Great Game  

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"The Great Game was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the nineteenth century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and Southern Asia."--Sholem Stein

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The Great Game was a rivalry between the 19th-century British and Russian Empires over influence in Central Asia, primarily in Afghanistan, Persia, and Tibet. The two colonial empires used military interventions and diplomatic negotiations to acquire and redefine territories in Central and South Asia. Russia conquered Turkestan, and Britain expanded and set the borders of British colonial India. By the early 20th century, a line of independent states, tribes, and monarchies from the shore of the Caspian Sea to the Eastern Himalayas were made into protectorates and territories of the two empires.


The term Great Game was coined in 1840 by a British intelligence officer Captain Arthur Conolly (1807–1842). Rudyard Kipling's 1901 novel Kim popularized the term, increasing its association with great power rivalry. It became even more popular after the 1979 advent of the Soviet–Afghan War.

The phrase "the Great Game" was used well before the 19th century and was associated with games of risk, such as cards and dice. The French equivalent Le grand jeu dates back to at least 1585 and is associated with meanings of risk, chance and deception

In the historical sense, the term dates from the mid-19th century. Captain Conolly had been appointed as a political officer. A similar term, the "Tournament of Shadows" was reportedly used by Russian diplomat Karl Nesselrode. In July 1840, in correspondence to Major Henry Rawlinson who had been recently appointed as the new political agent in Kandahar, Conolly wrote, "You've a great game, a noble game, before you." Conolly believed that Rawlinson's new post gave him the opportunity to advance humanitarianism in Afghanistan, and summed up his hopes:

If the British Government would only play the grand game – help Russia cordially to all that she has a right to expect – shake hands with Persia – get her all possible amends from Oosbegs – force the Bukhara Amir to be just to us, the Afghans, and other Oosbeg states, and his own kingdom – but why go on; you know my, at any rate in one sense, enlarged views. The expediency, nay the necessity of them will be seen, and we shall play the noble part that the first Christian nation of the world ought to fill.
It was introduced into the mainstream by the British novelist Rudyard Kipling in his novel Kim (1901).

It was first used academically by Professor H.W.C. Davis in a presentation titled The Great Game in Asia (1800–1844) on 10 November 1926. The use of the term "The Great Game" to describe Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia became common only after the Second World War.

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