c.1300, "a call in chess noting one's move has placed his opponent's king (or another major piece) in immediate peril," from Old French eschequier "a check at chess" (also "chess board, chess set"), from eschec "the game of chess; chessboard; check; checkmate," from Vulgar Latin *scaccus, from Arabic shah, from Persian shah "king," the principal piece in a chess game (see shah; also cf. checkmate (n.)). Also c.1300 in a generalized sense, "harmful incident or event."
When the king is in check that player's choices are severely limited. Hence, "sudden stoppage" (early 14c.), and by c.1700 to "a token of ownership used to check against, and prevent, loss or theft" (surviving in