INTERACTIVE: From Chaturanga to Chess

CHESS is one of the oldest – and most popular – board games in the world.

About 600 million people play chess regularly and some 70% of the world’s population is said to play the game or have some knowledge of it.

It is a game played by two people with tactical moves on the checkered board with 64 squares, trying to capture their opponent’s pieces and the king to win the game.

It is an intriguing game that can be played for hours, even days.

There are some 300 billion possible positions after the first four moves.

The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants estimates there are over 2,000 variations of the game.

But one common thing these variants have is that they are similar to Chaturanga, the original chess game that was said to have originated in northern India during the Gupta period (600CE to 400CE).

Chaturanga literally means ‘four divisions’, referring to the infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry (pawn, knight, bishop and rook) or simply just played by four people back then.

It was called Shatranj in Persia around 600 CE – some 2,600 years ago.

From there, it spread to Middle Eastern countries and South-East Asia via the silk and spice routes.

Chess pieces, moves and rules have evolved over the centuries, developing from their traditional form to modern chess.

For example, the Arabs changed the shapes of the pieces to fit their culture.

The Europeans changed the Queen’s move from one square diagonally to all directions, providing no obstruction.

Bishops’ and pawns’ moves were altered while dark and light squares were introduced on the chessboard.

Despite these changes, chess opening, middle and end games maintain the hallmark of Chaturanga.

Over the centuries, chess continued to be one of the most popular board games.

Its popularity was revived during the global Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, where people spent time playing the game, mostly online.

In Malaysia, chess is also promoted as part of the school co-curriculum activities, with inter-district and inter-state tournaments organized for school children.

Malaysia currently has eight international masters, two international woman masters, 16 FIDE masters, and one female FIDE master.

Jimmy Liew was the first Malaysian international master (IM). He was awarded the title in 1984.

Siti Zulaikha Foudzi was the country’s first international woman master. She earned the title in 2006.

Yeoh Li Tian is the country’s highest-rated chess player. His FIDE rating is 2,530.

To mark the importance of chess as a platform to foster harmony, dialogue, solidarity and peace, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 20 as International Chess Day, coinciding with the establishment of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) in Paris in 1924.


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