Chess legends

as presented by the Nanjing website

As one of the oldest gaming sports in the world, chess is as famous as the game of go, Chinese chess and Japanese Chess. Chess enjoys general popularity globally. According to statistics collected by the World Chess Federation in 1990s, there were around 300 million chess fans, a lot of whom were elites. Secondly, the pursuit of harmony in this tournament aligns with the city spirit of Nanjing.

According to legendary record, international chess originated in Ancient India. Its earliest documentary record was written in Farsi in the Sassanian Dynasty. It is said that, a great master of Hinduism found the king was boastful and coxcombical, so he decided to give him a lesson.

Legend one:

  The great master recommended an unknown game to the king who was surrounded by a group of flattering ministers all day long at that time and was so bored that he needed to divert himself from the depression through playing games.

  He soon became greatly interested in this fancy game. So he asked the great master to choose a reward for his loyalty. The great master answered, “Please put a grain of wheat on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second square, four on the third and eight on the fourth…. That is to say, double wheat grains for every next square till the 64th square, i.e. the last one. ”

   “All right,” the king laughed and accepted the modest request with generosity.

  However, when the wheat was ripe, the king found out all wheat of India could not fill half of the squares on the chessboard based on the agreement he made with the great master. The required quantity was actually astronomical.

  Many chess learners attributed chess to the Indians, which stemmed from an article “Indian Chess” published on Asian Studies, written by a British man, William Jones in 1790. Most western scholars agree to his point of view because British culture was the world culture then.

  There’s another interesting story about the origin of chess. It is said that 2000 years ago, there was a very tyrannical king in India who did things only according to his own will. One of his favorite ministers wanted to give him advice of “A king cannot exist without his people” but was afraid of saying it openly. So he figured out a way to provide a hint: On a wooden chessboard, two troops composed of bone made pieces are fighting with each other. On each side, there is a chief – king, and four arms of services – rooks, knights, bishops and pawns. The king is the most important piece. Once it died, the battle is over. In the meantime, the king is weak, which can only rely on the protection of its comrades-in-arms, i.e. stronger pieces in the game. All those pieces must make concerted efforts to protect the king during the whole battle. Pawns are even weaker than the king. But when directed well, pawns can go deep into the enemy’s field and reach its bottom square. By that time, pawns become the strongest pieces. That is how the first game of chess was generated. After that it spread out quickly. This game was introduced to Persia, Arabia and Europe on one hand and transformed into modern chess; on the other hand it spread eastward to Burma, Southeast Asia and China.

Legend Two:

People’s understanding didn’t change until after 1970s. Joseph Needham, famous British scholar definitely put forward in his Science and Civilization in China that chess is invented by Chinese. He analyzed the connection of the Chinese ancient game – Six-throwing-chopstick Board Game Set, to astronomy, anthroposcopy and mathematics. He said, “Only in China, rudiment of chess was impelled by the prevalence of yin and yang theory; divining with astronomic characters was invented and later developed into a game with martial connotation.” Consequently, some soviet scholars published articles to criticize the theory of Indian Origin. In 1972, a Yugoslavian historian asserted in his monograph, Chess – the Symbol of the Universe that chess firstly appeared in 569 A.D. in China as Xiangxi. Then it gradually spread out.

  In 1984, a researcher of Far East Institute of Soviet Academy of Sciences published an article on Soviet Chess Skills, January Issue. According to his research, chess originated from the ideology of The Book of Changes: 64 squares are in line with 64 divinatory symbols while black and white is matching yin and yang (the two opposing principles in nature).

By far, we haven’t seen any contradictory articles by experts or scholars. So the viewpoint of “chess originated from the ideology of The Book of Changes” can be said of tenable worldwide.

  At least before 5000 years B.C or so, there were 8×8 line charts in China (ancient painted pottery chart unearthed in Yuanyang Pond site, Yongchang, Gansu). It is concluded that the ancient chess – Six-throwing-chopstick Board Game Set emerged before the 10th century B.C and was transformed into “Saixi” in the 5th century B.C. Confucius (551-476 B.C.) remarked, “It is really a bad case when a man simply eats his full meals without applying his mind to anything at all during the whole day. Are there not such things as gambling and games of skill? To do one of those things even is better than to do nothing at all.” (extracted from The Analects of Confucius). Here, games of skill refers to Six-throwing-chopstick Board Game Set and the game of go. Historical materials show that “Xiangxi” (569 A.D.) invented by Emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou Dynasty (late Southern and Northern Dynasties) is almost the same with unearthed “Baibao Chess” of the Tang Dynasty: a board of 8×8 (64 squares), solid pieces laid on squares – the pattern of modern chess.

  At the latest late 6th century and early 7th century A.D, chess was brought to India (it is possible that earlier games like “Six-throwing-chopstick Board Game”, “Saixi” and “Semi-Xiangxi” had been introduced to India), forming into “Chatrang”. It became ‘Shatranj” after being introduced to the Middle East. Both names can be translated into “Sise Chess” in Chinese. Archeological evidence shows that India did not have “Sise Chess” until after the 8th century. The earliest recordation of “Sise Chess” by characters is in a Kashmir epic of the 9th century. “Shatranj” later evolved into “Persian Chess” and reached Europe. In about 15th century, it took the shape of modern game.

  The theory of “Indian Origin” was generated from the British so it’s better to have the British to deny it. The 1984 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica still says that chess originated either in India or China and makes more introduction of Indian origin. But in the English version of The Chinese School of Chess, published in Britain in 2003, the first sentence of the brief introduction written by an editor from the biggest British publish group is, “Although some earliest forms of chess were found in ancient China”. It is really not easy to make British scholars change their views.

  Today, when talking about the origin of chess, people come to various conclusions by legends, hypotheses, archeology and logic. Hypotheses demonstrate directions of archeological proof; legends compensate the deficiency of archeological logic. After all, chess came into being very long ago. To truly reproduce it will take a long time, just like the most archaic history. However, if viewed holistically, two points regarding the origin have been acknowledged in the world: 1. International chess originated in Asia and was introduced to Europe later. 2. Initially, who makes a move first is decided by shooting dice.

  Moreover, scholars seem to have reached some consensus in terms of the logic of origin: Firstly, chess is artificial. Its essential is model. Secondly, chess materialized human ideas and consciousness. Thirdly, modern chess is the result of continuous evolvement of ancient chess. Fourthly, its evolvement is affected by many aspects (including the impact of various board games one another). Fifthly, the pattern of evolvement consists of gradual change and sudden change. Sixthly, evolvement and continuity coexist. Seventhly, the study on origin should proceed with three structural elements of chess – chessboard, pieces and rules. Eighthly, in terms of origin, evolvement and finalizing of chess, chessboard, pieces and rules take on different roles. Ninthly, chessboard, pieces and rules do not always come together. Tenthly, there’s no “initial inventor”. It can be explained as follows: in the real world, time is irreversible. So time can create history or exterminate it. Based on such kind of logic, we will never be able to find the “initial inventor”. So we cannot help but to settle for “social outcome and essence of wisdom”. As a matter of fact, chess is more like motion picture in many aspects.