« PreviousContinue »
Then we have 7 folios including a very neat diagram, giving a complete account of the "Perfect Chess," or "Timur's Great Game." This Chapter is fortunately entire, and it is, probably, the only account we have of that curious innovation, the substance of which we shall give in our eleventh chapter. Then we have 7 folios on the invention of the common game in India. This chapter, also is complete, and the substance of it has been already given in our Chapter VII. Two chapters on the relative value of the pieces, and on the gradations of odds, are also complete as to the subjects, though they do not apparently contain all that the author wrote thereon. Lastly, a folio and a-half on drawn games, &c., incomplete, and partly illegible.
The diagrams are 64 in number, and consist chiefly of end-games won or drawn by force. The first two diagrams are illegible, but fortunately they merely contained openings, of which we have abundance in the Arabic manuscript of the British Museum. Of the end-games the most valuable are eighteen positions by Khwaja 'Ali Shatranji, most of which occurred in actual play. All the rest are said to have been invented by various eminent players (whose names are given), from the Caliph AlM'utasim Billāh downwards. It is a curious fact, however, that among the number there is not one of the author's own invention, although in his preface he boasts of having made wonderful improvements in every department of Chess, and of having discovered and corrected several errors in problems composed by eminent masters before his own time. In truth, the author must have been a singular character, and, had we received his book entire, it would undoubtedly have proved an extraordinary production. In justice to this writer, I shall here give a literal translation of what remains of his own preface,
which, it must be confessed, is a very promising one. It may also lead to the discovery, in India or Persia, of a complete copy of the work.
The author seems to have (in the missing portion) been recommending Chess as an excellent medicine both for the body and mind; and then he proceeds to tell the reader what he has himself done in the royal game, and also what he is going to write thereon. There is a quaint vein of godliness that runs throughout the fragment, such as to lay claim to our conviction of the good man's sincerity, although his style does occasionally approach that of the Baron Munchausen :
«*** And many a one has experienced a relief from sorrow and affliction in consequence of this magic recreation; and this same fact has been asserted by the celebrated physician Muhammad Zakaria Rāzī,"1 in his book, entitled 'The Essences of Things;' and such is likewise the opinion of the physician 'Ali Bin Firdaus, as I shall notice more fully towards the end of the present work, for the composing of which I am in the hope of receiving my reward from God, who is Most High and Most Glorious.
"I have passed my life since the age of fifteen years among all the masters of Chess living in my time; and since that period till now, when I have arrived at middle
1 Rāzi, called by our medieval writers Rhasis, was a celebrated physician of Bagdad where he died about A.D. 922. Burton in his very amusing book entitled "The Anatomy of Melancholy" thus speaks of him, and of Chess together. "Chess-play is a good and witty exercise of the mind, for some kind of men, and fit for such melancholics, (Rhasis holds,) as are idle, and have extravagant and impertinent thoughts, or troubled with cares; nothing better to distract their mind, and alter their meditations."
age, I have travelled through 'Irāk-'Arab, and 'Irāk-'Ajam, and Khurāsān, and the regions of Mawara-al-Nahr (Transoxania,) and I have there met with many a master in this art, and I have played with all of them, and, through the favour of Him who is Adorable and Most High, I have come off victorious.
"Likewise, in playing without seeing the board, I have overcome most opponents, nor had they the power to cope with me. I, the humble sinner now addressing you, have frequently played with one opponent over the board, and at the same time I have carried on four different games with as many adversaries without seeing the board, whilst I conversed freely with my friends all along, and through the Divine favour I conquered them all. Also in the Great Chess I have invented sundry positions, as well as several openings, which no one else ever imagined or contrived.
"There are a great number of ingenious positions that have occurred to me in the course of my experience, in the common game, as practised at the present day; and many positions given as won by the older masters I have either proved to be capable of defence, or I have made the necessary corrections in them, so that they now stand for what they were originally intended to be. I have also improved and rendered more complete all the rare and cunning stratagems hitherto recorded or invented by the first masters of Chess. In short, I have here laid before the reader all that I have myself discovered from experience, as well as whatever I found to be rare and excellent in the labours of my predecessors.
"In the first place, I will make clear to you that the 'Perfect Chess' is the original; I will then inform you who invented it, and where it was invented, and on what occasion the invention took place. I will also detail to you
in full how it found its way into India, and at what period they abridged it there, so that all men may know that the people of India are not the inventors of Chess, for they have not in them sufficient knowledge and wisdom to have done so, and they never had. I will also present you with the best modes of opening the game, for therein consists the very root and foundation of good play; and I will instruct you how to conduct your game after it is opened, and I will lay before you a great variety of the most rare and ingenious stratagems, whereby you may be enabled either to win or draw in situations which to the uninitiated might appear desperate. I will also instruct you as to the exact value of the pieces, without knowing which you cannot be a player. I will tell you, too, the various grades of odds which people give and receive; and I will unfold unto you the nature of such situations as lead to a drawn game, which may occur towards the end of a combat; and I will point out to you what piece or pieces draw against certain other pieces, so that you may not uselessly prolong the contest in such circumstances. Finally I will show you how to move a Knight from any individual square on the board, so that he may cover each of the remaining squares in as many moves and finally rest on that square whence he started. I will also show how the same thing may be done by limiting yourself only to one half, or even to one quarter1 of the board."— Here the preface abruptly terminates, the following leaf being lost.
In conclusion, I have to express my regret that I have been unable to avail myself of two very valuable Arabic
1 I question much whether the problem be possible when limited to one quarter of the board. I have repeatedly tried it, and got on well enough till I reached the fifteenth square, but then I could never get that fifteenth within a Knight's move of the square from which I started. I am not aware that it has ever been done in Europe; and we are deprived of the oriental writer's solution, (supposing that he fulfilled his promise), in consequence of the loss of by far the greatest portion of his work.
MSS. on Chess' belonging to John Lee, Esq., LL.D., of Doctors Commons, London, and of Hartwell in Buckinghamshire. Some four years ago, on looking through the Doctor's valuable collection at Hartwell House, we could nowhere find the works in question. At last it was remembered that they had been some years previously lent and not as yet returned.
As a preliminary step to the "Theory and Practice" of the Shatranj in our next two chapters, it may be well to lay before the reader, as a specimen of Oriental play, the two following problems in which most of the peculiarities of the game may be seen. For this purpose we have selected, in the first place, the most ancient problem on record, the composition of Mu'tasim Billāh who was Caliph of Bagdad, and reigned from A.D. 833 to A.D. 842. "He was
the third son and third successor of the far famed Harun al-Rashid,2 so well known to the readers of the "Arabian Nights." The mode of play differs from ours simply in this. The Queen in the Shatranj commands, attacks, or may be moved merely to the four squares next to her on the diagonal, and consequently of her own colour. The Bishop commands, attacks and can be moved to the four squares next to him but one on the diagonal. He has no influence whatever over the square next to him; but his power extends through or over any piece or pawn placed on that square, as will be more fully explained in our next chapter.
1 A few days ago, while this sheet was in the printer's hands, I once more wrote to Dr. Lee respecting the MSS., and he informed me that they are not yet returned. I am afraid that, owing to certain unfortunate circumstances, which I need not here mention, there will be some difficulty in recovering them. There is, however, a bare possibility that I may have the use of them before we print off the "Appendix."
2 Harun al Rashid, his three sons, and his grandson, were all enthusiastic lovers of Chess. Not only were they devotedly fond of the game, but, at the same time, they were the liberal and munificent patrons of talented chess-players, as well as of all men, no matter of what country or creed, who distinguished themselves in arts, sciences, or literature. Of this more in our twelfth chapter.