Board games have been played by people since distant antiquity.
In ancient Egypt, a board game called Senet was played, and when it was first discovered, some accounts of the discovery referred to the game as a form of Chess. In fact, however, as we now know, the game actually resembled Backgammon.
Most historians believe Chess to have originated in India at some time before the year 570 A.D. in the form of Chaturanga.
Chaturanga was different from modern Chess, but it was its direct ancestor, and it was very similar. The Pawns, the Rooks, the Knights, and the King were all on the board in the same starting positions, and they had the same moves, although the Pawns couldn't move two spaces on the first move, and the Kings couldn't castle.
Instead of the Queen, there was a piece (the Fers) that could only move one space diagonally. Pawns could promote, but this was the only piece to which they could promote.
Instead of the Bishop, there was a piece (the Alfil) that could only move exactly two spaces diagonally.
According to the Wikipedia page on the Knight, from the earliest days of Chess, as far as is known, the Knight was fully free to leap over intervening pieces, as is stated in the modern rules of Chess, and unlike the case of the Horse in Chinese Chess (Xiangqi or Hsiang Ch'i) which moves one step orthogonally followed by one step diagonally, with this path being subject to being blocked by an orthogonally adjacent piece.
However, the rule for the Knight's move has sometimes been stated otherwise. On Edward Winter's pages about Chess History, a page about different descriptions of the Knight's move includes among its list of descriptions two, one in A New Treatise on Chess from 1833 by George Walker, and one in Chess in an Hour from 1937 by Frank Marshall, which state that the Knight moves either one step orthogonally followed by one step diagonally or one step diagonally followed by one step orthogonally, which could at least be taken (although given that the prevailing rule was otherwise, such an understanding was doubtless not intended) as implying that a Knight's move could be blocked by two adjacent pieces, each one blocking one of the possible routes to a particular square.
Very shortly after its origin, Chess was played in ancient Persia as well as India, and from there it eventually travelled to the Arab world.
One of the greatest players of Shatranj, as the original form of Chess was called, was as-Suli (880-946), whose reputation was of legendary proportions, and he is also recorded as having written a two-volume work on the game, the Book of Chess (Kitab ash-Shatranj).
Chess reached Europe sometime before the year 1000, as it is mentioned in a European document from the year 997.
Sometime in the late 1100s, the chessboard began to be chequered in Europe. This is close to the time that the game of Checkers originated as well, in France, without the rule making it compulsory to capture. However, Checkers has an ancestor, Aluquerque, which is much older than Chess.
The ability of the Pawn to move two squares on its first move was also introduced at about this time.
Back then, the rules of Chess varied from place to place. But one set of rules which included this innovation also provided that the Fers could also move two squares diagonally, jumping over a piece on an intervening square, as its first move.
And the King, as its first move, could move two squares diagonally or orthogonally, jumping over a piece on an intervening square, as its first move. This allowed the same result as our modern move of Castling after moving the Rook in one turn, and moving the King for the first time on the next turn.
Under the old rules of Chess, a Pawn could only promote to a Fers. A Fers created by promotion was also allowed to jump two squares diagonally on its first move in this particular form of Chess.
The earliest mention of a game played on a 12 by 8 board, with extra pieces including one with the move of the modern Bishop, known as Courier Chess, dates from the year 1202.
Chess with the modern moves of the Bishop and Queen originated somewhere in Spain, Italy, or possibly France, sometime close to the year 1475, and quickly eclipsed the popularity of the older game.
Damiano in Italy wrote one of the earliest books about Chess, followed by Ruy Lopez from Spain. Their books, in addition to describing the game, described some openings, and gave general advice on play. And, incidentally, the book by Ruy Lopez set down the modern rule for Castling.
Later, around 1625, Greco, a celebrated Italian chess player, wrote a book about Chess that described many tactical methods in Chess in detail, primarily by means of example games.
In 1749, the Analyse de jeu des échecs of Philidor was published. This book was hugely acclaimed in its day, as it gave more detailed and advanced advice on playing Chess than any book that preceded it; it continued to be translated and reprinted for over a hundred years. It is to Philidor that we owe the maxim that "The Pawns are the soul of Chess". (It did not actually appear, in those words, in the English-language version of The Analysis of Chess that Philidor himself later wrote, but it is a reasonable translation of what he wrote in the original French version.)
Howard Staunton is known for lending his name, in 1849, to the design of chess pieces now universally in use, and for his 1847 Chess-Players Handbook. He was also an early advocate of using some type of clock for limiting the time players had to move.
Paul Morphy, as a player, is considered to have been the first to employ the style of play later described in books by Wilhelm Steinitz and Siegbert Tarrasch.
Steinitz became recognized as the world's strongest chess player in 1866, after defeating Adolf Anderssen in a match, and in 1886 a match in which he defeated Johannes Zukertort is generally considered to have made him the first official world Chess champion.
His book, The Modern Chess Instructor, which presented the ideas behind his style of play, was published in 1889, but he had been presenting these ideas and explaining them since 1873, first through annotating chess games as the chess editor of one magazine, and then from 1885 on as the publisher of another.
Siegbert Tarrasch wrote books in 1895, 1912, and 1931 which further explained what is now considered Modern chess; only the 1931 book was translated into English at the time, in 1935, as "The Game of Chess". This book contained the famous statement "Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy".
Steinitz put Chess-play on a scientific basis for the first time. The Modern era of Chess was preceded by the Romantic era. This era was fondly remembered, as it was marked by many memorable games.
Before Steinitz, Chess play was focused on tactics. Players attempted to mount attacks on the opponent's King, they attempted to set up tactical combinations to gain material, and they might succeed, or fail.
The Modern school of Chess taught players how, while playing defensively, to build up positional advantages, so that once they had attained a sound basis to start from, they could then mount a tactical attack that would be likely to succeed instead of being a hit-or-miss affair.
This led to games with fewer exciting tactical fireworks, and it also meant that games with equally matched players both playing this way would include a lot of draws.
This led to negative reactions, from mild disapproval and regret, to criticism of this style of play as unsporting, and even to outright anti-Semitism.
And then there is the Hypermodern school of Chess.
The founding work of this school was My System, by Aron Nimzowitsch from 1925.
The primary innovation for which Hypermodern Chess is recognized is the principle that control of the center of the board may be obtained by pieces, such as a fianchettoed Bishop, attacking spaces in the center from a distance, as well as by placing Pawns in the center itself.
While this school is considered to have made many valid contributions to opening theory, it was initially presented as something that superseded the Modern school of Chess, and that has not been accepted. Instead, what is generally played by high-level Chess players today is Modern Chess, with certain contributions and corrections from the Hypermodern school.