50. Philidor is complaining
I repeat the concluding sentence of the previous chapter: In his main work, Antonius van der Linde summarized it in eleven words: “Das Damespiel drang geistig mit Philidor selbst in’s Schachspiel ein”: with Philidor’s strategy draughts penetrated into the soul of chess [1874 II:400]. Putting it in another way: André Philidor applied the way he played a game of draughts into chess. Philidor is the Frenchman François-André Danican Philidor.
I let myself convince by Linde: they are striking, the similarities between the strategy recommended by Philidor in his 1749 book and the strategy recommended by the Frenchman Pierre Manoury and the Dutchman Ephraim van Emden in 1770 respectively 1785. Did not you change your mind? Then I draw your attention to Philidor complaint in his book about the influence from draughts on the way in his time chess players, even the strongest ones, maltreated chess.
In his translation of Philidor’s book the Dutchman Petrus Lievens Kersteman, see chapter 42, speaking for Philidor, complained about the influence from draughts on French chess life. Chess players put for example two pawns side by side on one square.
How did Philidor express his complaint? Although his book can be consulted on internet, I copy his words from the French edition. Je demande donc (…) si cela ne fait pas un bel effet, de voir promener sur un Echiquier deux Pions plantés sur une même Case, pour marquer une seconde Dame? S’il ne vient une 3me (chose que j’ai vu plusieurs fois à Paris) cela fait une meilleure figure sur tout, lorsque le Cȗ du Pion, est à peu près aussi large que la Case qui en doit contenir deux (…). [Philidor 1749:XVII].
There is a translation in the English 1750 edition, “Chess analysed” page VII-VIII. “I would only ask what a fine sight it is to see upon a chessboard two pawns on the same square to distinguish a second queen. And if by chance a third should be made (as I have often seen it at Paris) then it is still a finer sight, while the bottom of one pawn is almost sufficient to cover a square on the board”.
Influence on the game
A queen symbolized by two pawns is the outward face of a much deeper going influence from draughts on chess. In the French edition, Philidor said this about it. Il m’est impossible d’avoir assez de complaisance pour épargner mes compatriotes, qui ont donné dans une erreur (…). Ils sont d’autant moins pardonnables qu’il y a parmi eux une quantité de très bons jouëurs, et même des plus excellens de l’Europe. Il est donc à présumer qu’ils sont laissez entrainer par une mauvaise coutume, établie, selon toute apparence, par quelqu’ignorant qui aura êté l’introducteur de ce jeu dans le Royaume, je me persuade que c’étoit un joueur de Dame qui ne sachant, à peu près que la marche des Echëcs, s’imaginoit qu’en allant à Dame, ou en pouvoir faire autant que sur un Damier [Philidor 1749:XVI-XVII].
The translation in the English 1750 edition runs as follows. “I cannot pass my own countrymen, who have committed as great a fault as the Germans. They are less to be excused, there being many good players among them; nay some of the best in Europe. I presume they have been led away by a bad custom, introduced in all probability by the person who first brought Chess into France; I am inclined to believe it must have been some player at draughts, who knowing little more than the moves of the Pieces, imagined one might make as many queens in the game of Chess as at draughts.”
In this citation I crossed off one parenthesis. In the sentence where he regrettably establishes that his compatriots are guilty of violation of the noble game of chess, he notes down a sentence between brackets: (comme j’ai fait autrefois). “By the way, I have made myself guilty too”, he admits. So, in the past he violated chess as seriously as his compatriots but he has now distanced himself.
What exactly was the sin Philidor committed, what kind of chess he had learned? The observations made by Pierre Manoury and Ephraim van Emden about the strategy of the draughts player (chapter 42) bring us further. The strategy of the draughts player, the Frenchman and the Dutchman both say, is to break through to the promotion row and to make an optimal use of the king(s) (doubletons). Because of its long range, it goes along entire diagonals, the long king as the French and the Dutch in the 18th c. know, a powerful weapon: a player goes on a foray to the pieces of his opponent.
Have I laid my finger on the core of Philidor’s complaint?: a chess player tries to get one or more queens and goes on the foray to the pieces of his opponent instead of trying to spread a net to mate the enemy king? Mating costs less effort if your opponent has lost almost all his pieces.
Philidor was born on September 7, 1726. On the day the London printer delivered his book he was 22 or 23 years old. Then the past, the time he played in Versailles and Paris chess with the strategy used by draughts players does not lie far behind him. By the way, did also French people outside Paris play this kind of draughts-chess?
The bare king
The strategy Philidor loathed so much, is a hybrid between draughts and chess. This draught-chess becomes possible as soon as a player can promote as many pawns as he wants; with this queen of these queens he captures the board emptily and mates the lonesome king. In the English chess literature such a lonely king is called a bare king, a bald king.
Draughts-chess with a bare king as a result does not only pop up in 18th c. France but in more countries and times where the promotion rules admit it. To win the game in such a rude way is nowhere appreciated, the winner gets penalty points. In the next chapter more about it.