The Soul of Chess

500 years ago chess was different from today.

Pawns didn’t cost as much as they do today.
The best players started games with the gambits. Pawns were only a small price to:
Open a file or diagonal;
Create an immediate attack on an opponent’s king;

It was the Italian style of chess.All positions of the King’s Gambit were very popular Here’s a typical game of the Italian style:

1.e4 e5 2. f4 ef 3. Nf3 Be7 4. Bc4 Bh4 5. g3 fg 6.0-0 gh 7. Kh1 With a strong attack for white!
 

You may see that white just offered pawn after pawn – without any clear compensation.
In many games a very nice attacking style dominated…..
Not only because of the good tactical and attacking strength of the players But as well because nobody knew how to defend! Everybody dreamt only about attack with sacrifices.

The best chess player of his day was Francois Andre Danican-Philidor, born in France on September 7, 1796.

 The name Philidor was passed on through his grandfather from King Louis XIII, a tribute to this family of royal musicians.

During years of waiting to perform in the chapel of Versailles, the young Francois learned the moves of chess and became the best player in the chapel. Philidor supported himself by giving music lessons, arranging and copying music.

His spare time was spent at the Cafe de la Regence in Paris. There he learned from the strongest player in France, M. de Kermur, Sire de Legal. Legal had heard that old Italian masters could play without sight of the chessboard.

Philidor said he often did the same when he could not sleep at night. When he was in his prime, few opponents could challenge him without receiving odds or blindfolding him. Often he would play two or three blindfold games at the same time.

His published chess strategy stood for a hundred years without significant addition or modification. He preached the value of a strong pawn center, an understanding of the relative value of the pieces, and correct pawn formations. We still remember his motto, “pawns are the soul of chess.”

Philidor died in London, after being denied a passport to return to France for a demonstration match. The newspaper obituary read “On Monday last, Mr. Philidor, the celebrated chess player, made his last move, into the other world.” Nobody took Philidor’s theory  seriously.

But Philidor played games as well – and made comments – according his theory.

Count Bruehl – Philidor,F
London, 1783

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 c6 First of all Philidor would like to build a strong center with d5!

3.Qe2 d6 4.c3 f5 Philidor attacks the center with pawns. The position is quite similar to the reverse King’s Gambit

5.d3 Nf6 6.exf5 Of course, this is a mistake… Now black gets the strong center. But this was more than 200 years ago.

6…Bxf5 7.d4 e4 8.Bg5 d5

Philidor has achieved a good pawn center; his pieces stands very well and the last pieces, Bf8 and Nb8, will reach good positions on d6 and d7.

9.Bb3 Bd6 10.Nd2 Nbd7 11.h3 h6 12.Be3 Qe7 13.f4 On e4 Black has a passed pawn. But the pawn on e4 is blocked. 13…h5! This avoids g4 and white has great problems – how to finish development

14.c4 a6 15.cxd5 cxd5 16.Qf2 0-0 17.Ne2 b5 18.0-0 Nb6 19.Ng3 g6 20.Rac1 Nc4 we may see that black achieved a clear positional advantage the bishops on b3 and e3 are very passive

21.Nxf5 gxf5 22.Qg3+ Qg7 23.Qxg7+ Kxg7 24.Bxc4

24.. bxc4?! And now Philidor played bc? –  According to his rules, pawn should always capture to the center…. in many position it’s good but this one is an exception…. After dc then Nd5! Black’s positional advantage will very soon decide the game….

25.g3 Rab8 26.b3 Ba3 27.Rc2 cxb3 28.axb3 Rbc8 Black has only an advantage, but not more… 29.Rxc8 [29.Ra2] 29…Rxc8 30.Ra1 Bb4 31.Rxa6 Rc3 32.Kf2 Rd3 33.Ra2 Bxd2 34.Rxd2 Rxb3 Finally black has improved its position and in the endgame. White’s bad pawn structure and passive bishop on e3 offer black real winning chances…White starts to counterattack

35.Rc2 h4

The final combination! 36.Rc7+ [36.gxh4 Nh5 37.Ke2 Ng3+ 38.Kf2 Nf1 39.Bc1 Rf3+ 40.Kg2 Ne3+ 41.Bxe3 Rxe3 42.Rc5 Rf3 43.Rxd5 Rxf4]

36…Kg6 37.gxh4 Nh5 38.Rd7 Nxf4! Nice tactics. Philidor knows that two passed pawns are stronger than a couple of isolated pawns.

39.Bxf4 Rf3+ 40.Kg2 Rxf4 Two passed pawns. 41.Rxd5 Rf3 42.Rd8 Rd3 43.d5 f4 44.d6 Rd2+ 45.Kf1 Kf7 46.h5 e3 47.h6? ( last try was 47.Rd7+!)  f3 0-1

Philidor has taught the power of passed pawns.

The game was very typical for a style of Philidor. Already here we may learn lot of rules:

Bad and good pieces;
Space advantage;
Open files;
Pawns structure;
Importance of center

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5 Responses

  1. Nice tactics in this game. The last two times I played white (1.e4,e5; 2.Nf3,d6) against this, I became too aggressive and ended up in trouble.

  2. You missed that 47.Rd7+ would have resulted in a draw.

  3. Thanks for your comments , really 47.Rd7+ was much better … indeed it’s not changing the important value of this game and revolutionism of Philidor and his new theory…

  4. Why does Philidor play 38… Nxf4 instead of 38… Rb1+?

  5. Hello Jeff, Thanks for your comment . Yes, 38…Rb2 was strong enough … ! 39.Ke1 Ng3 40. Bf2 Re2+ ! wins , Maybe whites only chance is 40.Kd1 , but it also looks hopeless.

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