Open main menu

CHESS (OF. esches, Fr. pl. échecs, from It. scacchi, Med. Lat. scacci, from Pers. shāh, king). The origin of this, the most intellectual of all games of skill, has been much disputed; but it is safe to say that under the Sanskrit name of chaturanga, consisting of four members, a game essentially the same as modern chess was played in Hindustan in very remote ages. Marked traces of its early Asiatic origin may still be discerned in its nomenclature and other characteristics. From Hindustan, chess spread into Persia, and thence into Arabia. The Arabs, it would appear, introduced it into Spain in the Eighth Century; though it may have been imported still earlier into Constantinople and probably some other cities of eastern Europe. An interesting reference to it occurs in the French poem of “Huon de Bordeaux” (c.1450), which supplied Shakespeare with some of the dramatis personæ of his Midsummer Night's Dream. This connection is especially noteworthy because of the probability that it also suggested to him the introduction of Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess in the Tempest; although it is likely that he was acquainted with the fact that during his own lifetime Naples, the country of Ferdinand, was the centre of European chess-playing, and skill in the game temporarily reached a height which it never attained again until the middle of the Eighteenth Century, when Philidor (F. A. Danican) became famous all over Europe.

Benjamin Franklin was the first American to bring the game into prominence, both as a player and a writer; but its practice was confined to a few until the early part of the Nineteenth Century. By 1857 there were sufficient chess clubs to justify a national congress, at which Paul Morphy of New Orleans won the championship. He was such a phenomenal player that next year he was sent to Europe, and there he carried off all the honors. From that time chess has had a settled place among our pastimes, and Americans, in all the phases of the game, in international contests, have held a high place.

The original Hindu game was played on a board of sixty-four squares, as now, but by four persons, two being allied against two, as in whist. Hence the name chaturanga, from chatur, ‘four,’ and anga, ‘a member’ or ‘component part.’ The name shatranj, used by the Persians and Arabs, is a corruption of the Sanskrit. The English, French, and other European names are derived from the Persian term shah, ‘king.’ Check, the warning when the king is in danger, is but another form of shah; in fact, ‘king’ is sometimes used for ‘check,’ and in German schach is both the name of the game and the term of warning. The term rook is from the Sanskrit roka, Persian rukh, meaning a ship or chariot; pawn is said to be from peon, an attendant or foot soldier.


Chess (PSF).jpg

Rook. Knight. Bishop. Queen. King. Bishop. Knight. Rook.


The chess-board is marked out into sixty-four square divisions, which are colored alternately black and white, in order the more clearly to determine and denote the respective movements of the several pieces. In placing the thirty-two pieces with which the game is played upon the board, each player must always have a white corner square at his right hand. There are two sets of pieces, of opposite colors, of sixteen men each, and of various powers according to their rank. These sets of men are arrayed opposite to each other and attack, defend, and capture like hostile armies. The accompanying diagram will best explain the name, form, and place of each man at the commencement of the game.

The superior officers occupying the first row on each side are called pieces; the inferior men, all alike, standing on the row immediately in front of the pieces, are called pawns. Their moves and powers, along with the peculiar terms used in chess, may be briefly described as follows:

A pawn, at his first move, may advance either one or two squares, straightforward; but after having once moved, he can only advance a single square at a time. In capturing an adverse piece, however, a pawn moves one square diagonally, either right or left; but the pawn never moves backward. On arriving at an eighth square, or the extreme line of the board, a pawn may be exchanged for any piece his owner chooses to call for, except a king, so that a player may have several queens on the board at once. If, on moving two squares, a pawn pass by an adverse pawn which has arrived at the fifth line, the advanced adverse pawn may take the other in passing in exactly the same manner as if the latter had moved but one square.

A bishop moves any number of squares diagonally, but diagonally only; therefore a bishop can never change the color of his square.

A knight moves two squares, so as always to change color—that is, he moves one square forward or backward and one diagonally. On account of this crooked movement, he can leap over or between any surrounding pieces; and therefore a knight's check—unless he can be taken—always compels the king to move.

The rook, or castle, moves any number of squares forward, backward, or sidewise, but not diagonally.

The queen is by far the most powerful of the pieces, and moves over any number of squares, either in straight lines or diagonals, forward, backward, or sidewise; so that her action is a union of that of the rook and bishop. At starting the queen always stands on a square of her own color.

The king is the most important piece on the board, as the game depends upon his safety. He moves only one square at once, in any direction, except when he castles—a term to be explained presently. The king cannot be taken; but when any other piece attacks him, he is said to be in check, and must either move out of check or interpose some one of his subjects, unless the checking piece can be captured. When there is no means of rescuing the king from check, he is said to be checkmated, and the game is over. Of course, the two kings can never meet, as they would be in check to each other. Double check is when a piece, by being moved, not only gives check itself, but also discovers a previously masked attack from another.

Castling is a privilege allowed to the king once in a game. The move is performed either with the king's rook or queen's rook; in the former case the king is moved to the king's knight's square and the king's rook is placed on the king's bishop's square; in the latter case the king is played to the queen's bishop's square, and the queen's rook played to the queen's square. But the king cannot castle after having once moved, nor at a moment when he is actually in check, nor with a rook that has moved, nor when he passes over a square attacked or checked by an adverse piece, nor when any piece stands between him and the rook with which he would castle, nor when in the act of castling either the king or rook would have to capture an adverse piece.

A drawn game results from neither player being able to checkmate the other: thus, a king left alone on each side must of course produce a draw, as does also a king with a bishop, or a knight, against a king.

Stalemate, or the not being able to move either the king or any other piece, also constitutes a drawn game.

Odds is a term applied to the advantage which a stronger player should give to a weaker; thus, the removal of a rook or knight from the better player's forces may be fair odds; or, if the players are more nearly matched, the one may give a pawn. When the odds of a pawn are given, it is always understood to be the king's bishop's pawn.

Gambit is a technical word implying the sacrifice of a pawn early in the game, for the purpose of taking up an attacking position with the pieces.

Supposing the worth of a pawn to be represented by unity, the following is a tolerable average estimate of the comparative value of the pieces: Pawn, 1; bishop, 3; knight, 3; king, 4; rook, 5; queen, 9.

The rows of squares running straight up and down the board are called files, those running from side to side are called lines, and those running obliquely across are termed diagonals.

The playing over the following short game will serve the learner as a little initiatory practice:


1. King's pawn two.  1. King's pawn two.
2. King's bishop to queen's bishop's 4th.  2. King's bishop to queen's bishop's 4th.
3. Queen to king's rook's 5th.  3. King's knight to king's bishop's 3d.
4. Queen takes[1] king's bishop's pawn, giving black checkmate.

The foregoing brief mode of giving a checkmate is called the scholar's mate, and is often practiced upon young and unwary players. Any contractions used, such as ‘K’ for king. ‘B’ for bishop, etc., will readily be understood by the use of the diagrams.

In the conduct of the game, and in the practice of chess, the following rules, precepts, and hints will be found very generally useful: Play forth your minor pieces early, and castle your king in good time. You may sometimes delay castling with advantage, but not often. Do not expect to be able to establish an enduring attack with half your forces at home. Seek to let your style of play be attacking, and remember the gaining or losing of time in your measures is the element of winning or losing the game. Never touch a piece without moving it, nor suffer yourself or your opponent to infringe any other of the laws of the game.

You will find, when first player, that the opening, springing from your playing first king's pawn two, and then your king's knight to the bishop's third, is one of the best that you can adopt; but do not adhere to any one opening only. If you wish to adopt a purely defensive opening, you may play first king's pawn one, and follow up with Q P 2 and Q B P 2. Next to playing with good players, nothing will conduce to improvement more than looking on at two expert players while they play. Wanting these advantages, it is best to play over openings and actual games from books or journals. To prevent blunders and oversights, always endeavor to perceive the motive of your adversary's move before you play; and look often round the board to see that you are not losing sight of any better move than the one you intended, or that you are not suffering yourself to be tempted by a bait.

The Laws of Chess. The most elaborate and complete code of rules is to be found in Staunton, Chess Praxis (London, 1860). In that code every law of the game is fully explained, filling sixty-six pages of the book.

For the antiquities of the subject, consult Forbes, History of Chess (London, 1860). Modern practical works are: Morphy, Games at Chess, edited by Lowenthal (New York, 1860); Staunton, Chess: Theory and Practice (London, 1876); Gossip, Chess Player's Manual (London, 1875); Walker, Chess and Chess Players (London, 1850).

  1. Taking is always performed by lifting the captured man from the board and placing the captor on his square. The pawn is the only man whose mode of taking differs from his ordinary move.