavad, and his page) was wrtten
in Pahlavi. It mentions chess, ashtapada, and nard. Xusraw I (Khosro) was king of
Perhaps the first reference to chess in arabic is Naqa'id Jarir wa-al-Farazdaq, a poem by al-Farazdaq (641-728). It mentions Baidaq, the pawn (foot-soldier) of shatranj. It was written around 728 AD.
Around 800 Chatrang-namak
(Matigan-i-chatrang) was written in Pahlavi about the
history of chatrang and the introduction of the game
Around 840 al-Adli ar Rumi (800-870) wrote Kitab ash-shatranj (Book of the chess) in Arabic. This is a lost manuscript, but referenced in later works. It was considered the first comprehensive book dealing with chess. We know of it through referring manuscripts that preserved some of its texts and chess problems. The text included chess history, openings, endings and mansubat (chess problems). The collection had hundreds of chess problems. He also classified chess players into five distinct classes. He also found a system for sorting out the openings into positions, which he called Tabiya. His lost work may have also been the first to describe the knight's tour.
An Arabic book of Shatranj problems was written by ar-Razi, called Latif fi-sh shatranj (Elegance in Chess), written around 845. ar-Razi defeated al-Adli to become the strongest chess player in the world. He also wrote Kitab ash-shatranj, which has since been lost. All that has survived ar-Razi's book is a few opinions on the endgame and a couple of chess problems.
Around 850 Haravijaya (the Victory of Siva) by Rajanaka Ratnakara Vagisvara, was written in Sanskrit. The book is an epic which describes the defeat of demon Andhaka by Siva. It explained the four units of the old Indian army and the ashtapada, referring to chess. The four units were patti (foot-soldiers), ashwa (horses), ratha (chariots), and dwipa (elephants).
Around 875 Kavyalankara
(A work on poetics) by the
Around 890 Abu-Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya as-Suli (854-946) co-authored a book of problems (mansubat) and a book of openings (ta-biyat) for Shatranj, called Kitab-ash-shatranj (Book of Chess), volume one and two. He was assisted by Abu l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad as-Sarakhsi, a physician. One of his books contained the knight's tour on an 8x8 chessboard. as-Suli was the strongest player of his time, the world champion. One of as-Suli's book was a critique on al-Adli's book.
Around 920 Abu'l-Faraj ibn al-Muzaffar ibn Sa'id al-Lajlaj (900-970) wrote Kitab mansubat ash-shatranj (book of chess problems). It is another lost chess book. Manuscripts containing some of its contents have survived. He may have been the first person to analyze and publish chess openings. al-Lajlaj means the stammerer. The oldest chess game comes from a match between as-Suli and al-Lajlaj.
Around 920, the historian Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (838-923) wrote Kitab akhbar ar-rusul wal-muluk. Included was a chess incident in 802 between Nicephorus, Emperor of Byzantium and the Caliph Huran ar-Rashid. He described another incident of how the caliph al-Mutazz was playing a game of chess when a messenger brought the head of his rival, al-Musta'in to him. The caliph paid no attention until the chess game was over.
In 947 Muraj
adh-dhahab (Fields of Gold) by the Arabic
historian Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn al-Husain ibn Ali ibn Ali ibn Abdullah al-Masudi (888-956)
was written in Arabic. It was a history of chess in
Around 1000 the first European text on chess
appeared. This was the Versus de Schachis in
In 1008 a will of Count Ermengaud
I (Count of Urgel in
The Shahnama (Book
of Kings), the national epic of
Around 1030 the Tarikh al-Hind (History of India) by Abu'r-Raihan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Beruni (973-1048), also known as Alberuni, was written in Arabic. It was a travel description which had the rules of 4-handed Chaturanga, played with dice.
In 1030 Ruodlieb
was written. It was a German romantic poem written in Latin by a monk from the
abbey in Tegernsee in
In 1058 a will of Countess Ermessind
In 1061 Cardinal Petrus (Pietro or Peter) Damiani
(1007-1072) of Ostia wrote a letter to Pope-elect Alexander II and Archdeacon
Hildebrand (later Pope Gregory VII) complaining about chess being played by the
lay people. He urged the pope to forbid chess from the clergy and to punish the
Around 1110 the encyclopedia Manasollasa
(Delight of the Spirit), by the South Indian ruler King Sovedeva,
was written in Sanskrit. It was the first description of chess in
In 1148 Rajatarangini
In 1148 Alexiad, a
15-volume history, was written. This was the first
Greek reference to chess. This was a biography of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius
Comnena (1050-1118) by his daugher,
Anna Comnena, while in exile. She describes her
father playing chess with friends in Book 12. She also says that chess was
invented by the Assyrians. The Crusaders may have been exposed to chess from
Emperor Comnena, and may have brought it back to
Around 1250 the Quaedam
moralitas de scaccario per Innocentium papum (the
Innocent Morality) was published. It may be the oldest of chess moralities. The
world resembles a chessboard. Things are in black or white. The colors
represent life and death, or praise and blame. It was first attributed to Pope
Innocent III (1163-1216), a prolific sermon writer. Later, it was attributed to
John of Wales (1220-1290), a Franciscan who taught at
Around 1205 Wigalois by Wirnt von Gravenberg was written. It mentions Courier chess, played on a 12x8 board.
Around 1280, Jacobus de Cessolis (1250-1322), a Dominican from
In 1283 Libros del Axedrez dados y tablas (Book of Chess and other games) was written for King Alfonso X (1221-1284), King of Castile. It was the first encyclopeida of games in European literature. The first of the 7 parts of the Alfonso manuscript is devoted wholly to chess, and contains 103 problems. It also includes descriptions of several chess variants.
Around 1340 the Gesta Romanorum was written. It is a collection of stories and moralities. Three chapters relate to chess.
Around 1350 Nafa'is
al-funun (Treasury of the Sciences), a Persian
encyclopedia by Muhammad ibn Mahmud al-Amuli (1300-1352), mentions chess. The first chapter
describes the invention of chess in
In 1432 Johannes Ingold (1400-1465) wrote Guldin Spil. He writes about the 7 deadly sinds, illustrating each with a game. Chess represented pride and humility.
Around 1450 Panchadandachattraprabandha mentions chess without dice. The book was a tale of king Vikramaditya (380-413 AD).
In 1474 William Caxton (142201491) published the Game
and Playe of the Chesse
in English. It was translated from Jehen de Vignay's French version of the Innocent Morality. It was
the 3rd book printed in English, after the Bible and The Recuell of the Historyes of Troye, and the first English book published in
In 1495 Libre dels jochs partits
dels schacs en nombre de 100 from Francesch Vicent was published in
In 1497 Repeticion de amores e art de axedrez con CL Juegos de partido (Discourse on Love and the Art of Chess with 150 endings) by Luis Ramirez Lucena was written. It was the first surviving book with the modern rules of chess. Only 8 copies are known to exist. The book is the first to include the old rules of chess and the new rules of chess (most notably, the movement of the Queen).
In 1512, Questo
libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li
partiti was written by the Portuguese player
Pedro Damiano (1480-1544). It was the first chess
book published in
In 1513 Scacchia Ludus (The Game of Chess) was written by Marcus Antonius Hieronymus Vida (1490-1566), Bishop of Alba, in Latin. He is the first to mention Tower and castle (rook). The poem inspired Jones's Caissa, the goddess of chess. It describes a chess game between Apollo and Hermes.
In 1524, Damiano updated
his book, now entitled, Libro da imparare giocare a Scacchi: & de bellitissimi partiti revisit & recorrecti. Com summa dilgentia emendati da molti famisissimi
In lingua Spagnola et
Italiana. Composto per Damiano, Poruguese. It was printed in
In 1555 Olaus Magnus
(1490-1557) published Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus
(History of the Northern Peoples) in
In 1561 Ruy Lopez
(pronounced Rue-y Lopeth) de Segura (1530-1580) wrote
Libro de la invencion
liberal y arte del juego del Axedrez,
por Ruy-Lopez de Sigura, clerigo, vezino dela villa Cafra. He wrote the book in response to Damiano's book. It
contains 66 games. In 1584, his book was
translated into Italian by Gio. Dominico
Tarsia and printed at
In 1597 Orazio (Horatio) Gianutio of Mantia wrote Libro nel quale si tratta
di giucar a scacchi, con alcuni sottilissimi partiti,
In 1604 Alessandro Salvio
(1575-1640) published Trattato dell'inventione et arte liberale
In 1614 Arthur Saul published Famous game of Chesse-play. It classified different kinds of mate, including stalemate and scholar's mate, and fool's mate.
In 1616 Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg (Gustavus Selenus) (1579-1666),
wrote Das Schach-oder Konig-Spiel
(Chess of the King's Game). It was published in
In 1620 Gioachino Greco (1600-1634) writes on chess traps.
In 1656, Greco's work was being published by F. Beale in a book called The royall Game of Chesse-play. Sometimes the recreation of the late king, with many of the nobility. It contained chess traps and almost 100 gambits.
In 1689 Thomas Hyde (1636-1702) published Historia shailudii (History of Chess). This was the first scholarly account of the history of chess.
In 1690 B. Asperling
(1650-1710) wrote Traite du Ieu Royal des Echecs and
In 1694, Thomas Hyde publishes De Ludis Orientalibus.
In 1735 Joseph Bertin (1695-1736) wrote The Noble Game of Chess. Containing Rules and Instructions for the Use of those who have already a little Knowledge of this Game. It was the first worthwhile chessbook in the English language. It contained opening analysis, 26 games, and useful advice about the middlegame.
In 1737 Phillip Stamma
(1705-1760) published Essai sur jeu des echecs
In 1745 Phillip Stamma
(1700-1760) published his Noble Game of Chess. It contained 100 endgames
and 74 opening variations. He had become one of the best players in
In 1748, at the age of 22, Francois-Andre Danican Philidor (1726-1795)
published his Analyze du Jeu des Echecs (Analysis of the Game of Chess) in
In 1913 H. J. R. Murray wrote A History of Chess, published by Oxford University Press. It is 900 pages long and the best reference to chess history.