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which is given very full in one of the MSS., and is remarkable from its close resemblance to that given by Damiano; 2nd, a full account of the Great Chess,'' as played at the Barbaric Court of Samarkand in the last half of the fourteenth century; 3rd, an attempt to trace the course of the Shatranj from Persia to Arabia, Byzantium, and Western Europe. Lastly, a brief account of Chess as played at the present time in various Asiatic regions. For the accomplishment of this last task, however, my materials are rather scanty; and I should like to see the subject taken up by some of our countrymen resident in the East, who must necessarily possess better means of information."
Since I penned the last sentence, however, some five years ago, I have found, on careful examination, that my materials for the task there alluded to are less scanty than I was then aware of; and I therefore now proceed to its accomplishment. I have been very particular in selecting the best authorities, and in a few instances, where I think these have made mistakes, I have pointed them out in notes and comments of my own.
The game of Chess, as played at the present day, along the north and east coasts of Africa, and throughout Asia, with the exception of China, is either the Mediæval Game itself, or the same more or less advanced in a transition state. In regions rarely frequented by Europeans, such as Abyssinia and the Burmese Empire, we find that the mediæval game still retains its ground. Again, in Turkey, Arabia, Persia, Hindustan, and the Indian Archipelago, the mode of play approximates our own. We there find, for instance, that the Queen and Bishop have
1 The Great Chess is fully treated of in Chapter XI.
2 This part of my intentions I have endeavoured to realize in the four preceding chapters.
attained their full sway, and that Castling of some kind or other has been adopted.
The points in which the Asiatic game differs from ours, are, generally speaking, the following:-In the first place—the board may or may not be chequered, and if chequered, it is of no earthly consequence whether a white or a black spot be placed at each player's right hand. 2nd. In arranging the men, each player puts his King on the fourth square from his right-hand corner, and the Queen on the next square, to the left. 3rd. As a general rule, a Pawn can move only one square at starting, hence there can be no dispute about a Pawn's liability to be taken, en passant, by an adverse Pawn. Lastly, the mode of castling, as we shall see, varies in different countries, but none of them is exactly the same as ours. This being premised, I now proceed to lay before the reader a selection of the most authentic accounts of "Modern Chess in the East," that I have been enabled to procure.
Chess in Abyssinia.
We may safely conclude that the Abyssinians, as well as the people inhabiting the valley of the Nile in general, are indebted to the Arabs for their knowledge of the Game of Chess. In the third volume of Lord Valentia's "Travels in the East" we have an account of the manner in which the game was played in Abyssinia some sixty years ago; and, as we might naturally expect, we find that it had undergone no alteration since it was brought there by the Arabs soon after the latter had received it from Persia-in fact, that it was then, and most probably is now, the Medieval game or Shatranj. On Lord Valentia's return from Ceylon and India to the Red Sea,
he sent his secretary, Mr. Salt, on a mission to Abyssinia -a country not visited for, perhaps, a century before, by any European, with the sole exception of the enterprising and energetic Bruce. The Ras, or Prince of Abyssinia, in those days was Welleta Sebasse, an intelligent man by all accounts, and greatly devoted to Chess. The following extract is from Mr. Salt's journal, as given in page 57, vol. iii. of Valentia's Travels, quarto edition.
"On our arrival at Antalow, we found the Ras at breakfast, and were invited to join him. The Ras was in good humour, and asked many questions about our Churches, our King, &c. An old woman was standing behind him, whom he very significantly introduced as a proper person for us to become acquainted with, as she had many young ladies under her care. In the evening we went into the hall, and found the Ras at Chess in the midst of his chiefs. The chessmen, which were coarsely made of ivory, are very large and clumsy: when they have occasion to take any one of their adversary's pieces, they strike it with great force and eagerness from its place. I observed that their game differs much from ours. Bishops jump over the heads of Knights, and are only allowed to move three squares. The Pawns move only one step at starting, and get no rank by reaching the end of the board. They play with much noise; every person around, even the slaves, having a voice in the game, and seizing the pieces at pleasure to show any advisable move. We observed, however, that they always managed with great ingenuity to let the Ras win every game."
Mr. Salt says, a few pages further on-"We found the Ras engaged at Chess with one of his chiefs. On seeing us, he offered his hand, seating me by his side. Our patience, however, was nearly exhausted before the
game was completed, not a single word during this time being spoken to us." Now, if Mr. Salt had possessed a single grain of the savoir-faire becoming a genuine lover of Chess, he would have felt neither surprise nor impatience at the Prince's silence.
The above extract is so far interesting, inasmuch as it confirms what I have more than once stated, "that in the more secluded regions of Africa and Asia, where Europeans have seldom penetrated, the Medieval mode of Chess-play still maintains its ground." It is evident from Mr. Salt's description, that the moves and powers of the pieces are the same as they were when brought from India into Persia, in the sixth century. As to his assertion that "the Pawns get no rank by reaching the end of the board," I believe he speaks merely from imperfect recollection, or at least without due consideration ; for the fact, if fact it were, would be utterly at variance with all that we have yet discovered on Oriental Chess. I should like to know in particular what became of the Pawns on reaching the opposite side of the board! His remark that "Bishops jump over the heads of Knights," is also a defective statement. Had he known much of Chess, or taken pains to watch the game, he would have found that Bishops jumped over any piece on the board that lay next to them, and that they stopped short on the other side. He would have found, further, that the Queen was one of the weakest pieces on the board, and moved merely one square at a time on the diagonal, or Bishop's line.
I happened, lately, to be turning over some old numbers of the Paláméde, and in the first number of 1838,
I find they have noticed Mr. Salt's "Partie d'échecs en Abyssinie." We have already given the exact original of Mr. Salt's description, as it stands in Valentia's work; and what we there pointed out as defective and unsatisfactory, is delightfully rectified in the translation, which runs thus-"J'ai remarqué que leur jeu diffère du notre à plusieurs égards: d'abord les pions ne font jamais qu'un pas; la reine a une marche plus restreinte que la nôtre ; les fous ne font jamais que trois pas, et peuvent sauter par-dessus une autre pièce, comme les cavaliers." Now, we must admit that this translation, if we may so call it, is a decided improvement on the original. It is exactly what Mr. Salt ought to have written. The French translator says nothing here of the Pawns not Queening, and he specifies the correct modes of moving the Queen and Bishops. This is the exact game described in the Shahnáma; in other words, the mediæval game of Asia and Europe. The moves are precisely the same as those given in the venerable Caxton's "Booke of the Chesse," which is a translation (of a translation) of the far-famed work of Cesolis or Casulis, &c., "seu quocunque nomine vocatur."
Chess in Syria and Arabia.
The following extract from a letter, written by Herr Von Grimm, himself a distinguished Chess player, and one of the Hungarian patriots then exiled in Turkey, may be relied on as an exact account of the mode in which Chess is now played in Turkey and Arabia.
To the Editor of the Chess Player's Chronicle (1851). "When Aleppo was named as the place of our exile, I instantly thought of Stamma, concluding that in the native town of this master, Chess must be flourishing.