History of chess. Chess Superstar Career, personal life

Chess has a long and storied history. The game has changed quite a bit from its earliest forms in India. The modern iteration we enjoy today wasn’t known until the 16th century. There were no clocks, and the pieces were not standardized until the 19th century.

The official world championship title came into existence by the late 19th century. Shortly after the first big tournaments were held and multiple styles of play had begun to fully develop. Although the first book on openings was published as early as 1843, theory as we know it didn’t truly evolve until the early/mid 20th century. Computer engines and databases didn’t come into play until the very late 20th century.

Take a look at a brief history of chess!

Here is a summary:

Chess Origins

Chess, as we know it today, was born out of the Indian game chaturanga before the 600s AD. The game spread throughout Asia and Europe over the coming centuries, and eventually evolved into what we know as chess around the 16th century. One of the first masters of the game was a Spanish priest named Ruy Lopez. Although he didn’t invent the opening named after him, he analyzed it in a book he published in 1561. Chess theory was so primitive back then that Lopez advocated the strategy of playing with the sun in your opponent’s eyes!


Through the 19th century

Chess theory moved at a snail’s pace until the mid 18th century. In 1749, the French Master Francois-Andre Philidor stepped onto the scene with his book titled Analyse du jeu des Échecs. This book covered some new opening ideas (including the defense which still bears his name), and also contained Philidor’s famous defense in rook and pawn endgames – an endgame technique that is still used today. Philidor’s famous statement that “The pawns are the soul of chess” was first introduced to the world in this book.

Chess continued to gain popularity throughout the world, and in the mid 19th century the standardization of chess sets occurred. Before the 1850s, chess sets weren’t uniform at all. In 1849, Jaques of London (a manufacturer of games and toys) introduced a new style of pieces created by Nathaniel Cooke. These same pieces were endorsed by Howard Staunton, the strongest player of his time. This new style of pieces, known as the Staunton pattern, became instantly popular and were used in tournaments and clubs all over the world. The Staunton pieces, and minor variations of it, are still considered to be the standard for tournament chess sets.

Chess clock


The 19th century also marked the introduction of chess clocks to competitive play. Before chess clocks became the norm, a single game could last up to 14 hours! With the standardization of chess sets and introduction of chess clocks, the equipment needed for modern matches and tournaments were set in place.

Chess, itself, was developing greatly during the 1800s. The most famous games of this time period were swashbuckling attacking games – strong defensive ideas hadn’t been learned yet. If a player wasn’t sacrificing their pieces right and left trying to checkmate their opponent in a violent manner, then it wasn’t a fun game! It was during this attacking era in chess that the American player Paul Morphy entered the scene.

The First World Champions and the Advent of Positional Chess

Wilhelm Steinitz never played Morphy, who had retired from the game by the time Steinitz rose to prominence. Steinitz’s theories about the game are still widely felt today, especially his disdain for overly-aggressive play. He preferred to accept the popularly offered gambit pawn, and then closed the position down in order to grind out a win. Steinitz initially had no equal in this kind of positional play, and used it to become the first official world champion in 1886.

history of chess Wilhelm Steinitz
Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official world champion. Photo: 

Steinitz held the title of world champion until 1894, when Emanuel Lasker soundly defeated him (10-5). Their rematch, three years later, was even more lopsided: Lasker won 10-2.  Lasker would hold the title for 27 years, by far the longest reign of any chess world champion.

Positional chess,

as Steinitz and Lasker displayed, now became more and more popular. The prevailing theory until about the 1920s was to occupy the center of the board during the opening, usually with pawns. The most common openings were the Ruy Lopez, the Giuoco Piano, the Queen’s Gambit, the French Defense, and the Four Knights’ Game. These are relatively quiet openings from which both sides slowly try to accumulate small advantages in space, key squares, diagonals, and files.

From 1927-2006, players from the Soviet Union and Russia held the world championship title (with only two exceptions). Alekhine, Mikhail BotvinnikVassily SmyslovMikhail TalTigran PetrosianBoris SpasskyAnatoly KarpovGarry Kasparov, and Vladimir Kramnik were the world champions and chess giants that proved the domination of the title in the 20th century and early 21st century. The styles of the above-mentioned chess legends couldn’t be more different. From the positional champions (Karpov, Petrosian, Smyslov, Kramnik), to the extremely ferocious attacking style of Tal, to the dynamic abilities of Alekhine, Botvinnik, and Kasparov – there is something for everyone!

Mikhail Botvinik

After Alekhine, Mikhail Botvinnik became the next world champion by winning the 1948 world championship. This event was notable as it marked the first time that FIDE would oversee the world championship event (something they still do today), but also because it was the first time that the world championship wasn’t decided by a single match (a quintuple match system was used in the absence of a reigning world champion). Botvinnik would hold the title of world champion from 1948 until 1963 (with two exceptions, each lasting one year).

History of Chess Botvinnik
Mikhail Botvinnik, the sixth world champion. Photo: Harry Pot/Dutch National Archives, CC

Botvinnik was known for his iron logic and dynamic abilities, being able to change styles almost like a chameleon depending on who his opponent was. Botvinnik lost the title to Vassily Smyslov in 1957, but according to the rules at the time Botvinnik was able to get a rematch in the following year. In the 1958 rematch, Botvinnik defeated Smyslov and regained the title. In 1960, Botvinnik lost the title to Mikhail Tal. However, in 1961 Botvinnik won the rematch vs Tal.


Anatoly Karpov became the 12th world champion in 1975. Former World Champion Viswanathan Anand states that “Karpov isn’t so interested in his own plan, but he will keep on foiling yours”. Karpov reigned as the world champion for ten years, and was extremely active at the highest level of chess until around 1997.

Anatoly Karpov
Anatoly Karpov, the 12th world champion. Photo: Rob Croes/Dutch National Archive,


Karpov’s dominance in the 1970s and 1980s wasn’t overcome until the emergence of another Russian Legend, Garry Kasparov. In 1984, the first of five Karpov-Kasparov world championship matches occurred. These two chess legends played a total of 144 games for the world championship title in the previously mentioned five matches.  Despite these almost identical match records, Kasparov won every match vs Karpov.

Kasparov would hold the belt for 15 years, the second longest uninterrupted reign after Lasker’s 27. Chess theory had advanced greatly between the early 20th century (Lasker’s reign) and the late 20th century. Due to the evolution of chess theory, Kasparov not only had more world class opposition, but considerably stronger opposition when compared. Kasparov was not past his prime in the match versus Kramnik, just strangely out of form. He remained the highest rated player in the world until 2005, becoming the first person ever to breach 2800 Elo.

Computers, and Carlsen

In 2005,   This was due to a supercomputer, Hydra, easily defeating Michael Adams (ranked seventh in the world at the time with a rating of 2737). Hydra won the match with a 5.5 points out of 6 games. Computer engines continued to get stronger and stronger.  A popular open source engine, Stockfish, has an estimated ELO of around 3400. In 2017, a new entity in the chess world, AlphaZero, soundly defeated Stockfish in a 100 game match.  In early 2018, AlphaZero defeated Stockfish again – this time in a 1,000 game match with time odds.

History of chess Magnus Carlsen
Current World Champion Magnus Carlsen at the Chess.com Isle of Man (2017). Photo: © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

Humans are also becoming stronger with the help of computers for analysis, research, and opening theory. Nowadays, almost every chess player uses chess engines, including current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen has been the reigning world champion since defeating Viswanathan Anand in 2013, and has remained the highest rated player in the world for a long time. He continues his dominance, and won the first 4 tournaments he played in 2019.  He holds the record for highest rating in history at 2882 (attained in 2014), and currently holds a classical rating of 2876. Many people already consider him to be the strongest player of all time.


Conclusion – Chess History In A Nutshell 

All in all, there are a variety of hypotheses about the history of chess and there is no specific person who invented this well-known game. It has changed throughout the centuries and will probably keep changing with the times.

Hence, we presented you with the main and most popular legends and roots of the chess game. Please comment on the article and let us know any other interesting facts or your personal remarks about the history of chess.

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