As you saw in Part 1, as mankind progressed technologically, there was a need for a game with strong strategic element.
The word strategy is derived from Greek word strategos which means general. Hence, the roots of the word go directly back to military use. In game theory, strategy is defined as one of the possible sets of options that a player can choose from. Hence, strategy is all about a successive series of actions and choices that a player must go through to get closer to the final goal.
Much of our early history is about wars and expansions. Life consisted of being ruled by successive kings each with their own agenda. As years passed, people became more familiar with strategy. The world needed a game that symbolised this new lifestyle better and this lead to the creation of one of the most famous strategic games of all time. The game was chess.
It is commonly believed that chess comes from India, however the oldest chess set is found in Persia, suggesting that it was first invented by Persians. It is always amusing to go through the history and development of popular board games so here is the story of chess:
Let’s go back 1500 years to the world of Sassanid dynasty, the Persian Empire at its peak. The Indian king Dabsalim, send a messenger, Taxtritos to Persia, carrying a set of chess with 32 pieces made of emerald and red ruby to test the intelligence of the Persian royalty. Taxtritos also had a letter in which Dabsalim requested Xusro I, King of Persia to solve the riddle or rational of the game. After all, if Xusro was “King of the Kings”, he and his wise men should be able to solve the riddle! Xusro accepted the challenge and asked for three days to solve the riddle and find the rules behind the game. He presented the challenge to his court.
Two days passed and no one in the court was able to come forward with a solution. The situation was getting desperate. On the third day, one of the sages by the name of Wuzurgmihr came forward to present his explanation and show how the game must be played. Wuzurgmihr explained:
“The king is like the two overlords, the rook on the left and right flank, the minister like the commander of the warriors, the elephant is like the commander of the bodyguards, and the horse is like the commander of the cavalry, the foot-soldier like the same pawn, that is at front of the battle.”
Taxtritos was amazed by this explanation as it accurately captured the rules set by the Indians for what they called chaturanga. Next, Wuzurgmihr and Taxtritos went on to play the game against each other and the legend has it that Wuzurgmihr won three times!
After this, chess became known as “chatrang” in Persia and went on to become a popular board game. It was subsequently exported to the rest of the world. In “chatrang”, the modern chess queen is vizier, the all powerful head of the state and the title is still used today every time Iranians play chess.
Chess was a good strategy game and its success to date attests this. Wuzurgmihr was impressed by this game and in response to Indians he constructed a new game and called it “New- Ardashir” which means “Noble is Ardashir” in memory of Ardashir I (A.D. 224-240), the founder of Sassanid dynasty. This in turn has been abbreviated to “Nardshir” or “Nard” which is still called today with this name in Persia. The game that Wuzurgmihr introduced to India was indeed the modern backgammon.
The Indians however, were unable to solve the riddle and rationale behind the “Nard”. Therefore the King of Kings, Xusro I asked the sage to explain the game.
Wuzurgmihr explained that fate was a primary reason for what happens to mankind. The roll of the dice in the game performs the function of fate. The 32 pieces represent humans and their function in the universe is governed by the seven planets and the twelve zodiac signs. While the game of chess is like a battle with calculated strategies, backgammon is based on the throw of the dice depending on the fate. This way chess should be balanced with backgammon to present a more realistic view of life captured as a game.
This is why the traditional chess set has two sides. On the top you can play chess and if you turn it upside down, you play backgammon. This way you exercise your strategic mind while also learn how to deal with fate and fortune. However, there is still one problem; you need to play two different games to achieve this ideal. Would it not be wonderful if we could play a single game that required strategy but also presented fate?
The invention of backgammon gave Wuzurgmihr even more prestige. He became much more famous in the realm, went on to become vizier of Xusro I and ran the Persian Empire as a high-ranking political advisor. Today, in Persian literature he is known as Bozorgmehr , the “man of exceptional wisdom”.