An Illustrated History of Chess

  1 Origins
  2 Early Chess

  3 Thailand, Burma
  4 China

  5 From China?
  6 Korea
  7 Japan
  8 Evolution
  9 Europe
  10 Variants

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An Illustrated History of Chess_________________9____

Chess has seen countless variations throughout its evolution. It has been expanded to enormous boards, pieces have been added, new moves have been devised and new identities have been given to the pieces.

One great European variant, Courier Chess lasted for some 600 years — longer than modern chess has existed so far. Here is a link to more information about this fascinating variant:

detail of a painting by the Dutch master, van Leyden, showing courier chess in play
Courier chess, a very popular chess variant through north-central Euorpe, was played from the late 12th through early 19th century. It featured a piece — the
courier — which moved like our modern bishop.

the early Afrasiab chess men, from the 7th century
possibly the earliest known chess set, from Afrasiab, Samarqand, said to date from the 7th century.

a typical ancient chess set, which would have been recognized in Persia, Africa, or Scandinavia

These chess sets would have been played by the same rules — the rules of ancient chess.

Yet the chess which came to Europe from Asia, passing from one culture to another, remained virtually unchanged for almost a millenium. Even as pieces changed shape and identity, the rules of the game remained remarkably stable.
But somehow, a new chess took hold. The best evidence places the change in northern Italy and Spain, right at the end of the 15th century. The first known printed occurance of the new rules is dated 1497 — but that manuscript seems to indicate that the new game was already generally known.
replica of the famous Lewis chessmen 
These pieces, of the later Scandinavian design, circa 12th century, would also have been played using the old rules.
a famous, elaborate chess set dating from 15th century Italy
This famous chess set, from mid 15th century Italy, probably began its life playing the ancient chess, but later learned the rules of the new game.
the board of that famous Italian set
The set came with a very elaborate board.

It was called the new chess, the queen's chess, or chess of the mad queen, and it spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Within one generation the chess which had endured centuries and had covered half of the known world was eclipsed in most of Europe by the new game. The old game became a relic, an anachronism remembered by monks and academics — those who clung to the old chess literature which was suddenly obsolete.

What were the new rules? Most astonishing as that the queen had unprecedented new power, dominating the board with the ability to move any number of spaces forward, backward, left, right or diagonally.

The bishop, at the same time, was given the power to move along the complete diagonal, and the pawn was given the power to take two spaces in its first move. Castling and en passant capture followed quickly, and a new chess was born.
Ben Franklin playing with Lady Howe, a famous game which occurred in London 1774
The great American statesman, Ben Franklin, playing chess as we know it, about 280 years after the new rules took effect. He is playing here on pieces of the Régence design.

The new chess, sometimes referred to as western chess, is now over 500 years old. It has spread with colonial Europe, and continues to spread, like the French and English languages, taking over most of the remaining pockets of unique chess cultures. Only a few chess variants, including those described in this web site, have firmly held their ground, not allowing western chess to re-write their chess traditions.

That could be the end of the story, but does evolution stop here...?

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