Checkmate: the History of Chess and its Greatest Grandmasters

References to chess are everywhere in our culture. We have sayings like “it’s a game of chess” when we talk about careful negotiations; we say “I’m playing chess and they’re playing checkers” when we feel like we are a step ahead; and we love to say “checkmate!” when we’ve won something.

But where did this game come from? And who are its greatest Grandmasters? Here’s a bit more about this beautiful game.

 

Death to the king!

Little is known about the exact time that chess originated, but we do know that there were references to it around the 7th century. Most are in agreement that it originated in Ancient India in the form of a game called Chaturanga, a strategy game with a similar board and pieces (but cool variants like an elephant and cavalry) whose rules are still unknown to us to this day.

 

Eventually it came to the Western World via trade routes, conquests, and friendly cultural exchanges. By 1,000 C.E the game had spread throughout the known world. The word that we all have come to love, checkmate, is a corruption of the Persian phrase “shah mat”, or “death to the king! (literal meaning: the king is dead).

 

Early champions

The Romantic period of chess took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, when the game was played at its highest level as an art in itself. The best players of the day were known for daring gambits, brazen attacks, and brave sacrifices in the quest to end the reign of the opposing king. The centre of the chess world was France, where the streets of Paris were home to quaint coffee houses that played host to good conversation, a few glasses of wine, and many long nights of chess games. Champions of this time included French masters like Francois Philidor and Louis La Bourdonnais, as well as world-famous Irish master Alexander McDonnell.

 

The modern era

After the standardization of the rules in the late 19th century, the Romantic era came to an end. New ideas about science and industry caused a shift toward trying to master the science behind everything, including chess. Chess as a sport had been born. This lead to a more theory-based approach, and to the world’s most skilled Grandmasters. Names from the Soviet Union at the time included Boris Spassky, Gary Kasparov, and Mikhail Botvinnik, and talented American Bobby Fischer took the world by storm in the 1970s when he claimed the title from the Soviet champion in a Cold War clash.

 

More recent times have seen the centre of chess move away from the USA and Russia. Recent champions have hailed from India and Sweden, as well as other parts of the world. Who knows, maybe a Canadian is next! You’ll never know unless you start playing, and what better to play than on a gigantic chess board at your next Toronto event!

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