Modern-day chess was invented in Valencia, say experts
THE rules of modern-day chess as we know it may have been invented in Valencia in the 15th century, according to a recent documentary filmed in the area.
It was based on the game Chaturanga, from India, before being adopted by the Persians and then brought to Europe by the Arabs, the programme reveals.
The end of the 1400s was a time of great economic and cultural splendour in the city of Valencia and its intellectual élite, who were mostly Jewish, adapted the existing rules of the game to make it more agile and speed it up.
Until then, it was a very slow and sedentary process, but the Jewish upper classes altered it, basing it upon their perception of the courting ritual among the aristocracy and introduced the figure of the queen.
She had hitherto been known by the Arabs as the visirand was of a much more lowly status than the current chess queen.
The allegorical poem Scachs d’Amor, written jointly by three authors in 1475 in an early form of catalán, the language spoken on the east coast of Spain and which evolves into valenciano between the provinces of Castellón and Alicante, mentions the queen for the first time, proving that she was not, as originally believed, based upon Isabel of Castilla.
Scriptwriter and director Agustí Mezquida believes it is more likely the chess queen was based upon María of Castilla, consort of King Alfonso the Magnanimous, although chess expert Marilyn Yalom of Stanford University in the USA believes the chess queen does not come from one specific figure, but from several, since centuries ago queens began to play a much greater role in governing.
Some 20 years after the poem was written, the erudite Valencian Jew Francesch Vicent compiled and published the modern-day rules of chess under the title Llibre dels jochs partitis dels scachs en nombre de 100 (‘book of chess games in numbers of 100′), written in valenciano, and which was considered to be the ‘holy grail’ of books on the subject.
Francesch Vicent is said to have sought refuge in the Vatican under protection of the Borgia family, who lived for over 500 years in the palace in Gandia (Valencia province) when Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragón evicted all Jews from the mainland.
Vicent is said to be chess master to Lucrecia Borgia, whose father became Pope Alessandro in the 15thcentury, and manuscripts of his works have been found in Perugia and Cesena in Italy as well as in a book attributed to the Portugese writer Pedro Damiano – possibly Vicent’s pseudonym – published in Rome in 1512.
The book by Damiano led everyone to believe for years that the game of chess as we know it today was invented in Italy and expanded all over the world as a result – given Italy’s immense power from the Roman Empire through to the late Renaissance – but experts now realise it came about in Valencia.
Sign up for my free email chess course for Beginners and Club Players. In this free course, I focus on helping beginner chess players see the entire board. You will learn how to attack your opponent from move 1 and create a new threat with every single move! I’ve created this series of lessons designed to help beginner and club level players understand the game at a deeper level so that you can start beating higher rated players immediately. Start getting free tips from me directly to your inbox!
– GM Susan Polgar