How Old Is Chess?

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Many scholars believe that chess began in Persia (now Iran) as early as the seventh century A.D. Other games in which pieces are moved on a board (such as Parcheesi and backgammon) existed before this time. When Muslims (followers of the Islamic religion) came to Western Europe in the 900s, they brought chess (called Shatranj in Arabic) with them. Modern chess involves using pieces (king, queen, bishop, rook, knight, and pawns) on a board consisting of alternating dark and light squares. The game dates from the late Middle Ages (c. 450–c. 1500) in Europe, where playing chess was a sign of cultivation and social status. That is, people of high rank (nobility), both men and women, were expected to learn the game. Minstrels, the traveling entertainers of the Middle Ages, did not travel without a bag of chessmen. In 1490, modern chess, which has slightly different rules for the moves of some chessmen, replaced the medieval version of the game. As time passed, organized chess competitions became popular, and chess playing in general came to symbolize intellectual ability.

Further Information: Parlett, David. The Oxford History of Board Games. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Snyder, Robert M. Chess for Juniors. New York: Random House, 1991.