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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Chess Before Morphy

     Chess as we know it wasn't initiated until about 1485 when important rule changes were made. The main changes were the Queen, which could only move one square diagonally suddenly became the most powerful piece. The Bishop originally could only move two square diagonally. 
     By 1510 the “old” chess was obsolete. Openings known today as the Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, Petroff Defense, Philidor Defense, Bishop's Opening and Queen's Gambit Accepted, were first outlined in a late 15th century manuscript and the first best seller was Damiano's book printed in Rome in 1512. 
     Ruy Lopez was the leading player of Spain for over 20 years and noted for his skill at blindfold chess. In 1561, Lopez published a book on chess containing rules, general advice and a miscellaneous collection of openings, but opening analysis is considered weak. 
     Among the leading Italian players of the period 1560 to 1630 were Paolo Boi, Giovanni Leonardo da Cutri, Giulio Cesare Polerio and Gioachino Greco. 
     Existing chess books had become obsolete, but the strong players of the period did not publish their findings. The high stakes for which they played made them secretive. However, for a fee it was possible to obtain a copy of their notes on openings and many of these manuscripts have survived. The manuscripts of Polerio, considered the leading player of Rome in 1606 and some some other books from this period, including three works published by Dr. Alessandro Salvio, one of the leading Neapolitan players, who for his time was a good analyst have survived. 
     Greco was one of the last great Italian players. A man of poor parentage and no education, he left his mark on chess history when in about 1619 he began to keep a collection of games and gave extracts to wealthy patrons. About 1620 he traveled abroad to France, England and Spain. In 1669, a French translation of his manuscript was published in Paris. After Greco's death in 1634, Italy produced no outstanding players for over a hundred years. 
     In England, France and Germany, however, the popularity of chess had increased and in the 18th century the coffee-houses of London and Paris were the leading centers of chess activity. Andre Philidor dominated this period. Philidor defeated all the strongest players at the Cafe de la Regence in Paris and Slaughter's Coffee House in London. Phildor set forth his theories of chess in his Analyze du Jeu des Echecs and was the first to define and explain the principles of strategy and tactics. 
     At about the same time as Philidor, Italy again produced some gifted players such as Ponziani and G. Lolli. France also produced Verdoni, Leger, Carlier and Bernard. In England there was J . K. Sarratt, William Lewis, John Cochrane, Captain W. D. Evans, William Lewis, Alexander MacDonnell and Howard Staunton. 
     In France, Alexander Deschapelles, Pierre de Saint-Amant, de la Bourdonnais were prominent. Elsewhere in Europe Johann Allgaier (who originated the idea of tabulating openings in a treatise, first published in 1795), von Bilguer (whose famous Handbuch was published in 1843), L. E. Bledow (who started the magazine Schachzeitung in 1846), Horwitz, von der Lasa and C. Mayet. 
     Other masters of the period were the Russian Petroff, Lionel Kieseritzky, Hamppe and the Hungarians Szen and Lowefithal. 
     In 1843 Staunton established himself as the as the leading player by defeating Saint-Amant in a match. Staunton's Chessplayers Handbook, published in 1847, became the leading English text-book.
     But it was the year 1851 that stands out as the beginning of a new age. That was the year that the first International Tournament was held in London and was won by Adolph Anderssen of Berlin. A brilliant player, Anderssen went on to win first place in 7 out of the 12 tournaments in which he participated. 
    The games of the pre-Morphy period may have their faults, but they were played by masters who were self-reliant and had to find their way through uncharted country. Also, many of their recorded games were not played in matches or tournaments, but were played for amusement only. 

de La Bourdonnais
    The following game, which Al Horowitz called one of the most magnificent masterpieces on record was the 50th match game played between Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais of France and Alexander McDonnell of Ireland. 

     The two played a series of chess matches in 1834 which confirmed La Bourdonnais as the leading player in the world. It was the first match of importance and is sometimes referred to today as the World Championship of 1834. 
     The games were published widely and were annotated and discussed all over Europe. Both players introduced several innovations, a few of which are still seen today. It might even be said that the modern era of chess began with the McDonnell-La Bourdonnais match of 1834. La Bourdonnais won the first, third, fourth and fifth matches; McDonnell won the second match, and the sixth was abandoned with McDonnell leading. The overall score was La Bourdonnais +45 -27 = 13. 
     One of their better encounters follows. 


  1. Congratulations for your excellent blog! Allow me only a small correction: The picture is George Alcock MacDonnell's picture (1830-1899) and not Alexander's. Continue your good work!

  2. Thanks! You are correct. Apparently I am not the only one to make this mistake! Edward Winter's site reported on the illustration as a (gross) case of mistaken identity and notes that no picture of Alexander is known.