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Shatranj

Culturalmente Imparando

In Persian, shatranj means "chess", which is probably the most widely played and known board game in history. The word would represent an evolution from the Sanskrit chaturanga ("four-row army") which indicated an ancient variant of the game spread in India between the sixth and seventh centuries. This term appears in Mahābhārata, a great epic poem of Indian antiquity. Subsequently, the game arrived in pre-Islamic Persia and from there in European territories at the time of the Arab conquests. It is believed that the chaturanga gave rise to the shatranj and that this, in turn, is the ancestor of modern chess.

In fact, it was the version of Persian origin that spread to medieval Europe through the Arabs; in short, the game spread to the whole continent. Because of its difficulty and thoughtfulness, it became a symbol of power and knowledge. For this reason it was also appreciated by sovereigns, such as Henry II of Plantagenetus, Ivan the Terrible or Richard the Lionheart. What we know today in the classic form of chess dates back roughly to Italy and Spain in the fifteenth century, where modern rules were established. However, it will be necessary to wait until the English nineteenth century to reach the definitive regulation. The mass interest in chess dates back to this period and it has become a social phenomenon of academic interest.

In the Arab world the shatranj enjoyed much consideration, as it was considered highly educational. It was even the subject of treaties and manuals, including those written by Abu Bakr ibn Yahya al-Suli. The Arab scholar who lived between the ninth and tenth centuries was described as one of the most skilled players in the world, to the point of winning the favor of the Caliph of Baghdad, al-Muktafi. The latter found its place in history thanks to the wars against the Byzantines, the Carmata, the Egyptians and the Tulunids that marked his brief reign.

Abu Bakr ibn Yahya al-Suli created a "diamond", a complex study on the moves of the shatranj, represented by a grid with 64 squares (like the current chess) and four pieces. The move assumed by al-Suli is impossible to solve, and only those who have known the solution from the same creator can do so. The problem remained such for almost a millennium, until it was solved by Russian chess master Jurij Averbach in 1986, who admitted the genius of the move created by the legendary Arab player. It is interesting to imagine a chess (or shatranj) challenge between al-Suli and Averbach. Only the folds of time know who could have gotten it.



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  • L'Autore

    Mario Rafaniello

    Mario Rafaniello Vice Responsabile della rubrica “Culturalmente Imparando”. Partecipa anche all’entusiasmante progetto “Japan 2020” e si interessa di arte, cultura e letteratura.

    Laureato in Giurisprudenza e laureando in Relazioni Internazionali. Attualmente collabora con diversi portali online.

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