Historical Milestones

Drawing: Shirley, via Wikimedia Commons

This section does not want to be, by far, an account of the history of chess, leaving out, for example, the easternmost variations that I personally do not know. The intention is to record all historical references which, in one way or another, have had some influence on the design of C'escacs, accompanying them with some interesting historical data.

primitive chess

The origin of chess is unknown, but the game of Chaturanga in India, mentioned in the Mahābhārata, is generally considered to be the earliest precursor. Chaturanga is recorded to have been played as early as the 6th century.

Considering that, after the time of Alexander the Great, the Greeks maintained close contact with India for several centuries, the silence of Greek writers on the existence of chess is considered evidence of the non-existence of chess in those times.

As Daniel Willard Fiske (1831-1904) pointed out:

Before the 7th century CE, the existence of chess in any country cannot be proved with the slightest documentary or reliable evidence. Beyond that date, all is impenetrable darkness.

Daniel Willard Fiske The Nation, New York. 7.6.1900, page 436


Chaturanga (चतुरङ्ग) is a game with origins in the Gupta Empire, and would come to mean four armies (literally, having four members, chaturanga - चतुरङ्ग caturaṅga, catuḥ: "four"; anga: "arms"), beeing hasty-ashwa-ratha-padatam (elephants-horses-carts-foot soldiers) the classic formation of the armies of India, as described by the Akshauhini en el Mahabharata. The oldest known reference dates from the 6th century AD, although the represented armies correspond to the time of Alexander the Great and the Maurya Empire, between the 4th century BC and the 2nd century BC. There is also a Chinese chess (Xiangqi, 象棋) with representations which correspond to the 1st century BC. Interestingly, the oldest references are not directly from the Chaturanga, but to the arrival as Shatranj to Persia from India, and some more diffuse texts from China.

Starting positions in the Chaturanga.
  • The boxes on the board were of a single color.
  • The Rajah was positioned on the board to the right of each player, so that the Rajahs of the two opponents were not facing each other. The move was equivalent to the King's move in modern chess, and it is possible that there was a special initial move.
  • The Mantri (Advisor) had no movement all over the board, since it only moved one square diagonally. He thus only moved for what on a modern board would be the white squares, beeing a colorbounded figure.
  • Los Padàti / Bhata / Sainik (all three names are valid), would have a movement equivalent to the current pawns , but without the starting double movement; we have no information regarding the promotion, but it was probably determined by the square that was reached.
  • Los Ashva / Ashwa (Horses / Knights); they would have the same movement as the Knight of current chess.
  • There is no certainty of the movement of the Ratha (Chariot), but it most likely coincided with the current Rook of chess.
  • Elephant move in Burmese chess (Sittuyin)
    Elephant move in Burmese chess (Sittuyin)
    Thanks to:
    Boedawgyi, CC BY-SA 3.0
    via Wikimedia Commons

    In the case of the Gaja (Elephants) the exact movement is unknown, existing different theories; I personally subscribe to the likelihood of the move matching that which has persisted in some Southeast Asian chess and also Japanese Shogi silver general already described by al-Biruni around 1030 in his book India.

    The movement of two squares diagonally occurs in the Nauca del Chaturaji, where its weakness is obvious. This move carried over to Persian Chatrang and Chinese Xiangqi, but the elephant in India is unlikely to have been represented with such a weak piece, as can be seen in the Indian variant of modern chess.

The movement of the Ratha (Chariot) is also not completely certain, although it is thought that the movement corresponds exactly to the movement of the modern Rook. We have multiple games with horizontal and vertical movements, as in the Indian Xaturaji, in the Arabic Shatranj, and in many other games in different places: in the 飛車 hisha ("flying chariot") of the Japanese shōgi (将棋), in the chariot of the Chinese Xiangqi (象棋), or in the Viking Hnefatafl; moreover, although the rules have not come down to us, it seems that this movement would also exist in the Ludus latrunculorum of the Romans, or even in the Petteia of the Greeks.

It is also possible that the Xaturanga evolved, with more than one version, or variants, existing in each area, and the success and standardisation of the Shatranj in the next Islamic world could be seen as just another variant. Thus it was probably the reputation of the Persian origin of Shatranj that left Xaturanga forgotten; the Islamic era in India began with the first colonies in the 8th century and sultanates from the 10th century onwards, but the important Mughal era did not begin until the 16th century, and from the 17th century onwards the influence of Western chess in India was already evident.


Starting position of the Chaturaji;
the allies are positioned in opposite corners.

Chaturaji means four rajahs, and is an evolution of the Chaturanga in India itself. It was a game that incorporated dice that the player rolled to determine which piece to move. It incorporates the Nauca (Boat), which jumps two squares diagonally, so the squares it can reach are very limited. In this game the Gaja (Elephant) moves like the current rook, representing the most powerful piece.

The piece to be moved was determined with a long four-sided die:

  1. Pedàti (Pawn) or Rajah
  2. Nauca (Boat)
  3. Ashva (Knight)
  4. Gaja (Elephant)

You can also use a four-sided tetrahedral die, or if you only have a cubic die (hexahedron) use the value five equivalent to the value one, and six equivalent to the value four.

Valuation of the pieces was:

  • Pedàti (Pawn): 1
  • Nauca (Boat): 2
  • Ashva (Knight): 3
  • Gaja (Elefante): 4
  • Rajah: 5

While Chaturanga would mean four armies: infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants, Chaturaji means four rajahs, a way of saying four players. Chess with more than two players have a tendency to degenerate, losing the strategic component to prevail diplomacy between players, unbalancing the game. But we remember that Chaturaji is a game with a large component of chance, and, moreover, in Chaturaji it seems that the players form two pairs, playing one pair against the other. In any case, it may be a game inspired by chess and with certain connections, but it cannot be considered chess, as we could say of Chaturanga or other variants that we will mention here.

Chaturaji rules

The aim is not to capture the enemy Rajah, which is just another piece on the board, but to score points by capturing pieces; the exception is the rule that the game is won by the player who captures the Rajahs of the other three players, scoring the equivalent of the three whole navies, 54 points, since each navy is valued at 18 points; This victory is called Chaturaji.

The order of player turns is clockwise, and fronted players are allied. Each player moves two pieces each turn by rolling one die twice or by rolling two dice simultaneously. When both dice indicate the same piece, the same piece may be moved twice, or if two such pieces are available then two different pieces of that type may be moved. If movement of the dice indicated piece is impossible, or, if the player doesn't want to move it, as the player is not obliged to move, then the full turn is lost.

Note that when playing with two dices and that case arises on the second throw, the first move had already been done, and it is not undone; so, It is different to play with one die or with two. It should also be noted that allied pieces can be captured, but not your own.

The game ends when there are no pieces left in play for the opposing players, but it can also end when all the players agree to end the game. At the end of the game, the points are counted. Other rules:

Shatpada (six steps): pawn promotion
If the conditions arise, a pawn that reaches the last square would promote to the type of piece that would be positioned on that column on the initial setup (of your own column or your ally's column).
When a pawn reaches the final rank but may not promote, then the pawn stays as a pawn on the square on the final row. As soon as he may promote, the pawn is changed into the respective piece. In the mean time, the pawn can be taken.
When a player owns three or four pawns, a pawn may not promote.
When a player has one or two pawns, he may promote to Knight or Elephant.
Only when a player possesses a single pawn and the Rajah, and at most the Boat but no other pieces, may he promote to Ship, or a second Rajah.
As an exception, a player without Rajah can always promote to Rajah when a pawn reaches the last row of a Rajah's column.
Vrihannauka: Boat triumph
When a boat moves such that a 2×2 square filled with boats is formed, it captures all three boats of the other players.
Rajah capture
If a player loses his Rajah he cannot move any pieces, except for pawns. His pieces remain on the board and can be taken.
  • The partner can choose to exchange Rajahs and rescue him by replacing him.
  • Pawns of a player who had lost its Rajah can't capture a Rajah.
  • When capturing an enemy Rajah, if the partner's Rajah has been captured by that enemy army, it can be demanded the Rajah's exchange, and then both Rajahs are returned to its starting position, or to an adjacent one if it is occupied.
  • Otherwise, the player who captures the last enemy Rajah, if his partner's Rajah has also been captured, will take control over the ally army to defeat the frozen enemies using both armies.
Whoever moves a Rajah to enter the original square of another Rajah is said to have gained a sinhasana. If a player gains a sinhasana on the allied player's throne (player whose pieces are opposite), both allies take control of both armies. sinhasana rules on an enemy throne are related to gambling.
When Rajah is left without its army it is neither victory nor a defeat.

It was a gambling game with stakes, and some of the rules were complicated, we don't know them well and they might even have had versions in different places. Either way, we can add some adapted rules to play with points:

  • Point tally: Pairs can be kept or changed over a series of different games, keeping the points earned by each player, but it must be noted that a typical series of games would be a series of four games, without changing pairs.
  • Cacacashta point tally: The cacacashta situation (lonely Rajah) means that no one counts the points of the captured pieces to that army (player) in the game, it's like a draw with that player; the Rajah is removed from board and pieces are returned to the player (they do not count), who also returns any piece which would had captured (they also do not count). Note that the allied can force the situation capturing the last allied piece.
  • Sinhasana on an enemy throne: Gaining a sinhasana on an enemy throne doubles the value of its Rajah (10 points) if captured while the throne remains occupied, but capturing the enemy Rajah on his throne by gaining a sinhasana, i.e. capturing the enemy Rajah in his initial position with one's own Rajah, is even more valuable, and quadruples its value (20 points). Note that if the Rajah is rescued in any way, with the rescued Rajah the advantages of sinhasana are lost; this is not the case in the promotion of a pawn, for in that case a new Rajah is appointed.
  • End game by Rajah capturing: When both enemy Rajahs have been captured and also all its pawns, and thus both enemy armies are definitly frozen, the number of final turns can be limited, for example to five turns, that is to say ten moves for each remainding player; this rule is to avoid a never-ending end.

The persian Chatrang

Bozorgmehr masters the game of chess
Bozorgmehr masters the game of chess

The Sanskrit word चतुरङ्ग (chaturanga) in Middle Persian or Pahlavi, loses the 'u' per syncopation and the final 'a' by apocope (chatrang: چترنگ). For this reason, the name Chatrang is usually reserved for the Persian version, which in turn gave rise to the Arabic version, the Shatranj.

There is a text in Middle Persian (Pahlavi) Explanation of Chess and arrangement of Vin-Artakhshir concerned with the earliest story of the invention of the games of chess and backgammon in the sixth century, during the rule of the great Sasanian king of kings, Khosrow I (501-579 CE, king from 531). In addition, other Middle Persian texts mention the game of chess and backgammon in a context that makes it clear that it was part of the courtly education. Khusro ud Rēdag (Khusro and the Page) refers to to the same period, but Kārnāmag ī Ardaxšīr ī Pābagān (Book of the deeds of Ardashir, son of Pabag) references them at the time of the creation of the Sassanid empire (beginning of the third century), but this text, however, appears to be a late compilation dated on the seventh century, probably during the reign of Khosrow II.

The text, well known for its later inclusion in the Shahnameh, the national epic of Persia, written and compiled by Ferdowsi around the year 1000, explains the arrival of Chatrang from India as an oriental tale, although it reserves the creation of Nêw-Ardaxshîr, which soon gave rise to Nard, which in turn was later transmitted to India and is the precedent of Backgammon. The latest dating of the original text places it at around 600 CE, coinciding with the earliest archaeological evidence of chess in Iran, an elephant cut in black stone dated to the end of the 6th or 7th century. A brief adapted translation of the text, got from http://history.chess.free.fr is copied here:

Dêwisharm (Divsaram), an Indian king identified to Deva S´arvavarman, a king of Kanauj from the Maukhari dynasty, by Renate Syed, professor of Sanskrit sent its vizier, Tâtarîtos (Takhtritus), to Khosrow I Anôshag-ruwân (immortal soul), Shâh of Persia, with many presents:

A set of 16 emerald and 16 ruby pieces, 90 elephants and 1200 camels charged with gold, silver, jewels, pearls and rainment.

A challenge accompanied this caravan:

As your name is King of the Kings, that means that your wise men should be wiser than ours. Either you discover the secrets of this game, or you pays tribute.

Khosrow asked for few days to solve the enigma. The last day, Bozorgmehr rose and says to his king:

I shall solve this game easily and secure revenue and tribute from Dêwisharm and I shall prepare another thing and shall send it to Dêwisharm which he shall not be able to solve and I shall exact double the tribute from him; and be you sure of this that you deserve the emperorship, and the wise men here are wiser than those of Dêwisharm.

He called Tâtarîtos before him and said:

Dêwisharm made this game of chess like war. He made the Kings (Shâh) like two overlords, the Ministers (Mâdayâr or Rox) essential for the left and the right flanks, the General (Frazên) to resemble the chief of the warriors, the Elephant (Pîl) to resemble the chieftain protecting the rear, the Horse (Asp) to resemble the chief of the horsemen, and the Pawns (Payâdag) to resemble the foot-soldiers on the battlefront.

Then Bozorgmehr proposed to the Khosrow to send to Dêwisharm a game of his invention, the Nêw-Ardaxshîr, brave-Ardashir thus named in the honor of Ardashir, the founder of the dynasty. This game used 15 black and 15 white pieces on a table inspired by the movement of the stars and the cycle of the days.

According to al-Tha'alibi, when the Arabs entered Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanid empire of Persia, they found some ruby and emerald chess pieces that belonged to Khosrow II. The text is to be understood in a context in which backgammon is seen as a superior game: while the game of chess is a game linkened to battle, backgammon is based on the throw of the dice, thus based on one’s fate. According to some of the traditions of Zoroastrianism in the Sasanian period, fate dominated and controlled human life. An annotated translation can be found at: On the Explanation of Chess and Backgammon.

In the text, the Persians have to guess the rules of the game, which Bozorgmehr succeeds, and then he won three games against Tâtarîtos. The great symmetry of the movements of the pieces (see the drawing attached to the Shatranj) makes me personally think of some alteration of the chaturanga rules, and I am thinking in particular of the movements of the elephant; It is true that the movement of the chariot is not known either, but the conjecture that the movement was maintained is very solid.

Persia, just before the beginning of the reign of Khosrow I, welcomed the scholars of the Platonic Academy (Neoplatonic Academy), which was closed by Justinian I in 529. Throughout the Middle Ages Persian mathematics were an important contribution within the Islamic world, and throughout the West, but it is also true that at the time theological and transcendent meanings were sought in symmetries and geometry.

Spread of Persian Chatrang in the West

Early 12th century ivory boat
Early 12th century ivory boat, Volkovysk, Belarus. Belarus Museum of Belarusian Art, Minsk.

The name of the elephant (Fil) has been preserved in Catalan as Alfil, but also in Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Persian; in Russian the word слон (elephant) is used directly. In addition, the name Ferz has been preserved in Russian (Ферзь) for the Queen, and as vezér in Hungarian.

These philological roots in Russian words, directly linked to Persian, together with other archaeological evidence, are considered proof of the Persian connection of chess in Eastern Europe, specifically among the Slavs.

In Russian the name Elephant (слон) is kept for the bishop, and interestingly since ancient times the name Ладья (ship), instead of the original version chariot, is used for rooks, which could be justified by the Varangian influence and the importance of ships for this culture. Nevertheless it should be noted that the ship type does not refer to a Viking drakkar, but to a Slavic vessel.

Chess was called zaquitrion in the Eastern Roman empire, a name that philological evidence has established, apparently with certainty, as a Hellenisation of the Persian Chatrang rather than the Arabic Shatranj. This Persian origin of the word Zaquitrion may allow us to date the knowledge of the game in Byzantium probably earlier than 661 CE, when in Persia the invaders imposed Arabic as a language on their subjects throughout the Umayyad empire; although Middle Persian proved to be very durable, if it had occurred at a later date, for example, if it was already in the Abbasid dynasty (750 CE), it would be natural to observe a provenance from Arabic, particularly considering that the Arabs quickly appropriated the game, and the importance they attached to chess.


The moves of the pieces of the Shatranj were complementary, if the Shah (King) and the Sarbaz (Pawn) are excluded.

The Shatranj (Arabic: شطرنج; Persian: شترنج) was the evolution of the Chaturanga in Persia, and from there it reached the Arab world around the year 530, a hundred years before the Muslim conquest of Persia. It is documented by means of references in Arabic from the medieval period, but it is unknown if, as the Arabic documentation assures, it coincides exactly with the version that was played in Persia.

The game, unlike the Indian Chaturanga, is well documented.

  • The board continues to be monocolor.
  • The pieces were: Shah (equivalent to king), Firz (Ferz, vizier, in Persian, medieval Queen), Fil (elephant, in Persian, early medieval Comes, Curvus or Bishop. It also took the name of Archer, and in other countries Hunter or it preserved the name Al-fil), Asb (Faras) (horse, in Persian, in many medieval countries took the name of Knight), Ruhk (chariot, in Persian, modern Rook) and Sarbaz (soldier, in Persian, later translated into arab as Baidaq, modern Pawn, without initial double move, and which, reaching the eighth row, promoted Ferz).
  • The Shahs are positioned facing each other, unlike the initial position of the Chaturanga, and, of course, there was no castling.
  • Therefore, the Firz (Ferz, vizier, in Persian), who play colorbounded, cannot capture each other; move one square diagonally.
  • The Phil (elephant, in Persian) jumps two positions diagonally in either direction. Same as the Nauca (Boat) of the Chaturaji. In addition to be colourbounded, the squares it could reach were even more limited, only one eighth of the board. More over, the reachable squares of the four Elephants in the game were disjunct, so that one's own Elephants were complementary, reaching between them only one quarter of the board, and it was not possible to capture an opponent's Elephant with an Elephant.
  • The end of the game would occur in three different cases:
    1. Capturing the Shah (checkmate)
    2. Leaving the opponent with no possible moves (stalemate) was also a victory; if you think stalemate as a capturing the Shah approach, if a shah in stalemate position moves, it will be captured.
    3. Stripping the Shah: Capturing all the opponent's pieces, apart from the Shah, meant victory, except if the opponent could capture the last opponent's piece on the next move, in which case the game ended in a draw.

Study of Shatranj by Muslim sages

Statue of Al-Suli in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)
Statue of Al-Suli in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)

In the Shatranj problems were defined to be solved (mansūbāt مَنصوبة), and also opening positions (tabiya, تَعْبِيَة), where, despite not indicating the way to reach it, the different advantages and moves from the position were studied, which the players tried to imitate. The valuation of the pieces was also estimated, calculated symbolically in dírhams (darāhim), and categories were established between the chess players, and the advantage that a player of a higher category had to concede when playing with a player of a lower category; in fact, similar handicap rules were prevalent in Western chess in the Romantic era of chess during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The great players were famous at court and many well-known scholars wrote books on Shatranj during the Golden Age of Islam, at the time of the Great Library of Baghdad (the House of Wisdom), the first university in the world which absorbed the Persian scholars of Gundeshapur, where we find such important scholars as the historian Al-Massudí Al-Massudi, born in Baghdad itself already in the 10th century, and who mentions the different variants of Shatranj that existed in his time. Different books were written about chess, studying the tabiyat تعبية (chess problems) and manṣūbāt مَنْصُوبَة (openings), books that have survived to the present day:

Examples of Shatranj Tabiya (تَعْبِيَة)
Pictures of the Tabiya courtesy of: Samuele Becchis aka The_Bishop through the forum of https://www.chess.com/
Example of Shatranj Mansuba (مَنصوبة): Mansuba of Dilaram (9th century)

Legend has it that Dilaram, favourite of the grand vizier Murdaoui, was witnessing a game in which her husband had committed the folly of betting on his favourite wife. Murdaoui was about to receive mate. Seeing the position Dilaram whispered to her husband the winning variation:

-Sacrifice both rooks and save your wife.

Pictures of the Mansuba courtesy of: Carlos Merediz Pérez aka Xixonudo through the blog of https://www.chess.com/es/blog/Xixonudo

Arrival of Shatranj in Cordoba (ca. 822 CE)

The arrival of the Shatranj in Cordoba is attributed to Ziryab (أبو الحسن علي ابن نافع Abu l-Hasan Ali ibn Nafi), also known by the nickname of Mirlo (spanish for Blackbird), a freedman of black descent, who arrived in Algeciras in 822 CE. He came from the court of Baghdad to reside at the court of Abderraman II of Córdoba (792-886). He was a Muslim poet, musician, singer, aesthete and gastronome who introduced many customs and fashions into the society of the time, many of which still persist today. He also established the first music conservatory in the Islamic world, and perfected the lute by adding a fifth string.

Although it cannot be confirmed with certainty that he was the protagonist of the introduction of the Sharanj at the court of Córdoba, his great influence on that court and, in general, on the society of the emirate, allows us to affirm this without much room for error. He initiated them into the fashions and customs of Baghdadi civilisation, which they accepted as rules of social and urban conduct, even in such intimate aspects as hygiene and cleanliness and others linked to their own morals and language. Eastern forms of protocol were introduced, and society itself changed many customs in line with the new norms and fashions.

Early Shatranj variants

The historian al-Mas'ûdî (المسعودي), dead in 956, composed the Murūj aḏ-Ḏahab wa-Maʿādin al-Jawhar (مُرُوج ٱلذَّهَب وَمَعَادِن ٱلْجَوْهَر Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems). Among other things, this text described five variants of Shatranj: Oblong Shatranj (al-Mustatîla), Complete Shatranj (at-Tâmma), Byzantine Shatranj (ar-Rûmîya), Celestial Shatranj (al-Falakîya) and Limb Shatranj (al-Jawârhîya).

Today we know very little about the latter, the Limb Shatranj, and we do not know the details, but in any case, it seems to be unrelated to what we understand today as chess, although neither is the Celestial shatranj.

  • Oblong Shatranj (rectangular) Shatranj al-Mustatîla
    Shatranj al-Mustatîla setup option Shatranj al-Mustatîla setup option Shatranj al-Mustatîla setup option
    Shatranj al-Mustatîla Three alternative setups

    This was a Shatranj played with dice, moving a piece according to the type of piece determined by the value of the die (6=Shah, 5=Firz, 4=Elephant, 3=Horse, 2=Roc, 1=Peon) on a rectangular board consisting of 16×4 squares, which often appeared behind the board game of Nard (backgammon). We note that, indeed, chess in the Middle Ages was a game of chance and gambling.

    There were several alternative initial setup positions. In case of check, if the die did not allow the Shah to move, the player lost the turn, and the game was only lost when the Shah was captured, or all pieces except the Shah were captured.

  • Complete Shatranj Shatranj at-Tâmma
    Shatranj at-Tâmma
    Shatranj at-Tâmma

    This Shatranj used a board of 10×10 squares, adding two pieces to each player. It is the oldest known decimal chess (on a 10×10 board). Two variants are recorded:

    1. Incorporating a piece (four, two each player) which he calls Dabbābah (war machine), which in this case had the same moves as the Shah.
    2. Incorporating a piece called Camel (four, two each player) which in this case seems to move by jumping orthogonally to the third square, complementing the diagonal movement of the Elephants. This movement is not as limiting as that of the Elephant, and allows it to reach a quarter of the squares, so that the four disjointed Camels would reach the whole board, but without being able to capture each other.

    This Shatrang at-Tâmma had some different rules from the ortodox Shatranj:

    1. The Pawn promotes to a Ferz, but if the player has not yet lost its Ferz>, the extant Ferz is seized by the opponent.
    2. If a Shah successes to reach the starting square of the opposing Shah, the player obtains an half-victory.
    3. A bare Shah is not losing. He must continue to play.

    The Dabbābah piece appears in different variants throughout history, with different movements. It is also the case that the Camel appears in different variants throughout history, but its movement is typically different from this one, while this movement is sometimes linked to the Dabbābah, leaving for the Camel a movement similar to the Horse (Knight), but more elongated (3×1 and 1×3 instead of 2×1 and 1×2).

  • Round Shatranj: Shatranj Al-Muddawara
    Al-Muddawara (Zaquitrion)
    Al-Muddawara (Zaquitrion).
    Image: Dogface, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Circular chess has to be understood simply as a Shatranj played on a circular board. The Arabs called it Shatranj ar-Rumiya (Byzantine chess) or Shatranj al-Muddawara (circular chess), and it consisted of 64 squares, organised in four concentric rings with 16 squares each. Only two rules need to be considered, due to the circular topology of the board:

    • There are no pawn promotion. Some pawns rotate clockwise, others counterclockwise. It seems reasonable to think that the pawns will have some mark or a distinct shape to indicate the direction of rotation.
    • Two opposing pawns of the same player, placed on the same ring, consecutive squares and opposite rotation direction, can be removed by the opponent on the next turn, without counting as a move.

    It may be noted, as a curiosity, that one player's Firz can capture the opponent's Firz, since, if the board were checkered, both Firzs would be on a square of the same colour. This is different from all other Shatranj variants, in which the players' Firzs are always positioned on squares that would be of different colours on a chequered board.

    Documents in the British Library and elsewhere suggest that circular chess was played in Persia as early as the 10th century CE, and other references are found in India, and later, in Europe. There are also references that state that the shape of the pieces was different from the usual Shatranj ones, but there is no record of the shapes; probably the pawns would have had some distinctive feature to know in which direction they moved, since there are pawns in play rotating clockwise, and others counterclockwise.

    Although Forbes and Murray mention it as a diagram appearing in a 13th century English manuscript, preserved in London in the British Library (Cotton MS Cleopatra B IX), it should be noted that the Libro del ajedrez, dados y tablas of Alfonso X of Castile, written in the 13th century, does not mention circular chess; it can be deduced that at least then it was not very relevant, neither to the Iberian peninsula, nor to the Arab scholars, who were the main source of the manuscript of Alfonso X of Castile, and of whom we do not have many references either. However, it should also be noted that there is also no reference to oblong chess, despite devoting a chapter to dice games, and another to backgammon related games, which often accompanied oblong chess on the reverse.

    Ibn al-Khatib, a poet, writer, historian, philosopher and politician from Granada who lived in the 14th century, with a family of Yemeni origin who arrived in al-Andalus in the 9th century, documents the creation of circular chess, which he claims is traced to a manuscript from the year 618 found in Istanbul, which describes a round, circular chess set called Rumi, the invention of which he attributes to Abu Ali Ibn Rashiq al-Murci (d. 694). The term Rumi comes from the word the Arabs used to designate the territories of the Roman Empire, and the circular chess is often mentioned as Shatranj ar-Rumiya (Byzantine chess) in Arabic works.

    The earliest and most valid reference is that of Al-Massudi (10th century) in his encyclopaedic work on world history Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems, and it may be relevant that he called it Shatranj ar-Rumiya (Byzantine chess), although there is no other historical evidence linking the name to Byzantium, other than the name given by the Arabs and some much later Arabic legend.

    Interest in the game revived in the 19th century, when in 1885 George Hope Verney described it in his book Chess Eccentricities, together with variants for three and four players invented by himself. It is also mentioned in the book The sports and pastimes of the people of England (1833, Joseph Strutt. Book IV, Chapter II), referring to the 13th century English manuscript preserved in London in the British Library (Cotton MS, Cleopatra B IX).

    In 1983 the English writer Dave Reynolds set out to revive it with the current rules of chess; he built a board and presented it in a pub in Lincoln (England), where it was a hit with the local players. The modern version of circular chess was born, and in 1996 the Circular Chess Society was founded to organise a tournament as a means of spreading and popularising it.

    Modern version of circular chess
    Circular chess
    Circular chess.
    Image: Dogface, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Circular chess gives the Shatranj greater dynamism, providing more power to the rooks, but unfortunately, losing a little power the knights. It is not an optimal solution, and for this reason it has not stood the test of time, as the complexity of the circular chessboard does not provide sufficient improvements: it forces the creation of two fronts, but it boxes the pieces more, delimiting much more their area of influence, except for the rooks. It increases the power of the rooks, but slightly reduces that of the knight (¼), and the mobility of the bishop, making the game more unbalanced. In addition, the absence of corners makes checkmate more difficult to achieve, so that probably most games ended up with the king stripped, or in a draw, a much less artistic ending than in the traditional Shatranj.

    The modern version of the circular Shatranj is circular chess, incorporating the movement of the modern Bishop and Queen, but, unfortunately, the Bishop's movement is greatly impaired by the change from a square checkerboard to the circular version. The Queen, consequently, also has a disadvantage in its diagonal moves, but it has already been said that the orthogonal moves of the Rooks gain in power, and therefore also that of the Queen is compensated; we can think of the situation with three pieces of orthogonal move each player, in a checkerboard that has only four rows, with the diminished power of the Knight and Bishop.

    This is not to say that it is not a perfectly playable game, moreover, with the advantage that there are no great studies on openings, as in orthodox chess, allowing a pleasant game for practising chess without the considerations linked to the studied openings, and with a different approach, which is why it is practised in many clubs, particularly in England. But probably the behaviour is preferable as Shatranj rather than modern chess.

    Turning the circular chess hobby into a competition means going back to the study of openings, and then the more relaxed condition of the game is lost.

    In addition to incorporating the modern Bishop and Queen move, there are some additional rules to take into consideration in the modern version of circular chess:

    1. The initial position of the pieces changes with respect to the traditional version, so that the two kings face each other (see the difference in the circular chess picture with respect to that of the Al-Muddawara).
    2. Although the double movement of the pawns is incorporated, there is no en passant capture, nor is there castling.
    3. The rules of modern chess apply to the end of the game: a stalemate is a draw, and there is no victory if the King is left naked, with no pieces.
    4. Pawns are promoted after moving six squares from their starting position to the square immediately before the opponent's starting line. The rule of circular Shatranj that allows opposing pawns of the same player to be removed is no longer necessary, since the case cannot happen.
    5. Announcing the check is not compulsory, and it is allowed to capture the opposing king if he does not retreat from a check position, winning the game.

    The modern version incorporates the queen power: there are only four rings, and three orthogonal move pieces for each player. It can also be criticised that modern long-range diagonal moves are not clearly visualised on the circular board, and may not be obvious.

    The fondness for modern circular chess lies in the great differences, both in the openings, which are not studied, and in the endgames. The basic endgames in circular chess are: king and queen; king, rook and minor piece or king and three minor pieces against king. The endgame king and pawn against king always wins, provided that the king cannot capture the pawn before it promotes or is defended. Checkmate is more difficult to achieve, and many games that would be lost in orthodox chess because of the difference in material end in a draw.

    It should also be borne in mind that as early as 1885 George Hope Verney, in his book Chess Eccentricities, already described a modern circular chess, in a version for three players, and another for four players, the latter to be played in two pairs, and with acceptable rules for a multiplayer chess.

  • Celestial Shatranj al-Falakîya Shatranj
    Escaques board, Alfonso X
    Escaques board
    Alfonso X

    Although not much information remains, partly because it was a game intended to be guided by some erudite of the time with some knowledge of astrology, it seems that the game called Escaques detailed by Alfonso X in the Libro de los juegos: acedrex, dados e tablas of 1283 could almost be the transcription of al-Falakîya Shatranj, a game for seven players on a circular board divided into seven concentric rings, each one for one of the celestial bodies (in order: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), the innermost one for the Moon, and each of the rings divided into small sectors as squares. But Alfonso X also indicates that he does not leave the complete information, because it should only be available to wise men.

    The different rings did not have the same number of squares, the numbers being, in order from the inside: 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72 and 84. In addition, the innermost circle, inside the moon ring, is divided into four, for the four elements: fire, air, water and earth. The seven tokens, one for each celestial body, had stipulated colour and shape, for example, for the Moon, the token was to be represented by A woman dressed in white, and with her hands above her head holding the figure of the moon, Mars a classical soldier, or Venus a woman with a mirror and a comb.

    It was a gambling game very unrelated to Shatranj, despite bearing the name, but was related to playful astrological divination. Each player started with twelve points, and the game was played with a seven-sided die that determined which star had to move, and another die indicating how many moves had to be made. The resulting position of the celestial body in relation to the other celestial bodies determined, according to rules, the winnings or losses; these rules are largely determined by the astrology of Claudius Ptolemy (100 - 170 CE).

    A seven-sided die usually refers to a long die, or a teetotum, eight sided, discarding one of the values.

Current Ethiopian chess (Senterej)

Nowadays there is Ethiopian chess (Senterej) which is traditionally played in Ethiopia and Eritrea. This chess retains all the moves of Shatranj, although it is characterised by initial moves of the pieces made by the players, indeterminate in number and not necessarily alternating, moves that end with the first capture. The artistic sense of the game is valued, considering a mate made with a Ferz or an Elephant (Fil) to be more respectable, and even more admirable if it is made with a Pawn; mates with a Knight or Rook are considered unartistic.

Western Chess Evolution

Tablero de ajedrez occidental
Western chess is particularly distinguished by the chequered pattern.
Image: Nevit Dilmen, Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons

The most important differences between medieval Western chess and Shatranj, apart from some rules that were modified over the centuries, were the appearance of the two-coloured chessboard, and the return to pieces with figurative representations that had been the usual form before Islam, and from the 11th and 12th centuries onwards were recovered in the West.

The first reference to the two-coloured checkerboard is curiously also the first written reference to Western chess, the document, written in Latin, Versus de scachis, which only advises it as a means of making the game easier for the players.

We also note the change of name for some pieces, although maintaining their original movements: the queen is named, the calvus or curvus for the elephant, and the rook loses its meaning as a war chariot, a piece of junk that no longer makes sense in the armies of the time. But the movements of the Shatranj pieces, even if renamed, will remain the same, although there are also some changes in the rules.

The changes in the rules were subtle: the promotion of the pawns and the first move of some pieces (the pawns, the queen and the king), which also had variations depending on the geographical location. The first differentiated move has been maintained for the pawns, became meaningless for the queen when she changed her moves, and for the king it became castling.

The most profound changes would begin from the 13th century onwards in some variants, some with great success, such as the Courier chess, and others more anecdotal or local, such as the Grande Acedrex from The Book of Games of Alfonso X de Castile or Tamerlane Chess, which followed the tradition of the Arab Shatranj. These attempts to perfect chess were eventually introduced into orthodox chess at the end of the 15th century (1474).

Some rules had to wait until the 17th century to be standardised, and even some until the creation of the world championships in the 19th century. Castling was not defined until the mid-17th century, and did not become fully standardised until the 19th century. The rules for the promotion of pawns were also not standardised until the 19th century.

The stalemate began to be considered a draw in Europe from the 13th century onwards, slowly spreading throughout Europe, becoming almost general after the 15th century, with the adoption of the modern bishop and queen, but it was not accepted in England until the 19th century. As for considering the case of the naked king, without pieces, as a defeat, it was maintained until after the 15th century, already with the presence of the modern bishop and queen.

Western archaeological objects

Afrasiab chessmen
Afrasiab chessmen, from Afrasiab (Samarkand, Uzbekistan) Picture: http://history.chess.free.fr

Historical context

The historical context in Europe during the Middle Ages is terribly complex, but probably the decisive centuries for chess, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th can be considered calmer, after the invasions of the previous centuries.

The Vikings are prominent in the north, and the Hungarians and Bulgarians in the east; These were years of great importance for Muslim culture, but clashes continued on the Iberian Peninsula, and the Turks began to clash in the Eastern Empire, while the maritime republics gained great independence and benefited from trade, especially Venice. The 12th century began with the Crusades, which continued for much of the 13th century, but of lesser importance; the 12th century ended with the Fourth Crusade, which attacked Constantinople. The 12th century was also notable for the emergence of medieval cities (from medieval communes) and trade.

The 13th century was marked by the expansion of the Mongols, who put an end to Arab splendour by sacking Baghdad, its capital, while the 14th century saw a deep crisis for various reasons, but the Black Death was one of the main ones.

This historical context can be explored in greater depth with some of the details mentioned on the separate page of this website dedicated to the historical context.

A brief list of some of the most significant archaeological artefacts

  • Commercial replica of the Afrasiab chess set.

    Between 600 CE and before 712 CE: The oldest chess pieces ever found are the pieces from Afrasiab, near Samarkand, Uzbekistan. They are preserved in the Afrasiab Museum in Samarkand. This location is thought to be the origin of western chess. Persian Shatranj forms can be seen before Islamic domination.

  • Elephant from Sarkel

    In the 8th century the spread of chess by the Khazars, and later via the Varangians, to Kievan Rus, before the Islamic domination of Persia, can be confirmed by the archaeological presence in the Khazar fortification of Sarkel, now under the Don River dam reservoir, near the mouth of the Sea of Azov, a sea connected to the Black Sea. Sarkel was close to the present-day city of Rostov, Russia, and it had strong links with the Eastern Roman Empire.

    The photograph shows an ivory elephant found in the Khazar fortification of Sarkel, dated between the 8th and 10th centuries. It is now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia.

  • In the lands of Islamic rule the pieces of the Shatranj were geometric, and did not depict human figures. Despite the acceptance of the other religions of the book, others, such as Zoroastrianism or Buddhism, were not initially accepted. Many chess sets of this period are of Islamic origin, and in Spain even Mozarabic (Christian dominated) from the peninsula.

    Section: Islamic abstract symbolic pieces
    • The bolos of San Genadio
      Foto: Miguel Ángel Nepomuceno

      9th‑10th century: The bolos of San Genadio (Pañalba de Santiago, Lleón). Only four pieces of bone associated with the saint have been preserved.

      A history of deep Spain: We can read the story in Las piezas de ajedrez de San Genadio explained by Miguel Ángel Nepomuceno himself, the chess master who went to look for the pieces, already mentioned in 1843 by the writer Enrique Gil y Carrasco, and in several later references.

    • Venafro chessmen
      Foto: Museo Arqueológico de Venafro

      9th‑10th century: The Venafro chessmen (Italy) probably bears witness to the Arab presence in Venafrum, which was occupied between the 9th and 10th centuries by the troops of the Amir of Bari. The pieces are made of bone.

    • Chessmen from the ex-collegiate church of San Pere d'Àger
      Foto: museudelleida.cat

      10th century: The chessmen from the ex-collegiate church of San Pere d'Àger, made of rock crystal. In the 11th century, the ensemble consisted of 96 pieces, and in the 16th century only 44 were preserved. Today only 29 remain. Of these, 19 pieces are preserved in the Diocesan Museum of Lleida, but the other 10 are in the National Museum of Kuwait. They were documented in the early 19th century by Father Jaime Villanueva Astengo, and this made their archaeological recovery and conservation possible.

      It seems that these same pieces appear in the will of Arsenda of Àger in 1068, in which she leaves chess to her husband, and a few years later in an inventory of Arnau Mir de Tost, lord of Àger, and husband of Arsenda of Àger, thirteen silver boards, three sets of ivory and three sets of glass are listed.

      It is thought that these pieces may have been manufactured in Egypt, but Cordoba is now also considered as a possible workshop, in Medina Azahara, rather than Egypt, but in any case, they certainly came through Cordoba. More information can be read in the article on the website http://history.chess.free.fr. Similar pieces, but in smaller numbers, have been found elsewhere in Spain: San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja) and San Rosendo de Celanova (Orense, Galicia).

    • 10th century: The pieces from the cathedral of Roda de Isábena in the Ribagorza region were documented at the beginning of the 19th century by Father Jaime Villanueva Astengo: A bag with several pieces of glass, about forty, large and small, inside the chest called the chest of Saint Valero, and he identifies them as pieces from the ancient game of chess, similar to those from Àger. The dating is not known, as these pieces have disappeared, but from the description we can think that they are similar to those from Àger. It is thought that they appear in an inventory of the cathedral dated to the 12th century, but they are not explicitly mentioned as chess pieces.

    • San Rosendo Chess
      Foto: Juan Carlos Rivas Pires lavozdegalicia.es

      10th century: Fatimid chess (from medieval Egypt) from Celanova or San Rosendo chess. Preserved in the museum of the cathedral of Orense, these are pieces of rock crystal from San Miguel de Celanova, with 8 pieces from the 10th century: a rook, two bishops, two knights and three pawns. They belong to the so-called Treasure of San Rosendo, apparently taken from the primitive tomb of the Galician saint in Celanova. For many years they were probably considered to be simple carved glass. Nowadays, Cordoba is also considered to be the possible origin of the pieces, a workshop in Medina Azahara, rather than Egypt.

    • 10th century: In the Monastery of San Millán de Yuso, San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja), the Chest of San Felices includes three pieces of rock-crystal in the shape of Arabic chess pieces (Shatranj). In this case it seems that the chess pieces were only appreciated as decorative pieces by the kings of Navarre.

    • Year 1008: Inventory of the church of the abbey of Ripoll, drawn up in the year 1008, in which a set of 28 scacos cristallinos is reported. Unfortunately, the chess pieces have not survived to the present day.

    • Year 1010: In the testament of Ermengol I, Count of Urgell, founder of the House of Urgell, there is the first reference to the possession of a chess set in Europe, where donates it to the abbey of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard de Languedoc. The will was made on the occasion of the campaign against Cordoba by the Catalan counts. Unfortunately, the chess pieces have not survived to the present day.

      Fifty years later, Ermesinde of Carcassonne, countess consort of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, sister-in-law of Armengol I of Urgel, widow of her elder brother, Ramon Borrell, donated her chess pieces to the same Languedoc church, as can be read in her will of 1058.

      In Catalonia, several early references to chess games have been found in wills and inventories, showing the spread of the game in these lands, and the fondness for it among the nobility; written references to chess in the rest of the Christian West are not usually so early.

    • Chessmen of Lake Paladru (Isère, France)
      Foto: Diego Rasskin Gutman @drasskin

      Early 11th century (1008-1010): Wooden pieces found in the remains of a settlement at Lake Paladru (Isère, France).

    • Anglo-Scandinavian jet rook found under the
														'Coach and Horses' inn on Nessgate Street, York (UK)
      Imatge: cortesía del York Museums Trust :: CC BY-SA 4.0

      Between the late 9th and early 11th centuries: Anglo-Scandinavian jet rook found under the 'Coach and Horses' inn on Nessgate Street, York (UK). Together with the twin piece found in the prehistoric flint mines of Grime's Graves in Norfolk, they may show the early introduction of the game in England, but, even so, this presence of two identical and unconnected individual pieces could correspond to another game, for example, they could be Hnefis (Kings) from Hnefatafl, but the Arabian rook-like shape would be very unusual; remember that the Hnefi move is the same as that of the chess rook.

      This piece may remind us of King Canute's pieces, which would correspond in date.

    • 11th and 12th centuries: Pieces inspired by Muslim Shatranj designs can also be found in Europe, in some cases clearly the result of commercial exchanges, such as the pieces from Osnabrück (Germany), but in others of clearly local manufacture: deer bones (Poland and Scandinavia), whale bones (Witchampton, Dorset, UK) or narwhal bones (Scandinavia). Unfortunately, there are no associated written documents, as in the case of Catalonia.

      Photographs of some examples can be seen on Jean-Louis CAZAUX's website: http://history.chess.free.fr.

  • From the 12th century onwards the chess pieces are mainly figurative, instead of the abstract figures of the Shatranj. This trend seems to have started mainly in Italy, which would suggest a Byzantine influence. Later, pieces from the Isle of Lewis, and some Russian, Scandinavian and North German pieces.

  • 11th century bishop
    Pièce d'échecs: Eléphant et son cornac. Le Louvre via Saint Thomas guild

    11th century: An ivory bishop found in southern Italy; the representation of the bishop in Italy at this time was Byzantine in style, like an elephant.

  • Echiquier de Charlemagne Echiquier de Charlemagne
    Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0 and Siren-Com, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

    11th century: The incorrectly named Charlemagne chess, since in reality it is almost 300 years after Charlemagne (crowned in the year 800).

    The chess pieces are carved in ivory, dated to around 1080, as they are depicted with military equipment that corresponds to the clashes between Normans and Byzantines in Italy during the Byzantine–Norman Wars. They were probably made in Salerno (Italy). It is part of the Treasury of Saint-Denis, which is currently preserved in the Musée de la BnF, Paris.

  • Early 12th-century ivory boat

    12th century: Chess was transmitted by river routes through Ukraine and Russia via the northern Black and Caspian Seas. Ships are depicted in archaeological evidence, as Ладья (ship) is the Russian word for the chess Rook.

    The photograph shows an ivory boat from the early 12th century, found in Vaukavisk, Belarus. It is now in the Belarusian Art Museum in Minsk.

  • Lewis chessmen Lewis chessmen
    British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    12th century: The Lewis chessmen, walrus ivory pieces from the time of the kingdom of Mann, which was dependent for vassalage on Norway. The figures of bishops appear representing the old Fils, until then named as crookeds, counts or companions, and Berserkers or Guards appear representing the Rooks, instead of charriots; therefore elephants and charriots no longer appear.

  • Rook from 12th century
    Photo: http://history.chess.free.fr

    12th century: In Europe, some pieces still retained the symbolic forms of the Islamic Shatranj, although the valuable ivory pieces were soon adorned with carvings, often with Christian motifs.

    The photograph shows a Rook found in Casals (Cazaux), a village in Occitania (France) between Andorra and Toulouse. The piece has been dated to around the middle of the 12th century. It is currently in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

  • Scandinavian bishop from 12th century
    Photo: http://history.chess.free.fr (Rodolfo Pozzi)

    12th century: Luxury pieces with symbolic abstract forms of European manufacture incorporate engravings, and the tendency is to represent the figurative form of the piece. Over time, Islamic symbolism will be forgotten.

    The photograph shows a bishop found in Scandinavia, dated 12th century.

  • Enthroned King Reina sueca segle XIII
    King: Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met NY, USA), Queen: Historiska museet (Suècia)

    In the 13th century the figures are generally figurative, and it is difficult to find the abstract Islamic symbolic pieces characteristic of the Shatranj.

    In the first picture we can see a King, Game Piece in the Form of an Enthroned King, carved in fine pumice stone, dated 1200-1250. It was found in northern Germany, and is now preserved at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, USA).

    The second photograph shows a Queen (Regina) on horseback, carved from walrus ivory, dated 1250-1350. It is now preserved in the Statens historiska museers (Suècia).

    It was found in the Swedish region of Västergötland - West Goth country - and from there, approaching the coast, you can see the Kattegat Channel and Denmark. It was the first place in the country to convert to Christianity, and two of Sweden's first royal dynasties were from this province. For most historians, Västergötland is the birthplace of the country.

Versus de scachis: Beginning of western chess

The earliest known Western reference to chess is the Latin poem Versus de scachis, dated to around the year 1000, late 10th or early 11th century. It was found on two manuscripts from Einsiedeln Abbey Library (Switzerland). The original text can be read from wikisource, and its importance was highlighted by Gamer, Helena M. The Earliest Evidence of Chess in Western Literature: The Einsiedeln Verses. Speculum 29 (1954): 734 - 750.

The name of Regina appears in Latin, but with the medieval movements of the Ferz, also called Alferza, or in Latin Ferzia. The Shatranj's Fil is referred to as Comes –count, but it also means companion– or Curvus –crooked, referring to an old man–; it moves (jumps) two squares diagonally. The Rooks appear as Rochus, but also as Margrave, a military title similar to that of marquis, a military governor of the frontier areas of the Roman-German Empire. The promotion of the Pedes -Pawns- allows them to become Regina, as long as the original Regina is no longer in play on the board.

Either way, these expressions in the document, which have clear Latin roots, may suggest that chess entered the territories of the heart of Europe, either via the Italian peninsula or, perhaps more likely, directly from Byzantium. The Germanic title of Margrave also stands out, which is quite natural considering the location of the abbey of Einsiedeln, and the fact that the abbot held the title of prince of the Germanic Roman Empire since Otho I established it (965).

The poem is also the first known reference of the two colored checkered board, simply as an optional aid to the players, without being the compulsory board pattern.

Catalan hypothesis

El papa Silvestre II
Sylvester II in the Gospel book of Otho III
Meister der Reichenauer Schule, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest known reference to chess in the West, Versus de scachis, a Latin poem dated around the year 1000 and found in the library of the abbey of Einsiedeln (Switzerland), has traditionally been linked to an Italian influence, with links to Byzantium, even to Muslim Sicily or the maritime republics of Venice or Amalfi in the 9th century. Unfortunately, although we know that chess was already widespread in Italy around the middle of the 11th century, there is no record or clue as to the route of entry.

The marriage in 951 of Otto I the Great to Adelaide of Italy united the Italian and German kingdoms, thus bringing the West closer to Byzantium and giving rise to the so-called Ottonian renaissance. This marriage took place in conjunction with other circumstances: the link between the pope and the emperor, political stability, the improvement of libraries, cultural promotion, as these kings surrounded themselves with scholars from the monasteries of Germany and Italy, and communication and trade were facilitated, especially contacts with the county of Barcelona.

Thus, as an alternative hypothesis, Catalonia can be presented as a possible focus, even as the origin of this early fashion for chess that appeared in Italy in the 11th century, explainable by the existing relationship of Catalonia with Pope Sylvester II, without underestimating the importance of chess in Italy, with strong Byzantine influence in the 11th century; let us remember that the emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1048 - 1118) was very fond of it.

In 967, Gerbert of Aurillac travelled from the monastery of Saint Gerald of Aurillac to the court of the Count of Barcelona, Borrell II. Borrell II entrusted his instruction to Bishop Atto of Vic, as a renowned mathematician. Under his guidance he spent three years as a student at the cathedral school in Vic, with stays at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll and in Barcelona. It is believed that during this period he also travelled to Cordoba, gaining access to other contents in addition to those available at the monastery of Ripoll and the cathedral school in Vic. These schools, due to their proximity to the Caliphate of Cordoba, had strong cultural and scientific influences, both Muslim and from Greece, Egypt, Syria and India, which is why the abbot of the Abbey of Aurillac asked Borrell II to take Gerbert to learn science.

This stay in the Iberian Peninsula allowed him to come into contact with Arab science and to initiate himself in the study of mathematics and astronomy. Gerbert of Aurillac was a mathematician, musician and astronomer, and above all, a great teacher. He knew the Arabic numeration from 1 to 9, which was already known in Catalonia thanks to the contacts that the Catalan counties had with Al-Andalus. Gerbert was noted for the use and construction of abacuses, which, with the help of Arabic numeration, allowed for complex multiplications and divisions. He was also noted for his knowledge of the astrolabe, and it was probably his master Lupitus of Barcelona who built the Barcelona astrolabe.

He travelled to Rome on pilgrimage accompanying his protector, Count Borrell II, which allowed him to meet the then Pope John XIII and the Emperor Otto I, who appointed him tutor to his son, the future Otto II. Considering Gerbert's taste for mathematics and logic, he probably appreciated the benefits of the game of chess, which had great prestige in Arab culture, and even more so in his role as tutor to the heir to the Germanic crown.

A few years later, the archbishop of Rheims, Adalberon, called him to his episcopal college, where he taught and had him teach arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. When Adalberto died, Gerbert was appointed the new archbishop of Rheims. With the appointment of Otto III as king of the Lombards, and later as emperor, in the same year 996, Gerbert, who had already been involved in the education of Otto III, became an advisor to the new emperor, together with Bishop Adalbert of Prague.

Otto III, appointed king of Germany in 983 when he was only three years old, was a gifted and highly educated man. He dreamed of the restoration of a universal empire formed by the union of the papacy, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Germanic Roman Empire, thus including Italy among the three.

Finally, in 999, he was named pope, with the name Sylvester II (possibly evoking the Roman union that Constantine I the Great could represent, in the time of Sylvester I). He never forgot his stay in the Catalan counties. In addition to intervening in the reform of the monastery of Sant Benedict de Bages and granting ecclesiastical privileges to Sant Cugat del Vallès, he also signed five bulls, such as the one that recognised all the privileges and possessions of the church of Urgell, a fact that was crucial in maintaining its independence from the Frankish counts.

It should be remembered that the second son of Borrell II, Count of Barcelona was Ermengol I, Count of Urgell, who in his will left the first record of the possession of a chess set in the West. Although Ermengol I was born when Gerbert had already completed his education in Catalonia, Ermengol I travelled to Rome at the beginning of the millennium, just when Gerbert was calling himself Sylvester II, as Armengol's chronicle explains: Vaig anar a Roma i allà hi vaig trobar el gloriós i sapientíssim papa Gerbert, per altre nom anomenat Silvestre... (I went to Rome and there I found the glorious and most wise pope Gerbert, by another name called Sylvester...). For Armengol, the pontiff continues to be Gerbert, the friend and protégé of his father, Borrell II, Count of Barcelona.

Thus, Gerbert was directly related to the first known owner of a chess game in Western Europe, and also to the rectors of the dynasty that promoted the monasteries in which the first literary mentions appear. The coincidence of an outstanding figure and connoisseur of Arab culture, such as Gerbert, with the places and dates in which chess spread throughout the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire, France and Italy is difficult to explain as isolated events, which, moreover, coincided with a favourable political situation, social conjuncture, and knowledge of the game arriving from different points.

Also, if Gerbert really had an influence on the spread of chess, one has to consider the importance of his stay in Rheims, the cultural centre of France, and the connecting point of the Via Francigena or Lombard pilgrimage route to Rome, which extends as far as Canterbury, England. The checkered chessboard also appears at this time, mentioned as an option for the first time in the poem Versus de scachis, and Gerbert's pedagogical gifts, together with his mathematical mind, make him a perfect candidate as a promoter of this pattern.

The good relations between the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire broke down in the new millennium, and the beginning of the 11th century saw the battles in Italy in which Otto III (1002) and Gerbert (1003), Pope Sylvester II, died. Those battles started the Italian wars between the Byzantines and the Normans.

This hypothesis appears in different sources. Personally, the first time I read it was on cathalaunis' blog, where he cites, as the first promoter of Gerbert's relationship with chess, Richar Eales' Chess: The History of the Game (1985), also indicating the need for an intelligentsia, which we have here called the social conjuncture, because other social factors may have been involved.

You can find this hypothesis also mentioned in the article The Chess Queen by Hillary Svoboda, History Major.

Some information on the biography of Gerbert of Aurillac can be found in the article Gerbert d'Aurillac and the March of Spain: A Convergence of Cultures, by Betty Mayfield (Hood College)

News of chess came from all directions: from the north, the Vikings; from the east, the Eastern Empire; in the south, the Arab culture appreciated the game as a refined entertainment for kings and nobles, probably also the Radhanites, Jewish merchants of the early Middle Ages, were familiar with it; and now the news came from the west, from Catalonia, in a period of coexistence of the Holy Roman Empire with the Eastern Empire, which dominated the Italian peninsula. The complicity of the intellectual elite of the time, the monks, moreover, with the coexistence of three emperors, could have been the differentiating factor in appropriating the game.


The Latin romance Ruodlieb was written around 1030 CE. It is the first reference to chess in German literature. Portions of the poem were discovered in the Benedictine Abbey of Tegernsee (founded in 746 AD) in Upper Bavaria, Germany. The poem was probably written by a monk named Froumunt of the Tegernsee Abbey. It described the adventures of a medieval knight named Ruodlieb. He was a youth of noble birth who goes out to seek his fortune. Chess (ludus scachorum) featured in one setting when Ruodlieb was force to play for stakes with the court of a foreign king. The poem was left unfinished. The manuscript was cut up and used for binding books. Fragments of the poem were only gradually discovered and pieced together in the early 19th century. Some fragments were discovered under the binding of some old books in the Abbey of Tegernsee. These fragments were sent to the Munich Library, which has 34 leaves of the poem.

Zaquitrion: Chess in the Eastern Roman Empire

Chess was called Zaquitrion in the Eastern Roman Empire, a Hellenisation of the Persian Chatrang and not the Arabic Shatranj, dating knowledge of the game in Byzantium to about the 7th century, before 700 CE.

Unfortunately, there are no dated records of the presence of chess in the Eastern Roman Empire, which, moreover, is sometimes confused with circular chess, for it could be that this variant was particularly popular in Byzantium, and then it is also difficult to determine the variant to which the few existing sources refer.

Al-Massudí (10th century) called Shatranj ar-Rumiya (Byzantine chess) to the circular chess or Shatranj al-Muddawara, although there is no historical evidence linking circular chess with Byzantium other than the name given to it by the Arabs and some much later Arabic legend. The term Rūm comes from the word the Arabs used to designate the territories of the Roman Empire, and circular chess is often referred to as Shatranj ar-Rumiya (Byzantine chess) in Arabic works.

The presence of chess in the Eastern Roman Empire is known to predate Alexios I Komnenos (1048 - 1118), who is documented as a chess amateur, but unfortunately there are no reliable, dated earlier references.

Winchester poem: The arrival of chess in England

Poem of 36 lines written in Latin with title De Shahiludio: Poema tempore Saxonum exaratum. It was found in a manuscript with various contents in Winchester, dated before 1150. This poem uses the term Regina for the original piece, but Ferzia for the crowned pawn with the characteristics of the Regina. It calls the bishops Calvus, representing old age and wisdom.

It is another testimony to the rapid arrival of chess in the UK, along with the well-known Isle of Lewis Chessmen. Around 1013 chess entered England with the Danish invasion. The importance of the Vikings probably determines the rapid entry of chess into England and the rest of the United Kingdom, for by the time of Cnut the Great, II of Denmark and I of England and Norway (994-1035) chess was already known to the Vikings, probably imported by the Varangian route, connecting with the knowledge that already existed in Europe at the time.

It is reported that in the 1144 fire at Hyde Abbey, Winchester, two chess sets that had been donated by King Cnut disappeared. This fact could be perfectly true, since it is more than possible that King Cnut was at least aware of the existence of the game of chess.

There is also the legend of Cnut and Earl Ulf quarrel over chess in Roskilde, Denmark. Cnut the great got into an argument over a game of chess the day before Christmas 1026 with his own governor Ulf, who also was its brother in law. Cnut the great demanded to change a move, but Ulf stood up and then hit the chessboard so all the pieces fell off. Then, Cnut had Ulf murdered.

Courier Chess – Kurierspiel: the modern Bishop

Die Schachpartie – the game of chess, Lucas van Leyden
Die Schachpartie – the game of chess, Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533)
via Wikimedia Commons

Courier Chess introduces the modern moves of the Bishop from the beginning of the 13th century (1202). It was not until late in the second half of the fifteenth century that the messenger entered chess as the modern Bishop.

The first reference dates from 1202, in an Arthurian romance by Wirnt von Gravenberg, predating Alfonso X of Castile's El libro del ajedrez, dados y tablas, and Tamerlane chess. Later Heinrich von Beringen mentions Courier Chess as an improvement of chess, in the poem Schachbuch, from the year 1300, a verse adaptation in German language of the work of Jacobus de Cessolis. In this poem he clearly referred to the moves incorporated by the Bishop, in the form of a new piece called the Messenger - Kurier - or also called the runner - Läufer -.

The game still retained the primitive medieval bishop (two-square diagonal jump, schütze –hunter or archer–), and the medieval queen (one-square diagonal move only). It also incorporated two other pieces: the schleich -furtive or jester-, which moves one square orthogonally, in the same way as the vizier in Tamerlane's chess; and the Rath or Mann, which moves in the same way as the king, but it was not a royal piece.

In 1337 Kunrat von Ammenhausen describes a game in Constance, in 1508 Lucas van Leyden paints the painting Die Schachpartie – the game of chess, and in 1616 Gustav Selenus describes the rules of the game in detail.

This variant, popular for centuries in many northern European countries, is particularly associated with the village of Ströbeck, because Frederick William of Brandenburg gave the village a chessboard in 1651, which can be seen in the local chess museum. His grandson, Frederick the Great of Prussia visited the village and played this chess set in 1744. Visitors in 1825 and 1831 reported that the game was extinct, but the chess tradition in this village is still alive.

This game lasted until the beginning of the 19th century, along six centuries. There are more information available on the site http://history.chess.free.fr by Jean-Louis Cazaux. There is also an specific comercial Courier Chess site, which has marketed a collector's replica, faithful to the historical evidence.

El libro de los juegos: Alfonso X of Castile, Galicia and León

Grande Acedrex
Image of the Grande Acedrex from the libro de los juegos.
via Wikimedia Commons

Book of chess, dice and tables of Alfonso X of Castile, Galicia and León, describes the rules of medieval chess, and includes 103 problems, 89 of which appear in other treatises of Arab origin. It was written between 1252 and 1284, and in the first part it describes chess and chess variants, in the second the dice, and in the third the tables (blackgamon).

It is a treatise with a particularly relevant collection of information, as at this date two-coloured chess boards became widespread, and the chess pieces began to take on their present name and shape, although the Bishop and Queen did not yet have their modern moves.

Grande Acedrex

In addition to medieval chess, other chess variants appear in the book, such as the Grande Acedrex, which includes the Crocodile piece, with the move of the modern Bishop, but without repercussion, since Courier Chess predates it, and would be played for centuries in many European countries.

In addition to the King, two Rooks and two Crocodiles, on a board made up of 12×12 squares, the twelve rows of the Grande Acedrex were occupied by an Aanca, sometimes transcribed as a Griffin, two Giraffes, two Unicorns (Rhinoceroses) and two Lions; quite a fauna!

The Grande Acedrex also defines a first move for the King, consisting of a jump of two squares in any direction. It is not known exactly when the King's Leap was incorporated as a chess move, although it was around this time. The King's Leap eventually gave way to castling.

Four seasons Chess

Four seasons Chess
Four seasons Chess.
Ente X, CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Four Seasons Chess (Acedrex de los quatros tiempos) is a chess for four players, described in The Book of Games, by Alfonso X of Castile. The players have to beat each other, then remove their pieces, until there is a winner. It could also be played with the help of dice, in a similar way to Chaturaji.

Bonus Socius and Civis Bononiae

These are two manuscript collections of chess problems, Bonus Socius from the mid-13th century, and Civis Bononiae from about 1300.

Both were written in Latin in Lombardy (Italy), although they were later translated into different languages (from the French, German and Italian areas of influence). Besides chess problems, they also include problems of the Nine men's morris and Trictrac, which is a game very similar to backgammon. Many problems are repeated in the documents, but often with a different solution.

On the website of the Peón eléctrico in collaboration with lichess.org we can see some of the problems in the manuscripts, with interactive capabilities.

Friar Jacobus de Cessolis

Frai Jacobus de Cessolis
Frai Jacobus de Cessolis.
Thanks to: Caxton. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Frai Jacobus de Cessolis
Ludus scacchorum
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jacobus de Cessolis was a Dominican friar who lived in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Around the year 1300 he wrote in Latin the Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium super ludo scacchorum (Book of the customs of men and the duties of the nobles regarding the game of chess), known as Ludus scacchorum (Chess game).

It is a book impregnated with the analogy between chess and medieval society, given that in the fourteenth century, the metaphor of chess as a reflection of life and society was already well established.

It also records the initial double step of the pawns, which is still maintained, the initial double step of the Ferz, which currently doesn't make sense, as it's been replaced by the Queen, and the initial double step of the of the King, in a primitive form of first movement that later gave rise to castling. A first movement with a double jump of the king is also mentioned in the Grande Acedrex by Alfonso X.

Shatranj Al-Kabir: Tamerlane chess

Tamerlane chess
Tamerlane chess starting position.
via Wikimedia Commons

Later, during the 14th century, in the Timurid Empire (Muslim dynasty of Turco-Mongol origin with its capital in Samarkand), Tamerlane chess was invented , which perhaps we should call Tamerlane Shatranj, a variant of Shatranj; this chess was called Shatranj Kamil (perfect chess) or Shatranj Al-Kabir (big chess). It had 110 uncheckered squares (10x11) and two additional ones called citadels; in total 112, all of the same color.

Citadels, a fashion in the variants of this period, consisted of squares, usually one for each player, where no piece could enter except the opponent's King; if the opponent's King entered the player's citadel, the game ended in a draw.

In addition to the pieces that were used in the Shatranj, it incorporated some new ones: two Vanguards, two Camels, two Giraffes, two Dabbābah and a Vizier; the Vizier's move was a square orthogonally: forward, backward, left, or right, and the Vanguards moved like the modern Bishop, but must move a minimum of two squares. The Camel has a similar movement to the Knight, but more elongated: it jumps one diagonal and two orthogonal squares (instead of the one and one that the Knight moves). Finally, the Giraffes had a movement similar to that of the Aanca del Grande Acedrex of Alfonso X of Castile, but had to move at least one diagonal and three orthogonal squares, without jumping. Diagrams of the moves can be seen at http://history.chess.free.fr.

In Tamerlane Chess, as in other historical chess variants, each pawn, when it reaches the last row, promotes to the piece on the column. This creates the paradox of determining which piece it promotes to when a pawn reaches the last row of the king's column, thus defining a new piece, the Prince, with the same moves as the Shah (king). When a player incorporates a Prince, if his King is captured, the game does not end, but the Prince automatically promotes to King; moreover, the moves in case of check are not then forced, since the player can allow the King to be captured.

In Tamerlane Chess there were several initial setups. You can read more information on the website http://history.chess.free.fr and on Wikipedia.

It seems that Tamerlane was a good chess player, and used different variants of the game, both the Shatranj as-Saghir (Small Chess, i.e. the orthodox Shatranj), as well as the large Shatranj al-Kabir, but also the oblong Shatranj, and the contemporary versions of Tamerlane chess: Shatranj al-Husûn (Shatranj with citadels) and the Xatranj ar-Rumiya al-Husûn or Xatranj al-Muddawara al-Husûn (circular Shatranj, also in the version of the time, with citadels).

Shatranj al-Husûn: Shatranj with citadels

This variant used a 10×10 + 4 board, single-coloured, like all Shatranj boards, incorporating two Dabbâbas that moved like the modern Bishop. The board incorporated four citadels, and two different initial arrangements are known: one incorporating the Dabbâbas in the corners, adding them to the usual Shatranj arrangement, and the other incorporating one next to the King, and the other next to the Firz, leaving the King and Firz on adjoining squares.

One can note the incorporation of the Dabbâbas with the function of the modern Bishop, together with the medieval Bishop of the Shatranj (called the archer in Courier Chess), an arrangement very similar to Courier Chess, only that the latter also incorporated the schleich -furtive or jester-, equivalent to the vizier in Tamerlane Chess, and the Rath or Mann, for a total of twelve columns. It can be seen that the advent of the modern Bishop is drawing ever nearer; it had already been used in Courier Chess for centuries.

In Tamerlane chess, who, as has been said, knew and played Shatranj al-Husûn, two citadels are discarded, and the diagonal moves are made less powerful, limiting the movement of the Vanguards, although other supposedly powerful pieces are incorporated, such as the Camel or the Giraffe; from today's perspective, Shatranj al-Husûn looks much closer than Tamerlane's chess.

More information can be found on the website http://history.chess.free.fr.

Shatranj ar-Rumiya al-Husûn: Circular Shatranj with citadels

Al-Muddawara al-Husûn
Al-Muddawara al-Husûn.
Image: Dogface, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A variant of circular chess, Shatranj al-Muddawara or Shatranj ar-Rumiya, which incorporates two citadels. In addition, the arrangement of the pieces changes, with the Rooks positioned in the innermost ring, while the Firz and King in the outermost ring, also exchanging the positions of the bishops with the knights.

You can see from the diagram the initial setup, and all the rules, with the exception of the incorporated citadels and the changes to the initial setup, are those of the Shatranj al-Muddawara or Shatranj ar-Rumiya, the circular chess that already existed four centuries ago.

It should be remembered that the Shatranj ar-Rumiya board was single-coloured, not checkered with the two-coloured pattern of squares, as shown in the diagram.

Full Tamerlane Chess

In the different initial setups of Tamerlane Chess there are always holes to be filled, empty spaces between the pieces of the initial setup. Full Tamerlane Chess fills these holes with new pieces: two Lions, two Bulls, a Sea Monster and a Revealer, but does not incorporate the Wazir, and has three Knights but only one Camel.

Unfortunately, we have no record of the movement of these new pieces. An interesting and very coherent proposal for the movements of these new pieces by Jean-Louis CAZAUX can be consulted on his website: http://history.chess.free.fr.

Great Turkish Chess

The tradition of this chess produced the appearance of another variation on a great board: The Great Turkish ChessShatranj al-kabir –. With an unknown date, it was played on a 13×13 square board, and it incorporated pieces representing different beasts, but the only one with a movement different from those existing in Tamerlane Chess was the Rhinoceros, with movements that coincided with the Unicorn of the Grande Acedrex of Alfonso X of Castile.

Orthodox chess

Antti Favén, Café de la Régence
Fictitious representation of the chess grandmasters of the Romantic era, gathered to play at the Café de la Régence in París.
Antti Favén, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

With this name we refer to traditional chess, the current western chess: Game for two players, on a checkerboard of eight by eight squares, alternately colored white and black (one light and one dark color), where each player has eight pawns, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, a queen and the king.

In The Oxford Companion to Chess 700 openings are cited, with as many as 1,327 named variations. The games generally start within the book, that is to say, using known openings, and every chess player has to be familiar with the openings, at least the most basic ones, if he doesn't want to fall at a disadvantage from the beginning.

The game, once the rules were established in the fifteenth century, we could differentiate that it has been developed in four different stages of history. At present, machines have surpassed man, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why interest in the game has declined a lot, and it is no longer common to see chess played outside the specific premises of the amateur groups; It is increasingly rare to see chess being played in cafes, bars and pubs, an image that begun in the Romantic era and was natural and frequent until well into the second half of the 20th century. The mail chess mode, which allowed players to consult any material or publication, has also become increasingly meaningless as machines have taken over.

I - Establishment of the modern game (1474 a 1749)

Scachs d'amor (1474)

The Valencian poem Scachs d'amor from 1474, by the Valencian poets Bernat Fenollar, Narcís Vinyoles and Francí de Castellví, is the oldest surviving reference to the modern rules of orthodox chess. All the rules of modern chess, including En passant captures and moves of all pieces, appear for the first time in this poem, with the Queen described for the first time with her modern moves. He also describes the same limitations on castling in modern chess, when he describes the limitations on King's Leap, a two-square jumping move that the King could make on its first move, which evolved into castling, despite the fact that both movements coexisted for a long time.

Even so, we find some rules concerning the Queen that do not apply today, perhaps the only discordant points with modern chess:

  • You cannot have more than one Queen on the checkerboard (verse LVII).
  • The queens cannot capture each other (verse LX).
  • If the queen is lost, the game is lost (verse LXIII).

It should be noted that the rule of not allowing a player to have more than one Queen was common at the time, for ethical reasons, since it represented royal marriage. Sometimes the stratagem of calling the first piece Queen was used, reserving the name of Lady when a second piece was obtained through promotion.

We also see in the poem Scachs d'amor two other rules that are not in force today either: First, it endows the Queen with a true royal character when it is stated that if the queen is lost, the game is lost, but the royal character is now a condition reserved for the King in chess, a sexist aspect inherited directly from history.

The third case occurs when it is indicated that the queens cannot capture each other, which suggests a reminiscence of the figure of the Ferz, inherited from the Shatranj, since it was a colour bounded figure, and the initial position for the white ones were white, and for the black ones, black. Thus, before changing the movements of this piece, the Ferz, already known in Europe as Queen, could not capture the opponent's, simply because she could not move to a square of another color. The rule incorporated in Scachs d'amor seems to be nothing more than transitional, preserving a characteristic of the game of the time.

This poem, from the same date as the monarchical unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon by the Catholic Monarchs, perhaps incorporates a certain influence from Isabel of Castilla as queen, despite the fact that, as has already been commented, a piece with the name de Queen had already been incorporated into European chess for almost 500 years. The point highlighted by the defenders of this thesis is that now the piece goes from being a weak piece to being the most powerful piece on the checkerboard. This fact may be merely coincidental, but, in any case, it could have contributed to the acceptance of the new piece. It must also be remembered that the poem uses the word Lady much more than the name Queen which had been adopted in France and incorporated into Latin as Regina for the medieval Ferz; Even so, the position on the checkerboard, next to the King, does not leave many more options to the imagination.

Although it does not represent a game with particularly noteworthy moves, it is the first game that has been referenced using the current rules. The full text of the poem Scachs d'amor, along with the depiction of the game, can be found at Viquitexts. The game, in interactive mode, can be found, for example, at chessgames.com.

This new style of chess started in Spain was called Queen's Chess, but it caused a lot of controversy, and in different circles of enraged male players began to call it madwoman’s chess, scacchi alla rabiosa, they also called it Scacchi de la donna in Italy, or Welsches Schachspiel (French Chess) in Germany. Thanks to the advent of the printing press and the popularity of chess books at the time, the Queen's Chess spread quickly throughout Europe, with Francesc Vicent being the first to spread the new rules of the game. The appearance of some powerful women at the beginning of the Renaissance could also have contributed to the acceptance of the great power of the Queen: Caterina Sforza (1463-1509), Isabella d'Este (1474-1539), Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), Caterina de Medici (1519-1589). Lucrezia Borgia welcomed Francesc Vicent, and Isabella d'Este welcomed Leonardo da Vinci and Luca Pacioli, who dedicated the chess book Schifanoia to her.

Castling, together with the promotion of pawns, would be the two latest rules of chess, since they were not fully established until mid-17th century. The peninsula was one of the last places where castling began to be used, perhaps because the rules for the King's leap were already established, known both in the poem Scachs d'amor, and in the publication by Ramirez de Lucena. These early rules prohibited the King from jumping other pieces in the move, so castling done manually in two moves was not possible.

Francesc Vicent: Llibre dels jochs partits dels schacs en nombre de 100 (1495)

The Llibre dels jochs partits dels schacs en nombre de 100 is the world's first modern chess treatise, written by Francesc Vicent, a Valencian chess player and writer. It was published in Valencia in 1495, despite the fact that no copy has reached the present day. It is known that there was a copy in the library of the Monastery of Montserrat, but it disappeared during the Napoleonic invasion.

Vincent is considered the founder of modern chess, as his work, as far as is known, spread throughout Europe the innovation of the queen, a piece that appears documented for the first time in the poem Scachs d'amor (1474). In 1506 we find another reference to Vicent in Italy, at the court of the Ferrara family. This is confirmed by the Italian master A. Sanvito, from the court of Lucrezia Borgia, when he mentions a maestro Francesco Spagnolo maestro di scachi.

Now, the Valencian researcher José A. Garzón argues that the codex of Cesena, which dates from 1502 and was found in 1995 in the Malatesta Library in Cesena (Italy), includes 100 problems from Vicent's book, and in several chess problems the original writing in Valencian by Vicent survived, with expressions from València at the end of the 15th century. There seems to be no doubt that this treatise is the origin of other texts, but, in addition, it seems that Lucena's book would be a translation into Castilian of Vicent's original written in Valencian. The dependence of the treatises by Lucena (1497) and Damiano (1512) on Vicent's work has already been pointed out. In fact, it can be observed that Damiano's work was written in the environment of Pope Alexander VI and his sons, and Vicent can be placed in 1506 at the court of Lucrezia, daughter of Alexander VI, as her chess teacher. The contents of Damiano's book could be a reprint of Vicent's modern chess materials.

Repetición de Amores et Arte de Axedrez con CL Juegos de Partido (1497)

The oldest printed rules of modern western chess that have survived to this day are found in the publication Repetición de Amores et Arte de Axedrez con CL Juegos de Partido from 1497, written by Luis Ramirez de Lucena.

It includes the modern rules of the game, but also the old ones, and shows the fundamental ideas of multiple openings and defenses. It also explains concepts such as the development of the pieces, problems of the advance of the pawns, the importance of occupying the center...

Many of the contents coincide with the Göttingen manuscript, which is why it is thought that it was one of the sources used by Luis Ramirez de Lucena.

De ludo scachorum o Schifanoia (1500)

De Ludo Scachorum
De Ludo Scachorum, diagrams supposedly by Leonardo da Vinci
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A Latin manuscript chess treatise by Luca Pacioli, a mathematician of the early Renaissance, with Italian courts acting as patrons of artists and thinkers. De ludo scachorum, also known as Schifanoia, which would come to mean chasing tedium, includes about a hundred chess problems, some from medieval chess, but many from the new Queen's Chess. The manuscript has been discovered recently, in 2006, among a library collection of more than 26,000 volumes in the Coronini Cronberg palace in Gorizia (Italy). Its importance lies in the fact that the chess diagrams in this book were probably made by Leonardo da Vinci.

Luca Pacioli and Leonardo da Vinci were friends, and Leonardo had already illustrated the book by Pacioli De divina proportione. Both fled Milan when it was invaded by Louis XII of France, going to Mantua, where they were received at the court of Isabella d'Este.

The manuscript is dedicated to Isabella d'Este, a princess of the duchy of Ferrara and Modena, a descendant of Alfonso V the Magnanimous, who became marquise consort and regent of the duchy of Mantua. Isabella d'Este was an outstanding humanist and patron of the arts, creating a brilliant court around her. She was also a prolific writer of letters, much of which has survived, and a great lover of the game of chess. Leonardo da Vinci painted a portrait of her.

The Escorial Manuscript (1500)

Written in Castilian from the end of the 15th century, beginning of the 16th century, it contains contains a total of 89 chess problems, of very different nature, but predominantly modern chess predominating the positions of modern chess, called "de la dama", over those of the old medieval those of the old medieval chess "del viejo".

Mostly written by the same person, but there are undoubtedly additional hands that occasionally collaborated on the text: Problem number 17 is written in beautiful calligraphy coming from another person, and a third transcribes problems 37 and 38, which are curiously written in Italian.

It is also very important that the anonymous chess player presents us with endgames from his own games, with the appearance of the first endgames of bishops of different colours and queen against rook and pawn.

On the website of the Peón eléctrico in collaboration with lichess.org we can see some of the problems in the manuscript, with interactive capabilities.

Pedro Damiano (1512)

Pedro Damiano va escriure Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li partiti, publicat a Itàlia en 1512, del que es varen fer vuit edicions en mig segle, sent l'última de 1564. És el llibre més antic que indica la posició del tauler d'escacs, amb l'escac blanc de la fila més propera a cada jugador en la dreta.

El llibre descriu les regles del joc, ofereix consells sobre estratègia, presenta una selecció de problemes d'escacs i proporciona anàlisis d'algunes obertures, tot en el context dels nous escacs de la Reina. Es pot dir que va ser escrita en l'entorn del papa Alexandre VI, considerant els editors de les dues primeres edicions en Roma.

Frai Jacobus de Cessolis
Charles, Count of Angoulême, and Louise of Savoy playing chess.
Le livre des échecs amoureux moralisés Miniature by Robinet Testard (1497)
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Frai Jacobus de Cessolis
Bohemian miniature 15th century
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Frai Jacobus de Cessolis
Tristan and Iseult playing chess while drinking the love potion aboard a ship (1470)
Miniatura medieval, manuscrit prosa.
Bibliothèque nationale de France. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Study of openings, defenses and endings: 16th and 17th centuries

Once the rules were established, during the 16th and 17th centuries studies were carried out on the openings, defenses and endings, similar to those that were carried out centuries before in the Islamic world for the Shatranj.

Two rules were still to be fully defined: Castling, which was not finalized until the second half of the 17th century, evolving from a movement called the king's leap, which later allowed manual castling in two movements, to evolve finally to the current castling, not without certain variations called free castling that expanded the final positions of the King and the Rook. Free castling was popular during the 17th century, and in some places lasted until the 19th century.

Another rule that was not yet fully defined, and was not fixed until the 19th century with the creation of the world championships, was the promotion of pawns.

Indian chess variant

The indian chess variant was played in India from the 17th century (Mongolian era) until the 1960s. Even today some memory remains in some places.

Notable is Indian castling, a knight move that can be performed by the king on his first move. It can also be noted that the Bishop is represented with a Camel , while the Elephant is reserved for the more powerful Rook, as Chaturaji does.

II - Romantic era of chess (1749 a 1873)


Already in the 18th century, in 1749, the book L'analyse des échecs, by François-André Danican Philidor, was published, where strategy and the importance of the pawn structure in the game as a positional factor are discussed. The book describes the characteristics of isolated, doubled, backward pawns and pawn islands. This publication can be considered as the end of the first stage, the standardization stage and the first studies. It was Philidor who stated pawns are the soul of chess.

Thus began the romantic era and the popularization of the game within an intellectual class that had begun to take shape in the 18th century, with chess becoming entertainment in the cafés of Paris in the 19th century. This stage is characterized by gambit openings (sacrificing pawns, or even major pieces), open game, brazen sacrifices and daring attacks, playing more like an art than applying theoretical foundations. Players would rush out the Queen and fail to develop the other pieces, launching a quick attack on the opponent's King. The defense was poor and without deep planning.

Some examples of games and problems from the Romantic era can be found in Luis Fernández Siles' article on chess.com, like The Immortal Game (Adolf Anderssen vs Lionel Kieseritzky) or The Evergreen Partie (Adolf Anderssen vs Jean Dufresne).

Also at this time we find the American champion Paul Morphy, whose games can be seen at https://www.ajedrezeureka.com, and also the Englishman Howard Staunton, who organised the world's first international tournament in London at the same time as the Great Exhibition of 1851.

This romantic approach to the game did not end until the late 19th century, after 1873, when Wilhelm Steinitz described how to avoid weaknesses in one's position, and how to create and exploit these weaknesses in one's opponent's position; a practical approach, outside of the showiness or elegance that had been valued so much until then. This will be the classical era, which will take up Philidor's approaches.


Caïssa is a Greek dryad revered as the muse of chess. The myth originated from a poem called Scachia Ludus written by Marco Girolamo Vida in the 16th century. She was popularized in the poem Caïssa, written in 1763 in latin by William Jones.

Mechanical Turk (1769)

The Mechanical Turk, also known as the Automaton Chess Player, or simply The Turk, was a fraudulent chess-playing machine constructed by Wolfgang von Kempele in 1770, which appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent.

It was first exhibited to the court of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in 1770, and toured Europe in the 1780s; in Paris it played a game against Benjamin Franklin, who lost. The secret of its operation was well preserved, and the Turk's greatest success came after Kempele's death, when he defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809. He also played with Charles Babbage in 1820.

It was eventually given to the Peale Museum in Philadelphia, but in 1854 it was destroyed in a fire. The son of the last owner later published a book in which he explained its secrets.

Study of the history of chess

Until the 19th century the legend of Sisa was one of several theories about the origin of the game, and largely accepted as true. In the 19th century the search for the true origin of the game began, and studies on the history of chess were initiated. Books were published such as Duncan Forbes' The History of Chess: From the Time of the Early Invention of the Game in India Till the Period of Its Establishment in Western and Central Europe (1860), or, at the end of the century, José Brunet y Bellet's book El ajedrez: investigaciones sobre su origen (1890), published in Barcelona.

These early works were ambitious, but they had not done any real work on the ground, and were seriously flawed. The so-called Cox-Forbes theory was initially put forward by Captain Hiram Cox, superintendent of Palongkee (India), a town named Cox's Bazaar in his honour, and later this theory was defended and expanded by Duncan Forbes. The Cox-Forbes theory, due to a very incorrect dating of Indian documents, dated the origin of chess to 3000 BC, and originated as a transformation of Chaturaji, which they called Chaturanga, confusing both games. In the case of Mr. José Brunet y Bellet, he still considered an earlier date for the game, which he dated to 4000 BC, originating in the Egypt of the pharaohs, as he confused Senet with chess.

It was necessary to wait for Harold James Ruthven Murray to publish in 1913, after translation of various manuscripts in a serious work of research: A History of Chess (1913). The theses defended by H.J.R. Murray in this book, in general, agree with the conclusions accepted today, and the great research work he carried out is acknowledged.

Chess variants and George Hope Verney

This stage is also notable for the proliferation of chess variants. Shatranj was incorporating variants over the centuries, and Western chess was nothing more than a new variant, culminating in the incorporation of the Courier Chess bishop, and the new moves of the Queen, in what was called Scacchi de la donna. This should be remembered when adopting immobile stances towards new possible variants, since the greatness of chess comes from the different variants that have followed one another over the centuries.

Once the game had reached great perfection in the 15th century, and with only a few rules still to be standardised, new variants were slow to appear, and during the 16th and 17th centuries the effort was focused on the study of openings, defences and endgames, as the Arabs had previously done for the Shatranj. As an exception, before the Romantic era, we find the variant of Pietro Carrera, published in 1617 in his book Il Gioco degli Scacchi. This variant, with little acceptance at the time, gave rise, in 1874, to the variant of Henry Bird, an outstanding player of the romantic era, which fundamentally modified the initial setup. In the classical era, José Raúl Capablanca would take up these ideas for his variant, Capablanca's Chess.

Chess Eccentricities
Chess Eccentricities.
Public Domain, via Internet Archive

Via this other link, the book Chess Eccentricities can be comfortably accessed from the website chessvariants, where it is indexed.

It is true that Courier Chess remained after the entry of the Scacchi de la donna, only to die out in the Romantic era. However, in this era interest in new chess variants increased, particularly multi-player chess variants, with some disapproval from some chess players, as evidenced by the article in the Times, which led to the publication of the book Four-Handed Chess by George Hope Verney in 1881. Versions for three, four, and even more players proliferated, which Duncan Forbes, in his book The History of Chess: From the Time of the Early Invention of the Game in India Till the Period of Its Establishment in Western and Central Europe (1860), described as monstrosities.

Verney, after his success with the publication of Four-Handed Chess, followed up with the publication, in 1885, of Chess Eccentricities, where he collected multiple variants for three and four players, including the four-player variant designed by himself, and the circular chess variants for three and four players, also designed by Geo. H. Verney. The book also contains the Russian four-player variant with fortress, which he dates to 1850, when the complete rules were published. Other chess variants are also described; the historical variants and those from other geographical locations are basically references to Duncan Forbes' studies, but the book also includes a multitude of Western chess variants: changing the types of pieces, their arrangement, or the size and shape of the board; among them, the oldest one mentioned is the variant of Pietro Carrera. We also find other curiosities, such as a way of playing, which he says is common in Russia, using the Queen enriched with the Knight move.

In addition, we can also consider Vernon Rylands Parton as a continuation of this fondness for the chess variants of the Romantic era. Although Parton's works are from the twentieth century, in many cases with a depth of analysis that betrays them as later than the innocence of the Romantic versions, he longed for some things from the Victorian era, and in some ways his imagination links him to it.

III - Establishment as a sport (since 1924)

The first international tournament in history was the London 1851 chess tournament, at the Great Exhibition (one hundred years later, at the Festival of Britain, hexagonal chess was introduced).

It is considered that in 1886 the first world championship was played, which Steinitz won; in 1894 he was won by the mathematician Emanuel Lasker, who held the title for 27 years. Cuban José Raúl Capablanca beat Lasker in 1921; Capablanca did not lose any game in the tournaments that he participated between 1916 and 1924. Capablanca lost the title in 1927 against the Russian, later French national, Aleksandr Alekhin, who always avoided the revenge game.

Capablanca used a style which embodies the concept of positional chess; for example, Capablanca would often take a small endgame advantage and use it to win a game. Coming out of the concept of positional chess was hypermodernism, or the idea of controlling the center with pieces, not just pawns. The idea arose in the 1920s, and some examples of hypermodern openings include Grünfeld, Benoni, Indian and Alekhine defenses, among others. Alexander Alekhine was thought of as both a tactical and positional player.

After Alekhin's death in 1946 the title became vacant. Since then, the title has been a string of Soviet, later Russian, players, with the exception of the American player Bobby Fischer, from 1972 until renouncing the title in 1975. Soviet-Russian dominance ended in 2007.

The first chess Olympiad was held in Paris in 1924, and FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) was created to organize the event. Since then there are biannual Olympics, and world championships in all categories by sex and age. Chess was recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee in 2001.

Classical school (Modern) (1886)

The classical stage takes up the 18th century approaches put forward by François-André Danican Philidor, who in 1749 published the book L'analyse des échecs, analysing strategy and the importance of the pawn structure in the game as a positional factor. The romantic era had not appreciated these premises very much, although they had, to a certain extent, been taken into consideration.

It was in 1873 that Wilhelm Steinitz defeated Joseph Henry Blackburne, who was an icon of romantic chess because of his open and highly tactical style of play, making Steinitz the first world champion.

Wilhelm Steinitz's style was a practical approach, away from the showiness or elegance that had been so highly valued in the romantic era, avoiding weaknesses in one's own position, in order to create and exploit these weaknesses in the opponent's position. He was the first to systematise and dogmatise some positional principles, such as the importance of the centre, the weakness of squares, the weak pawns, the importance of the bishop pair, themes such as the bad bishop, etc... Modern players prepare patiently for the game, adopting a plan, and looking for the weak points in the opponent's position.

Notable from this school is Siegbert Tarrasch, a German Jewish doctor and chess player, who helped to assimilate the teachings of Wilhelm Steinitz. In 1897 he was editor of the German chess magazine Deutsche Schachzeitung, and was especially known in his time for the book Das Schachspiel (The Game of Chess), divided into three parts (endgame, middlegame, and opening). It was his last book, but his most successful. It was originally published in 1931. A 1976 reprint of this book is available at https://archive.org.

But, without doubt, the most outstanding representative of this school is the mathematician Emanuel Lasker, world champion between 1894 and 1921, twenty-seven years one of the best players in history. It was Lasker who won the title from Steinitz.

Some examples of games and problems from the Classical school of Chess can be found in the article by Luis Fernández Siles on chess.com.

Tactical chess (1915)

Combinations, traps, and threats. Play characterized by short-term attacks, requiring calculation by the players.

Without setting big goals or striving for long-term strategic plans, you take advantage of your opponent's mistakes with tactical superiority. The game is spent manoeuvring, seeking to gain an advantage.

The great master of tactical play was Frank Marshall, US champion for 27 consecutive years, who created the Marshall Chess Club. He was known for his swindles, tactical manoeuvres to recover from a game that might seem lost, and make a draw, or even win. He wrote the book Marshall's Chess "Swindles" (1914), which listed several games where he had used this sleight of hand.

You can read more about swindles on Wikipedia.

Positional chess (1921)

Play based on strategy, on gaining and exploiting small advantages, and on analyzing the larger position, rather than calculating the more immediate tactics.

José Raúl Capablanca used a style that embodies the concept of positional chess; for example, Capablanca often took a small advantage in endgames and used it to win the game.

Capablanca won the title from Lasker in 1921, after the interruption of chess due to the First World War. He lost the title in 1927 to Aleksandr Alekhine, and never had the chance to regain it because the Russian player always refused a rematch.

Another outstanding positional player was Salo Flohr (Salomon Mikhàilovitx Flohr), a Czechoslovakian Jew and later Soviet national hero in Czechoslovakia during the 1930s. He dominated many of the chess tournaments of the pre-war years, but his patient positional style was overtaken by the sharper, more tactical methods of the young Soviet players after the Second World War.

Hypermodern school (1927)

From the concept of positional chess came hypermodernism, or the idea of controlling the centre with pieces, not just pawns. It was accepted that each position depended on certain considerations and details intrinsic to it, and therefore the generalities and precepts of the Classical School might not be so useful. The idea emerged in the 1920s, and examples of hypermodern openings include the Grünfeld, Benoni, Indian and Alekhine defences, among others.

Richard Réti revolutionised chess strategy, claiming that the classical centre, occupied by pawns, has more disadvantages than advantages, and that dominating the centre from afar, with the action of the pieces, is a more important strategic factor. In 1924 he won a resounding victory against the World Champion José Raúl Capablanca at the New York Tournament. Réti always had an artistic vision of the game, which in a way recaptured the romantic spirit.

The other great theorist of hypermodernism was Aron Nimzowitsch who sought to systematise the art of chess in order to make it an almost scientific game. He wrote the most important treatise on chess up to that time, the book My System (Mein system, in German), published between 1925 and 1927 in the form of five booklets which became the manual for a large number of modern chess players, and is even of practical value today. This book deals with the importance of the centre and the development, concepts already mentioned and studied by Morphy and Steinitz, the great fruitfulness of the open columns as a means of reaching the seventh and eighth ranks, the passed pawn, the exchange of pieces, the pinned piece or the discovered check; most of the current themes were analysed. But his main revolution was on the concept of the pawn chain, making the French defence paradigmatic, and with it the advance variant, as well as bringing to the chess world the concepts of overprotection, already mentioned by Siegbert Tarrasch, and of prophylaxis, of which Kàrpov has been the greatest exponent.

Savielly Tartakower was also involved in the spread of hypermodernism, not only as a great chess player, but also as one of the leading chess journalists of the 1920s and 1930s.

It should be noted that hypermodernity was not considered a break with previous trends, but rather an extension, unlike the opposing trends romanticism vs. modernism or also tactical vs. positional; indeed, romanticism had had a high component of tactical chess, and modernism of positional chess. Thus we find that Aleksandr Alekhin (or Alexandre Alekhine, as he wrote it) was considered both a tactical and a positional player. Even so, hypermodern players considered Siegbert Tarrasch's classical ideas too dogmatic, and some even outdated.

Some examples of games and problems from the Hypermodern school of Chess can be found in the article by Luis Fernández Siles on chess.com.

Soviet chess (1946)

After the Second World War, a generation of Soviet chess players, led by future world champion Mikhaïl Botvínnik, began to win a series of victories over international competitors that stunned the world. Soviet players dominated chess from 1948 to 2006, with the sole exception of Boby Fischer between 1972 and 1975.

This long period of Soviet domination is often referred to as the Soviet School of Chess, which was a heterogeneous set of players who together were noted for their thorough opening preparation, highly dynamic style in the treatment of middle game positions and aggressiveness. It is true that the style changes between different players, and, for example, Mikhail Tal and Tigran Petrosian had opposite styles, the former very aggressive, the latter very positional and more defensive. But today's chess cannot be understood without the radical contributions of USSR players from the 1930s to the 1970s, and many of these contributions have common features: thorough opening preparation, and dynamic, tactical appreciation is fundamental to the evaluation of positions and the choice of game plans; in short, rigorous training and study of the game, ie, considering chess as a sport, rather than an art or a science.

The Soviet Chess School is often considered only from 1948 to 1972, the time of the defeat of the Soviets by Boby Fischer.

Some examples of games and problems from the Soviet School of Chess can be found in the article by Luis Fernández Siles on chess.com.

History: Formation of the Soviet School (spanish)
Tradición rusa previa

Es probable que cuando el músico Ziryab cautivaba a la corte de Abderramán II en Córdoba, el ajedrez también comenzaba a introducirse en Europa por otro flanco. Todo indica que el shákhmaty, nombre ruso del ajedrez, llegó al Rus de Kiev directamente desde Oriente Medio y Asia Central, a través de las rutas comerciales que subían por el río Volga desde el mar Caspio. Las piezas más antiguas que se han desenterrado del territorio ruso datan del siglo X, y entre los siglos XII al XIV las excavaciones muestran que ya se jugaba ajedrez en el 20 por ciento de las ciudades rusas.

Iván IV, mejor conocido como Iván el Terrible, el primero de los zares, murió, literalmente, sobre el tablero, cuando sufrió un infarto mientras jugaba una partida en 1584. Se sabe que Pedro el Grande y su mujer Catalina I que lo sucedió, fueron grandes fanáticos del juego.

Durante el siglo XIX, tanto en Europa como en Estados Unidos, el ajedrez dejó de ser un simple pasatiempo y se convirtió en la recreación intelectual por excelencia. El ajedrez fue visto como un juego digno de caballeros, la actividad apropiada para la emergente burguesía ilustrada. Con ello se dió una paulatina profesionalización, el surgimiento de campeones nacionales, y la organización del primer torneo internacional de ajedrez en Londres, en 1851. El último de los zares rusos, Nicolás II, también fue un gran entusiasta del juego. Bajo su auspicio y financiaxción, tres de los torneos internacionales más importantes previos a la primera Guerra Mundial se llevaron a cabo en San Petersburgo durante 1898, 1909 y 1914; Rusia se convertía en el epicentro del ajedrez europeo.

No sorprende que algunas figuras prominentes del comunismo también fueran apasionados ajedrecistas. Se sabe que Marx, Trotski y Lenin estuvieron obsesionados por el juego. Sobrevive una curiosa fotografía de 1908, donde aparecen Lenin y el revolucionario Alexander Bogdánov jugando una partida de ajedrez en la isla de Capri, Italia, durante una visita a la villa del escritor Maksim Gorky, quien también se observa en el fondo de la toma. Sin embargo, para 1917, Lenin ya había abandonado por completo el ajedrez.

Instauración del ajedrez como deporte socialista

El ajedrez apareció como un componente idóneo para la construcción del estereotipo oficial del hombre soviético: calculador, lógico y racional, incluso en sus ratos de ocio. Además era un componente que se integraba muy adecuadamente en la revolución cultural, y la dominación absoluta de los ajedrecistas soviéticos a partir de 1945 en el ámbito internacional durante décadas, sirvió para legitimar al régimen y pregonar una superioridad intelectual sobre las sociedades capitalistas.

El ajedrez se vinculó con el Consejo Central de Entrenamiento Militar Universal, mejor conocido como Vsevobuch, su acrónimo en ruso, que gestionaba la formación física y militar obligatoria, junto con la educación comunista. El Vsevobuch tomó el control de todas las sociedades y clubes deportivos del país. El ajedrecista Aleksandr Ilín-Zhenevski (el ginebrino) era comisario de administración en Vsevobuch, y sus argumentos del estímulo que el ajedrez proporcionaba a la audacia, la creatividad, la determinación y la habilidad estratégica, así como un complemento para conseguir la erradicación el analfabetismo, el movimiento likbez de la revolución cultural, convencieron a Podvoisky, director general de la agencia.

Esto permitió la financiación de una olimpiada de ajedrez, siendo la primera ocasión en la historia en que un Estado brindaba soporte financiero al ajedrez. También solicitó, y obtuvo, espacio en el periódico de Vsevobuch para escribir la primera columna de ajedrez en la era soviética, y el 23 de mayo de 1920 fue inaugurado el primer club de ajedrez de la Rusia posrevolucionaria. En realidad sólo 16 de los 30 invitados se presentaron a la olimpiada durante el otoño de 1920, pero la coyuntura de la pasada revolución y la todavía en curso guerra civil no era nada favorable. El ganador fué Alexander Alekhine, que un año después se exiliaría, y el ginebrino obtuvo un decoroso noveno lugar. la olimpiada fue reconocida posteriormente como el primer Campeonato de ajedrez de la Unión Soviética.

En marzo de 1923 se decretó el cierre de Vsevobuch y la cancelación de su programa de entrenamiento militar universal, aunado a la desmovilización de tropas del Ejército Rojo y concluyó una primera etapa de estrecha relación entre el Estado soviético y el ajedrez. Pero a partir de entonces, el ajedrez sería considerado, al menos burocráticamente, como una actividad deportiva. Además, la vinculación del ajedrez con los deportes le valió librarse de una posible censura que se impuso a partir de 1922 a varias actividades culturales catalogadas de burguesas, y los ajedrecistas tampoco sufrieron la persecución que asedió a buena parte de la intelligentsia durante esos años.

La Comisaría Popular de Educación, agencia encargada de diseñar e implementar todas las políticas soviéticas relacionadas con la instrucción pública, la cultura y las artes, fué dirigida por Anatoly Lunacharsky desde 1917 hasta 1929 con el encargo de reformar el sistema de escuelas y universidades públicas para adaptarlo a las nuevas condiciones del país. Lunacharsky empleó un método elemental y mordaz de recompensa y castigo, con el objetivo de estimular a los artistas y miembros de la intelligentsia para que se sumasen al esfuerzo bolchevique o, de lo contrario, no lograran interferir en él. Dentro de la Comisaría Popular de Educación se creó en 1922 Glavlit, el órgano oficial de censura que se mantuvo vigente hasta la desintegración de la URSS. El propio Lenin consideraba la intelligentsia como un enemigo de clase. Por otro lado, las cifras muestran la gran labor realizada: en 1917 tan sólo el 28.4 por ciento de la población soviética sabía leer y escribir; para 1926, la cifra había aumentado a 51.1 por ciento y, para 1939, alcanzó el 81.2 por ciento.

Creación de la Sección de Ajedrez, en el Consejo Superior de Cultura Física

Un grupo de ajedrecistas se propuso rescatar a Sociedad Rusa de Ajedrez en la anterior capital, Petrogrado, que posteriormente se denominó Leningrado, y actualmente San Petersburgo. Consiguieron celebrar en 1923 el segundo Campeonato de ajedrez de la Unión Soviética.

Mientras tanto en Moscú había un patrocinio completo y participación directa del gobierno en el desarrollo del ajedrez. Se solicitó la creación de un Instituto de Ajedrez gubernamental, rechazado, pero convencieron a las autoridades locales de Moscú de incluir secciones de ajedrez en las estructuras de los sindicatos obreros.

En 1924 la Sociedad Rusa de Ajedrez celebró un tercer encuentro nacional, en la ya denominada Leningrado. La ocasión se aprovechó para discutir el futuro del ajedrez en la URSS. Cuando estaban reunidos recibieron una carta del dirigente Nikolái Vasílyevich Krylenko dando su apoyo a un ajedrez institucionalizado (y politizado), algo que la Sociedad Rusa de Ajedrez, aunque se encontraban en minoría, hubiera querido evitar.

se decidió disolver la Sociedad Rusa de Ajedrez, y en su lugar, se propuso crear una Sección de Ajedrez, en el Consejo Superior de Cultura Física de la Unión Soviética, con su propia publicación, que se llamaría 64 (en referencia al número de escaques que hay en un tablero). El grupo de ajedrecistas de Leningrado fue relegado a segundo plano, debido a su perfil conservador y su reticencia inicial a la politización del juego; en tanto que Listok, su publicación emblema, y pionera en el ámbito editorial soviético, quedó bajo la autoridad del ginebrino Alexander Ilyín a partir de ese momento. Escogieron a Krylenko como presidente de la Sección, y también como editor en jefe de la publicación 64, quien empleó los fondos estatales para perseguir dos grandes objetivos:

La popularización del juego mediante eventos ajedrecísticos masivos, apoyándose en la emergente estructura de las organizaciones partidistas y los sindicatos. Ese mismo año se organizó el primer Torneo de sindicatos obreros de la Unión Soviética, el cual atrajo apenas a un puñado de jugadores. Sin embargo, en pocos años, este certamen anual se convirtió en uno de los eventos deportivos y culturales más populares en la URSS, donde participaban cientos de miles de jugadores. También el aparato militar se sumó al esfuerzo por masificar el juego y se organizó el primer Campeonato de ajedrez del Ejército Rojo.

El segundo objetivo que persiguió Krylenko fue el ajedrez a gran escala, torneos costosos y elitistas que no necesariamente seguían los preceptos del marxismo-leninismo, con la intención de establecer la Unión Soviética como una potencia cultural en la arena internacional.

Primeros eventos internacionales

A principios de 1925 Rabinóvich viajaría a Baden-Baden, Alemania, como el primer representante oficial de la Unión Soviética en un campeonato internacional de ajedrez. Alcanzó la séptima posición, pero el primer lugar lo había ganado el moscovita Alexander Alekhine, quien a raíz de su exilio en 1921 se había convertido en un rabioso crítico del régimen bolchevique.

En el verano de 1925 se disputaría en Leningrado el cuarto Campeonato de Ajedrez de la Unión Soviética, y destacados jugadores como el ucraniano Efim Bogoliúbov y el ruso Alekséi Selezniov aceptaron la invitación para volver temporalmente de su exilio para participar. Fue el primero de los torneos a gran escala que organizaba la Sección de Ajedrez, y debía poner a prueba la calidad de sus ajedrecistas en el exterior.

En 1925 se celebró en Moscú el Campeonato Internacional de Ajedrez (se puede ver el vídeo adjunto disponible en este sitio web), en el que participaron los 10 mejores ajedrecistas soviéticos y 11 jugadores internacionales, siendo la figura más destacada el cubano José Raúl Capablanca, el flamante campeón mundial que en 1921 le había arrebatado el título al matemático alemán Emanuel Lasker, quien también participaría en el torneo, junto con el campeón estadounidense Frank Marshall, el polaco Savielly Tartakower, el checo Richard Réti o el austriaco Ernst Grünfeld, siendo la única ausencia notable el exiliado moscovita Alexander Alekhine, quien no recibió invitación.

Existía una gran desinformación sobre las condiciones de vida en la URSS, pero encontraron a su llegada una gran ciudad exultante, donde todo parecía girar en torno al ajedrez. La Sección de Ajedrez convenció a Capablanca de realizar un viaje relámpago a Leningrado para ofrecer una exhibición de partidas simultáneas. Capablanca ganó 18 de las 30 partidas que disputó, empató ocho y perdió cuatro. Entre las derrotas, la que más llamó la atención de la prensa fue aquella que le propinó un adolescente enjuto y miope, que recién había cumplido 14 años, Mikhaíl Botvínnik.

Contra todo pronóstico, el ginebrino Alexander Ilyín le arrebató un valioso punto al cubano. Capablanca también perdió una segunda partida ante el ucraniano Boris Verlinsky, quedando en el tercer puesto de la clasificación final. El otro gran favorito, Emanuel Lasker, también perdió dos de sus partidas: ante Grigory Levenfish y ante el mexicano Carlos Torre, obteniendo el segundo puesto. El ganador del torneo fue Efim Bogoliúbov, el ajedrecista ucraniano que, a invitación de Krylenko, había regresado de su exilio unos meses antes para participar.

Los ajedrecistas soviéticos habían demostrado al mundo que podían dar batalla, e incluso vencer, a los mejores jugadores internacionales, y el enorme interés que había despertado el torneo significó un gran avance hacia la ambicionada masificación del juego; una gran victoria para la Sección de Ajedrez. Además todo ello quedó reflejado en un cortometraje de 20 minutos: Fiebre de ajedrez, una sátira sobre la fiebre del ajedrez que se desató en Moscú con motivo del Torneo Internacional de Ajedrez, con la participación de Capablanca en calidad de actor, y otros ajedrecistas, aunque en papeles menores: el norteamericano Frank Marshall (1877-1944); el checo Richard Réti (1889-1929); el mexicano Carlos Torre Repetto (1904-1978); el inglés Frederick Yates (1884-1932) y el austriaco Ernst Grünfeld (1893-1962).

Progresiva intromisión de contenido político

Durante el campeonato tres psicólogos soviéticos realizaron un estudio experimental, y según los resultados de Psikhologiia shakhmatnoi igry (Psicología del ajedrez) dados a conocer en 1926: el ajedrez constituía un método poderoso de disciplina y desarrollo intelectual, que conlleva beneficios no sólo para jugadores capaces de convertirse en maestros, sino también en sujetos que no poseen dichas cualidades. La práctica habitual del ajedrez podría desarrollar en la población aptitudes que formaban parte del arquetipo del ciudadano socialista: serenidad, autocontrol, confianza, voluntad, disciplina, e intensa actividad intelectual.

En 1926 Moscú y Leningrado inauguraron su propio campeonato anual, y abrieron academias públicas, especializadas en la enseñanza del ajedrez con jugadores de primer nivel. En otras regiones y repúblicas soviéticas también se impulsó la masificación del ajedrez, principalmente a través de los círculos ajedrecísticos que se habían formado dentro de los sindicatos obreros que organizaban competencias nacionales, regionales y locales. El ajedrecista Fiódor Duz-Khotimirksy se encargó de visitar entre 1924 y 1931 todas las provincias de Rusia y ocho repúblicas soviéticas como parte de una campaña propagandística a favor del ajedrez. A partir de 1929 se editan los primeros manuales de ajedrez traducidos y escritos en las lenguas vernáculas de las diferentes repúblicas de la URSS.

Los resultados de la campaña fueron contundentes: la Sección de Ajedrez pasó de tener 1159 jugadores registrados en 1923, a casi un millón de jugadores a finales de la década de 1930.

En 1928 la Sección de Ajedrez emprendería su propio plan quinquenal con el objetivo de acercar el juego a la mayor cantidad posible de personas, y popularizó un nuevo eslogan dentro de su organización: ¡Saturemos el ajedrez con contenido político!. Cientos de instructores fueron enviados a todos los rincones del país con la consigna de popularizar el juego y sus virtudes, principalmente entre niños y adolescentes. En tanto, los últimos círculos de ajedrez y revistas independientes fueron clausurados: toda persona que quisiera jugar ajedrez o hablar de él tendría que formar parte de la Sección; y los ajedrecistas soviéticos deberían mostrar, además de talento, su apego total a los valores del comunismo. Cientos de ajedrecistas se contaron entre las víctimas de la represión política del estalinismo.

A partir de la década de 1930, los campeonatos ajedrecísticos adquirieron el estatus de evento gubernamental, por lo que los jugadores tenían derecho a días de asueto obligatorio en sus trabajos para entrenar y participar en ellos. Además, se establecieron mecanismos de clasificación para que los ajedrecistas pudieran aspirar al título de Maestro del deporte de la Unión Soviética y, por lo tanto, recibir un estipendio mensual financiado por el gobierno.

Nueva generación de maestros soviéticos

Mikhaíl Botvínnik, Misha, que en 1925 había derrotado al campeón mundial Capablanca durante una exhibición de partidas simultáneas en Leningrado, estaba destinado a convertirse en el primer gran héroe del ajedrez soviético. Como parte de aquella primera generación que creció y alcanzó la madurez bajo el gobierno bolchevique, Botvínnik fue hasta su muerte un convencido comunista, orgulloso portavoz de los logros y proyectos del Estado soviético.

En 1931 Botvínnik obtuvo el primer lugar en el séptimo Campeonato de ajedrez de la Unión Soviética, donde midió sus fuerzas con la vieja guardia de ajedrecistas prerrevolucionarios. El segundo puesto lo obtuvo el campeón moscovita Nikolái Riumin, la otra joven promesa del torneo. En 1933 Misha refrendó su título, y junto a él una nueva generación de jugadores se mostró lista para tomar el relevo del ajedrez soviético: Había surgido una nueva generación de maestros soviéticos.

En 1935 se celebró el segundo Campeonato Internacional de Moscú, con la presencia de los 20 mejores jugadores soviéticos y extranjeros, entre estos últimos los viejos conocidos Lasker, Capablanca y Flohr. La única ausencia notable fue, nuevamente, el renegado moscovita entonces ya nacionalizado francés, Alexander Alekhine, quien desde 1927 ostentaba el título de campeón mundial. El evento fué un gran éxito, y en el primer día del torneo se presentaron alrededor de cinco mil espectadores, pasando a se el campeonato ajedrecístico más importante del momento. Flohr y Botvínnik empataron su última partida, y ambos compartieron el primer lugar, mientras que Lasker y Capablanca concluyeron en tercer y cuarto lugar respectivamente. Los soviéticos ganaron 26 partidas, perdieron 25 y empataron 45 contra sus rivales internacionales, lo que significaba un gran avance en comparación con los resultados de 1925.

Botvínnik participó en el torneo de Nottingham, Inglaterra, y obtuvo el primer lugar de la clasificación. Este resultado significó el primer triunfo de la URSS en una competencia cultural internacional, siendo elogiado ampliamente en la primera plana de Pravda.

En 1938 Krylenko fue arrestado, condenado y ejecutado, y su cargo al frente de la Sección de Ajedrez fue tomado por Vladímir Nikolayevich Snegiryov. Botvínnik se apoyó en Snegiryov para convencer al gobierno de entablar las negociaciones con miras a disputar el campeonato por el título mundial, en manos del exiliado ruso nacionalizado francés, Alexander Alekhine, que a ojos del gobierno soviético era un renegado. En 1939, cuando parecía que finalmente estaban cerca de llegar a un arreglo, Hitler y sus tropas invadieron Polonia: Europa entraba en guerra.

La segunda Guerra Mundial

Aunque resulta imposible precisar con exactitud las dimensiones del desastre, se calcula que alrededor de 26 millones de ciudadanos soviéticos murieron como resultado directo de la segunda Guerra Mundial. Aunado a las pérdidas humanas, el grado de destrucción que dejó el ejército alemán a su paso por el territorio soviético, especialmente en las regiones del Báltico, Bielorrusia y Ucrania, no tiene parangón en la historia de la humanidad.

El 22 de junio de 1941 arrancó oficialmente la Operación Barbarroja, nombre clave del plan militar con que Hitler se propuso invadir y ocupar el territorio soviético, y en septiembre, ya habían sitiado Leningrado. En noviembre de ese mismo año las autoridades ajedrecísticas en Moscú decidieron llevar a cabo su torneo anual conforme al calendario preestablecido, con la participación de aquellos pocos jugadores que no habían sido reclutados por el Ejército Rojo como parte de la movilización militar obligatoria.

Entre las sirenas de ataque aéreo, los bombardeos, el toque de queda y las evacuaciones, se disputó el campeonato anual de Moscú. Incluso en Leningrado, donde el bloqueo alemán se prolongó durante 872 días y provocó la muerte de cientos de miles de personas, el torneo local se llevó a cabo regularmente, utilizando como sede refugios y hospitales.

En mayo de 1944, con la guerra aún en curso, se llevó a cabo en Moscú el décimo tercer Campeonato de Ajedrez de la Unión Soviética. El ganador del torneo fue Mikhaíl Botvínnik, quien había sido eximido de sus obligaciones militares debido a su deficiencia visual. Pero no todos los ajedrecistas soviéticos corrieron la misma suerte; decenas de miembros destacados del ajedrez soviético como Iliá Rabinóvich, el ginebrino Alexander Ilyín, Nikolái Riumin, e incluso Vladímir Snegiryov, el sucesor de Krylenko al frente de la Sección de Ajedrez, se contaron entre las millones de víctimas mortales de la guerra.

La postguerra

El resultado de 1945 fue el colapso definitivo de Europa en provecho de dos grandes potencias mundiales: la una, extraeuropea, los Estados Unidos; la otra, euroasiática, la Unión Soviética.

Stalin se había mantenido en el poder, y también el sistema político construido en torno a un solo partido y una sola ideología sobrevivió intacto. Además, la URSS recuperó el territorio cedido durante la primera Guerra Mundial y anexó nuevas regiones en sus fronteras oriental y occidental, mientras su zona de influencia directa se expandió hacia aquellos países que habían sido liberados de la ocupación alemana por el Ejército Rojo: Polonia, Checoslovaquia, Hungría, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania y la fracción oriental de Alemania se sumaron veloz y coercitivamente a la causa socialista.

Stalin se encargó de reinstalar en cuestión de meses el sistema totalitario que había imperado en los años anteriores a 1939; las esperanzas del pueblo soviético hacia una posible relajación del control estatal sobre la sociedad y la economía se evaporaron casi de inmediato. El discurso revolucionario, sin embargo, perdió ímpetu dentro del país tras el fin de la guerra; aunque el régimen soviético nunca renunció abiertamente a la aspiración utópica de alcanzar el comunismo, y la consecuente desaparición del Estado, Stalin y sus sucesores dejaron ver que la prioridad sería asegurar la continuidad del aparato institucional.

Las comisarías cambiaron de nombre a ministerios, y el Ejército Rojo se convirtió en Ejército Soviético. El concepto de revolución comunista se convertiría en material de exportación, ya no de consumo interno, y la siempre activa propaganda se centraría a partir de entonces en fomentar el patriotismo. Stalin creó el Buró de Información (Kominform), que agrupaba a todos los partidos comunistas europeos y que en la práctica funcionó como sucesora de la Internacional Comunista (Komintern).

Cuando en 1948 se formó, con respaldo estadounidense, la Organización Europea para la Cooperación Económica con el objetivo de gestionar las ayudas del plan Marshall (predecesora de la actual OCDE), Stalin replicó con la creación del Consejo de Ayuda Económica Mutua (Comecon), y tras el nacimiento de la República Federal Alemana en occidente, los soviéticos fundaron la República Democrática Alemana en su fracción oriental.

El deporte fue uno de los primeros ámbitos donde la Unión Soviética y Estados Unidos entablaron un cauce inocuo, si bien intenso, de competencia.

Renaudación de los encuentros internacionales de ajedrez

La rendición del Imperio Japonés firmada el 2 de septiembre de 1945 marcó el fin de la segunda Guerra Mundial. Un día antes, el 1 de septiembre, Estados Unidos y la Unión Soviética habían reanudado oficialmente su participación en competencias deportivas internacionales con un torneo de ajedrez a distancia. Se trató del primer enfrentamiento directo entre ambos países en el ámbito deportivo, pues la URSS nunca había participado como equipo en competencias internacionales. El grupo de jugadores soviéticos estaba encabezado por Mikhaíl Botvínnik y Vasili Smyslov; el de los estadounidenses por Arnold Denker y Samuel Reshevsky.

El resultado del encuentro fue contundente: de las 20 partidas disputadas, los soviéticos ganaron 13, empataron cinco y perdieron dos. Según Mikhaíl Botvínnik, el torneo demostró la madurez que había alcanzado la Escuela Soviética de Ajedrez, y comienza a usarse este término.

Mikhaíl Botvínnik nunca renunció a sus aspiraciones de enfrentarse al renegado Alexander Alekhine, cuya reputación política se había deteriorado aún más a raíz de su participación en competiciones ajedrecísticas financiadas por los nazis. En febrero de 1946, la Sección de Ajedrez finalmente envió al renegado su propuesta formal y aval económico para organizar la disputa por el título de campeón mundial. Sin embargo, el ansiado encuentro nunca se llevaría a cabo: el 24 de marzo de ese mismo año, Alekhine fue hallado muerto en una habitación de hotel en Estoril, Portugal. Según la versión oficial, el campeón mundial sufrió un ataque cardiaco; tenía 53 años.

La Federación Internacional de Ajedrez (FIDE) anunció que realizaría en La Haya, Países Bajos, un congreso donde definirían los mecanismos para elegir a un nuevo campeón. En consecuencia, la Sección de Ajedrez recibió autorización directa de Stalin para afiliarse a la FIDE con el fin asegurar la presencia de delegados soviéticos en dicho congreso.

La comitiva reunida en La Haya acordó organizar un torneo entre los cinco mejores ajedrecistas internacionales para definir al nuevo campeón. Los jugadores elegidos para disputar el título fueron los rusos Botvínnik y Smyslov, el estonio Paul Keres, el estadounidense Samuel Reshevsky y el neerlandés Max Euwe. Tal como estaba previsto, Botvínnik se impuso sin mucha dificultad a sus cuatro contrincantes, y el 9 de mayo de 1948 fue declarado oficialmente nuevo campeón mundial de ajedrez. Al día siguiente, el periódico Pravda celebró en su primera plana la coronación de Botvínnik como una victoria de nuestra cultura socialista.

El paréntesis de Bobby Fischer

En la clasificación para el Campeonato del mundo de 1972 Bobby Fischer, desués de totalizar en un cierto momento 19 victorias consecutivas en condiciones de torneo oficial, récord que todavía no se ha igualado, ganó contra Tigran Petrosian, disputando y ganando el Campeonato del mundo en Reykjavík, Islàndia, contra Borís Spasski.

Uno de los pilares que sostenía a la Escuela Soviética de Ajedrez era su imbatibilidad, por lo que después de 1972 jamás lograría sostenerse con la misma fuerza: el campeonato mundial había inflingido una cicatriz indeleble a su prestigio internacional. La derrota fue especialmente dolorosa, por el rival y por el enorme interés que había despertado el torneo alrededor del planeta. Además, los soviéticos ni siquiera tuvieron oportunidad de reparar su prestigio a través de una revancha: en 1975, Fischer no se presentó a defender su título. El nuevo campeón, Anatoly Kárpov, se coronó sin mover una sola pieza.

El término Escuela Soviética

A partir de 1930, las autoridades a cargo del desarrollo deportivo soviético persiguieron paralelamente dos grandes objetivos: massovost y masterstvo. El primero hacía referencia a los programas masivos de entrenamiento físico que tenían la finalidad de inculcar hábitos deportivos en la población y proveer conocimientos básicos de higiene y primeros auxilios. El segundo contemplaba la formación de deportistas profesionales de alto rendimiento con base en una clasificación rigurosa de estándares de excelencia, siendo Maestro del deporte de la URSS, clase internacional y Maestro del deporte de la URSS” los dos títulos más altos a los que un deportista soviético podía aspirar. En la opinión de los líderes del Partido Comunista, la victoria de los atletas soviéticos en diferentes disciplinas, campeonatos mundiales y Juegos Olímpicos servían para demostrar al mundo entero la superioridad del sistema soviético sobre las democracias occidentales.

Fue en este ámbito específico donde el ajedrez resultó un agente sumamente eficaz al servicio de la política exterior de la URSS. Antes que cualquier otra disciplina deportiva, los soviéticos manifestaron en el ajedrez una absoluta y sostenida superioridad sobre sus rivales occidentales. Lev Abramov, presidente de la Sección de Ajedrez en la década de 1950, resume el papel que tuvo el juego para legitimar el progreso soviético desde los primeros años de la guerra fría: Obtuvimos logros ajedrecísticos antes que en cualquier otro ámbito. El ajedrez se convirtió en una prueba tangible de que el sistema funcionaba; algo completamente confiable, algo que no decepcionaría al Estado.

El ajedrez gozaba, además, de una notable reputación intelectual y cultural, por lo que el prestigio internacional derivado de la excelencia en el juego tenía alcances mayores que la mera destreza física. Esto explica por qué, a partir de 1945, los soviéticos comenzaron a utilizar con mayor frecuencia y con fines marcadamente propagandísticos el término Escuela Soviética de Ajedrez, para referirse a un estilo de juego que compartían sus jugadores y que reflejaba los valores intrínsecos de su sociedad.

Los triunfos de la Escuela Soviética de Ajedrez no sólo demostraban la solidez de sus programas deportivos, también refrendaban la capacidad intelectual y el carácter combativo de toda su población. Lo que asume el ajedrecista soviético Alexander Kotov en la introducción a su libro es reflejo de esa postura: el ascenso de la Escuela Soviética a la cima del ajedrez mundial es el resultado lógico del desarrollo cultural socialista.

Primary source, essentially a summary of: EL AJEDREZ EN LA UNIÓN SOVIÉTICA: ESTUDIO DE CASO DEL DESARROLLO DEPORTIVO Y CULTURAL DE LA URSS Y SU PAPEL EN LA POLÍTICA EXTERIOR DURANTE LA GUERRA FRÍA (1917-1972). Thesis by ALESSANDRO TRIACCA SÁNCHEZ presented at the Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Internacionales Mexico City, January 2015.

International Chess Day

International Chess Day is commemorated every year on 19 November, the date of birth of Cuban José Raúl Capablanca Graupera.

From the year 2020 the UN has established that the International Chess Day will now be on 20 July. Strangely enough, the change comes at a time when the machine has definitively surpassed man.

IV - Machine overcomes man (third millennium)


The Turk
The Turk, a 1780 fraud, played against Napoleon and Charles Babbage.

Leonardo Torres Quevedo designed El ajedrecista in 1912, a finite automaton capable of playing the rook and king endings; he was the first true wit capable of playing chess, albeit in a very limited way.

The first software capable of participating in a complete game began with the work of Claude Elwood Shannon en 1949, in 1949, who estimated the possible moves in a game of chess at 10120, the number of moves that would have to be analyzed using brute force; we must think that the number of atoms in the entire universe is considered less than 1080. Shannon also gave the first indications to build a software capable of playing, limiting the depth of the investigation in the minmax tree of possibilities, and determining its value by means of a heuristic function.

The 1970s ended with small personal computers that were already capable of achieving an acceptable level for an average player, but still far from master levels, not even using large computers; but the expectations of when a machine would be able to defeat a great champion were already beginning.

Deep Blue, Deeper Blue

Kasparov Deep Blue
Kaspàrov vs IBM

Beginning in the 1990s, computers began to win grandmaster games, and in February 1996 the Deep Blue computer, an IBM project, shocked the world by winning a game against the then reigning world champion, Garri Kaspàrov, over despite the fact that Kasparov won the match. In May 1997, in the rematch, the enhanced supercomputer Deeper Blue defeated the champion for the first time.

In 2007, the Rybka program proved superior to any human player, and supercomputers were no longer needed; personal computers were sufficient.


In December 2017, Alphazero, built with the artificial intelligence created by Deep Mind, owned by Google since 2014, acquired a superhuman level after 4 hours of trial play against himself. Unlike other programs, AlphaZero is not based on human knowledge, and its understanding of the game, outside of the basic rules, comes solely from its self-learning ability guided by a Monte Carlo search (random). His massive analysis of possible plays is based on choosing the plays that may be of most interest, using the experience acquired in his previous self-learning, applying pattern recognition. This technique is much more like the way grandmasters do it: the choice among the thousands of moves that it is capable of analyzing, and the search within these moves, is independent of the heuristics that have been programmed, and the result it is better than other programs that analyze more plays.

Capablanca Chess

Chess zh10 26.png
Chess zver 26.png
Chess zver 26.png
Chess zh10 26.png
Capablanca's chess starting position. Archbishops are on c1 / c8. Chancellors are on h1 / h8.

Capablanca Chess is an extension of orthodox chess invented in 1920 by José Raúl Capablanca. It uses a checkerboard of eight by ten squares, and introduces two new pieces: the Chancellor and the Archbishop.

These pieces, but with different names, had already been introduced in the 17th century by Pietro Carrera in 1617. Also Bird's chess, dating from 1874, used the same pieces, but with other names. Already in 1984, Grandiose Chess defines a larger board, ten by ten, with specific initial positions, and once again the names of the two new pieces of Capablanca's Chess are changed, calling them Mariscal and Cardenal. In the year 2000 Gothic Chess is defined as a variant of Capablanca Chess that only differs by the initial positions of the pieces.

Interestingly, we can observe a version of this game in each of the four stages in which we have divided the history of modern chess: Establishment of the modern game (Pietro carrera), romantic age (Bird), establishment as a sport (Capablanca) and the chess automation, with an ineffective first attempt at Grandiose Chess, but eventually taking up Capablanca's ideas with Gothic Chess.

The Chancellor is a piece with the ability to make the moves of the rook and the knight, introduced into Western chess by Pietro Carrera in 1617, under the name of Champion. In 1887 we already find the name of Chancellor in the Chancellor's Chess, a precedent to Capablanca's chess of 1920.
In the world of Fairy Chess she is known as the Empress, or as rook+knight compound.
In C'escacs, this piece, with movements on the hexagonal board of Rook and Knight compound, is known as Dragon.
The Archbishop is a piece with the ability to make the moves of the bishop and the knight, introduced into Western chess by Pietro Carrera in 1617, under the name of Centauro.
In the world of Fairy Chess she is known as the Princess, or as bishop+knight compound.
In C'escacs, this piece, with movements on the hexagonal board of Bishop and Knight compound, is known as Pegasus.

In C'escacs, the name Archbishop was not appropriate, since neither in Spanish nor in Catalan do we use Bishop, as in English or Portuguese. In addition, the power on the hexagonal board, due to its tricolor character, is much less than on a square board. The name Pegasus came up immediately because of its in-game features, as it allows you to quickly move a Knight to a far point on the board. Here I also like to remember that the name of the Bishop was, in its beginnings, Runner or Messenger, probably for a similar reason: movement speed.

Chancellor is not currently a relevant title in our country, despite the fact that it has been so in other times, and is so in other countries. The title of Councilor had been taken by the Queen to the Ferz of the Shatranj, and now a Minister returned to the game board. The power of the piece and the medieval context of chess, seasoned with the existence of Pegasi in the game, led to the name Dragon. Fairy Chess tradition leaves the Dragon for a Pawn-Knight compound, due to the military corps of the dragoons, mounted and musket-armed infantry. My point of view is that these units represent the end of the Middle Ages (they were created at the end of the 16th century) and are a bit far from the ancestral character of chess; I prefer my Arthurian and slightly exotic vision of the game, where the Dragon is a piece comparable in power to the Queen; The piece is actually a dangerous Wyvern, a female Dragon.

Multiplayer chess variants

S. Waider's variant
S. Waider's three-player variant.

Chaturaji, which was played with dice and in pairs, has already been mentioned in this document. By playing with dice, the game already has a chance component that differentiates it from what we normally understand as chess. However, playing a pair of players against another pair balances the multiplayer component. Four Seasons Chess has also been seen, which could also be played with dice, although in this case there is no mention of team play.

Three-player chess variants, or four-player chess variants, when not played in pairs, incorporate an additional factor into the game: diplomacy. Even unconsciously, two players may ally against the third, degenerating the game into something very different from chess. However, in four-player chess, playing in pairs, the objectives are again well defined, determining the alliances as part of the game.

If you increase the number of players to more than two pairs, you will again encounter the problem of Diplomacy, and you need to make this component a part of the game and the rules, as is the case in Qiguo Xiangqi (七國象棋) The Game of the Seven Kingdoms, which allows up to seven players, but alliances and asking for help are part of the game. The Diplomat is a three-player game that also takes diplomacy into consideration as a component of the game.

Three-player chess variants

Game of the Three Kingdoms
Game of the Three Kingdoms.
Ihardlythinkso, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Three-player chess undoubtedly has its origins in China, where Sanguo Qi (三國棋), The Game of the Three Kingdoms, for three players, was designed to recall the period of the Three Kingdoms (221-264 AD), and possibly dates back to the 12th century. As a variant of Xiangqi, the pieces are positioned at the intersections of the squares, and a river separates the positions of the opponents.

Game of the Three Friends
Game of the Three Friends
Mliu92, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another later variant, from the end of the 17th century, is the Sanyou Qi (三友棋), the game of the Three Friends, very similar, but there is some continuity between the squares, with the river disappearing, although there are some squares marked as sea, mountain or city, separating the forces of the opponents.

Three-player versions of chess have been recorded in Europe since Philip Marinelli's version (1722), although the symmetrical board came with S. Waider's version (1837), which also illustrated the cover of George Hope Verney's book Chess Eccentricities.

Filek's chess initial setup
Multiplayer chess by Jacek Filek from Poland.

In the 20th century, although it has not aroused much interest, the incorporation of the hexagonal board allowed the definition of a geometry more suitable for distributing three players, just as the oldest of the three-player variants, the Three Kingdoms Chess (Sanguo Qi), had already done. On a board with this geometry, squares can be defined either by deforming square boxes, by incorporating hexagonal tiling, or even by triangular tiling.

One solution to deal with the problem of diplomacy is to end the game after one of the players wins with a checkmate, considering the other two as losers... but even this situation is problematic, since it is different to checkmate the player next in turn, or the other, who has the chance to be saved by the player who has the turn, but also this player can join the checkmate, and we would have two winning players if both simultaneously threaten the king. In practice, therefore, it is very difficult to prevent two players from joining forces against the third.

Three-player circular chess
Three-player circular chess.

A particularly interesting case is the incorporation of three players in a circular chess set, a design by George Hope Verney that appears in his book Chess Eccentricities. In this case it becomes much more obvious that the expected natural battle is against the player whose turn comes next, usually in a counter-clockwise direction. An updated version can be tried at https://greenchess.net, although the rules do not correspond exactly to Verney's, which even defined castling.

Four-player chess variants

Four-player chess
Four-player chess.
Marcin Jahr, Poland, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Diplomacy problem can be eliminated in four-player chess by forming two teams. In fact, in the current version of four-player chess, it is even common for only two players to play against each other, with each player taking two sets of allied pieces. The difference between playing two pairs or four players is actually very great, and if you don't play in pairs, and play four people, you are back to the problem of Diplomacy.

Already in Chess Eccentricities George Hope Verney mentions multiple chess variants for four; most of them share the same board, and differ in the rules, particularly the cases of check, the movement of the pawns and their promotion, given that the pawns facing each other belong to the pair of partners in the game, and determining what happens once a player has lost because he has received a checkmate: is the game over, are the pieces removed and continue, continue but keep the pieces, etc.?

In addition, situations can arise that do not occur in orthodox chess, because the players must wait for their turn, not only for their opponent, but also for the other players. For example, an X-ray attack can be made behind a fellow player's piece, and the fellow player, in his turn, can move the piece, making the attack effective.

While three-player chess has remained little more than a curiosity (although it has been marketed on several occasions), four-player chess has been of greater interest; since its inception, Verney himself founded the Four-Handed Chess club in 1885, which lasted until the Second World War. Subsequently, some interest resumed in the 1960s, and today due to the availability of the game via the internet through the chess.com server.

The rules of this chess generally prohibit communication between teammates, although some variant, already mentioned by Verney, allowed some communication, limited, never suggesting concrete moves. This, nowadays, is hardly feasible, since the games are often online, and communication between players cannot be controlled. More information can be found in wikibooks.

Four-player circular chess
Four-player circular chess.

We also find in Verney's book different board sizes, but the most differentiated variant in this respect is the Russian variant with fortresses, and, naturally, the circular chess version, for four players, a design of Verney's that appears in his book Chess Eccentricities. Circular chess encloses the pieces much more, so that the battle is much more determined between players with consecutive turns... usually the turns correspond to counter-clockwise, and, in general, we must defend against the player with the previous turn, and attack the player with the next turn.

In circular chess, one of the drawbacks is the imbalance of the pieces, since the minor pieces lose power, even the Knight, but especially the Bishop, while the Rooks increase their power. However, by adding more pieces to the board, and some of them allied, the power of the Rooks is naturally limited, similar to the lack of mobility of the Rooks on an orthodox board when there are still a large number of pieces in play. In four-player circular chess, the mobility of the Rooks limits the power they can have on the empty board, balancing out, at least until the middle game, against minor pieces that lose power.

In my opinion four-player circular chess is the best version of four-player chess, after the bughouse chess, and also the best version of circular chess with modern rules (bishop and queen); even making the circle bigger makes the bishop's moves better visualised.

Although the rules do not correspond exactly to Verney's, an updated version of Four-player circular chess can be tested at https://greenchess.net.

Russian four-player chess variant with fortresses

Russian four-player chess variant with fortresses.
Russian four-player chess variant with fortresses.

Russian four-player chess with fortresses only adds two rows to position the pieces, reducing the size of the board, with respect to the usual four-player chess board, by 8×4=32 squares, but adds 4 fortresses with 16 squares each, i.e. 16×4=64 squares in the fortresses, which added to the additional 64 squares, gives a total of 192 squares, instead of the 128 that a four-player chess board usually has. This chess is played by two pairs of players. These fortresses also have walls to limit the entrance, to prevent access from the enemy side, and contain some additional pieces of the player: a Rook, a Knight and a Bishop, which if white corresponds to one player, will correspond black to his partner. These additional pieces are initially placed in the player's fortress, in any position, but respecting the colour of the Bishop.

One strategy cited is to castle (short), and move the King to the fortress, this being the place where he can best protect himself. The fortresses in this chess are not related to the citadels of the Shatranj, like those in Tamerlane Shatranj, and in this case are simply extensions of the board, with the exception of the presence of the walls.

The first mention by Coxe of this Russian four-player chess is quoted and dated (1784) in Chess Eccentricities, although the date Verney refers to the game is 1850, when the full rules were published, although there is still some ambiguity on some points. This variant was also briefly described by Butrimov (1821), but the full rules were not published until Petroff (1850), who recounts that his grandfather explained that Catherine the Great (1729-1796) played this chess. Details in the article Russian four-handed chess: myths and misconceptions by Georgi Markov in Board Game Studies Journal nº9 2015. Also available at http://history.chess.free.fr.

Bughouse Chess

Bughouse Chess
Bughouse Chess.
Daniel Shantsev, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This variant is particularly popular, as it makes for an entertaining game of chess in pairs for four players (Bughouse chess). It is played on two boards, and the pieces captured by your partner on the other board can be incorporated into your game instead of moving a piece, always without checkmated when incorporating the new piece.

Commentary is allowed between players on the same team, and the game is generally played with a clock (two clocks, one for each board), in blitz or rapid games, where the pawns do not promote, and are removed from the board when they reach the eighth rank. There may be variants of the game, but the most frequent when playing blitz games is that winning on one of the two boards means victory for the pair of players, and the game is over.

Probably, among multiplayer chess, it is the variant that remains closest to chess, as multiplayer variants always involve a Diplomacy component, which in the Bughouse Chess variant remains under control, even more than in four-handed chess in pairs; Bughouse Chess is possibly the multiplayer variant that most preserves the spirit of chess.

Chess variants for more than four players

Chess for six players
Chess for six players.

Qiguo Xiangqi

Sometimes chess games for six or even eight players have been presented. In general, these games have been forgotten as experiments without great acceptance. However, the case that stands out is the Chinese Qiguo Xiangqi (七國象棋), The Game of the Seven Kingdoms, a chess-inspired game for up to seven players, although fewer players can also play. In this game, asking for help from an opponent who is not part of one's alliance requires the player to drink a shot of liquor; and there are similar rules, to rectify a move, if an incorrect move is made, or to ask the alliance to attack. The goal of the game is to capture enemy generals, but you also earn points for captured pieces.

The game dates back to the 11th century, and was designed by the imperial minister and historian Sima Guang to commemorate the Seven Warring States (403–221 BC). Like all chess (and related games) from the Far East (China, Japan, Korea, even Vietnam), it is played using lines to move the pieces, and vertices to place them.

Qiguo Xiangqi (七國象棋)
Qiguo Xiangqi (七國象棋),
九翼天使, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A player is eliminated when his General, or eleven of his pieces other than the General, are captured. A player wins when he captures 30 pieces that are not Generals, or two Generals. In the centre is positioned the Emperor (in the picture, in yellow), a neutral figure who does not move from this position, nor can he be captured.

Each player has the following pieces:

  • 1 G General: Moves like a Queen.
  • 1 DG Deputy-General (Chancellor): Moves like a Rook. Equivalent to the Xiangqi Chariot.
  • 1 O Officer: Moves like a Bishop.
  • 1 A Archer: Moves like a Queen, but only up to 4 steps.
  • 1 CB Crossbowman: Moves like a Queen, but only up to 5 steps.
  • 1 CA Cannon: Moves orthogonally like the Rook; captures orthogonally, but using an intermediate piece, friendly or enemy, as a screen. Same as the Xiangqi Cannon.
  • 4 C Horse: moves one step orthogonally first, then continues one to three steps diagonally outward. It can't jump over other pieces.
  • 2 S Swordsman (Jian): Moves one space diagonally.
  • 4 B Broadswordsman (Dao): It moves one space orthogonally.
  • 1 D Diplomat (intermediary): Moves like a Queen, but cannot capture, be captured, or check. It is used as a defence, or as a platform for cannon attacks.

Hexagonal Chess

'First theories of Hexagonal Chess' (1974)
'First theories of Hexagonal Chess' book (1974)

Hexagonal Chess is a variant of chess that is played on checkerboards made up of hexagonal-shaped cells, which we will call hexes. It was invented by Władysław Gliński in 1936. This chess variant is known by the generic term Hexagonal Chess.

Sigmund Wellisch, as early as 1912, presented a hexagonal chess for three players, but the diagonal moves were not yet defined. Lord Baskerville is considered the author, in 1929, of the first hexagonal version of chess, despite the fact that it was only a prototype.

In 1936 Władysław Gliński solved the problems that had arisen in the Baskerville prototype, presenting a new design. Hexagonal Chess now had a hexagonal checkerboard in the form of a regular hexagon of six hexes per side, with a total of 91 hexes, for which Gliński established an algebraic notation. Each player had three bishops, one for each color, and all pawns were equidistant from the promotion.

In addition, Gliński studied cases where the promotion of a pawn is inevitable, the opposition, the fool's mate, and the endings with Queen, with Rook, with two and with three minor pieces. The game had been carefully designed.

The new game took a while to spread, due to the war, and they were presented publicly at the 1951 Festival of Britain. It was finally a huge success in the 1970s.

Gliński hexagonal chess

Posició inicial en els escacs hexagonals.
Starting position in hexagonal chess.

The checkerboard in the form of a regular hexagon with 91 hexes is formed with hexes of three different colors, so that the hexes of the same color do not touch. Gliński named the colors light, dark, and medium, with the medium color remaining for the central hex; thus, there are 30 light hexes, 30 dark hexes and 31 medium hexes. Sometimes fans have used two colors, such as blue and red, in addition to white, but although this color scheme is more in line with the later McCooey variant, the choice of colors does not affect gameplay. Even so, an official checkerboard will have the middle color in the central hex.

The eleven columns are named using the letters of the Latin alphabet, from A to L, as the letter J is missing, to avoid confusions. The oblique rows are numbered from one to eleven on both sides, using the numbering of the oblique rows in one direction on the left side of the checkerboard, and the oblique rows in the other direction on the right, thus dividing the checkerboard by the central column for numbering.

The pieces are the same as in orthodox chess, with the addition of a pawn, and a bishop for the additional color. The movement of the pieces is defined in a perfectly equivalent way to orthodox chess, once the orthogonal movements are defined as the six movements that follow the six directions of the sides of a hex, and the diagonal movements as the movements that follow the directions of the six vertices, following hexes of the same color. This perfect equivalence is broken by the case of the Pawn; for the correspondence with orthodox chess, they would have to correspond to three movements of capture, and one and a half movements without capture.

The movement of the Pawn is defined by a single movement of one hex forward, following the row of its column, with the option of moving two hexes when it is in the starting positions, regardless of whether it has been moved. They have two capturing moves, defined as forward oblique orthogonal moves, and this means that a pawn that has made a capturing move can end up in a starting position of another pawn, despite having already made a capturing move. Since double movements are defined for the pawns, the en passant capture is also defined.

The initial position of the pieces leaves the three Bishops in the central file, and the pawns in a wedge, actually forming a structure of defended pawns between them, with the property that thus all the pawns remain at the same distance from the promotion. What is most strange when you see the arrangement for the first time, is that there are empty hexes between the pawns and the rest of the pieces, this being an important feature in the early development of the game.

Continuous check, stalemate and draw

A draw, or tie between the two contestants, in competition represents ½ point for each player, and occurs:

  • In case of continuous check.
  • When the same move is repeated three times by both players, not necessarily consecutively.
  • When there are 50 moves by each player (fifty moves) without capturing any piece or moving any pawn.

In contrast, a stalemate is considered a narrow win, which in competition only awards ¾ point to the winner, with ¼ point awarded to the stalemated player.

Otras reglas

touch-move rule
a player, having the move, who deliberately touches a piece on the board must move or capture that piece if it is legal to do so.
A move cannot be rectified once the piece has been left on the board, but an invalid or illegal move must be rectified immediately.
Conditions that make a player lose a game:
He disarranges the position of the playing pieces on the board.
He does not accept to resume within a reasonable time an interrupted game.
When a watch is used and the time is exceeded.
When he fails to comply with a legal requirement of the opponent.
If he refuses to abide by the rules.

Other hexagonal chess variants


Shafran's chess starting position
Shafran's chess starting position

In 1939 the Soviet geologist Isaak Grigorevich Shafran invented Shafran's hexagonal chess, registered in 1956. It was shown at the Leipzig World Chess Exhibition in 1960, but was overshadowed by the success of Gliński's Chess, and specifically for its success in the West (London).


McCooey chess starting position.
McCooey's chess starting position.

Between 1978 and 1979, despite the then recent creation in 1976 of the BHCF, Dave McCooey and Richard Honeycutt developed another hexagonal chess variant also using a checkerboard of 91 hexes, although McCooey claims that, at the time they designed the game, he did not know about hexagonal chess (from Gliński).

The McCooey variant, in a certain way, we could define it as one that questions the movement of the pawns established by Gliński; the capture of the pawns is now defined with a diagonal movement, much more intuitive and close to orthodox chess, at the cost of losing a large part of the pawn game.

It is also necessary to point out that it has a more compact initial arrangement of the pieces, but for this reason it loses some interesting maneuvers that exist in the Gliński chess openings, and it also incorporates two less pawns for each player, seven, instead of nine. The central pawn, on the F-column, lacks a double move, to avoid favoring White on the initial move.

The reason for the capture movement of the pawns, Gliński had studied carefully, and it is the need to achieve a pawn structure without leaving rows between them that allow an attack with pieces of orthogonal movement, the equivalent of orthodox chess, where the holes that left in pawn structures only allow diagonal access. Even so, McCooey's variant is very playable, because the power of the pieces in a 91-hex hexagonal chess quickly develops, and we soon enter the middlegame.

The more compact initial setup allows more mobility in the center, and some distance of the pawns from the opponent's, but in the quick entry into the middlegame Gliński's setup incorporates some almost positioned, chained pawns, while in the version of McCooey, in addition to having fewer pawns, loses the power that the ability to close rows using pawn structures provides. It can also be seen that the initial setup in the McCooey Variant leaves the F-pawn initial position undefended, a point that is particularly sensitive to a knight attack.

Mini Hexchess
Mini Hexchess

A small chess in a regular 37 hexes checkerboard that allows a short and relaxed game, suitable as a travel pastime. It preferably uses white for the central hex (McCooey variant), and two other colors; the only bishop the players have is white (central color).

Mini Hexchess was invented by Dave McCooey, as a gift to Hans Bodlaender, as they themselves explain on the pages of Chess Variants, a website where they kept in touch.

You can try out the game by printing out the downloadable board, and the rules are also available in PDF format for downloading; check out The Corner of this website.


△ = ♗   ◯ = ♘   ⬡ = ♖   ☆ = ♕

Initial layout of the pieces and numbering of the hexes in Hexofen.

White: K:e05, Q:e15, R: a52, e25, B: a51, a04, e35, N: a53, a41, e14, pawns: a55, a54, a43, a42, a31, e03, e13, e24, e34, e45, e55
Black: K:c55, Q:c54, R: c35, c53, B: c45, c44, c52, N: c25, c34, c43, pawns: c05, c15, c14, c24, c23, c33, c32, c42, c41, c51, c05

Valeriy Trubitsyn introduces Hexofen, which follows the rules of the McCooey variant for the pawn capture move. This time a third Knight and eleven Pawns are introduced in an initial layout of the pieces, so that the Pawns cover all the columns, but are at different distances from its promotion hexes.

The interest of this variant lies in the incorporation of more pawns, and their distribution over all the columns of the checkerboard, similar to how orthodox chess or Shafran's hexagonal variant does it. Trubitsyn gives importance to the ratio of pieces, which is 0.46 (42/91), in the same way as Shafran had done, but the proportion of pieces probably has to correspond to the new topology and different mobility, and as an example we can think of the situation of the bishop, which is balanced with the introduction of a third bishop, but the rest of the pieces increase the power and mobility by a factor of 150%, almost the same as the size of the checkerboard increases, up to 91 hexachecks (142%). Even so, it is true that in hexagonal chess the number and behaviour of the pawns is very questionable, and in this case the number of pawns has been tried to be balanced, but opting for the diagonal capture, which does not increase the power of the pawns to the same extent as the other pieces, nor their mobility, in addition to the drawback of the pawn structures, which has already been discussed in the description of McCooey's variant.

Trubitsyn defines a numbering of the hexes by dividing the checkerboard into three parts, and each hex is numbered depending on the part to which it belongs, using zero for the (oblique) rows that delimit the zones; thus we find that the common rows have a double denomination: A‹0,5› = C‹5,0›, A‹5,0› = E‹0,5› y E‹5,0› = C‹0,5› ; not only for the value five in this example, but for all the zero rows defined between the centre and one of the corners. This way of numbering does not introduce any advantages, although it is true that it is symmetrical for three views of the checkerboard, but not for the two positions of the players. This configuration betrays its use for a three-player game, the Diplomat, where this numbering is very useful.

Random layout variant
Hexofen colocación aleatoria.
An example of random arrangement.

Trubitsyn proposes the following conditions for a random placement of Hexofen figures (in Russian), similar to the conditions of Fischer's random Chess variant:

  1. A pawn line with two advanced pawns on the fourth and eighth columns, i.e. White: a32 and e23, Black: c13 and c31.
  2. The Queen, being the most active figure, is always positioned in each player's corner; white: e05, black: c55.
  3. The rest of the pieces are in the second, third and fourth lines, in random order.
  4. The three bishops are positioned in different colours.


C'escacs initial setup
C'escacs initial setup.

C'escacs wants to be defined as a great hexagonal chess, keeping close to the line of Hexagonal Chess (in the IHCF sense, Gliński variant). Even so, it does not follow the movement of the IHCF Hexagonal Chess Pawns (Gliński):

  1. The movement of the pawns to capture is done with a diagonal move, just as in McCooey's variant.
  2. C'escacs incorporates more mobility for the Pawns: they can move in the three orthogonal directions ahead.
    • The additional rule of scornful pawn capture is introduced, which allows the player some blocking of the opponent's pawns on a column.
    • This new rule seemed preferable to a Brusky-style blocking rule, which is a mere prohibition and exception to the movement rules.
  3. As a grand chess variant, it allows pawns to make a double move all over the board, when it is made forward by the column. Double move is only allowed in one of the three directions of pawn movement; thus, the pawn has a total of four possible moves without capture.
    • Therefore, en passant capture occurs all over the board, when a pawn makes a double move.
  4. When the movement of the pawn is made from the initial positions it allows the triple move, except in the central column and in the two initial positions of the flanks.
    • Like the double moves, the triple move is only allowed in moves along the columns.
    • The reason for limiting the triple move on the F-central column is to prevent White from taking the central hex on the first move. Note that also in the McCooey variant, double move to take the central hex is prohibited.
    • The flank pawns are already in an advanced position compared to the others, and therefore triple move from both initial flanks positions are not allowed.
  5. The solution to the problem of the structure of the pawns, in C'escacs is sought with the introduction of a new piece, the Elephant.
  6. The number of pawns is thirteen, with the important reinforcement of four Elephants.

But perhaps one of the most characteristic features of C'escacs is that it incorporates classic Capablanca's chess pieces, with hexagonal moves: the Chancellor with the name Dragon, and the Archbishop with the name Pegasus.

The Elephants, a great reinforcement for the weak hexagonal pawns, were inspired by the elephants (Sin or Gaja) present in Sittuyin, Burmese chess. The same movements, as expected, are found in the bishop of ASEAN-CHESS, the chess of Southeast Asia, since it unifies, in order to preserve them, Sittuyin and other chess variants from this part of the world, direct heirs of Chaturanga. We also find these moves in the Shōgi's Silver General (銀).

On this website we find information about C'escacs:

Ratio of different variants
C'escacs16922+8(+8) 0.22
In C'escacs the elephants are added;
it is compensated by adding each elephant as two pawns.
Here we mean chain which is orthogonal wall.
Elephants are needed to make a chain.
Shafran7012+6 (-2)0.230.31
Hexofen9114+6 (-2)0.200.27
Gliński9112+6 (-2)0.180.24
McCooey9112+6 (-2)0.180.24
C'escacs16918+6 (-2)0.13(+4) 0.21
The three hexagonal Bishops are counted as two pieces.
In the compensated:
- The rest of pieces are counted as 1.5 pieces each.
- In C'escacs four are added, for the six powerful pieces.

The ratio is an indicator of board occupancy. It must be considered that in a hexagonal board all the pieces, except the pawns and the bishops, increase their mobility and power by 150%. We can make a compensation to equalize conditions, where we will equate the three bishops to the orthodox chess pair, and we provide an increase of 150% for the rest of the pieces, to calculate a compensated ratio.

In C'escacs we find six pieces of great power, three for each player. Despite the fact that the hexagonal Pegasus is much less powerful than Capablanca's Archbishop, the Dragon is equivalent to a Queen. To compensate for these six additional pieces of extraordinary power, four points are added to the number of pieces compensated.

Compensating for pawns is much more complex and we'll avoid it, but you have to remember that it generally loses the mobility of ½ moves and one capturing move, in addition to its inability to build pawn structures; Not so in the case of Gliński, where it is possible to develop strong pawn structures, and the loss of power and mobility is compensated by trading diagonal captures for orthogonal pawn captures. But it is very difficult to numerically assess these trade-offs; in the case of C'escacs we can add the Elephants to the number of pawns, and considering that the power is greater, we can make a compensation by counting each Elephant as two pawns; but the increased mobility of the pawns is not considered.

We observe that the Shafran variant preserves the ratio of pieces in play, but does not consider the increase in mobility and power, which occurs except for bishops and pawns, which decrease. The table shows the compensated value, as an approximation of these factors. So, the Gliński and McCooey variants conform to orthodox chess values, followed by also very closely adjusted value by Hexofen.

These calculations are only estimates, and it is easy to find arguments to refute them. A low ratio for C'escacs is not surprising, since the board is very large.

Variants with pointed orientation of the hexes.


In hexagonal chess, all the pieces increase their mobility and capture power by ½, except bishops and pawns, which do not increase, but decrease, with the exception of C'escacs, which increases the mobility of pawns, though not the capture moves. The pointed orientation of the hexes (pointy topped) does not leave vertical columns, but horizontal rows and vertical lines. Pawns cannot advance in a straight line along a column, but this allows to increase the mobility of pawns in two directions, doubling the mobility.

The capture is also generally defined by the two hexcaques moving diagonally forward, that is, the hexes of the same color in the next horizontal row. Thus the number of capturing moves is not increased, but all four moves leave the pawn on the next horizontal row, defining the movement of the pawns very conveniently similar to orthodox chess, and the double mobility could be said to balance the fact that there is no capture movements increase.

Initially De Vasa defined three capturing positions for the pawns, also increasing the capturing moves by ½, including the hex defined by the forward-in-front diagonal move, thus advancing two horizontal rows in the capturing. But this move had to be removed in a later review of the game, because it made the pawns excessively powerful, in addition to the asymmetry that he introduced by advancing two positions in this move instead of one.

Da Vasa

Da Vasa variant initial setup.
Da Vasa variant initial setup.

Helge E. da Vasa's variant dates from 1953, and was first published in Joseph Boyer's Nouveaux Jeux d'Echecs Non-orthodoxes (Paris, 1954). Helge E. da Vasa's variant considered changing the orientation of the hexes in consideration of the mobility of the pawns, and therefore uses a diamond-shaped checkerboard. This chess allows a double initial move of the pawns, and therefore en passant captures, using nine pawns, just the same number as in Hexagonal Chess (Gliński). This variant, given its orientation in horizontal rows, also allows castling.


Brusky variant initial setup.
Brusky variant initial setup.

Yakov Brusky in 1966 introduces small changes, but fundamentally keeping the ideas of Da Vasa. In the Brusky variant:

  • The board is an irregular hexagon.
  • Each player has ten pawns (one more than in the Da Vasa variant), placed in the row behind the figures.
  • The capture move in front of the pawn is allowed, thus advancing it to the second rank, but only for the first move of the pawn, when it has not yet moved.
    • This was actually a successful compromise between the first version of Da Vasa variant in which the pawns captured with a diagonal move to the front, and his final version of the game, in which this capturing move was eliminated.
  • Introduces a rule of blocking a pawn by an opponent's pawn: a pawn is blocked if an opponent's pawn prevents one of the two moves, thus invalidating the other move.
    • This rule seems a bit artificial and forced; perhaps the C'escacs rule of capturing the scornful pawn could be adapted to the pointed orientation of the hexes, applying it instead of this Brusky rule.

Grand Hexachess

Grand Hexachess initial setup.
Grand Hexachess initial setup.

Derick Peterson Derick Peterson published the rules for Grand Hexachess in 1997, also with a clear influence of the Da Vasa variant. Now we have a checkerboard in a regular hexagon with seven hexes on each side, making a total of 127 hexes.

The big advantage is the introduction of a regular hexagon board, but it forgets all of Brusky's improvements, and does not allow the initial double movement of the pawns, now eleven per player, which are further forward, but at the same distance from the opponent's pawns as in da Vasa's variant.

New pieces are introduced: the Vizier (C'escacs Pegasus), the War Machine (C'escacs Dragon), and the Duke, which is a compound of all the moves: six orthogonal, six diagonal and twelve knight jumps (i.e. a compound of moves of the King and the Knight).

Multiplayer hexagonal chess variants

Wellisch multiplayer chess initial setup Wellisch chess piece moves
Wellisch multiplayer chess initial setup
and piece moves.
figures courtesy of
響尾蛇的數學天地 Rattlesnake's Mathematics World (Sanke)
Filek multiplayer chess initial setupFilek multiplayer chess Rook moves
Ajedrez multijugador del polaco Jacek Filek.
Pictures from Humbert Sanz i Vaqué.

There are also some three-player variants that claim to be hexagonal chess. But, besides reminding us that the term should not be used in such a crude way, the intervention of diplomacy between the players makes us refer to another type of game, and perhaps the classification as chess is comparable to Chaturaji, where even with the participation of chance, as it is played with dice, the four players play in pairs, thus balancing the intervention of diplomacy. In my opinion, games for more than two players cannot be classified as chess, even if they are inspired by chess.

Actually Sigmund Wellisch, as early as 1912, designed hexagonal multiplayer chess, although the hexagonal moves of the pieces were not yet perfected, as the hexagonal Bishop had not yet been defined; the Knight's move was equivalent to a medieval Queen in a hexagonal board, and its Queen combined this move with the orthogonal move of the Rooks.

One case that has recently gained some popularity is Jacek Filek's Chess. Jacek Filek, of Polish nationality, has marketed two board versions of his three-player chess. More information is available on the blog by Humbert Sanz i Vaqué.

Heptagonal Qiguo Xiangqi

Heptagonal deformation of a hexagonal tessellation for the Qiguo Xiangqi (七國象棋)
Heptagonal deformation of a hexagonal tessellation for the Qiguo Xiangqi (七國象棋),
and initial setup.
Original idea by
Rattlesnake's Mathematics World (Sanke)

There are several multiplayer games derived from chess in China, Sanguo Qi (三國棋), Game of the Three Kingdoms is for three players, and uses a hexagonal board very similar to Filek, although it is a much earlier design, probably dating back to the 12th century. The symmetry of the hexagon is very appropriate for dividing the board between three players, although hexagons are not used for the squares. The alternative, joining three half-square boards, was also thought up by the Chinese in the Sanyou Qi (三友棋), Game of the Three Friends before three-player versions appeared in Europe.

But the hexagon has many more properties, and, as we have seen, hexagonal tiles can be used for three-player or even six-player chess. The geometry can also be distorted, forcing a heptagon to be filled with a tessellation of hexagons; of course, tiles will not with regular hexagons, although geometrically very close. This tessellation uses a heptagon in the centre, perfectly suitable for the Qiguo Xiangqi, which keeps the emperor in the centre.

In this way we can obtain a heptagonal board for seven players, suitable for Qiguo Xiangqi. Heptagon with a hexagonal tessellation version (by 響尾蛇的數學天地 (Sanke) which can be seen in the illustration) is played using the tessellations, the hexes, to position the pieces, as in western chess.


△ = ♗   ◯ = ♘
⬡ = ♖   ☆ = ♕

Initial arrangement of the pieces in Diplomat.

Diplomat (Valeriy Trubitsyn, 1997), is a Hexofen variant, a chess game played on a hexagonal checkerboard of 91 hexes, to make it a three-player game. The strange numbering of the board now makes sense, and seems useful. Each of the three players incorporates: King, Queen, four Rooks, three Knights, three Bishops, but only eight Pawns (Hexofen uses eleven). In total sixty pieces, twenty from each player, on a board of 91 hexes.

The initial arrangement of the three players is symmetrical using Trubitsyn's notation:

  • White: K-a55, Q-a54, R-a35, R-a53, R-a42, R-a52, N-a34, N-a33, N-a32, B-a45, B-a44, B-a43. Pawns: a25, a24, a23, a22, a21, a31, a41, a51.
  • Black: K-c55, Q-c54, R-c35, R-c53, R-c42, R-c52, N-c34, N-c33, N-c32, B-c45, B-c44, B-c43. Pawns: c25, c24, c23, c22, c21, c31, c41, c51.
  • Color: K-e55, Q-e54, R-e35, R-e53, R-e42, R-e52, N-e34, N-e33, N-e32, B-e45, B-e44, B-e43. Pawns: e25, e24, e23, e22, e21, e31, e41, e51.

The pawns now incorporate the three orthogonal moves forward, and four capture moves in diagonal movement, two forward and two sideways. The first move of the pawns is allowed to be a double, and promotion is given in the four hexes of the two opponent's vertices: 45, 44, 55, 54; in total, eight different promotion hexes for each player.

In Diplomat the aim is to "mate" the opponent's kings, and the different possible outcomes are set out:

  • 0.66 points for each player, when all three players make a draw overall.
  • 1 point for the two players who make a draw, but have won in alliance against the third player.
  • 0.66 points for the player who draws with the player who has mated the third player.
  • 1.33 points for the player who draws after having checkmated the third player.
  • 2 points when one player beats the other two players.

Once a player is defeated, the pieces remain immobile in the places where they had been, but the game also leaves open the variant where the pieces of the defeated player, except for the King, remain the property of the winning player, as does Sanguo Qi (三國棋).

There will be a problem in determining whether the first player to lose has been defeated by only one of the players or by both, both in terms of dividing the points and in terms of taking possession of his pieces if this rule is played. Diplomatic pacts are part of the game, and common strategies can be established by players passing each other papers with notes: diplomatic couriers with different degrees of alliance (duration). Perhaps these notes can be used as a test of alliance to resolve conflict casuistries when defeating the third player.

Other Chess Variants

Omega Chess

Posició inicial d'Omega Chess
Omega Chess initial array

In 2008 I acquired an Omega Chess, a commercial chess variant (then difficult to get in Spain) played on a 10x10 board with four additional squares in the corners. It incorporates two new pieces: the Wizard and the Champion.

It is an advisable variant, if someone is interested in chess variants that introduce new pieces, although it is preferable to start with Ajedrez de Capablanca, but, if we have the board, Omega Chess is another interesting option, if we do not dare with Gliński Chess, which has the disadvantage of requiring a hexagonal board.

A couple of real games are shown on the website, including a game by Judit Polgár, when she took part in an Omega Chess demo tournament.

I have mentioned Omega Chess mainly because in C'escacs an attempt was made to adapt the Champion piece to the hexagonal board, but the results were not satisfactory for the objective pursued, finally defining the elephants.

Fischer random chess

Example of a Fischer Random Chess setup position
Example of a Fischer Random Chess setup position.
picture: Ihardlythinkso, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fischer Random Chess, also called 960 chess, because of the number of possible combinations of the initial position, is the only variant that FIDE itself has promoted, organising international tournaments.

Classical chess openings have been well studied, and the first moves of a game are usually moves in the book, i.e. moves that have already been studied as the most suitable for a given opening, and which players simply memorise. Bobby Fischer, who was not comfortable with this situation (see interview), invented this variation in 1996, so that the pieces are positioned randomly; usually two games are played with the same arrangement, swapping white and black between the opponents.

There are 960 different combinations, and this, together with the high combinatorics of chess itself, practically eliminates the option of memorised openings for the players. One of these combinations is the classical chess combination, but when this combination comes out by chance, it is discarded and another is chosen; the classical combination, but permuting the King and Queen positions, is also discarded (actually, it is the classical position for Black); there are still 958 combinations left.

All the pawns are arranged in their usual positions, and the black pieces mirror White's position. To position the pieces, one of the bishops must be positioned white, the other black, and the king must be positioned between the two rooks, so that all the arrangements allow castling.

Initial position

To meet the requirements, you usually start by positioning the white pieces, first the bishops, and leave the last three places for the King and the two Rooks, e.g. Hans L. Bodlaender's proposal:

  1. A die between 1 and 4 to position the black Bishop.
  2. A die between 1 and 4 to position the white Bishop.
  3. A die to position the Queen.
  4. A die between 1 and 5 to position a Knight.
  5. A die between 1 and 4 to position the other Knight.
  6. In the remaining three positions, the King and the two Rooks, with the King positioned in the middle.

The squares are counted from left to right; when a number larger than the number of empty squares is rolled, the die is rolled again.

Combinations: 4 * 4 * 6 * 5 * 4 = 1920, but the two Knights are ndistinguishable, so the combinations are half, 1920 / 2 = 960.


In the same way as in classical chess, two castling moves are defined:

  1. Castling to the a-file (left for white, right for black). This would be the long castling in classical chess: 0-0-0.
  2. Castling to the h-file (right for white, left for black). This would be the short castling in classical chess: 0-0.

The final positions, after castling, are the same as the final positions in classical chess, regardless of the initial positions of the King and Rook. Care must be taken, because the squares crossed by the King at castling cannot be threatened.

It should be remembered that FIDE organises championships. You can read some anecdotes and watch some games in the article by Luis Fernández Siles in https://www.chess.com.

V.R. Parton: Alice Chess and other variants

The Chess World V.R.Parton
The Chess World V.R.Parton,
portada del llibre.

The Alice Chess is a creation of Vernon Rylands Parton, inventor of multiple chess variants, many of them very interesting, and often inspired by Lewis Carroll's stories. The The Alice Chess variant is very popular, as it makes the game full of surprises and funny mistakes. A chess set and a second chess board are required to play (see Wikipedia for the rules).

More variants from V.R. Parton:

  • Queen of Hearts Chess, also named as Co-regal chess: It makes the Queen also a Royal piece, so that the game is lost whether the King is lost or the Queen is lost. Naturally, the check to the Queen must be warned.

    The game is played with the usual usual chess material.

  • Tweedle chess: Also known as Twin Orthodox Chess or Double-King Chess, each player has two Kings and two Queens on a 10×10 board. A player wins by checkmating either one of the opposing Kings. In the initial array, Queens are placed in the center of the row and Kings on its sides, so that each King can only castle short on its side, and there are no long castle. Pawns can move up to three steps on their first move. The twin Kings are representing Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

    The game is played with 10×10 checkered board, and usual chess material with two additional Pawns, additional King and additional Queen for each player.

  • Decimal Rettah chess (Retta stands for Hatter reverted): The king ought to be strong, not feeble. Each player has two Rettah and two Queens on a 10×10 board. A player wins by capturing both opposing Rettahs. In the initial array, Rettahs are placed in the center of the row and Queens on its sides. Rettah's moves are those of the Queen, with the option also to perform jumping moves like those of the Knight. When a Rettahs is checked the attacking piece must be captured immediately. Pawns can move up to three steps on their first move. There is no en passant. A pawn promotes to Rettah, but only if a Rettah of the same colour was previously captured.

    The game is played with 10×10 checkered board, and usual chess material with two additional Pawns, additional King and additional Queen for each player. It uses both Kings from each player for the role of Rettah.

  • Imperial Fiddlesticks: The King is no more a Royal piece, and now behaves as just another piece, and if the opponent captures it, the game goes on. The object is to capture all the opponent's Pawns; if a Pawn reaches the back rank it promotes to a Knight, and the player loses one of his valuable Pawns. When a player runs out of Pawns, he loses the game; if it is Black, he can make one last move, and if he also leaves White without Pawns, it is considered a draw.

    The game is played with the usual usual chess material.

  • Mock chess: Similar to Imperial Fiddlesticks, but all opponent's pieces must be captured to win. Capturing a piece is mandatory, when there is a move that allows it. Pawns must start with a double move, except when they can capture a piece. Pawn promotion is as in orthodox Chess.

    The game is played with the usual usual chess material.

  • Dodo Chess and Racing Kings: They are almost the same games. They are races games in which you use a chessboard and chessmen, and you can not check your opponent. The King must get to the other side of the board.

    Both games are played with the usual chess material. See the initial array in the Wikipedia Racing Kings and Dodo Chess .

  • Sphinxian Chess: A 4-dimensional Chess playable on a plain 2-dimensional board.
  • ...and many others.

Three-dimensional chess

This category was inaugurated as early as 1851 with Kubikschach (cubic chess). In 1907 Ferdinand Maack perfected it, inventing the Raumschach, the German space chess.

Subsequently, there have been multiple proposals for three-dimensional chess. V.R. Parton himself proposed some, such as Cubic Chess, and a variant of it that defined in cubic mode the Great Chess of Tamerlane, or Sphinxian Chess, a four-dimensional chess, played on a flat, two-dimensional board. There are many other examples, such as Isaac Asimov's Galactic Age Chess, cited in the novels A Perfect Fit and Pebble in the Sky. Even higher-dimensional chess sets have been proposed, but chess with more than two dimensions has not been a successful variant.


Dragonchess 'The Ground Board' by Zac Dortch
Vision of the ground board.
Thanks to: Zac Dortch, CC BY-SA

Well, if we want fantasy chess, maybe because we want to make the term Fairy Chess a reality, maybe because we are fans of the well-known D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), or maybe because since Star Trek we thought it was a good idea to do this three-dimensional chess, then Dragonchess is a really interesting Fairy Chess. It is played with fantasy figures, on a three-dimensional board: heaven, earth and underworld. It is a chess game designed by Gary Gygax himself, designer of the D&D role-playing game, and the rules can be found in the Chess Variant Pages.

Star Trek


When we talk about three-dimensional chess, one quickly thinks of Star Trek chess. In reality, the importance of this variant is mainly due to its fame from its appearance in the series, and the game is simply a reproduction of what you see there (it was merely a prop). The instructions for constructing the board were published in the Star Fleet Technical Manual, and later the rules appeared. The printed rules can be purchased from Andrew Bartmess's website, where an abridged version is also available. This chess set, due to the popularity of its image, can even be found commercially.

Impossible geometry

The possibility of a three-dimensional game with computer assistance to the players was also discussed in the C'escacs design conversations, although at that time we were talking about a very complex physical board, and a mere computer assistance to the players. Perhaps assisted play may become a modality of the future.

But artificial intelligence has come a long way since these conversations where we talked about the man-machine duality, using the machine as a tool on equal terms for both players; currently, the superiority of the machine leaves little room for the human player, but games will surely be invented along these lines, even though we will probably have to forget the physical board and resign ourselves to playing virtually.

In this sense we have talked about a game on an impossible board, to play virtually: a regular icohexahedron (polygon of 26 faces) of hexagonal faces, formed by twenty-six hexagonal boards of 169 squares each: a chess with 4_394 hexes! It is an impossible polygon, as it is not possible to make a polyhedron with regular hexagons, but this only makes the game more interesting, much like incorporating more dimensions, and the number of combinations is absolutely unthinkable.

Bibliography: chess history and chess variants


If we are interested in historical variants and variants from different parts of the world, the book A World of Chess [ISBN:978-0786494279] by Jean-Louis Cazaux is highly recommended. It is also Jean-Louis Cazaux who has adited the work of V.R.Parton The Chess World of V.R.Parton, beyond the chessboard [ISBN:978-1-716-19045-2], book compiling the works of V.R.Parton.

Of course, the book par excellence in terms of historical information on chess is undoubtedly A History of Chess [ISBN; 978-1-63220-293-2] by H.J.R. Murray, originally published in 1913, but it is still an essential reference.

Part of the contents of the book A World of Chess [ISBN:978-0786494279] by Jean-Louis Cazaux is available on-line on Jean-Louis Cazaux website, which constitutes a summary of this book, including some updates.

On-line references

There are many, many, many chess variants, and in The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants [ISBN: 978-0955516801] by David B. Pritchard, there are over 1_400; In the early 20th century, V.R.Parton stands out for his great creativity. For historical reasons, George Hope Verney's book Chess Eccentricities, which can be found online, is also very significant. Some chess variants are listed in Wikipedia, but if you want to investigate a variant, you should not fail to look for it the pages (on-line):

Appendix: Other historical board games in the West

First known board games

  • Senet (3100 BCE)

    A very popular game among the ancient Egyptians and often depicted in tombs, the earliest examples found date from pre-dynastic Egypt, around 3100 BCE. Instead of dice, the Egyptians used flat sticks with two different sides, one blank and the other black or decorated, sometimes also using a pair of tiles (as in the game of ossicles) instead of the sticks. The pieces are similar to some chess pieces, such as pawns and rooks. The game has points in common with other more modern games such Game of the Goose, Backgammon or Parcheesi.

  • Mehen (3000 BCE)

    It is the name of an Egyptian deity in the form of a snake, but also of a game with a spiral board, although how the game works is unknown, although it seems to be some kind of chase game.

  • Royal Game of Ur (2600 BCE)

    Found in the Royal Tombs of Ur, they date from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BCE, Mesopotamia. It seems to have been a racing or chasing game, with a game dynamic similar to today's Parcheesi or Backgammon. It is not possible to determine whether it is later or earlier than the Egyptian Senet.

  • Πέντε Γραμμαί (Five Lines) (600 BCE)

    Pente gramai, the ancient Greek board game. Five Lines

    The game of five lines is a Greek board game of the Tables game or Blackgamon type, although the rules are unknown, but several "reconstructions" have been made. The earliest mentions date from about 600 BCE. There are also versions with more lines (typically eleven), which were then played with two dice.

  • Petteia (segle VIII BCE) and Latrunculi (segle I BCE)

    Petteia, first referred to by Homer (8th century BCE), is a Greek game. Although the rules are unknown, it seems that Latrunculi could have been the Roman version of the game. The rules of Latrunculi are also unknown, although several reconstructions have been made.

Board games from the Middle Ages

  • Nine men's morris (1st century CE)

    The game, or one very similar to it, is quoted in Ovid's Art amatòria (1st century CE). The African connections of the game of alquerque could determine that the game Ovid refers to is either a different game, or that the African games predate this date.

    Other three main alternative variations of the game are three, six, and twelve men's morris; The latter in turn has two different variants, depending wether it has a central position, then named Alquerque, or not, like the Morabaraba in Africa. Quite popular during the Middle Ages, three, nine and twelve (Alquerque) variants appear in The Book of Games commissioned by Alfonso X of Castile. It also appears on numerous reliefs in medieval England and later appears in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

    The number of possible positions is about 1010, resulting in about 1050 possible games. In 1993, Ralph Gasser solved the game and proved that it ends in a draw, assuming perfect players.

  • Hnefatafl (400 CE)

    Hnefatafl is a board game that belongs to the family of tafl games, ancient Germanic board games played on a gridded table and which are probably descended from the Roman Ludus Latrunculorum. The Vikings considered a good game of Hnefatafl or King's Board to be a sign of nobility. Some versions of this game were popular in Northern Europe from at least 400 CE until they were replaced by chess during the Renaissance. The descriptions of the rules of this family of games are confusing, but the game has been reconstructed as it must have been played in antiquity.

  • Alquerque and Seega (10th century CE)

    We have references to the Alquerque (or twelve men's morris) since the 10th century, but it is with Alfonso X's El Libro de los Juegos, in the 13th century, that we get the rules. It seems that Alquerque would be the precedent of the current game of draughts, which would appear in combination with the checkerboard of chess. It is known that the game was brought to Europe by the Moors when they entered the Iberian Peninsula. Different versions on the board throughout Africa confirm the origin of the game in the Sub-Saharan Africa, dating back to at least the early Middle Ages. Seega is a version that was very popular in Egypt throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

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