With its origins clouded by the history's mystery, somewhere in the Far East, the game of chess has not lost its attraction over the centuries. Basically a finite game, it remains virtually inexhaustible for humans and computers alike, since the possibilities in chess exceed the number of atoms in the universe!
Preceded by Chaturanga, a game with unknown rules presumably invented in India in the 6th century AD and adopted as Shatranj in Persia in the 7th century, chess is widely reported to have entered European life around the 14th-15th century, when the latest new rules applying today were adopted. But the oldest surviving complete chess set, discovered on the Isle of Lewis, northern Scotland and manufactured in Iceland or Norway, dates back in the 12th century.
The first European book mentioning chess was published around 997 in Latin, with the title “Versus de scachis” (chess verses). In 1283 King Alfonso X published “Libro de los Juegos” (The book of Games) including a chess section. But the first book dedicated to chess exclusively is The Gottingen manuscript, published in 1471 and possibly authored by Lucena. Three years later William Caxton published the first chess book in English “The Game and Playe of Chesse”.
Due to the socio-political circumstances and the difficulties of transportation tournament chess didn't exist in the medieval, so we can evaluate the best players’ strength of that time mainly from their books. The first challenge match took place in 1833, opposing the strongest Irish and French players Alexander McDonell and Francois de la Bourdonnais and won by the latter who this way is considered the first unofficial World champion. This tradition continues until 1851 when the German teacher Adolf Andersen won what is considered the first international tournament ever, held in London.
By winning the first official World championship match in 1886 Wilhelm Steinitz became the first official champion. Until the death of the fourth World champion Alexander Alexandrovich Alekhine in 1946, the champion had the right of choosing his challenger and impose his financial conditions. Founded in 1924, the International chess federation FIDE started organizing the World championships according to a rigorous selecting system only in 1948. This was the start of more than fifty years of Soviet (and after 1990 Russian) hegemony, interrupted for only three years when the legendary Bobby Fischer defeated Spassky in the Reykjavik 1972 World championship match. Never before did chess enjoy such a wide and massive spread in the media and the Reykjavik battle was rightly called “The match of the century “. Even though after 1972 Fischer retired from tournament chess, he has the merit of inducing the organizers and federations putting chess on a truly professional level.
Many great historic personalities loved chess. During his exile on the St Helen island Napoleon used to rehearse his strategic talent by playing with General Bertrand and Lenin enjoyed solving classical chess puzzles. Benjamin Franklin was an above-average chess player and passionate and wrote the essay “The Morals of Chess”. After a historical introduction he highlighted a series of similarities between chess and real life. A close friend of Emanuel Lasker, Einstein confessed that during the long conversations with the third world champion he had to content himself with the part of the listener.
The dream of creating a chess playing machine stems long before the invention of personal computers. In 1770 Wolfgang Von Kempelen constructed “The Turk”, an automaton chess player which defeated many human opponents. It was eventually discovered that the Turk’s mechanisms were handled by a strong chess master hidden inside. In the ‘60s the sixth world champion Mikhail Botvinnik started working on developing a chess playing program, but due to the level of technology couldn't reach notable results.
The first major achievement of a chess playing program occurred in 1994 when Genius 2, run on a 90 Mhz Pentium I, eliminated Kasparov at the rapid chess Intel Cup in London. It was not long after that computers started defeating the planet’s strongest players, but nevertheless tournament chess kept flourishing more than ever.
In the present around 800 million people know the chess rules. Chess tournaments of all levels can be followed live all over the World due to Internet broadcasting. Chess has indisputable educational merits, explaining why in many countries all over the World it is a part of the kindergarten and primary school education. Children playing chess statistically improve their school performance, adults develop their professional and business skills while for aged persons chess is an optimal defense against Alzheimer's disease.
But above all chess is entertainment, joy and fun!