Image: Wikimedia – Philidor
I’ve read a lot about Philidor the last couple of days as he was – as a chess player – also a great composer of his time. [Of course, if you don’t know it, it was Philidor who said…‘The pawns are the soul of chess.’] I’ve thought to create an entry about research that was carried out about chess and music – and have found some useful information, but very basic and I think we all know that already, but also came across an interesting article…and you can read an extract of it and the complete article on the given link – which is more about Steinitz. So many beginners think about the Pawn as just a piece to move if they don’t know what to move and I sometimes struggle with students not to move their Pawns unless they have to. I think Philidor was a bright spark! He composed beautiful music and played some brilliant chess. The info from Wikipedia is quite interesting. Read why he died in London. Chess is also a game full of strategies which you can apply to your everyday life – as we all know, but there are now companies making use of Chess players to support them in their business and training their staff in Chess strategies in order to excel in the company. The following quotes about Chess were found on one such Chess Consultant’s site. If you have a Twitter account, you can follow jacobm – as he is such a consultant and these quotes are from his site.
“Knights are the curvy pieces that bring a circular aspect to an essential linear game.”
– J. Rowson, Scottish Grandmaster
“The handling of the Rooks demands a great understanding of the strategy suited to a particular position.”
– L. Pachman, Czech Grandmaster
“Whenever you have a Bishop, keep your pawns on opposite color squares.”
– J.R. Capablanca, Cuban World Champion 1921-1927
“The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess.”
– Benjamin Franklin
“When the chess game is over, the Pawn and the King go back into the same box.”
– Italian proverb
“Every Pawn is a potential Queen.”
– J. Mason, 19th Century Irish chess master
“The handling of the Rooks demands a great understanding of the strategy suited to a particular position.”
– L. Pachman, Czech Grandmaster
“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this question are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy”
– William E Rothschild
THE HISTORY OF CHESS AS WE conceive of it today can be safely assumed to start with the composer (of music) François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795). His undoubted status as a ‘founding father’ stems mainly from the famous sentence that everyone associates with his name, ‘the pawns are the soul of chess.’ That ‘pawns are the soul of chess’ is the fundamental law of chess theory. It is the identification and elaboration of the fact that pawns are heavily limited in their movement, so that the structure of pawns is much more static and rigid than that of pieces; this, coupled to the fact that an advantage of a pawn is usually enough to win the game (if the endgame, where pawns are potential queens, is reached), gives the handling of pawns an importance and a difficulty that goes beyond that of pieces. The consequences of a pawn move are lasting, and cannot generally be pondered by ‘concrete analysis,’ the sheer calculation of variations. Moving pieces always involves of course the risk of mistakes and blunders that immediately ruin a game—but these can be calculated and avoided. Moving pawns means a much more subtle risk, for relevant negative consequences might appear a long time afterwards; there is no need for blunder to lose a game because of a pawn move. This distinction between pawns and pieces is at the core of the distinction between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics,’ the two branches of chess theory, training, education, etc. (Strategy is the identification of the general long-term ideas and plans of the game, usually based on the configuration of pawns reached after the opening; tactics refers to the actual moves and short-term variations that execute the plans, and it usually focuses on the action of pieces. ‘Tactics consists in knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is about knowing what to do when there is nothing to do,’ Tartakower is reported to have said.) In this sense, the discovery of strategy, and with it the birth of chess theory as such, is essentially linked to the name of Philidor. Thus (and I choose the following source for no other reason than having it at hand—assertions to the same effect are easily found in any book on chess strategy), It was master Filidor, the luminous French musician and chess player, the first to understand, already at the end of the eighteenth century, the importance of pawns in chess; it is actually with him that the game’s positional strategy is born. This is what the name Philidor means for chess today. He plays the role of the symbolic point of reference, the recipient that contains the essence and the primary source of chess theory. But, as usually happens with such figures—think of Thales as the father of philosophy, Pithagoras as the father of mathematics, and even of Aristotle as the father of empirical science—, he himself is exiled from his name, and what he actually thought or understood is ignored in favor of what we think and understand. Historical fact is of little importance for the role of the figure—just as Homer, and more recently as Saussure, he is defined by us as the author of his works, rather than his works being defined for us as the product of his efforts. In fact, ‘the pawns are the soul of chess’ is a corruption of what Philidor really said. (The fate of this sentence is similar to that of other myths like Newton’s apple or Galileo at the Tower of Pisa: dubious recollection of facts modified by tradition to suit its fancy.) The actual quotation from Philidor’s foreword to his 1749 Chess Analysed or Instructions by Which a Perfect Knowledge of This Noble Game May in a short Time be Acquir’d (his own translation of the Analise des E´checs) reads. My chief intention is to recommend myself to the public, by a novelty no one had thought of, or perhaps ever understood well. I mean how to play the Pawns. They are the very life [not ‘soul’] of this game. They alone form the Attack and the Defence; on their good or bad situation depends the Gain or Loss of each Party. And then, immediately: A player, who, when he had played a pawn well, can give no Reason for his moving it to such a square, may be compared to a General, who with much practice has little or no Theory. Philidor’s wording (Attack, Defence, Reason, Theory) reveals that ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ are not part of his conceptual net. When ‘the pawns are the soul of chess’ is interpreted today, what it brings to mind is the classification of pawns into weak pawns (isolated, doubled, hind pawn) or strong pawns (passed pawns), some especial configurations (chain of pawns, hanging pawns), and the concept of weak and strong squares. All this obviously remains at best inarticulate in Philidor’s book. As Cecil Purdy says, “in Philidor’s system of play, it is not at all evident to a mediocre player even if experienced why ‘on the good or bad situation (of the pawns) depends the gain and loss to each Party.’ ” Follow this link to read the complete article, the link will open in a new window. -[ it is a PDF-document]
François-André Danican Philidor (September 7, 1726 – August 31, 1795) was a French chess player and composer. He was regarded as the best chess player of his age, although the title of World Chess Champion was not yet in existence. Philidor’s book Analyse du jeu des Échecs was considered a standard chess manual for at least a century. He was commonly referred to as André Danican Philidor during his lifetime.
Philidor started playing regularly around 1740 at the chess Mecca of France, the Café de la Régence. It was also there that he famously played with a friend from ‘New England’, Mr. Benjamin Franklin. The best player in France at the time, Legall de Kermeur, taught him. At first, Legall could give Philidor rook odds, a handicap in which the stronger player starts without one of his rooks, but in only three years, Philidor was his equal, and then surpassed him. Philidor visited England in 1747 and decisively beat the Syrian Phillip Stamma in a match +8 =1 -1, despite the fact Philidor let Stamma have White in every game, and scored all draws as wins for Stamma. The same year, Philidor played many games with another strong player, Sir Abraham Janssen, who was then the best player in England, and with the exception of M. de Legalle, probably the best player Philidor ever encountered. He could win on an average one game in four of Philidor, at even terms; and Philidor himself declared that he could only give to Janssen the pawn for the move.
In 1754, Philidor returned to France, after nine years of absence spent mostly in Holland and England. He was now a much stronger player, having successfully played with opponent of the calibre of Philip Stamma and Abraham Janssen, but, as G. Allen reports in The life of Philidor, it was not until his match with de Legal in 1755 that he can be considered the strongest player in the world.
“When Philidor left Paris, in 1745, although he had for some time been playing even games with M. de Legal… he had not ceased to recognize his old master as still his master and superior. But nine years of practice, with a great variety of players, had authorized him to look for neither superior nor equal; and when, in 1755, a match was arranged between the pupil and his master, who was still at the height of his strength, the result placed the crown firmly and indisputably upon the head of Philidor.”
In 1771 and 1773 Philidor made brief stays in London to play at the Salopian coffee-house, Charing Cross and at the St James Chess Club. In 1774 the Parloe’s chess club, on St James street, in London, was created and Philidor obtained a remuneration as a Chess Master every year, for a regular season from February to June. Philidor stayed faithful to this agreement until the end of his life and he was replaced by Verdoni only after his death. It is rightly in this place Philidor encountered Mr. George Atwood, famous mathematician and physician, lecturer at Cambridge University. In an article of J. J. O’Connor and E. F. Robertson , devoted to George Atwood, there is the following passage:
” Atwood was a renowned amateur chess-player and among other opponents played games against the famous French player Philidor, who was regarded as the unofficial world champion.”
H E Bird records :
“Of the players who encountered Philidor, Sir Abraham Janssens, who died in 1775, seems to have been the best, Mr. George Atwood, a mathematician, one of Pitt’s secretaries came next, he was of a class which we should call third or two grades of odds below Philidor, a high standard of excellence to which but few amateurs attain. One of most interesting features of Atwood as a chess player is that he recorded and preserved some of his games, an unusual practice at that time. These records have survived, among them the last games that Philidor played which were against Atwood at Parsloe’s Club in London on 20 June 1795.”
In England, Philidor astounded his peers by playing three blindfold chess games simultaneously in the chess club of St. James Street in London on 9 May 1783. Philidor let all three opponents play white, and gave up a pawn for the third player. Some affidavits were signed, because those persons who were involved doubted that future generations would believe that such a feat was possible. Today, three simultaneous blindfold games would be fairly unremarkable among many chess masters. Even when he was in his late years, when he was 67 years old (1793), he played and won two blindfold games simultaneously in London.
Philidor, both in England and France, was largely recognized in each of this fields and got a lot of admirers, protectors and also friends, like were the French philosophers Voltaire, Rousseau and the famous English actor David Garrick (1717–1779).
In December 1792, however, when he was then age 65, Philidor had to leave definitively France for England. He was fleeing the French Revolution (1789–1799), because his name figured on the Revolutionary banishment list, established by the Convention nationale. This was not probably due to his ideas (indeed it seems Philidor was rather reserved about his opinions apart from music and chess), but very likely in view of the traditional attachment of his family to the King’s family service .
Andrew Soltis writes that Philidor “was the best player in the world for 50 years. In fact, he was probably about 200 rating points better than anyone else yet alive—set apart by the mysteries of the game he had solved.”
It was said that the reason why Philidor emphasized the pawns in the chess game was related to the political background during the eighteenth century of France, and that he regarded pawns as the “Third rank” on the chess board (citizens were regarded as the third rank of the society before the French Revolution started in 1789). He also included analysis of certain positions of rook and bishop versus rook, such analysis being still current theory even today. He is most famous for showing an important drawing technique with a rook and pawn versus rook endgame, in a position known as the Philidor position. The Philidor Defense(1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6) is named for him. Philidor’s book was the very first (1) that gave detailed annotations on how to play the middle-game, (2) that presented chess strategy as a whole, and (3) that presented the concepts of the blockade, prophylaxis, positional sacrifice, and mobility of the pawn formation.
Philidor joined the Royal choir of Louis XV in 1732 at the age of six, and made his first attempt at the composition of a song at the age of 11. It was said that Louis XV wanted to listen to the choir almost every day, and the singers, while waiting for the king to arrive, played chess to relieve their boredom; this may have sparked Philidor’s interest in chess.
Listen to the music of Philidor.