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Friday, March 22, 2019

Thank You Phil Stamma!

     Philipp Stamma, a native of Aleppo, Ottoman Syria, later resident of England and France, was a pioneer of modern chess. His reputation rests largely on his authorship of the early chess book Essai sur le jeu des echecs (The Noble Game Of Chess) published 1737 in France. This book brought the Middle Eastern concept of the endgame to the attention of Europe and helped revive European interest in the study of the endgame.
     Stamma was a regular at Slaughter's Coffee House on St Martin's Lane in London. Its first landlord in 1692 was Thomas Slaughter. It was also known as The Coffee-house on the Pavement, as not all London streets were paved at that time. A second Slaughter's (New Slaughter's), was established on the same street about 1760, when the original establishment adopted the name of Old Slaughter's which existed for a few years until it was demolished to make way for a new street. 
     Old Slaughter’s was patronized by chess, draughts and whist players, artists, architects, painters, poets, sculptors. Foreigners such as Frenchmen were often there and it was visited by Philidor and Benjamin Franklin. 
Old Slaughter's

     Stamma was considered one of England's strongest players, but in 1747 he was defeated, crushed really, by Philidor. Stamma got to move first in every game and lost +1 -8 =1. But a draw was counted as a win for Stamma, so he actually lost 2-8. Philidor’s victory marked his ride to fame. 
     At least that’s the story. No games are available and the match is mentioned only by Philidor's biographers who frequently contradicted each other. It has been suggested that the reason for Stamma’s defeat was that he was used to playing by Arabic rules and only after his arrival to Europe got acquainted with the Western rules. 
     Phillip (Philippe, Philippo or Filipo) Stamma was born in Aleppo, Syria about 1705. His Arabic name was Fathallah, son of Safar, of the Shtamma clan. His family had Syrian Orthodox origins, but also ties to the Catholic church. Besides being a chess player he was an interpreter of oriental languages. After leaving the Ottoman Empire, he spent some time in Italy before arriving in France. He then moved to London some time between 1737 and 1739. He was appointed interpreter of oriental languages in 1739. He died in London around 1755.
     Besides introducing the concept of the endgame, Stamma’s book was important for another reason...it introduced Algebraic notation. He wrote: 

I have chosen to give the Directions for playing the Moves in a Kind of Short-hand, rather than in Words at length this leaves less Room for Mistakes...the Letters stand for the 8 Pieces, viz. "A" stands for the Queen's Rook, B for her Knight, C for her Bishop, and so on in Order as far as H, which stands for the King's Rook. P stands for Pawn. The Arithmetical Figures, with the Letters immediately preceding them, point out the Squares you are to play into. Thus P-E4 directs you to play the King's Pawn into the King's fourth Square. 

     Very few games played before the 1800's have been preserved because notation was simply too cumbersome...game were recorded in complete sentences:

Then the black king for his second draught brings forth his queene, and placest her in the third house, in front of his bishop's pawne." Or, "The bishop takes the bishop, checking.

     Stamma’s algebraic notation was almost identical to modern algebraic notation. However, he tried to make the notation completely international by using standard piece names as well as standard letters and numbers for the squares. Thus the pieces were named A through H. i.e. the a1 Rook was A, the b1 Knight was B, etc. His idea was that this way would result in a totally international notation. Today, figurine algebraic (with printed piece symbols instead of names) uses his idea. 
     After Philidor defeated Stamma, Philidor's French chess books were translated into English using descriptive notation because Philidor was more influential than Stamma, so his adoption of the chess notation became more popular. 
     Then, in 1817, when an edition of Philidor's works introduced a system of abbreviations into Philidor's ponderous notation. Those abbreviations, by the way, were introduced rather timidly with suitable apologies to the reader. Over the next few decades, more use of abbreviations occurred, and the descriptive notation of modern times slowly took shape. The evolution of the move Nf3: 

1614: The white king commands his owne knight into the third house before his owne bishop. 
1750: K. knight to His Bishop's 3d. 
1837: K.Kt. to B.third sq. 
1848: K.Kt. to B's 3rd. 
1859: K. Kt. to B. 3d. 
1874: K Kt to B3 
1889: KKt-B3 
1904: Kt-KB3 
1946: N-KB3 In the US the use of algebreic did not become popular until the 1970s and then only after much controversy. The magnanimous officials of the USCF prefer the use of algebraic notation but still permits descriptive notation.
     
     One interesting (and confusing) form of notation was the Rutherford code invented in 1880 by Sir William Watson Rutherford (1853–1927). At the time, the British Post Office did not allow digits or ciphers in telegrams, but they did allow Latin words. The system also allowed moves for two games to be transmitted at the same time. 
     The legal moves in the position were counted using a system until the move being made was reached. This was done for both games. The move number of the first game was multiplied by 60 and added to the move number of the second game. Leading zeros were added as necessary to give a four-digit number. The first two digits would be 00 through 39, which corresponded to a table of 40 Latin roots. The third digit corresponded to a list of 10 Latin prefixes and the last digit corresponded to a list of 10 Latin suffixes. The resulting word was transmitted. 
     If anybody understands this, please give an example!!!

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