A definitive study of the origin of chess -- that is, proto-chess. Part 1 of the book surveys the history of chess as written in western literature, beginning with Cessolis in the 13th century and continuing through 1996. Practically anyone who had ever written on the subject of "History of Chess" is covered -- over 30 in total. In Chapter 1 (Western Literature to 1694), in addition to Cessolis's Libel de Moribus Hominum, Thomas Hyde's De Ludis Orientalibus (1694) is treated with depth. Chapter 2 (1765-1801) covers Robert Lambe (The History of Chess, 1765), Daines Barrington (1789), William Jones (1790), Eyles Irwin (1793), Hiram Cox (1801), and James Christie (An Inquiry into the Antient Greek Game, 1801). Chapter 3 (1847-1870) covers N. Bland (1847), Duncan Forbes (The History of Chess, 1860), H. G. Hollingworth (1866), and Karl Himly (1869, 1870, et seq). Chapter 4 (1874-1899) covers Antonio van der Linde (Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels, 1874; Quellenstudien zur Gerschichte des Schachspiels, 1881), Z. Voppicelli (1888), Brunet y Bellet (El Ajedrez: Investigaciones sobre Su Origen, 1890), Herman Jacobi (1896), A.A. Macdonell (1897 and 1899), F. W. Thomas (1898), and Ernst Windisch (1989). Chapter 5 (1st half of 20th century) covers Stewart Culin (1898), John G. White (1898), Willard Fiske (1900), H.J.R. Murray (A History of Chess, 1913), and Louis Gray (1913). Chapter 6, the last chapter in Part I, covers Joseph Needham (Science and Civilisation in China, 1962), Pavle Bidev (1951 et seq) A. S. M. Dickens (1973), Harry Golombek (Chess: a History, 1976), Isaak Linder (Chess in Old Russia, 1975), Hugh Myers (1984), Panduranga Bhatta (Origin and Genesis of Chess, 1982 and 1994), G. Ferlito and A. Sanvito (1990), Jurij Averbach (1996), Egbert Meissenburg (1996), and Manfred Eder (1996).
Part II presents the author's thesis that chess was invented in China. Chapter 7 covers antecedents to Chess in the Chinese environment, beginning with a 5-page discussion on the characteristics of chess, and exploring two Chinese games which served as chess's antecedents -- Weiqi (commonly referred to as "Go" in the west, invented in China circa 23rd century BCE), and Liubo (a chance-dictated game invented in China circa 16th century BCE but disappeared in 5th century CE). Chapter 8 explores the Who? When? and Where? of chess invention, giving the inventor as a Chinese general in 203 BCE. Chapter 9 explores the Why? and How? of chess invention, tracing the design of the playing board and the type of playing pieces to I-ching (the Book of Changes), the most ancient of Chinese classics/philosophy, the contents of which were alluded to by western chess historians such as Bidev (but unable to go far due to unfamiliarity with the Chinese language). Chapter 10 further discusse! s the invention process, tracing the number of playing pieces and their placement to Sun Tse's the Art of War, another Chinese classics on warfare which our inventor, an all-winning battlefield general, mastered. Chapter 11 gives experiments the general conducted (games he played with himself) to improve its playability in terms of guidelines he set for the game, while Chapter 12, the last chapter in Part II, gives the rules of the game after it has been refined by the inventor.
Part III traces the development and dissemination of the game since its invention. Chapter 13 gives its acceptance, dormancy, revival, and modifications in China in the next millennium, while Chapter 14 gives early game scores, including those in the literature, that played by a general who later became king, as well as a composition by another highly regarded general. Chapter 15 gives a comprehensive coverage of experiments, by Chinese nationals, that did not survive the test of time (size, form, number of playing pieces, 3-handed, 7-handed, etc.) Chapter 16 traces the dissemination of the game westward, first to Persia and then to India, via the famous Silk Road, beginning in the 2nd century BCE -- the chapter ends with an appendix comparing the Chinese game with the Persian games, including a medieval Shatranj composition. Chapter 17 traces the game's dissemination eastward, first to Korea (at one time a part of China) and then to Japan -- the cultural differences affec! ting the Chinese and Korean games (at one time the two were identical) are explored, and the development of Shogi from the Chinese game, along with a comparison of playing pieces are traced to ancient Japanese literature.
Chapter 18, the book's concluding chapter, further refutes two commonly held misconceptions on which the chess-was-invented-in-India thesis was based -- that China did not have elephants (there were bronz ceremonial vases with the likings of elephant in the 22nd century BCE in China), and chess was brought to China by Buddhist pilgrimmagers (journals kept by Yuan Zhuang, for his travels in India and back to China, 629-645, praised even by Indians for its value in preserving Indian history, was completely silent on this point).
The book includes an epilogue, a bibliography (showing some 130 references in western languages and some 50 references in Chinese), and an index.
A year after its publication, in 1999, the book was honored as the "1998 Book of the Year" by a chess periodical.