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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Franklin K. Young

Franklin K. Young occupies a unique niche in the chess world because of his serious effort to reduce chess to a mathematically exact system formulated on the principles of military science. He received some recognition around the late 1800’s and early 1900’s from world champion Emanuel Lasker, who referred to one of his books as "replete with logic and common sense," today Young's work is invariable treated with ridicule and scorn. For example:

"Whenever a point of junction is the vertex of a mathematical figure formed by the union of the ligistic symbol of a pawn with an oblique, diagonal, horizontal, or vertical from the logistic symbol of any kindred piece; then the given combination of two kindred pieces wins any given adverse piece"


“A Grand Strategic Front is formed by the extension of a salient two points along that diagonal upon which the minor strategic front already is established. It may properly be aligned and reinforced by the minor crochet, the major crochet, the crochet aligned, or supplemented by the formations, echelon, enceinte and en potence.”

You can do a Google book search and find copies of his books but don’t bother. They are all incomprehensible as the quotes indicate. Maybe they make sense if you have taken a professional course in military science as apparently White had in this game. He was a Colonel in the US Army and annotated the game for Chess Review magazine. Enjoy...


  1. As a member of the Mechanic's Institute Library & Chess Club in San Francisco, may I comment that Franklin K Young's analysis of chess play is certainly idiosyncratic to say the least. I've collected copies of all of his books simply as chess curiosities. His first book, The Minor Tactics of Chess, however, does provide an interesting analysis of openings and is the most comprehensible of his 4 primary works (possibly because he had a co-author!), and the 3 secondary ones he ultimately wrote, all of them originally published around 1900 plus or minus a couple years, and reprinted in the 1920s, and again (the first 4) by Hippocrene Books, Inc. in the 1970s.

    Building a computer model of chess play based on his so-called "synthetic" approach might be an interesting exercise for some computer geek with a lot of time on his/her hands and an interest in chess just to see what one might come up with. But of course, why bother?

    We shouldn't sell FKY short, however, because if you take the time to study his analyses, positions, diagrams, geometric figures, formulas, etc., it would require such concentrated and lengthy effort to figure out what he is trying to say, you would have had to have learned something about chess simply by default!

    For those of you masochistic enough or curious enough to try, these are the books:

    Primary (reprinted by Hippocrene):

    The Minor Tactics of Chess (1894)
    The Major Tactics of Chess (1898)
    The Grand Tactics of Chess (1897)
    Chess Strategetics (1900)

    Secondary (NOT reprinted by Hippocrene):

    Chess Generalship, Vol.1: Grand Reconnaissance (1910)
    Chess Generalship, Vol. 2: Grand Manoeuvres (1913)
    Field Book of Chess Generalship: Grand Operations (1923)

    Of course I'm a chess oddball myself: My primary chess set is of the Regent or French pattern which FKY himself said in Minor Tactics:
    "Above all, you must shun the so-called French model--in which the Queen is bullet-headed and befrilled, and the Bishops are just as stupid and effeminate-looking as she--as the ugliest and most insignificant tools that a chess student can handle." Well, they are a bit baroque but nonetheless were fairly popular in Europe into the 1950s. The 1849 Staunton pattern is about all that's available these days. I'm also old-fashioned enough to use the old Anglo-American notation for describing moves, like "KB-QB4", "Q-QKt5", etc. as opposed to the present Algebraic notation, like "d2-d4" or "f7-f5"--assuming contemporary chess players even know what KB-QB4 means.

    No chess library should be without at least one of these F K Young curiosities.

  2. ...bullet-headed and befrilled Queens and stupid and effeminate-looking Bishops...now those are picturesque phrases! I grew up on English Descriptive notation and for a long time after converting to Algebraic I used a mixture of both when recording a game!

  3. Keep an eye open for the upcoming chess book: "KnighTTalkS- Understanding the Language of the Knight".