Modern Chess – The Modern History of Chess

Exactly where the history of modern chess began is of course debatable. For the purposes of this document, we will start from the year 1475 AD when major alterations, led to further evolution of the game. The new powerful queen chess piece was introduced at this time.

This chapter in modern chess history led to extra value being added to the previously minor tactic of ‘pawn promotion’. The old war elephant piece of the chaturanga also gave way to the bishop, allowing for a piece with greater more range.

It seems that the history of modern chess started to move away from ‘warlike military’ figures and towards more everyday symbolism. These new symbols that were prevalent in Persia and India made the game of chess more popular, as its symbols were closer to the court and ordinary household of the time. Furthermore, developments made checkmate easier and games could now be won in a shorter space of time using a smaller number of moves.

The queen and bishop pieces still remained relatively weak in the history of modern chess until the game reached a more evolved form. By the late fifteenth century chess reached a stage that was very close to the modern form of chess.

Gioacchino Greco, an Italian player and one of the first true professionals of the game, wrote an analysis of a group of set games that illustrated 2 differing approaches to chess in modern times. This influential work of his helped to popularize modern chess and demonstrated the many theories regarding chess game play and tactic.

Competitive chess became popular in the early nineteenth century and the London Chess tournament became concerned with the time taken by its players to think over their moves. During this time of the history of modern chess, players often took hours to analyze moves and one player took as many as 2 and half hours to deliberate a single move at the London tournament. Speed chess variants were developed and penalties were given to players that exceeded a time limit.

Sand glasses were used as time measures for the first time in the history of modern chess, in a tournament match in Briston that took place in 1861. Pendulums later replaced the sandglasses. Modern clocks were later used to aid the modern chess players. Arguments still occurred over whether players exceeded time limits or not, and a tiny latch called a flag was developed to help settle these types of arguments, around the turn of the 19th century.

Position analysis became very popular in the nineteenth century. Vladimir Korolkov, a Russian composer, even wrote a musical piece entitled "Excelsior" in 1958 (in which the white side wins only by making 6 consecutive captures by way of a pawn). Many leading modern chess players were also accomplished analysts, including Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Max Euwe, and Jan Timman. Digital clocks only appeared in the 1980s, to help with timing of chess matches.