The Inventor of Chess

(Adapted From an Indian Legend)

Long ago, in northern India, there lived a wealthy king; however, despite his great wealth, this king was lacking in entertainment. He had asked many men and women to invent something to keep him amused. Then one day, there arrived a very intelligent inventor, with a large square board and thirty-two carved pieces, sixteen white and sixteen black. With the help of his loyal craftsmen, this man had invented the game of chess. He brought the board and the pieces to the eager king, and gave the royal court a demonstration on how to play the game. The king loved the game, and he offered the inventor enough rice to feed his family for ten years.

The inventor bowed humbly before the monarch. “Your majesty’s offer is too kind,” the inventor said, “I cannot accept it.”

The inventor then offered an alternative proposal. “Your majesty, I am a simple man. I ask only that you compensate me for each square of chess in the following manner. I am asking for only one grain of rice for the first square of the board, then two grains for the second square, and then double that, four grains for the third square, and so doubling the amount from the previous square until the 64 squares of the board are filled, I will be a happy man.’

The King laughed at the inventor, “Is this truly your wish?”

The inventor bowed, “Yes, your majesty.”

The jubilant king laughed, and then acceded to the inventor’s request.

So it was, on the first day, the inventor took home a single grain of rice to feed his entire family. The inventor’s wife, too, had thought her husband had gone mad for refusing the king’s initial offer.  So it was, on the second day, the inventor brought home two grains of rice, on the third day he brought home four grains, and on the fourth day he brought home eight grains. The inventor’s wife began shouting abuses at her husband; however, the stoic inventor stuck with his plan, and he insisted they would survive on the rice received from the king.

So it was, on the fifth day the inventor brought home sixteen grains of rice, on the sixth day thirty-two grains, and on the seventh day sixty-four grains. The inventor’s wife was beside herself with rage, and the children were starving. By the eighth day the inventor brought home 128 grains of rice, and he had now been recompensed for the entire first row of the chessboard.

So it was, on the ninth day the inventor brought home 256 grains, on the tenth day 512, and on the eleventh day 1,024; his family now had enough to have a small meal. That night they ate hungrily, and the tension within the family began to dissipate. On the twelfth day, the inventor brought home 2,048 grains, on the thirteenth day 4,096 grains, So it was, on the sixteenth day the inventor had now been fully compensated for the first two rows of the chessboard, and he brought home 32,768 grains of rice. The inventor’s family threw a huge party and their friends from neighbouring villages came to attend the festivity.

So it was, by the time the inventor was compensated for the twenty-fourth square, he was to bring home 8,388,608 grains of rice, there were not eight million grains in the entire palace. The king and his family would now soon be starving. Many of the servants from the palace began to work for the inventor, and helped him carry off all the rice in the entire kingdom. The inventor, too, allowed the former king to work in exchange for food, and he, himself, assumed the throne. The compensation for the thirty-second square was over 2 billion grains of rice, more than all of the rice in the entire kingdom, and the compensation for the sixty-fourth square exceeded 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of rice.