«The Chessplayers". A picture by the Italian artist L Caracci (circa 1590)

The history of such an old game as chess is full of secrets and mysteries, where it is difficult to separate the truth from inventions and myths.

One of the problems which histoians have to solve, is how, when and where did modern chses evolve, that is, chess with the long-range queen and bishop?

This reform turned the slow Eastern game of chess into a dynamic aggressive game, which attracts millions of people to this day. As Murray said in his day, "unfortunately, we have no information about the new chess, relating to its history, and we know nothing about its time and place of birth, or the raesons for its coming into existance and spreading throughout Europe so quickly."

This problem only begun to be studied in tehs econd half of the 19th century. Van de Linde, von der Lasa and Murray can be called the pioneers of this research. Firstly, they established that the reform of chess took place at the very end of the XV century, secondly, they named the candidate countries where this reform could have happened: Italy, Spain and France. There only remains one question: which country was first? Here, opinions are dividend: van der Linde named France, Murray Italy, and von der Lasa Spain.

Now, more thana  century later, thanks to the combined efforts of historians from many countruies, we are close to a final answer to this question.

I wish to speak here about the detective story connecetd with it. However, first I should explain how I came to be involved with it.

At the end of the 1960s, when in Amsterdam, I visited ex-world champion Dr Max Euwe, and, knowing of my interest in chess history, he gave me a copy of the reprint, which had just appeared in Amsterdam, with a Foreword by himself, of the first edition of Damiano's book (Rome, 1512). And, in 1972, returning from the tournament in Palma de Mallorca, I spent a week in Barcelona, and became the fortunate owner of a reprint of Lucena's book (1497). Thus, I had material for study. 

The title page from Damiano's book "The repetition of love and the art of playing chess"  (1497)

Damiano's work "This book teaches how to play chess and contains problems" was the first book in Italian, devoted to the new form of chess. It was published in two languages – Italian and Spanish. Despite the poor quality paper and the ugly diagrams, the book had a brilliant future: in the 16th century alone, it went through eight editions, and was translated into French, English and German. One can say that Western Europe learnt chess from Damiano's book. It was the first popular chess textbook. It contained various openings, including the so-called Damiano Gambit, which carried the author's name, 16 «subtleties» of play and 72 problems. It became widely known, and for example, in the anthology of problems produced in the middle of the 19th century in Paris, no fewer than 20 were taken from Damiano's book. 

ТThe title poage from Damiano's book "This book teaches how to play chess and contains problems"» (1512)

Don Lucena's work was published in Salamanca (Spain). Its author was a student at the local university Luis Ramirez de Lucena, the son of the King's of Spain's ambassador. The elegant edition was dedicated to Prince Juan, the heir to the throne of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The book was printed in a small edition and had no influence on the development of chess in Europe. In the 19th century, only a few researchers knew of its existence. It bore the strange title "The repetition of love and the art of the game of chess", and the first part had nothing to do with chess at all. The second part contained the rules of the new chess, some openings, and some problems in both old and new chess.

When historians started studying Lucena's book, they came to the conclusion that he was not the author of the problems. He only collected them, that is, he was what nowadays would be called an anthologist. As regards openings, the author openly admitted to his readers "I am prepared to present the best openings that I saw in Rome, in all Italy, and also in France and Spain". Just for this, Lucena was pronounced by historians to be the first theoretician of modern chess!

Lucena says nothing about his problems, but van der Linde points out that all of the problems in the old form of chess can be found in other manuscripts of the time.

This gives rise to the question: where did Lucena get his modern-style chess problems?

Researching this question, historians drew attention to Francesco Vicenta's book, which contained 100 problems. This was published in Spain in 1495 and was mentioned in a list of rare Spanish book in 1795. There, it is written that a copy of the book can be found in the library of the monastery of Monserrat in the Pyrenees. This information came from the priests of the monastery, who were well-known bibliophiles, and whose word cannot be doubted.

However, when in the middle of the 19th century historians contacted the library of Monserrat, they received the laconic answer that there was no such book in their library! It turns out that the book was lost, either during the Napoleonic wars in 1811, when the French forces besieged Monserrat, or in 1834, when the monastery was the victim of a fire, which destroyed many precious books. Either way, Vicenta's book had disappeared! In the 19th century, all attempts to find it failed.

I cannot hide the fact that the fate of Vicenta's book intrigued me. Could not the new problems from his book have appeared in other collections, published later? The first person to suggest this was the English player, William Lewis. But how could one prove it? And here I began to study Lucena's book carefully. The first thing I noticed was that five of the problems in this book are repeated. But what was surprising was their order. At this time, there were many collections of problems, and the material in them followed a strict order, depending on the number of moves: first twomovers, then threemovers, etc.

Lucena began his anthology thus. First he gives twomovers, then threemovers, which he in his turn divides into two groups: old-style chess (del vieho) problems at the front, then new-style (de la dama). However, then Lucena departs from the course, and has a mixture of three- and fourmovers. Only in the middle of the book does he return to the original pattern: after the old and new-style threemovers come old and new-style fourmovers, then old and new-style fivemovers, etc. This pattern, with a few exceptions, is maintained to the end of the book.

All of these facts suggests that Lucena used not one, but several sources. In addition, one gets the impression that one of these sources, the largest one, was effectively the basis of his book. The task does not look all that difficult: two absurdities were obvious at first glance. I removed two threemovers, out of place amongst the eightmovers, and two fourmovers included with the fivemovers. And here I suddenly hit a wall – the three and fourmovers groups were total chaos, and all of these were old-style chess problems.

After much consideration, I decided that these all needed to come out as well, as they had nothing to do with the first arrangement. After this, I counted up the remaining problems. They totalled 96! You will recall that Vicenta's book contained 100, and there is not much difference between 100 and 96. Thus, I had the first clear result: Lucena's principal source consisted of 96 problems. However, further evidence was needed to show that this source was the lost book of Vicenta.

Then I turned to the third book devoted to modern chess, Damiano. I had to confirm the historians' claim that 70 out of the 72 problems in Damiano were in Lucena's book.

Definitely, although Damiano made some changes to Lucena's problems, adding or taking  way certain pawns and pieces, his solutions were in the majority of cases shorter than his predecessor. However, this does not change the main conclusion: in preparing his textbook, Damiano dispensed with some of Lucena's problems.

At first, it also seemed to me that Damiano had used almost half of Lucena's problems, but then I began to have doubts as to the correctness of this conclusion. Lucena's book was considered a rarity. Two copies were held at Escorial, at the library of the King of Spain, a third copy was at Rio de Janeiro, having got there as part of the library of the Portugese King Joao IV, who had fled to Brazil with his court, during the Napoleonic attack. One got the impression that only kings and other had copies of this book. How would a poor apothecary from Odemira get his hands on it?

Another question also arises: even if Damiano somehow got acquainted with Lucena's book, why would he take only 70 problems from it, rather than all 72? In principle, he could have been author himself of these two problems, but this suggestion fails: one of them is a well-known old-style chess problem.

Even in the 19th century, Murray expressed doubts over whether Damiano used Lucena's book. He declared that Damiano and Lucena both used the same common source, from where they took their problems. However, Murray also believed that Vicenta's book only contained old-style chess problems.

So what could have been the common source for Damiano and Lucena?

There are several well-known manuscripts on the new chess, written before Damiano's book.

Firstly, there is the Gottingen manuscript, which contains 30 problems of new-style chess – all of these can be found in Lucena, and in the same order. All other manuscripts contain an excessively small and insignificant number of Lucena's problems.

Therefore I decided it was logical to compare Damiano's problems with the 96 that I took out of Lucena's book. The result was sensational – all 70 of the Damiano's problems were amongst this number!

From this one can conclude that these 96 problems belong to some earlier collection, which both Damiano and Lucena used, and of the existence of which Murray suspected. In the course of my research, one other thought occurred: that those problems which are in Damiano but not in Lucena, may also have come from this collection.

Thus, the core of Lucena's book, as we have established, consists of 96 problems, the majority of which are new-style chess problems. They are united by a single classification and, without doubt, have a single source. Their number includes the great majority of Damiano's problems.

I had no doubt that Damiano and Lucena had taken their problems from Vicenta's collection. If one assumes that the two extra problems in Damiano that are not in Lucena, also come from this collection, that brings the number up to 96+2=98.

The lost collection by Vicenta included 100 problems. So now we have 98 versus 100! Such a close coincidence of numbers cannot be a coincidence and means that these 98 problems belong to Vicenta!

Here is a list of these problems:

Mate in... New tasks Old tasks Total
2 turns 10 6 16
3 turns 13 3 16
4 turns 13 3 16
5 turns 11 5 16
6 turns 17 1 18
7 turns 6 1 7
8 turns 4 1 5
9 turns 3 - 3
10 turns 1 - 1

[Translator's Note: Column one is the length of the problems; column two the number of new-style problems; column three the number of old-style problems, and column four the total.]

It is no coincidence that the total number of problems in the first four groups is the same each time, at 16. This was clearly the author's point.

And lastly: I regard as old-style problems, all those which cannot be solved using the contemporary rules of chess.

In our day, Calvo has claimed that German publishers were involved with the production of Vicenta's and Damiano's books. From old bibliographies, we know that Vicenta's book was printed by Lope de Roka Alemani and Pere Trincet, and Lucena's book by Lope Sanz and Huts. Incidentally, the copy of Lucena's book, which I used for my researches (Мадрид, 1953), turned out to be inaccurate and different from the original. This was pointed out to me by the Dutch historian Dr O Monte, so my results needed some correcting.

However, the main conclusion remained the same: Lucena used all of Vicenta's problems. After my article on Vicenta and Lucena was published in 1993 in the magazine «Revista Internacional de Ajedrez», the Spanish historian Perez de Arriaga disagreed with my conclusions. He claimed that if we cannot identify the new problems of Lucena, then this means that he composed them himself.

However, I was supported by the English historian Ken Whyld (one of the authors of the chess encyclopedia and founder of the international chess bibliographers' association). "The more I work on Lucena", he wrote to me, "the more convinced I am that he was not the author of a single one of the problems in his book. I fulfilled a valuable role in bringing this material together, but too often one is forced to see that he did understand what he was doing".

The next step is solving the secret of Vicenta was unexpectedly done in Italy. In 1995, the historian Franco Pratesi found in the Malatestiansky library in Sezena an unknown manuscript, containing 357 problems. It was an encyclopedia of so-called «partiti» (endgames). It turned out to include all of Lucena's problems and, consequently, Damiano's. This meant that all of Vicenta's should be there as well.

In 1999, in the magazine «L’Italia Scacchistica» the historian Alessandro Sanvito published an interesting article «Lucretia Borgia's Spanish chess teacher». (Borgia was a Spanish noble family, which played an important role in the life of Italy in the XV – early XVI centuries. The most well-known was Rodrigo, who was the father of Alexander IV, his son Cesare and daughter Lucretia, presented as a femme fatale in many works of art, books and films).  It was well-known that the daughter of Pope Alexander VI played chess, but it was not well-known that Lucretia had a chess teacher, a Spaniard named Francesco, who followed her to Italy. Sanvito suggested that this Fancesco was none other than Fancesco Vicenta, and that it was he who was the author of the manuscript found at Sezena!

This information was greeted enthusiastically by Spanish historians. One of them, Jose A Garcon, published a large, 500-page book «The Return of Francesco Vicenta» (Valencia, 2005). In it, he summed up the work of many researchers, and came to the conclusion that von der Lasa was right: it was Spain, and specifically Valencia, that was the home of the new style of chess. I fully agree with this claim.

From the book "The Return of Francesco Vicenta" (2005) – pages from the author's 15th century manuscript

However, I am disturbed by the claim that the manuscript from Sezena was written at the start of the 16th century. After all, in it one may, for example, see the well-known endgame position with three connected passed pawns against three others, on the same flank. The correct solution to this was only found in the 19th century, and it demonstrates a much higher standard of analysis that was achieved in the 16th century. But this is already a question for future researches. 

(Text by Yuri Averbakh)