Early European chess players changed the game

Early European chess players turned the chess game to reflect their society's political structure.

  • Originally, chess was a game of war. Horsemen, elephant-riding fighters, charioteers and infantry protected the "shah" and his counsellor, the "firz."
  • But Europeans changed the "shah" to a king, the "vizier" to queen, the "elephants" to bishops, the "horses" to knights, the "chariots" to castles, and the "foot soldiers" to pawns.
  • Instead of representing the units in an army, the pieces now stood in for Western social order - those who fought (knights), those who prayed (clergy) and those who worked (the rest).

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In ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ and beyond, chess holds up a mirror to life

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  • Initially, the chess queen could only move one square.
  • In the 15th century, the queen gained unlimited movement in any direction.
  • The queen's elevation to the strongest piece appeared first in Spain during the time when the powerful Queen Isabella was on the throne.

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The 13th-century Dominican friar Jacobus de Cessolis described the ways each chess piece contributes to a harmonious social order.

  • He distinguished paws by trade and connected each to its royal partner.
  • The first pawn is a farmer and tied to the castle because he provides food to the kingdom.
  • The second pawn is a blacksmith who makes armour for the knight.
  • The third is an attorney who helps the bishop with legal matters.

Jacobus's allegory becomes the central message of the mini-series "The Queen's Gambit." Beth becomes a figurative queen after she learns to work with other players. Just like the pawn, she converts in her final game.

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