Father of modern Chess strategy

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Father of modern Chess strategy

Thursday, 08 September 2022 | Pravin Thipsay

In our series 'Champion born this month', today I present you with a story on someone who dominated the Chess world for almost five decades and was the first Chess strategist in the history --- François-André Danican Philidor of France.

Philidor (7 September 1726 - 31 August 1795), started playing regularly around 1740 at the Café de la Régence, Paris. Legall de Kermeur, the best player in France in those days, taught Philidor initially but by 1745, Philidor became the strongest player in the world and continued to be so till his death. At Café de la Régence, Paris, Philidor met and befriended a famous scientist and one of the Founding Fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin, who was a keen Chess amateur player for over four decades. (Though an amateur at Chess, Benjamin Franklin played a great role in propagation of Chess in USA.)

Philidor's book 'Analyse du jeu des Échecs' (Analysis of the game of Chess) was considered a standard Chess manual for at least a century. Philidor was a century ahead of others in Chess strategy and laid foundation of the modern Chess strategy. An important and popular opening is named after him wherein Black tries to form a strong Pawns barricade with to keep the enemy pieces away. Philidor's quote "Pawns are the soul of Chess" finds place in almost every Chess book.

Philidor's greatest contribution to Chess was by way of his Endgame Studies and their analyses. Unlike other Chess composers, Philidor chose to analyse basic and commonly occurring Endgames. Even today -- over two centuries later -- the Chess world is astonished at the accuracy of his Endgame work. Most of Philidor's Endings are part of every Endgame book and in the syllabus of every Chess school.

In December 1792, at the age of 65, Philidor was forced to leave France for England as his name was on the Revolutionary banishment list (declared by the Convention Nationale) during the French Revolution (1789–1799). Philidor was stuck in England thereafter, died on 31 August 1795 in London and was buried in St James, Piccadilly.

Today I have chosen an interesting Ending by Philidor, a complex position which is often studied by Chess players superficially, though it deserves serious thinking and analysis.

White :-- Kf6,Ra7,Pe5. Black :-- Ke8,Rb1.

Black to play and draw.

Solution :--

Black can hold the game with 1...Re1!!

But not 1...Rb6+? 2.e6 Rb8 3.Rh7 when White wins immediately. Also bad is 1...Rf1+? 2.Ke6 Kf8 3.Ra8+ Kg7 4.Kd6 Rd1+ 5.Ke7 Rb1 6.e6 Rb2 7.Kd7 Rb7+ 8.Kc6 Re7 9.Kd6 when Black loses the Rook for the Pawn.

2.Ke6 Kf8!

The best.

Philidor demonstrated that 2...Kd8!? was also good enough to draw with precise play. 3.Ra8+ Kc7 4.Kf6 Kd7! 5.Ra7+ Ke8 6.Ke6 Kd8 7.Ra8+ Kc7 8.Re8 Rh1! 9.Rg8! Re1! [Readers may try to find out themselves if 9.....Rh6 check is also good enough] 10.Rg5! Kd8! [To stop Ke7] 11.Rg8+ Kc7 12.Re8 Rh1! when White is unable to make any headway.

3.Ra8+ Kg7 4.Re8

4.Kd6 Kf7 5.Ra7+ Ke8 6.e6 [Threatening 7.Rb8] is met with 6...Rd1+! with a more elementary draw. [This is Philidor's position 1 in Rook endings.]

4...Ra1! 5.Kd7 Ra7+ 6.Kd6 Kf7 with an obvious draw. Black drives away the White King and occupies a square in front of the Pawn after which White has no chances of promoting the Pawn.


(Pravin Thipsay  is an Arjuna Awardee and Internationnal Chess Grandmaster)

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