Monday, March 10, 2008
DaVinci chess mystery
March 10, 2008
Renaissance chess master and the Da Vinci decode mystery
A masterpiece from the early literature of chess has recently resurfaced after being thought lost for five centuries.
The rediscovery of this book is of much more than scholarly or antiquarian interest, for it has been suggested that its chess puzzle diagrams were not only designed by Leonardo da Vinci, but also drawn by him and, the most tantalising prospect of all, perhaps even composed by him.
The book, De ludo schacorum (about the game of chess), was written by the Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli who lived from the mid-15th century to early in the 16th. The so-called new chess, which considerably enhanced the powers of the pieces, was introduced around the 1470s. Pacioli’s long-lost book was said to be a series of educational positions and chess puzzles featuring both the old and new styles of chess — the latter known as a la rabiosa (with the mad or angry queen), because of the vastly extended powers of this new piece.
The puzzles showing the new chess were rumoured to have been composed to demonstrate how the fresh powers of queen, bishop and pawn truly functioned on the open board. However, Pacioli’s book was lost and doubts were raised that it had been written at all. Now the book has resurfaced from the 22,000-volume library of Count Guglielmo Coronini, and facsimiles have been published with strange and rather beautiful diagrams in red and black showing the pieces in action.
Recently The Guardian published a puzzle from the book with a commentary by its chess correspondent who conceded that he “did not have the foggiest idea” what the puzzle meant or whether it was taken from the old or new style of chess.
Having had time to examine the puzzle more closely, I have established that it is definitely the new rabiosa form of chess which we still play now. I have also worked out that there is a fiendishly difficult forced checkmate from the puzzle position.
This is amazing, since the new chess had been in existence for only a few years when the book was written. Given its relative novelty, the person who composed this puzzle was evidently a chess genius.
As well as being highly advanced for its time, the solution also succeeds brilliantly in its didactic purpose of showcasing the sweeping new powers of queen and bishop as well as the potentially devastating weapon of a humble pawn now being able to promote to a mighty queen. Normally this would end the contest in the promoter’s favour. However, in this puzzle the losing side even manages to promote to a queen with check, yet still succumbs.
What about Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement, as suggested by the owners of the book, the Fondazione Coronini Cronberg?
Click here to read the full article.