Origins Of Chess


There are some people, of African ethnocentricity, who claim that chess originated in Africa as there is a stone relief carving showing two people playing a board game in the northern part of Egypt. Never mind that northern part of Egypt, at the time the stone image was made, was more of Greek and Roman in culture, language, technology, and philosophy than Egyptian.

These are my two replies.


(name omitted),

Chess did not originate in Africa. No, the game we know as chess is a European game, circa 1490’s in Spain.

During that time, the Queen attained her current powers, the Bishop was made more active, and castling first appeared.

Chess had its humble origins in India. From there the games traveled westward through the Middle East, then to the northern coast of Africa, and then to the Iberian Peninsula. Essentially, chess advanced with the Muslim armies.

A secondary, commercial route took chess from the Middle East to what is now Italy, with the Muslim traders, but it doesn’t appear that chess made any rapid progress beyond Italy.

Egypt was just in the way of the movement of chess, making no contributions to the game. Some images, thousands of years old, exists of two players engaged in a board game. But a closer inspection of these images reveal the game to more resemble backgammon, a game that is older than chess and with considerably less documentation about its origins.

Saying chess originated in Africa is like saying yachting originated with the Egyptians as they had boats with sails.


By what standard does one use to determine the origin of a board game? Remember the rooks were originally elephants and the other pieces differ in shape and/or function (with the exception of the knight).

Taken to the extreme, defining the origin of chess by saying that there were pieces that moved on a board is strictly arbitrary. One could argue that any board game, or anything else, that uses an 8 x8 board, is the origin of chess.

So why do we say that chess originated in India? It was;

(1) One of the first games with pieces that differ from one another.
(2) The game was not based on luck, but on strategy (no dice).
(3) Because the game was based on skill, it could be studied in great detail.
(4) Since it could be studied, it was attractive to intelligent people, and reached a level of sophistication never reached before by another game (or at least none that we know of).
(5) A system was set up so that games and puzzles could be recorded and shared with other players. The writing down of moves is now known as notation. Meanwhile, positions could also be recorded with this use of diagrams. These two inventions greatly increased the accessibility and popularity of chess.
(6) The game could be used to teach patience (and it has been).

All of these items originated with Indians and Arabs.

The game went through many changes since the Arabs introduced the game to Europe. And IMHO, those changes are improvements. These changes include the movement and design of the pieces (see above), board design (there were no black or white squares – which made it difficult to talk about dark square weakenesses), and notation.

Egypt, nor any other part of Africa, cannot be considered as either origin of chess or of making any improvements to the game.


zz old KnightsTemplar Playing Chess year 1283

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