The Story of how Chess was Invented
by Omar Syed co-inventor of Arimaa
Have you ever wondered who invented chess? When I was about 12 years old my uncle once told me a story about how Chess was invented.
Hundreds and hundreds of years ago there was a King in India who loved to play games. But he had gotten bored of the games that were present at the time and wanted a new game that was much more challenging. He commissioned a poor mathematician who lived in his kingdom to come up with a new game. After months of struggling with all kinds of ideas the mathematician came up with the game of Chaturanga.
The game had two armies each lead by a King who commanded the army to defeat the other by capturing the enemy King. It was played on a simple 8×8 square board. The King loved this game so much that he offered to give the poor mathematician anything he wished for. “I would like one grain of rice for the first square of the board, two grains for the second, four grains for the third and so on doubled for each of the 64 squares of the game board” said the mathematician. “Is that all?” asked the King, “Why don’t you ask for gold or silver coins instead of rice grains”. “The rice should be sufficient for me.” replied the mathematician.
The King ordered his staff to lay down the grains of rice and soon learned that all the wealth in his kingdom would not be enough to buy the amount of rice needed on the 64th square. In fact the whole kingdoms supply of rice was exhausted before the 30th square was reached. “You have provided me with such a great game and yet I cannot fulfill your simple wish. You are indeed a genius.” said the King and offered to make the mathematician his top most advisor instead.
After hearing that story I was obsessed with wanting to know exactly how many grains of rice would be needed on the 64th square and how much total rice would be needed for all 64 squares. Personal computers were not available then (this is around 1978) and so I set out to find the answer using my dads’ TI calculator. I think the calculator had about ten digits on it; and that was considered top of the line then. Within a minute or two of starting the calculator hit its limit.
But I really wanted to know the answer, so I kept going and did the calculations by hand. After spending most of my Sunday morning doing arithmetic I finally had the answers: 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 on the 64th square and 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 total for the whole board That’s about 18 billion billion. So if a bag of rice contained a billion grains, you would need 18 billion such bags.
But actually a real bag of rice weighing 100 pounds has less than 3 million grains. This story about the King is most likely not true. But it is true that there was an ancient Indian game called Chaturanga and it is believed that modern Chess evolved from it.
However some scholars argue that China is the true birthplace of Chess. So we may never know the real answer. Anyways, if you like to play Chess, you should definitely check out Arimaa.