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Chess of love

The earliest fully recorded game of modern chess – from the 15th century CE – is a poem about love.

Liberale da Verona, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The queen and bishop in chess used to move differently. The queen could move in any direction, but only one square per move. The bishop could move one or two squares only, depending on what version you were playing. Some time just before the start of the 16th century, somewhere in Europe, the queen and the bishop gained the ability to move any number of spaces – and so the modern ruleset of chess was born.

We know about this shift from a love poem, Scachs d’amor (Catalan for “chess of love”). That poem not only uses the modern rules of chess for the first time, but is also the first complete record of a full game, from opening moves all the way to checkmate.

Chess may be a game about war, but the poem is an allegory for love – every move is explained as a step in the wooing of a noble lady. Take the second move, for example, where the queen’s pawn advances:

The gentle Lady, not lacking in spirit,
Carrying the green banner of Hope
And shouting: “Glory, glory covers
My people with all blessings!”
Her Pawn, courteous, well-tempered
Moves up, because Beauty opens,
In the game of love, the first step.
With a humble gesture for defense,
Her heart was pierced with the thrust of love.

Scachs d’Amor (English translation)

If you’re wondering about the colours, know that this chess set was not white and black, but red (the suitor) and green (the lady). The move described above, incidentally, is now known as the Scandinavian Defence. It’s the oldest black opening move we know of… and we know of it because of this poem.

The game ends with red checkmating green, and (presumably) the red player mating with the green player. You can see the game unfold move by move in the second link below, or read the love story behind it in the third link below.

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The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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