Image: Web-archive here.
Valentines Day is upon us! How romantic can you get – or unromantic/dry? Have you thought about chess? No? Well, then think twice! Watch the video further down in this entry. Good luck!
‘The great game has its tender, its romantic side, as no game can have at which more than two people play. It smiles on lovers, and can even be the cause of love’. – NY Times
Romance in Chess
What could possibly be less romantic than chess?
Romance in chess? ‘What could possibly be less romantic than chess?’ you might be asking. After all, chess is a game of war based on logic, isn’t it? There is nothing romantic about war or logic.
Many players are familiar with the famous quote by Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch from the preface to his classic manual The Game of Chess : ‘Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy’ (which politically correct writers of more recent times change to ‘the power to make people happy’). Less familiar is Tarrasch’s preceding sentence, ‘I have always a slight feeling of pity for the man who has no knowledge of chess, just as I would pity the man who has remained ignorant of love.’
Chess once served a social function of allowing young men and women to meet above the board. Echecs et Féodalité : Raoul de Cambrai (Chess and feudalism; from Culture et curiosités, see the link box at the bottom of this article on the page where the article origins) tells of a poem by Bertolai, a 10th century poet from Laon, France. The poem, about a war of succession in Northern France, references chess twice. In the second reference chess is used as an excuse by the daughter of the new overlord Guerri to woo the hero Bernier to her chambers. Her chamberlain, assigned the task of arranging the meeting, says to Bernier, ‘My young lord, you can be proud of yourself, since the daughter of Guerri, the most noble woman from here to the south of France, asks that you join her in her apartments, to play chess. You should comply, but don’t play chess.‘
The significance of this might be lost in our age of instant gratification, but as recently as 100 years ago, chess still occasionally served as a means to a more romantic end.
Read it HERE on the site of the NYTimes.
This popular illustration by Clarence Frederick Underwood (American, 1871-1929), is often listed under various titles. Our favorite is Knight takes Queen. This theme is not as unique as you might think. One web site has a collection of more than 50 drawings and photos, all with the theme ‘Couples playing chess’ . The images invariably have titles like ‘The right move‘, ‘The greatest game in the world‘, or variations on the word mate : ‘Impending Mate‘, ‘Check and mate‘, etc. The word ‘checkmate’ even figured in at least one early valentine.
‘My little love do you remember,
Ere we grew so sadly wise,
When you and I played chess together,
Checkmated by each others eyes?
The scientific view of chess as a game of logic based on first principles took hold at the end of the 19th-century. The romantic period in chess, where players sacrificed pieces for the sake of introducing tactical complications, is generally considered to have reached its peak during the mid 19th-century. The greatest proponent of the romantic style was undoubtedly Adolph Anderssen, the unofficial World Champion from that period. His daring lives on in games that have been given romantic names.
Immortal game : Anderssen – Kieseritzky, London 1851
1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Bc4 Qh4+ 4. Kf1 b5 5. Bxb5 Nf6 6. Nf3 Qh6 7. d3 Nh5 8. Nh4 Qg5 9. Nf5 c6 10. g4 Nf6 11. Rg1 cxb5 12. h4 Qg6 13. h5 Qg5 14. Qf3 Ng8 15. Bxf4 Qf6 16. Nc3 Bc5 17. Nd5 Qxb2 18. Bd6 Qxa1+ 19. Ke2 Bxg1 20. e5 Na6 21. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+ Nxf6 23. Be7+ 1-0
Evergreen game : Anderssen – Dufresne, Berlin 1852
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4 exd4 7. O-O d3 8. Qb3 Qf6 9. e5 Qg6 10. Re1 Nge7 11. Ba3 b5 12. Qxb5 Rb8 13. Qa4 Bb6 14. Nbd2 Bb7 15. Ne4 Qf5 16. Bxd3 Qh5 17. Nf6+ gxf6 18. exf6 Rg8 19. Rad1 Qxf3 20. Rxe7+ Nxe7 21. Qxd7+ Kxd7 22. Bf5+ Ke8 23. Bd7+ Kf8 24. Bxe7+ 1-0
The Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4) is the chess opening most closely associated with the romantic period. The position in the following diagram, showing the b-Pawn being sacrificed for tactical complications, was a magnet for the romantics.
Anderssen played the Evans Gambit, as did Mikhail Chigorin, one of the last, great romantic players of the 19th century.
Evans Gambit 4…Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 : Anderssen – Zukertort, Barmen 1869
Evans Gambit 4…Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 : Chigorin – Dorrer, Correspondence 1884
Anderssen’s opponent in our example game, Johannes Zukertort, was himself no stranger to piece sacrifices.
English Opening : Zukertort – Blackburne, London 1883
Who was the first of the romantic players? We would say Louis-Charles de La Bourdonnais (French, 1797-1840), the first unofficial World Champion. The award winning The Oxford Companion to Chess by David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld (link box again- see original link of article) calls the opening 1.e4 e6 2.f4 both the Bourdonnais Attack and the Romantic Attack.
Who was the last of the romantic players? No one. More modern players like Mikhail Tal and Alexei Shirov continued the romantic tradition, often spurning logic to make their opponents hack through mind spinning complications.
Voltaire by Huber
Voltaire frequented the Café de la Régence where he played chess with Philidor and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as once, in 1748, having played a correspondence game with Fredrick the Great of Prussia by courier.
The Café de la Régence, by a Chess-player
Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. XXII July to December, 1840
transcribed by Mark Weeks
The Régence was established as a rendezvous for the literati of the day, under the government of the Duke of Orleans, and like Will’s in London, became, from its eligible position, the haunt of the most celebrated esprits of France during the eighteenth century. Voltaire, the two Rousseaus, the profligate Duc de Richelieu, Marshal Saxe, Chamfort, St. Foix, Benjamin Franklin, Marmontel, Philidor, and Grimm, are but a few of the men of note who constantly frequented the Régence in early times. The very chairs and tables acquired name and fame from classical association; and, till quite recently, the master of the establishment might be heard commanding his attendants, in tones of pride to “Serve Jean Jacques,” — “Look to Voltaire,” — the identical tables at which this pair of philosophes were wont daily to play chess, being still at that time in existence, named from the departed great. These sacred shrines are now superseded by marble slabs; coal-gas sparkles in sun-like lustres; and Voltaire could hardly recognise his favoured lounge, save from the low-ceiled room unaltered in its proportions. A dingy portrait of Philidor yet hangs, I am glad to see, against the wall. To a chess antiquary, the relic would be worth purchase at its weight in gold.
Was great to find my ‘creation’ on Alexandra Kosteniuk’s chess blog with her entry on Valentine’s Day – 2011. [hehe]
And with this image: Enjoy Valentine’s Day 2012! Enjoy this golden oldie
Sharon Tany and Billy Forest – Helloh-A