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Journal Writing Project: Matt Ruen

Fri, Jan 3rd, 2003
Posted in Columnists

The exact origin of chess is uncertain, but what is certain is that the game of Chaturanga, a precursor to chess, was being played in India by the time of Alexander the Great. (320 BC) Chaturanga spread quickly, becoming popular with rulers who wished to train their subjects in military thinking. As Chaturanga had no dice or other elements of chance, winning depended on skill alone.

Chaturanga spread both westward into Persia and eastward to China, but it is the westward expansion that gave rise to chess as we know it. In Persia the game was altered, becoming more similar to the modern version, yet the pieces were still a far cry from the familiar king, queen, and others that we know. When the Arabs swept through Persia, they adopted the game, now called Shatranj, and carried it westward during their wars of conquest. The Moors carried the game to Spain in the 700s, and merchants had brought it to Russia and Scandinavia by the ninth century. By this time, the game was very close to the modern form, and in 1282, a Spanish book of games devoted nearly a forth of its pages to chess.

Chess had adopted its current incarnation by the 1600s, with the rules and pieces essentially the same as they are today. The game is played on a checkered board, with an eight by eight grid forming sixty-four squares, alternating white and black. Each player has a total of sixteen pieces, which are separated into six types, and set up in the two rows closest to each player.

The rearmost row of the board contains the most powerful pieces, dispersed symmetrically. On the outside left corner is a rook, followed by a knight, and then a bishop. This arrangement is mirrored on the right side. The center two squares of the final row are occupied by the king and queen, respectively the most important and most powerful pieces in the game. The second to last row is entirely occupied by pawns, which represent the common foot soldiers.

The purpose of the game is to protect your king while placing the enemy king in checkmate. (From the Persian phrase Shah Maht: "the king is dead") Checkmate means that the king is both threatened with capture in his current square and unable to avoid capture in the next turn. In order to achieve a checkmate, both players maneuver their pieces around the board and capture enemy pieces. This process can take as little as five minutes or as much as 22 hours.(The longest recorded game, played in 1907)

Throughout history, chess has been a popular way to exercise the mind, and remains so to this very day. The rules of chess are relatively simple, yet the game can provide hours of entertainment and thought. Chess certainly deserves a place among the greatest games of all time.

Matt Ruen is a student at Lanesboro High School.

The Journal Writing Project focuses on the writing of area young people.

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