Chess has been played and enjoyed by people around the world for two thousand years. If there were an award for game of the millennium, it would belong to chess. The game is said to have been invented in India around the fourth century b.c.,by a Brahman named Sissa at the court of the Indian Rajah Balhait, where it was called chaturanga, although its earliest mention in literature occurred in a Persian romance, the Karnamak, written about 600 a.d. Alexander the Great’s conquest of India brought the game west to Persia (Lasker, 1949, pp. 3-5). It moved east from India along overland trade routes into the Orient and west from Persia into Arabia, where chatrang, as the game was later called, then spread across northern Africa and into Europe when the Moors invaded Spain. Ajedrez (as it was known by the Spanish) spread quickly through Europe and had spread even earlier north from Persia into Russia, so that before the discovery of the Americas chess had a firm and established following on three continents as a supreme fascination and test of mental ability, an aesthetic beauty enjoyed by both nobleman and peasant (or shall we say king and pawn?).
Many notable people in history made chess their favorite pastime. The game’s fascination was embraced by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, Churchill, Napoleon, Voltaire, and the great mathematician, Euler, to name a few.Benjamin Franklin, in his work, The Morals of Chess, regarded chess as more than just an idle amusement, ascribing several “valuable" qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, [that] are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready for all occasions. For Life is a kind of Chess…” (Franklin, 1776). Franklin enumerated these qualities as “1. Foresight… 2. Circumspection… 3. Caution… and 4. Perseverance in hope of favorable resources.” In this sense, we may credit Franklin with being one of the first to hypothesize that chess strengthens “valuable qualities of the mind” and to open the inquiry concerning whether or not chess makes one smarter.