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GAMES AND CULTURE: THE HISTORY OF CHESS

Who invented the game of chess and where does it come from? Here are the origins of an ancient practice between history and legend

Chess is about 1500 years old and, still today, it is a very widespread game, also thanks to the possibility of playing exciting online games.

The first version of the game dates back to the 6th century and was born in India. A “peaceful” simulation of a clash between two armies, it spread under the name of chaturanga. It is not known who invented it, but the legend circulates of a man named Sessa (or Sissa), who introduced the game to an Indian prince. The anecdote became so famous that it was also recalled by Dante in the Divine Comedy.

HISTORY

Legends aside, we know that, through the merchants, the game spread in the seventh century in Persia. The name “chess” itself has Persian origins, deriving from the word shah, “king” (“checkmate” comes from shah mat, “defeated king”). The Arabs who, from the 10th century on, introduced it to the Mediterranean area, starting with Italy and Spain, were fascinated by the game.

In Europe, chess was immediately very successful: it became the subject of critical texts and the best craftsmen created ever more elaborate pieces. Like the “Lewis pieces”, produced in Northern Europe in the 12th century and represented in the movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

In the meantime, the rules of the game were changed, along with the pieces themselves (the bishop was an elephant before), becoming very similar to the current ones at the end of the 15th century. Then the first famous players appeared on the scene and, in the 19th century, international tournaments began (the first world championship was in 1886). Finally, in 1924, the Fide was born, the international federation that still organizes world championships and chess Olympics today.

In recent decades, computers have also tried their hand at this game, beating even the world champions. One of the earliest was the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen: born in 1990, he was nominated by the Fide as a “great international master” when he was only 13 years old!

THE LEGEND OF THE BRAMIN: BETWEEN SMART AND MATHEMATICS

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, according to some, the game of chess was invented in India around the 6th century. There is a legend that attributes this invention to a brilliant Indian Brahmin who wanted to revive the spirit of his very sad king (or as they say down there Maharaja), afflicted by the death of his son in war.

This young priest – the Brahmins are precisely the members of the Indian religious caste – in fact, tried to amuse the sovereign by showing him a simulated battle through small carved statuettes which, through a series of moves, strategies, and sacrifices, reproduced the struggle to capture the king. opponent. The maharaja, intrigued, ended up passionate about the game, so much so that he wanted to reward the Brahmin.

“Ask what you want,” said the benevolent king and the young man then made a strange request: one grain of wheat for the first square of the board, two grains for the second square, four for the third, and so on. At first, it seemed a very modest request to the king but then, realizing that there were 64 boxes in all, he realized that based on that exponential calculation the crops of the next eight hundred years would not be enough to satisfy that desire!

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