International Chess Day

A thinking board game, very old in origin, chess is played between two players. The current form of the game emerged in Southern Europe during the second half of the 15th century after evolving from similar, much older games of Indian and Persian origin. Chess is an abstract strategy game and involves no hidden information, played on a square chessboard with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid with the object of the game to checkmate the opponent’s king, whereby the king is under immediate attack or in check and there is no way for it to escape.

Chess is an ancient, intellectual and cultural game, with a combination of sport, scientific thinking and elements of art. As an affordable and inclusive activity, it can be exercised anywhere and played by all, across the barriers of language, age, gender, physical ability or social status. A global game, chess promotes fairness, inclusion and mutual respect, and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding among peoples and nations.

Chess is a two-player strategy board game where the aim is to move different types of playing piece, each with a prescribed set of possible moves, around a chequered square board trying to capture the opponents’ king piece. Today there are over 2,000 identifiable variants of the game. One theory is that an early game similar to chess called Chaturanga originated in the Northern Indian Subcontinent during the Gupta period, around 319 – 543 and spread along the Silk Roads west to Persia. Whilst modern Chess is believed to have been derived from Chaturanga which means four divisions referring either to the divisions of the playing pieces into infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry, which in the modern game became the pawn, knight, bishop and rook pieces, or to the fact that the game was played by four players. Chatrang, and later Shatranj, was the name given to the game when it arrived in Sassanid Persia around 600. The earliest reference to the game comes from a Persian manuscript of around 600, which describes an ambassador from the Indian Subcontinent visiting king Khosrow I who ruled between 531 – 579 and presenting him with the game as a gift. From there it spread along the Silk to other regions including the Arabian Peninsula and Byzantium. In 900, Abbasid chess masters al-Suli and al-Lajlaj composed works on the techniques and strategy of the game, and by 1000, chess was popular across Europe, and in Russia where it was introduced from the Eurasian Steppe. The Alfonso manuscripts, also known as the Libro de los Juegos or the Book of Games, a medieval collection of texts on three different types of the popular game from the 13th century describe the game of chess as very similar to Persian Shatranj in rules and gameplay.

Throughout history, games and sports have helped humanity to survive times of crisis by reducing anxieties and improving mental health. While the coronavirus outbreak has forced most gaming and sports activities to scale down, chess has demonstrated remarkable resilience, adaptability and very strong convening power in time of the pandemic. Over the past year, the overall interest in chess is reported to have doubled, with more players than ever coming together to participate in chess events that are being increasingly held through online platforms.

The International Chess Day is celebrated annually on July 20, the day the International Chess Federation or the FIDE was founded, in 1924. The idea to celebrate this day was proposed by UNESCO, and it has been celebrated as such since 1966. On December 12, 2019, the UN General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution recognising the day.

The day is celebrated by many of the 605 million regular chess players around the world. A 2012 Yougov poll showed that a surprisingly stable 70% of the adult population has played chess at some point during their lives. This number holds at approximately the same level in countries as diverse as the US, UK, Germany, Russia, and India. Chess helps us to sharpen our mind-skills, reward ourselves with positive emotions, strengthens character, hones self-discipline, persistence, planning and many other important skills that are needed in life.

I played chess for a bit when I was younger, but because nobody I knew played the game, I gradually stopped playing. When BB & GG were about 10, I introduced them to the game, and they enjoy playing with each other, pitting their skills against each other. They don’t play as often I would like them to, but ever so often, I will find them hunched over a chessboard, trying to kill each other’s rooks, pawns, bishops, horses and elephants. To observe this day, we played chess yesterday, did you?

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