Although chess has been played for many centuries, tournament chess only developed after hundreds of years of casual play. The earliest recorded game of chess is from 1475, and was played in Valencia, Spain, between Francesco di Castellvi and Narciso Vinyoles. Tournament chess did not evolve until nearly four hundred years later, with the first major international tournament taking place in London in 1851.
At this point in time, international tournaments will still rare. Chess players made little money, and, of course, the sort of international travel that we take for granted today was considerably more difficult to undertake. Consequently, the title of ‘Grandmaster’ was not a facet of the chess world at this time. However, another famous tournament that took place in the period was the first American Chess Congress, held in New York in 1857, which was won by the brilliant, but ultimately troubled, American Paul Morphy.
The London tournament was organised by top British player Howard Staunton. Staunton also had another significant influence over the game; he designed the eponymous Staunton chess pieces, which almost instantly became very popular. This help to standardise chess sets especially for tournaments.
By the turn of the twentieth century, with several World Chess Championship having been held, tournament chess among world-class players was becoming considerably more common. The term ‘grandmaster’ was coined during the Ostend tournament of 1907, which featured such legendary names as Tarrasch, Schlechter, Janowski, Marshall, Burn, Chigorin, Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch, Tartakower, Mieses and Blackburne.
Today, Staunton pieces are common in every tournament standard chess set, and used in every grandmaster chess tournament. The chess governing body FIDE’s official policy is that “recommended for use in FIDE competitions are pieces of new Staunton style”.