Monday, December 25, 2006

Chess - the old and the new

When you think of the game of Chess, you probably think of serious Russians facing each other across a board, their hands hovering over the clock at the side of the board.

The game of tactics so beloved by Russians, Americans, in fact people from every part of the globe was first played in China, India and Persia long ago.

When Arab Moors invaded Persia, they too learned the game and took it to Spain – from Spain it spread quickly though Europe.

Europeans gave the names to the pieces we use today – partly because they couldn’t pronounce the Persian ones. A thousand years ago, these names represented the way people lived.

Pawns represented serfs or labourers – we would call them workers today – there are more of them than any other piece and they are more readily sacrificed in battle, reflecting the hardships such people had to endure.
The castle represents the home or refuge as it did in medieval times. Just why there are two of them escapes me – maybe in the interest of symmetry.
The knight represents the professional soldier who had the job of protecting persons of rank, hence the close proximity to the King and Queen. The knights are more important than pawns but less important than bishops, which you would expect.
The bishops represent the church, of course, and so are central to the game, coming second in importance only to the King and Queen. This is as it was in days of yore when the church was a force to be reckoned with after the monarchy.
The Queen, the only female represented on the board, is the most powerful piece – the power behind the throne, but very powerful in her own right. Alas for many of them, they could be set aside, imprisoned or beheaded. Capture of the Queen does not win the game.
That honour is reserved for the King – it is the job of all the pieces on the board to defend their King. Once he falls, the monarchy does likewise, as happened in reality in medieval times and since. The King is the most important piece on the board, but not the most powerful.
All that applies to this day – battle commences and is won or lost with the capture of the King. It is the playing of the game that has undergone some significant changes; chess has always been played by two opponents sitting facing each other. With the advent of the Internet, two opponents can be poles apart, or they can be in the next room. The online game is played in the vertical plane, one move at a time, remote and yet immediate, depending on your server and your connection to it.
If you want to try it yourself, log on to and follow the simple instructions.
Robert L. Fielding


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