Chess Originated In Africa
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
In Ancient Egypt, games were part of religious life. Their most popular game was Senat in which counters, or markers, were moved around a game board. Winning the game came by one player removing all of his/her pieces before the opponent did (Hawass,Tutankhamun, p235). A wall painting on the tomb of the Egyptian queen Nefretari, wife of Ramses II (1304-1237 BC), shows her playing Senat. It symbolizes the struggle between good and evil as well as stands magically for rebirth and resurrection. The African games known as Mancala or Wari are among the oldest games, dating back at least to 5000 BC. In these games, beans, seeds, and other small objects were moved around a playing board with hollowed out cups. A player tried to capture as many objects as possible. Both Senat and Mancala games and four other types were discovered when the tomb of Tutankhamen — an Egyptian king who reigned from 1348-1339 BC — was discovered. An Egyptian board game of primitive “checkers” from 1000 BC is in the British Museum. Another type — called Nine Men’s Morris, Mill, Morelles, or Morels — has been found carved in the roofing slabs of an Egyptian temple and dating between 1400 and 1300 BC. The object of the game, of which there are many versions, is for each player to try to capture an opponent’s piece and to prevent the opponent from moving any pieces. Note how closely this resembles Chess as we know it today.
But Western literature admits that the origin of Chess is uncertain. Whenever such a statement is made, experience has taught me that the uncertainty most likely indicates it originated in Africa. Many Western scholars believe chess started in Pakistan as an offspring of a Hindu game under the Sanskrit name “Chaturanga” about 500 AD. Others say it is from India or China. Then the game spread to Persia where it was given the name “Shah” (which means “king”) and “Shah mat” (‘the king is dead’). The Arabs learned the game when they conquered Persia in the 600’s and they introduced it into Europe by way of Spain, Sicily, and Constantinople. The pieces were named for roles in the courts of kings during the Middle Ages-king, queen, knight, and bishop. Chess’ strategy and play are modeled on how wars were fought in the Middle Ages. By the 16th century chess moves had assumed their modern form.
Chess is a board game consisting of a miniature battlefield whereby the opponents engage in organized attacks and defense, each conducted with the definite objective of protecting ones king from being trapped or “checkmated” (i.e. where the king is unable to escape capture). Every new game is a different battle and the players are the generals who plan the battle. Chess is one of the oldest of all games of pure mental skill as well as one of the most interesting and mind focusing and challenging of all board games. Every game of chess can be recorded in the form of a code so that after the game is over it can be studied to learn what was done properly and improperly. “After-study” is fundamental to any thinking process that calls for choices, decisions and solutions.
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– GM Susan Polgar