Game royal, dicey

It is an art. It is a study. It's one of the noblest inventions of the human mind. Yes, chess is all this and more. A battle of wits, a game of traps and zaps. Wonder where and how the game has started.

The most played mind game has a mind-boggling history. Echecs in French, Ajedrez in Spanish, Schachspiel in German, Ludus Scaccorum in late Latin, Shakmat in Russian, Shataranj in Arabic, Sittuyin in Burmese, Ouk Chatrang in Cambodia, Changgi in Korean and Shogi in Japanese -- chess is believed to be the corrupted form of the word `Checks', meaning king.

The modern international chess as played today is a relatively recent invention. The sweeping moves of `Queen' and the long reach of `Bishops' were not the elements of the original game, according to R. Vasantha, professor, Department of History, Sri Krishnadevaraya University.

Tracing the origin of chess at a programme organised by the Historical Society of Hyderabad, Vasantha explained how the "Royal game'' has evolved over the centuries from being a pass time of the nobles to a national sport.

Where exactly chess originated is mired in controversy. Some link its birthplace to China and some to India. Vasantha, who had done research on the subject, argues that the game originated in India. But to understand the history of chess it is necessary to have knowledge of the other board games. Research shows that many simpler games have been in existence in ancient India much before the arrival of a complicated war game. Chess is believed to have had its origin in "Chaturanga'', which was played in India on a board having 64 squares called "Ashtapada''.

How the concept of checkmate evolved in a war game played without dice? There is no satisfactory explanation, says Vasantha. When chess was introduced in Europe, there was lot of confusion about the names of the pieces. The elephants became archers in Spain, standard bearers in Italy, couriers in Germany, court jesters in France and BSs in Portugal, England and Iceland.

The game itself witnessed many variants - from large, to small, three dimensional, hexagonal and round boards.

Whatever, to the players the playing pieces are not just rounded lumps of wood or stone but individuals with their own power and characteristics.

By Ifthekhar J.S.

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