What do you like to do when you get bored? We don’t get bored often in Wonderopolis, but when we do, we reach for a BOARD…game! Two of our favorite classic board games are checkers and chess. Some of our friends WONDERed which of these classics came along first, so we decided to investigate!
Luckily, our time machine was full of fuel, so we set the dial back about 1,500 years and headed to ancient India. It was somewhere in the northern part of India around the start of the sixth century that historians believe people first played an early version of chess called Chaturanga.
The game eventually spread to Persia, where Islamic migration helped it become a part of Arabic culture. In the Muslim world, the game became known as Shatranj. The Islamic Moors spread the game to Southern Europe when they conquered Spain and Portugal.
It was in Europe in the 15th century where the game of chess evolved into the form we know today. Its name was shortened to shah and, over time, English and Germanic variations of the name became closer and closer to “chess.”
It was not until the latter part of the 19th century, though, that modern chess tournaments began and the popularity of the game grew by leaps and bounds. Chess remains popular, especially in the modern Internet age. The invention of computers led to advances in chess theory, and online chess play has been popular since the mid-1990s.
So, as you can see, chess has a long, rich history. What about checkers? Historians know that checkers was referenced by Homer in the Odyssey, as well as by Plato in his writings from ancient Greece. Looks like we’re going to need our time machine again, because checkers is much, much older than chess!
Historians now believe that the oldest form of checkers was a game discovered by archeologists at an ancient city called Ur in Iraq. Carbon dating of that game revealed that it was probably played around 3,000 B.C.
Those who have studied the origins of checkers have also found a game called Alquerque, which was played in ancient Egypt as far back as 1,400 B.C. Alquerque remained very popular throughout the western world for thousands of years.
The modern version of checkers developed around the start of the 12th century when a Frenchman came up with the idea of playing checkers on a chess board. At that time, the game was called “Fierges” or “Ferses.” With a new board configuration and new rules set, the game eventually made its way to England and the Americas.
Today, most English-speaking countries use a checker board with 64 spaces, which is known as the short king board version. However, much of Europe and Asia uses a checker board with 100 spaces, which is known as the long king version. Some people in Canada even use a board with 144 spaces!
Checkers remains a popular game around the world today. For many children, it’s the first game they learn how to play. Teachers have long known that the simple game of checkers can provide significant training in thought and logic while keeping players occupied with fun competition.