A History of Chess
Murray's aim is threefold: to present as complete a record as is possible of the varieties of chess that exist or have existed in different parts of the world; to investigate the ultimate origin of these games and the circumstances of the invention of chess; and to trace the development of the modern European game from the first appearance of its ancestor, the Indian chaturanga, in the beginning of the 7th century. (He knew English and German languages.)
The first part of the book describes the history of the Asiatic varieties of chess, the Arabic and Persian literature on chess, and the theory and practice of the game of shatranj. The second part is concerned with chess in Europe in the Middle Ages, its role in literature and in the moralities, and with medieval chess problems, leading up to the beginning of modern chess and the history of the modern game through to the 19th century.
Murray's comprehensive discussion of the wide ranging sources and of chess problems makes it unlikely that this book will ever be equaled. It is referred to as the authoritative source by every modern writer on chess history. It is the first published source of the theory that chess originated in India; a theory that remains the most widely accepted today.
To be able to read Arabic-language chess documents, he taught himself Arabic. By collating sources and eliminating duplicates therein he lists 553 complete Islamic shatranj chess problems and their stated solutions, plus 16 mikhāriq ("puzzles", singular mikhrāq) (which he numbers RW29 and 554 to 568). During this he was caused extra work by finding that one of his Arabic-language source documents was descended from a predecessor whose pages had been shuffled somewhat and some pages lost, and then had been routine-mindedly copied as it was by another scribe in old times.
The book also contains a list of medieval European chess problems.
As some chess variants do not use an 8×8 board, he uses the algebraic notation to represent chess moves, but:
- He represents a capture by piece × piece, not piece × square.
- He writes P at the start of a pawn move.
He quotes lengths of text from older European sources untranslated in their original languages (medieval forms of French and German and Spanish etc.).
Murray's companion work was A History of Board-Games other than Chess ISBN 0-19-827401-7. He also wrote a shorter version called A Short History of Chess, published in 1963.
- Murray, H. J. R. A History of Chess (London: Oxford University Press, 1913)
- Murray, H. J. R. A History of Chess (Northampton, MA: Benjamin Press, 1985) ISBN 0-936317-01-9
- Murray, H. J. R. A History of Chess (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012, paperback reprint of the 1913 edition) ISBN 978-1-62087-062-4
- Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992), "Murray, Harold James Ruthven", The Oxford Companion to Chess (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-866164-9