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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

History and the Game of Chess

A few days ago as my boyfriend was getting ready to teach me how to play chess, he mentioned how “the whole game of chess is like a cross section of a medieval fiefdom”. This surprised me because I had never before looked at the chess as more than a game of skill and strategy, but it makes perfect sense. I will explain as it was explained to me…

Let’s start with the pawns – The pawns represent the serfs or peasants. There are many of them, more than any other type of people. They just move forward and do things the same way over and over. They don’t have much power on the playing field or within the medieval sphere.

The rooks (or castles) – These represent the obvious, the castle proper. This was the place of defense. The rook defends the players and moves in straight lines. My boyfriend’s theory behind this is that most castles were defended by the archers and they could only shoot in a straight line to defend it.

The knights – The knights were the hired professionals who were there to defend the king. The knights are the only pieces on the board that can “jump” over obstacles in their path – just like a horse could during battle. The bishops – The bishops tended to be very important key players in the political game. They were usually heavily relied upon for their input and judgment – in this way they are positioned to the side of the king and queen on the game board.

The queen – The queen is really the most powerful player on the board and in this regard she can move in any direction and as many spaces at a time as desired. Many times, the queen was a power behind the scenes. They would frequently be involved in giving suggestions to the king as to what action to take but also carrying on their own political games for their own gains.

The final piece on the board is the king – the king is the king. He is the one that everyone has to protect. If the king falls, so does everyone else. In essence, all others are expendable, but the king is not. Everyone is trying to take down the kings so that their side will win.

After this short lesson about the “history” of chess, I look at this game in an entirely new light and am excited to learn how to play. It is all about the framing of something sometimes…

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I love, love to play chess; it's such a wonderful way to block everything out and try to strategically figure out how to set up certain things to win!

    Have you read The Eight? That was written 20 years ago and was wonderful -- she finally wrote a sequel to it called The Fire, but don't bother with that one. The Eight is all about chess and it's quite an adventure!

  2. Coffee and a Book Chick - I have not heard of that book - I will have to check it out, thanks!

  3. I used to enjoy chess as well..it's been a long while! Thanks for this fun post putting it in context.

  4. I have always considered chess a medieval game representative of the society. Your boyfriend's descriptions of the pieces is pretty much the way I have always viewed them. It makes more sense to use this approach when teaching the game. Kids would certainly respond more readily.

  5. Marie - When my boyfriend was telling me this it made the game more enjoyable to me, haha. And we have a really awesome chess table that his grandfather made with unique pewter pieces, it is so beautiful.

    Librarypat - I don't know why I didn't come to connect it with history before - I guess I just never thought about it. But I do think that having a story to tell children first might make them enjoy it more.

  6. This is very interesting! My husband has been a chess player for years - he even plays online with other players (does your boyfriend do this?). I'll have to mention this medieval connection to him.


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