Chess is a two-player board game played on a chessboard, which is a square chequered board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. It is one of the world’s most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide at home, in clubs, online, by correspondence, and in tournaments.
Each player begins the game with sixteen pieces: one king, one queen, two rooks, two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns – with each of these types of pieces moving differently. Pieces are used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces.
The object of the game is to ‘checkmate’ the opponent’s king by placing it under an inescapable threat of capture. In addition to checkmate, the game can be won by the voluntary resignation of one’s opponent, which may occur when too many pieces are lost, or if checkmate appears unavoidable. A game may also result in a draw in several ways, where neither player wins. The course of the game is divided into three phases. The beginning of the game is called the opening (with the development of pieces). The opening yields to the phase called the middle-game. The last phase is the end-game, generally characterised by the disappearance of queens.
The first official World Chess Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, claimed his title in 1886; the current World Champion is Viswanathan Anand. In addition to the World Championship, there are the Women’s World Championship, the Junior World Championship, the World Senior Championship, the Correspondence Chess World Championship, the World Computer Chess Championship, and Blitz and Rapid World Championships.
The Chess Olympiad is a popular competition among teams from different nations. Online chess has opened amateur and professional competition to a wide and varied group of players. Chess is a recognised sport of the International Olympic Committee, and international chess competition is sanctioned by the FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation). There are also many chess variants that have different rules, different pieces, and different boards.
Commencing in the second half of the 20th century, computers have been programmed to play chess with increasing success to the point where home computers can play chess at a very high level. In the past two decades computer analysis has contributed significantly to chess theory as understood by human players, particularly in the end-game. The computer program Deep Blue was the first machine player to overcome a reigning World Chess Champion when it defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.
The History of Modern Chess
The first modern chess tournament was organised by Howard Staunton, a leading English chess player, and was held in London in 1851. It was won by the relatively unknown German Adolf Anderssen, who was hailed as the leading chess master, and his brilliant, energetic attacking style became typical for the time, although it was later regarded as strategically shallow.
Deeper insight into the nature of chess came with two younger players. American Paul Morphy, an extraordinary chess prodigy, won against all important competitors (except Howard Staunton, who refused to play), including Anderssen, during his short chess career between 1857 and 1863. Morphy’s success stemmed from a combination of brilliant attacks and sound strategy; he intuitively knew how to prepare attacks. Prague-born Wilhelm Steinitz later described how to avoid weaknesses in one’s own position and how to create and exploit such weaknesses in the opponent’s position.
The scientific approach and positional understanding of Steinitz revolutionised the game. Steinitz was the first to break a position down into its components. Before Steinitz, players brought their queen out early, did not completely develop their other pieces, and mounted a quick attack on the opposing king, which either succeeded or failed. The level of defence was poor and players did not form any deep plan. In addition to his theoretical achievements, Steinitz founded an important tradition: his triumph over the leading German master Johannes Zukertort in 1886 is regarded as the first official World Chess Championship. Steinitz lost his crown in 1894 to a much younger player, the German mathematician Emanuel Lasker, who maintained this title for 27 years, the longest tenure of all World Champions.
After the end of the 19th century, the number of master tournaments and matches held annually quickly grew. Some sources state that in 1914 the title of chess grandmaster was first formally conferred by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia to Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, and Marshall, but this is a disputed claim. The tradition of awarding such titles was continued by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), founded in 1924 in Paris. In 1927, the Women’s World Chess Championship was established; the first to hold the title was Czech-English master Vera Menchik.
It took a prodigy from Cuba, José Raúl Capablanca (World Champion 1921–27), who loved simple positions and endgames, to end the German-speaking dominance in chess; he was undefeated in tournament play for eight years, until 1924. His successor was Russian-French Alexander Alekhine, a strong attacking player who died as the World champion in 1946. He briefly lost the title to Dutch player Max Euwe in 1935 and regained it two years later.
Between both World Wars, chess was revolutionised by the new theoretical school of so-called hyper-modernists like Aron Nimzowitsch and Richard Réti. They advocated controlling the centre of the board with distant pieces rather than with pawns, which invited opponents to occupy the centre with pawns, which become objects of attack
The Rules of Chess
Chess is played on a square board of eight rows (called ranks and denoted with numbers 1 to 8) and eight columns (called files and denoted with letters a to h) of squares. The colours of the sixty-four squares alternate and are referred to as “light squares” and “dark squares”. The chessboard is placed with a light square at the right-hand end of the rank nearest to each player, and the pieces are set out as shown in the diagram, with each queen on its own colour.
Conventionally, chess pieces are divided into white and black sets. The players are referred to as “White” and “Black”, and each begins the game with sixteen pieces of the specified colour. These consist of one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns.
White always moves first. After the initial move, the players alternately move one piece at a time (with the exception of castling, when two pieces are moved). Pieces are moved to either an unoccupied square or one occupied by an opponent’s piece, which is captured and removed from play.
A player may not make any move that would put or leave his king under attack. If the player to move has no legal moves, the game is over; it is either a checkmate—if the king is under attack, or a stalemate, if the king is not.
Each chess piece has its own style of moving.
The king moves one square in any direction. The king has also a special move which is called castling, and involves also moving a rook.
The rook can move any number of squares along any rank or file, but may not leap over other pieces. Along with the king, the rook is involved during the king’s castling move. The bishop can move any number of squares diagonally, but may not leap over other pieces.
The queen combines the power of the rook and bishop and can move any number of squares along rank, file, or diagonal, but it may not leap over other pieces.
The knight moves to any of the closest squares that are not on the same rank, file, or diagonal, thus the move forms an “L” shape: two squares vertically and one square horizontally, or two squares horizontally and one square vertically. The knight is the only piece that can leap over other pieces.
The pawn may move forward to the unoccupied square immediately in front of it on the same file; or on its first move it may advance two squares along the same file provided both squares are unoccupied; or it may move to a square occupied by an opponent’s piece which is diagonally in front of it on an adjacent file, capturing that piece. The pawn has two special moves: the ‘en passant’ capture, and the pawn promotion.