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Origin of Modern Chess

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A new 500-page book by researcher José Antonio Garzón names Valencia, Spain, as the cradle of the modern game. The book is titled ""El regreso de Francesch Vicent. La Historia del nacimiento y la expansión del ajedrez moderno". ("The return of Francesch Vicent. The history of the birth and expansion of modern chess.") The author's premise is that Valencia is where the queen's powers expanded at the end of the 15th century, changing the game forever. Vicent published his treatise on the game in 1495.

This comes on the heels of Yalom's "Birth of the Chess Queen" though I can't say how much their conclusions jibe, having only thumbed through the Yalom book. Karpov writes an intro to the Garzón book - saying that the new evidence is overwhelming, putting an end to 500 years of waiting and conjecture - and will appear at the launch with the author next Monday in Valencia.


Yalom's book would have been more appropriately named "Birth of the Chess Bitch" to keep abreast with the piece name now in common use.

I bet Prof David H. Li is gonna be peeved. It's a Chinese invention and anyone who says different is a Western Imperialist, so there.


My favourite quotation from this article - makes me laugh every time I think of it:
".....Western Chess – or QueenQi, if this name that I am proposing will gain currency....."

Yeah, right !

I'm always surprised by how little chess players seem to know, or care, about the formative history of their favorite game. The history is really as fascinating; and as impenetrable as the game it’s self. I hope that neither is ever solved. Chess as we know it is just the latest in a series of games that have been changed over time by the people who played it. Our version isn’t the greatest, only the latest version of this ancient pastime.

For an interesting “biological” perspective on the birth of chess see Origin of Chess- “A Phylogenetic Perspective” by Koichi Masukawa in Board Game Studies #3

Also interesting is “About the origin of Chess” by Y. L. Averbakh in Step by Step, Proceedings of the 4th Colloquium Board Games in Academia

Mig any news from Kramnik - Topalov negotiations??

It doesn't look like David H. Li would be peeved by Yalom's book, since it doesn't look like they contradict each other. Li's thesis was that the original version of chess was invented in China rather than India. Yalom's book is about the thousand-year-more-recent history of the development and growth of the Queen chess piece after chess made it to Europe.

Still, I agree that Li's "QueenQi" name is laughable....

Ricardo Calvo wrote along the same lines (i.e. Vicent and the Valencia chess circle), in 1998 already :
"Almost all the early works on modern chess are coming from Spain, and they are related in many ways to the chess circle of Valencia during the last part of the 15th century. In spite of certain reluctances of past chess historians, I don´t see any reason to support any other birthplace for the modern game of chess. The origins of modern chess are in Valencia."
Source: http://www.goddesschess.com/chessays/ricardovalencia.html

I think this deals with the birth of MODERN chess...nothing to do with its more antiquated past but how the chess we play TODAY came into being.

Its strange...if Spain had no queen (or 'bitch') then we would be playing a different game. I think the powers of the queen has made the game more violent than in the past and we owe it all the Spanish queen.

I think this deals with the birth of MODERN chess...nothing to do with its more antiquated past but how the chess we play TODAY came into being.

Its strange...if Spain had no queen (or 'bitch') then we would be playing a different game. I think the powers of the queen has made the game more violent than in the past and therefore more popular. We owe it all the Spanish queen. I doubt this website would be in existence if we had the old form of chess which was more of a manouvering, audience-unfriendly game.

On re-reading the ChessBase interview with David Li, I see that he even explicitly mentions the Yalom book as showing how the development of the powerful Queen piece in Western chess has distorted the game from its war-game roots:

Professor Li: Your examples are only underscoring the pretence that Western Chess – or QueenQi – is supposed to be a war-simulation game. Conforming to a recent book, “Birth of the Chess Queen” by Marilyn Yalom of Stanford University, the special power given to the Queen in Western Chess was mainly due to Queen Isabella, who ruled Spain in the Middle Ages. With a few exceptions in the several millennia when wars were fought: How many times do you see a female commander-in-chief?!

Presumably Li's reaction to this new Garzon book would be similar.

David Li fails to understand one essential point. Chess is a war game where the conflict is between the two playrs, not between the two sets of pieces on the board.

Two points. First, it's important not to confuse the new *movement* of the piece (along lines and diagonals), with the new *name* of the piece (queen, dame, dama, etc). The two innovations didn't necessarily happen at the same time, and I think they didn't at all. There is an important theory by a Dutch historian of checkers (draughts), by the name of van der Stoep, about the origin of the name "Queen". To simplify, when medieval players of checkers promoted upon reaching the back rank, the new piece was called "double damm". Damm, meaning.. I can't recall what just now, but it was *not* "dame" as in queen. That only happened when the name got to France, and was confused with the word "dame". The practice then passed on to chess.

Very convincing, much more than silly stories about how Queen Isabella was so wonderful and charismatic that she singlehandedly etc etc etc. Just too many problems with this theory, but unfortunately, the bad seems to crowd out the good when it comes to chess history. Dear God, just look at David Li and all the press he gets, simply by virtue of self-promotion.

Second point. There exists a whole group of scholars who write about the history and culture of chess, and seem to have a fixation on the Origins question, and prehistory. I attended their meeting in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, and these are serious, rigorous writers. They're German professors, for heaven's sake.


Aside from Jennifer Shahade, who used this claim (as well as the title of "bitch") to "spice up" a fairly lame book, I have never heard of the queen "commonly" referred to as "bitch," which Ms. Shahade claims. Take a stroll through Google if you don't believe me. Like much of her "history" of the game, she's just making things up to sell copies.

Well, in the '60s-early 70s young players quite often (in informal contexts) referred to the queen as the "bag" or "old lady." Trap your opponent's queen during a blitz game, you'd shout, "Bag trap!"

Regarding the special subculture of chess historians, you can get a little of the flavor of it from reading J.C. Hallman's The Chess Artist. It's ostensibly a biography of a strong club player named Umstead who hoped to be more; but along the way Hallman (a high-class writer whose specialty is religion, I think) managed to inject much of himself into the book. And Hallman's own ambitions toward chess quickly moved away from wanting to grow into a half-decent player, to wanting to grow into a chess historian.

So an amusing chapter recounts a meeting somewhere in Russia where Hallman presents his own original thesis about some facet of chess history to a group of Russian historians. The climax comes when one of the Russians, after giving a detailed critique, proclaims that Hallman's central contention must be considered "dubious."

Since these were chess historians not chess players, they probably didn't catch the irony in their colleague's use of that particular word - nor understand the dagger that went to Hallman's heart upon hearing that word applied to his work.

Hallman, for his part, DID make the connection explicit. The title he chose for that chapter of The Chess Artist wasn't a word or phrase, but a symbol: ?!

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