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Subject: ‘games’

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Croquet: the Queen of Sports and Pastimes

Posted in games, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Croquet game,  picture, image, illustration
A Fight to a Finish; Victorian children playing croquet

Croquet appears to have developed from the Restoration game of paille-maille or Pall Mall, which historians believe was brought to England from the French court where the exiled Stuarts bided their time during the Interregnum. It was during the Victorian era, however, that the game became popular, and indeed in the 1860s became something of a craze among the middle and upper classes. A set of rules was published in 1856, and just over a decade later plans were made for the All Comers’ Croquet Tournament of 1868, in which same year the All England Croquet Club was founded in a South London suburb more associated with lawn tennis – Wimbledon.

Many more pictures relating to games can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

A Military Chess Tournament with Living Pieces

Posted in games, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Military Chess,  picture, image, illustration
A Military Chess Tournament with Living Pieces, Capture of the Bishop; illustration for The Graphic, 19 May 1883

The London International Chess Tournament of 1883 was considered to be the most important competition held in the nineteenth century up until that time, and certainly the strongest. Most of the world’s greatest players attended, twelve of them, including Steinitz, Zukertort, Blackburne, Rosenthal and Chigorin. Indeed, it was regarded as an unofficial tournament for the World Chess Championship itself. The contest was held from April 26th to June 23rd at Victoria Hall in the Criterion, and Zukertort was the winner. A souvenir book was published in November 1883 containing annotated games played in the tournament. This public game of Military Chess using living players was almost certainly staged in London as an entertaining event to coincide with the 1883 International Tournament.

Many more pictures relating to games can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The mysterious origins of Chess may lie in 7th century India

Posted in games, Historical articles, History, Leisure on Tuesday, 14 February 2012

This edited article about chess originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 640 published on 20 April 1974.

Castle domestic interior, picture, image, illustration

A mediaeval family at home in their castle where the Lord studies a game of chess in the living room, by Peter Jackson

No one knows for certain where the game of chess originated. The invention of the game has been variously attributed to the Greeks, Romans, Scythians, Babylonians, Jews, Egyptians, Chinese, Hindus, Irish, Welsh and Arabians, and many others. Some pundits have even tried to attribute its invention to one particular individual. But it is now generally believed that the game of chess probably originated in India during or before the 7th century.

From India, the game of chess spread to Persia, to Arabia and then to western Europe. In Persia the game was known as shatranj and the term “checkmate” is sometimes said to derive from the Persian, Shah mat which means “the king is dead.”

There is great confusion concerning the game of chess in England. Chroniclers have stated that chess was played in King Canute’s time (the early 11th century), and it has been recorded that King Canute himself had an opponent murdered after a quarrel over the game.

It is believed that modern chess was introduced first in France, and then, spread to Spain in the early 15th century. The English school of chess began about the beginning of the 19th century, and its first leader was J. H. Sarrat.

Chess has been a favourite hobby of many famous men in history. Richard the Lionheart, Ivan the Terrible, Tamerlane, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Harum Al Rashid are among the many men who are known to have enjoyed the game.

Chess is now played in every country in the world. In recent years, Russia has become the strongest chess-playing nation in the world. The International Chess Federation controls the individual championship of the world, the women’s championship of the world, and a junior world championship.

A Basque priest invented Pelota – a fast and dangerous ballgame

Posted in games, Sport on Tuesday, 3 January 2012

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 890 published on 10 February 1979.

Odd though it may seem, the man who is said to have invented one of the fastest games on earth was a village priest in the mountainous north of Spain.

For hundreds of years, the churches in Spain’s Basque Province had no objection to villagers playing handball against the church walls. The only restriction they made was “No play during services.” And the local handball champion was often the priest.

Then, one day about 300 years ago, a village priest began to think about the game. “It is too slow,” he said. “You can’t hit a ball hard enough with the palm of your hand.” And out of leather he made the first primitive “cesta” or glove for playing the game known as pelota.

Today pelota is a major sport in Spain, Portugal and southern France; and in Central and North America where it is called “jai alai.” The ball moves so fast that there is always a possibility of serious injury.

Perhaps, more than anything, it was the discovery of rubber that led to the rapid development of the game. Spanish explorers brought back rubber from South America, and early pelota enthusiasts adapted its potential to the game.

By hand-winding long strips of rubber, then binding the ball with linen thread and finally covering it with two coats of specially hardened goatskin, they could construct a ball which would bounce off a wall at tremendous speed.

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No longer an exclusive game played by Public schoolboys – Fives

Posted in Education, games, Historical articles, Sport on Wednesday, 14 December 2011

This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 878 published on 11 November 1978.

Eton Fives, picture, image, illustration

The game of Eton Fives

Who would have thought that a simple game played by schoolboys would grow into a serious sport with a governing body and strictly-upheld rules and regulations?

Almost certainly not the boys in the picture above, who are playing a game called fives. By the shape of the court and the peculiar buttress sticking out on the left-hand wall, we can tell that they are playing a particular version of the game, called Eton fives.

Fives is played by two or four players in a court enclosed by walls on three or four sides, the ball being struck with the hand protected by a glove.

No one knows where the name came from, but it seems likely that it refers to the fact that the ball is struck with the five fingers of the hand.

There are several different versions of the game named after English Public schools – Eton, Rugby and Winchester. It is said that the game was first played at Eton against the wall of the school chapel.

Five centuries of Mad Chess

Posted in games, Historical articles on Wednesday, 3 August 2011

This edited article about chess originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1001 published on 16 May 1981.

Chess, picture, image, illustration

The City of London Chess Club c.1898

Mad Chess, a new version of the game, invented in Renaissance Italy in about 1480, quickly became so popular that the slower medieval version was abandoned. The differences were that the queen’s power increased fivefold, the bishop’s threefold, while the pawn could advance two squares on its first move instead of one. Battle between the white and black armies was joined at an earlier stage, and the game became subtler and more dynamic.

Ruy Lopez, a Spanish priest, was the first acknowledged master of the new chess. His patron was Philip II, whose Armada was defeated off the English coast in 1588. Ruy Lopez began chess as an amateur, but, on a visit to Rome in 1560 to secure confirmation of a benefice, he played against the leading Italian experts and found he could beat them easily.

Encouraged by his victories, Ruy Lopez published a book of chess instruction. It contains the moves of an opening sequence named after him. This is still very popular 400 years later and has been the favourite of the three greatest world champions – Capablanca, Bobby Fischer and Karpov. Ruy Lopez was also a shrewd practical player. He gave his pupils the first advice on chess gamesmanship: “Always place the board so that the sun shines in your opponent’s eyes.”

King Philip was delighted with the success of his protege and his generous gifts included a rook on a golden chain, which Ruy Lopez always wore round his neck. But Ruy Lopez’s easy victories in Rome were ultimately the cause of his downfall. One of his defeated rivals there was Giovanni Leonardo, “the boy of Rome”, then aged 18. The young player became determined on revenge. Accompanied by a fellow-Italian expert, Leonardo travelled to Madrid in 1575 and challenged Ruy Lopez and the second best Spanish player to an international match. The games were staged in the royal palace, with Philip II as spectator, and the elderly Spaniards were decisively beaten.

A painting of the scene shows Leonardo rising from the board after his win with hands extended in a victory signal and a contemptuous smile on his face. Philip was entranced by the younger man’s brilliance and rewarded him with one thousand crowns, and jewels and furs.

Leonardo was invited to Portugal to display his skill in front of King Sebastian, who nicknamed him “the wandering Knight”. Afterwards, he returned home to Naples with a view to establishing a strong centre of chess in the city. But then came serious news: pirates had kidnapped Leonardo’s brother and were only willing to release him for a ransom of 200 crowns.

Leonardo went to the rescue, found that the pirate king was a keen chess-player, and offered to stake double the ransom money on the outcome of a game.

Ignorant of Leonardo’s ability, the pirate quickly agreed and the champion went home not only with his rescued brother but with a handsome purse.

Leonardo’s arrogance proved his undoing. He was poisoned by a jealous rival in 1587, and his friend and successor, Paolo Boi, suffered the same fate in 1598. With their passing, the centre of European chess switched to France and England, where several monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth, Charles I and Charles II, were players.

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The complex story of chess

Posted in games, Historical articles on Monday, 1 August 2011

This edited article about chess originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1000 published on 9 May 1981.

Castle interior, picture, image, illustration

Domestic leisure in the castle living room, by Peter Jackson

One of the many legends about the origin of chess says that the philosopher Sassa invented it to distract the Indian king Balhait, who was becoming bored with his usual game, backgammon. Balhait was so pleased with this interesting new game that he offered Sassa a choice of valuables – jewels, money, or land.

The philosopher replied that he lived modestly and wanted only a little corn. “If it please Your Majesty, we can decide the amount by using my invention. I propose we take a chessboard and place one grain of corn on the first square, two on the second, four on the third and continue doubling until all 64 squares are covered.”

The king thought this was a modest price and gave orders to his treasurer to fetch the corn from the granaries. But next day Balhait’s ministers told him that his country faced a famine. The granaries had been exhausted long before the 64 squares were covered. Sassa’s reward amounted to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of corn – enough to cover the whole of England to a depth of nearly 12 metres.

In reality, chess was probably evolved from simpler board games, rather than invented by a single person. There are six different types of chessmen, and in the game’s early days, around AD 500, a six-sided dice may have been thrown to settle which piece should be played. Eventually each man got its individual way of moving, but Indian chess was a much slower game than the modern version.

The names and functions of the pieces in Indian chess symbolised a battle between two armies of the period, which each had a king and his minister together with four fighting divisions.

The eight foot-soldiers, now the pawns, were restricted to a plodding, forward movement. The elephant (modern bishop) moved diagonally two squares at a time and could gallop over an intervening piece. The horse, which is identical to our knight, was also a cavalryman, which could leap over both friends and enemies. The chariot – which became rukh and then rook as chess spread to other nations – was the strongest unit, and could be played along the whole length and breadth of the board.

The king and minister were both restricted to moving a single square at a time, so that the latter, which in modern chess has become the queen and the most powerful piece, was in the early days among the weakest.

Indian warfare at the time was often decided by the capture or death of the king, which automatically dissolved his army. But the unknown authors of chess wanted to emphasise that a monarch’s person was sacred; so the game was won and lost when the king’s capture was inevitable in the next move rather than when it actually happened.

From India, chess spread westwards to Persia, and acquired two new rules. When you attacked your opponent’s king, you uttered the warning word “Shah!” (which has now become “check”) and when the king was certain to be captured the winner announced the game’s end by saying “Shah mat”. “Mat” is Persian for defeated or helpless, so “Shah mat” is the origin of checkmate.

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Snooker, the modern offspring of billiards

Posted in games, Historical articles on Monday, 11 July 2011

This edited article about snooker originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 986 published on 31 January 1981.

Billiards, picture, image, illustration

The ancient game of billiards gave rise to modern variants like Pool and Snooker, and in the eighteenth century it was played by both men and women, as shown in The Billiard Table by Thomas Rowlandson

White gloves flick an imaginary speck of dust from the bright blue ball and it is replaced on the centre spot of the green-covered table. The hum of conversation from the tightly-packed audience dies away and a hush like that of a cathedral falls upon the hall. Leaning into the white glare of the lights focussed upon the table, a shirt-sleeved player surveys the situation. Then he bends over the table, cue in hand . . .

We are watching a tense struggle in one of the world’s fastest-growing sports – snooker, a sport which in the last few years has become increasingly popular, thanks largely to the coverage it receives from television.

This month (27th January to 1st February), the £20,000 Benson & Hedges Masters will be staged at the Wembley Conference Centre with the current ten top snooker players, including Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn, Alex Higgins and Terry Griffiths and two invited guest players, bidding for the £6,000 first prize. And there will be a special award of £10,000 for the first man to make the highest possible break in snooker of 147.

Last year’s Masters set a world attendance record for a snooker tournament of 14,000. With this year’s Final day sold out weeks ago, the organisers expect that record to be smashed.

But what is Snooker and how is it played?

Basically it is a game in which 22 balls are used – fifteen reds, one yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black plus a white ball, known as the cue ball.

Each player (usually two although you can have more) has a cue, a long, tapered, polished piece of wood with a felt tip. With this cue, the player hits the white ball, aiming it at one of the red balls with the object of knocking it into one of the six pockets which are stituated on each corner of the table and in the centre of the longest sides. If he succeeds, he may then nominate one of the colours and try to pot that.

If the colour goes down, he moves on to another red, then a colour and so on until he fails with a shot or achieves the object of clearing the table. His total score from that turn at the table is known as a “break”. Then his opponent takes his turn. The game is not restricted to men and there are many good women players, including some professionals.

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The origins of football

Posted in games, Historical articles, Sport on Friday, 8 July 2011

This edited article about football originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 984 published on 17 January 1981.

football, picture, image, illustration

Mediaeval lads playing football with a pig’s bladder, by Pat Nicolle

Ball games similar to football can be traced back to ancient China, Greece and Rome, but the origins of the modern game stem from England. In 1314 King Edward II banned the playing of “futeball”, although clearly to no avail, for Richard II, Henry IV and Henry VII issued similar bans. At this time the game in England was a disorganised rough-and-tumble and it was not until 1846 that the first deliberate rules were formulated. The modern game, however, became really established with the formation of the Football Association in 1863.

The curiously named game of snooker

Posted in games, Interesting Words, Leisure on Monday, 13 June 2011

This edited article about snooker originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 967 published on 20 September 1980.

games, picture, image, illustration

Guardsmen playing in the billiard room, by Angus McBride

In the days before snooker drew a mass television audience, a facility at the game was said to be a sign of a misspent youth.

In fact the game has an extremely respectable pedigree. A certain Lieutenant Chamberlain invented the game – which then had no name – in 1875, while serving with the Devonshire Regiment at lubbulpore, India. The word snooker was an army term for a new cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. Chamberlain liked the sound of the word, and used it, without malice, of one of the beginners at the game.

To sooth ruffled feelings, Chamberlain then acknowledged that, since it was a new game – actually a variation on black pool – they were all beginners, or snookers, and the game came to be called “snooker’s pool”, afterwards simply “snooker”.

The game was brought back to England by the professional billiard-player John Roberts, who had been engaged as coach to the Maharajah of Cooch Behar Roberts expressed considerable interest in the new game and was duly introduced to its inventor, a friend of the Maharajah’s.