The History of Chess

The game that we know as chess originated in India in around the 6th century AD.  It was then called ‘Chaturanga’, named after the 4 divisions of the classical Indian army – the infantry, chariots, elephants and cavalry.  Playing pieces representing these forces over time evolved into our pawns, bishops, rooks and knights.

Toy soldiers: an Indian army from the period when 'Chaturanga' developed as a game - the pieces representing the army's Elephants, Chariots, Cavalry and Infantry

The Persians adopted the game from the Indians.  Its name evolved into ‘Shatranj’ (relating to the Persian ‘Shah’ meaning ‘King’).  When attacking the king the players would cry "Shah!", and "Shah Mat!" ("The King is helpless!") when the king could not escape the attack – and these terms have come down the centuries into English as "Check!" and "Checkmate!" respectively.  As the game found its way to Europe in around 1000 AD, its name evolved from the Persian ‘Shatranj’ to the Latin ‘Ludus Scacci’, to ‘Echecs’ in French, and ‘Chess’ in English.  By the end of the 15th Century the rules of Chess were pretty much as they are today.
The video at left is an interesting animation of the rise and fall of the top chess players over the last 200 years.