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January 11, 1886: First world championship of chess

Gérald Ghislain

Posted on January 03 2019

January 11, 1886: First world championship of chess - Histoires de Parfums

The legend of how it all began

The most renown origins of how chess began, come from the arab world. An Indian king, who wanted to satisfy his boredom, promised a reward to whoever could present him a game that would keep him occupied. A sage named Sissa, offered him the game of chess. The king was delighted and asked the sage what he wanted in return. Sissa asked him to place one grain of rice on the first space, second on the second space, four on the third space, and so on, doubling the amount of rice with each space.

The king found the reward to be modest enough, and accepted. However, after some quick calculations, the kinds advisors realized that this request was impossible to fulfill seeing as the last space on the board was asking for "63 to the power of 2" grains of rice, which comes out to over nine billion requiring more than 400 billion tons of rice to fulfill the request. 

This legend highlights the inconceivable number of possible moves during a chess game. In 1950, the mathematician Claude Shannon decides to calculate the amount of possibilities in a game played with only 40 turns. 10 to the power of 120, which is 1 followed by 120 zeros (1 billion is 1 followed by 9 zeros), is the result found by her calculations. That number is now known as "Shannon's number". To get an understanding of what that really means, we can consider that the number of observable atoms in the universe is 6 to power of 79.

 

The History

Chess is a game from India. It spreads rapidly in the Middle East where it becomes very popular. the expression "check mate", has a double meaning; in Persian "sah mata" (the king is defenseless), and in arabic "Ash'aah maat-aa" (the king is dead). The game reaches Europe near the Xth century, where it also spreads rapidly. At the time, there were two variations of the game, one which was played with dice, and the other, without. The game with dice quickly strikes the Church's attention, who condemns any game of this sort. Additionally, in 1254, the king of France Saint Louis, announces that all chess games played with dice are banned from the kingdom of France. Hit with this new law, the version with dice disappears, and allows the game without dice to diffuse.

In the mid XVIIth century, the game of chess will evolve many times before it reaches the game we know today. The pieces become Westernize: the vizier becomes a queen, the elephant becomes the bishop and the tower replaces the chariot.

The pieces also gain more power, once only able to move space by space, they can now move multiple spaces at a time. These changes make the game much more dynamic, and opens up many more possibilities.

Thanks to these changes, chess becomes more democratic, leading to the apparition of the first tournaments. At the end of the XIXth century, Johannes Zuckertort (English) and Wilhelm Steintz (Austrian) each self-proclaim themselves as the best player of the world. To decide on who ultimately is the best player, a world championship of chess is held in the United States on January 5, 1886. Wilhelm Steintz takes home the victory, becoming the first world champion of chess.

 

A Thought to Travel

In 1454 in the Italian city of Marostica (located in the region of Venice), two young nobles were fighting for the hand in marriage of a woman. The suitors wanted to put and end to this debate with a sword fight, but that practice was prohibited in the region. The father of the young covet thus proposes a game of chess. The winner will earn the right to marry his daughter, and the loser, will win earn the right to marry his youngest daughter. The two agree to the terms. To add to the show, the game takes an unexpected turn: rather than having pieces on a board, real men and women are ordered by each player to walk and stand around as living chess pieces.

The game becomes a custom that still exists today. Every two years in September, the city of Marostica hosts a real-life chess game. Over the years, music, dancers and fireworks have been added to the game to call upon this Italian renaissance tradition.

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