18 October 2007

Mongols, Russia, and Strobeck

While gathering various references on Soviet chess, I recorded the summary of a relevant chapter in Murray's 'History of Chess' (1913, 1962), p.366.

Chapter XVIII - Chess in Central and Northern Asia, and in Russia : Unclassified Varieties; Nomenclature; References to chess as played by the Tibetans, Mongols, and other Siberian races; Probable origin of the game; Chess in Turkestan, Armenia, and Georgia; The older chess of Russia; Its ancestry; Nomenclature; History; Pieces; Possible traces of Asiatic influence further West; Ströbeck [Stroebeck, Strobeck]; Conclusions

The mention of Strobeck, located in Germany and often called 'the chess village', caught my immediate attention. It was the subject of a YouTube video -- Strobeck -- recently featured on this blog. What is the connection between Strobeck and chess in Russia? A section in Murray titled 'Possible traces of Mongol chess in Central Europe' (p.388) provided more information.

Certain peculiarities of play that began soon after 1600 to appear in chess as played in different regions of the great Central Plain of Europe are identical with some of the special features that exist in Russian chess, or in the Asiatic games decribed in this chapter. These peculiarities of rule have generally been held to be due to an undercurrent of Mongol or Asiatic influences that was travelling westwards during the Middle Ages.

The rules were:

  • Both players can make two moves on the first turn.
  • Attack on the Queen should be announced.
  • A stalemated player wins the game (yes, wins!).

After describing some of the variations on these rules, Murray continued

Another variety of chess, exhibiting some of the special features just described, has long been associated with the village of Strobeck near Halberstadt in the Harz Mountains, which has been noted since the beginning of the 17th cent. for that fact that chess has maintained an extraordinary popularity among all classes of its inhabitants.

Murray then described other chess rules peculiar to Strobeck and summarized

The hypothesis that these German varieties of chess represent the western limit of a migration by way of Central Asia has this in it favour, that it enables us to to arrange the story so as to show an orderly and self-consistent development. [...] We are really thrown back upon the argument that the mathematical chances are so great against two peoples developing the same varieties of rule, that the existence of common rules must presuppose a relationship between the games in which they occur.

He discussed briefly the possibility that the Russian and Mongol rules were adapted as European rules moved eastward, but concluded, 'I am inclined to think that the other view is the more probable, and that these peculiarities of rule are of Eastern origin.' Murray's 'History' is difficult to read in sequence from the first page to the last, but his detailed treatment of hundreds of small subjects like Strobeck is always a fountain of obscure information.


Note: One of a half-dozen posts in Chess Carnival IV: December Edition. I don't think this idea is going to survive much longer. I wonder what the problem is. • In Carnival Reaction, J.C. Hallman, author of 'The Chess Artist', had a comment on the subject of my post.

No comments: