A brief history of chess – Alex Gendler

A brief history of chess – Alex Gendler

The attacking infantry advances steadily, their elephants already having
broken the defensive line. The king tries to retreat, but enemy
cavalry flanks him from the rear. Escape is impossible. But this isn’t a real war– nor is it just a game. Over the roughly one-and-a-half millennia
of its existence, chess has been known as a tool
of military strategy, a metaphor for human affairs,
and a benchmark of genius. While our earliest records of chess
are in the 7th century, legend tells that the game’s origins
lie a century earlier. Supposedly, when the youngest prince
of the Gupta Empire was killed in battle, his brother devised a way of representing
the scene to their grieving mother. Set on the 8×8 ashtapada board used for
other popular pastimes, a new game emerged with two key features: different rules for moving
different types of pieces, and a single king piece whose fate
determined the outcome. The game was originally
known as chaturanga– a Sanskrit word for “four divisions.” But with its spread to Sassanid Persia, it acquired its current name
and terminology– “chess,” derived from “shah,” meaning
king, and “checkmate” from “shah mat,” or “the king is helpless.” After the 7th century Islamic conquest
of Persia, chess was introduced to the Arab world. Transcending its role as a
tactical simulation, it eventually became a rich source
of poetic imagery. Diplomats and courtiers used chess terms
to describe political power. Ruling caliphs became avid
players themselves. And historian al-Mas’udi considered the
game a testament to human free will compared to games of chance. Medieval trade along the Silk Road carried
the game to East and Southeast Asia, where many local variants developed. In China, chess pieces were placed at
intersections of board squares rather than inside them, as in the native
strategy game Go. The reign of Mongol leader Tamerlane saw
an 11×10 board with safe squares called citadels. And in Japanese shogi, captured pieces
could be used by the opposing player. But it was in Europe that chess began to
take on its modern form. By 1000 AD, the game had become part
of courtly education. Chess was used as an allegory for different social classes performing
their proper roles, and the pieces were re-interpreted
in their new context. At the same time, the Church remained
suspicious of games. Moralists cautioned against devoting
too much time to them, with chess even being briefly
banned in France. Yet the game proliferated, and the 15th century saw it cohering into
the form we know today. The relatively weak piece of advisor was
recast as the more powerful queen– perhaps inspired by the recent surge
of strong female leaders. This change accelerated the game’s pace, and as other rules were popularized, treatises analyzing common openings
and endgames appeared. Chess theory was born. With the Enlightenment era, the game
moved from royal courts to coffeehouses. Chess was now seen as an expression
of creativity, encouraging bold moves and dramatic plays. This “Romantic” style reached its peak
in the Immortal Game of 1851, where Adolf Anderssen managed a checkmate after sacrificing his queen
and both rooks. But the emergence of formal competitive
play in the late 19th century meant that strategic calculation would
eventually trump dramatic flair. And with the rise of international
competition, chess took on a new
geopolitical importance. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union devoted great resources
to cultivating chess talent, dominating the championships for the rest
of the century. But the player who would truly upset
Russian dominance was not a citizen of another country but an IBM computer called Deep Blue. Chess-playing computers had been
developed for decades, but Deep Blue’s triumph
over Garry Kasparov in 1997 was the first time a machine
had defeated a sitting champion. Today, chess software is capable of
consistently defeating the best human players. But just like the game they’ve mastered, these machines are products
of human ingenuity. And perhaps that same ingenuity will guide
us out of this apparent checkmate.

100 comments / Add your comment below

  1. the versions of chess that developed in china and japan, and many other versions in other places, are still played today. and during the islamic golden age, many works on shatranj were written, recording for the first time the analysis of opening moves, game problems, the knight's tour, and many more subjects common in modern chess books.

    i know this is only a 5 min vid, but the tinge of bias is enugh to make me cringe~

  2. I was introduced to chess by my dad when I was young. Though we didn't talk much or hang out together (due to his job in navy) it's one thing we can bond with whenever we meet.

  3. chess symbolizes war, and the defeat of humans against artificial intelligence on the chess board symbolizes what will occur in real life

  4. Gray Kasparov won against deep blue once in a series of two matches. It was the first time a machine had won against the world champion so the first match was forgotten so easily

  5. I just wanted to point out that chaturanga Is a different game than chess chaturanga is what we call now ludo that's what my understanding is ..m

  6. Not just Deep Blue but also Robert James Fischer, he destroyed the russians and defeated the world champion Borris Spasky in 1972

  7. Interestingly after century of changes.. Here in Indonesia chess is called Catur the same as the original name Caturanga?.. Also we used the word skakmat for checkmate..even in my early age we used to call Gajah (elephant) for the bishop..

  8. Chaturanga became Shatrang, then it evolved to Shaterej, Axedrez came from that word and now in Spanish-speaking countries we know chess with the word "Ajedrez".
    Chaturanga -> Shatrang -> Shaterej -> Axedrez -> Ajedrez.

  9. Awesome! TED-Ed now you should make a video about the game of Go too (圍棋 in chinese) really cool game, different than chess, but with similar principles.

  10. How could you miss the fact that a pawn only get to became other chess piece after the Great French Revolution?! Such a cool story!

    Also, chaturanga initially was a game of chance, cause dices decided who gets to move… Kinda like rolling for initiative

  11. The is so amazing! My boyfriend loves chess and makes a lot of jokes with and about it ,I'm going to recommend this video for him just now, THANK YOU❤!

  12. Checkmate sound very close to "مات الشيخ" in Arabic, which means "The Sheik has died".
    Reflecting on last action of the game in which the King piece has been taken/eaten/killed.

  13. As always love your videos, but i do think you have some small errors, and the fact that you didn't mention Bobby Ficher in the cold War very disappointing.

    He single handed defeated the soviet union when he became the world champion during the cold war. Their are several documenteries here on youtube if people are interested. (also a movie with tobey maguire called pawn sacrifice is on Netflix)

  14. Can I reuse This Video?
    I want to translate this video is Bengali language .
    if you give me permission then only I will reused it.
    Please Give me the permission.
    I will Credit Your Channel.
    I want to reuse it for education purpose in my YouTube channel.
    Thank You.

  15. Sathuranga coming from sathurangam tamil word. This game is the cola empire discovery. Research deaply, this game tamilan proud.

  16. This is missing the most recent transition in chess. Traditional depth and breadth machines like Deep Blue rely on databases of best moves and fast processors to choose between them as many moves in advance as possible. The more recent advance was in true AI machines like Google's Alpha Go that learn simply by playing simulated games against themselves based on nothing more than the rules of the game. Alpha Zero beat the then-best depth and breadth chess engine, Stockfish, after training against itself for only a few hours.

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