28 April 2016

Random Chess History

In my previous post, Not a Chess Historian, I started with Wikipedia's 'List of chess historians', used a random number generator to look at one name on the list, and closed with a wish to continue another time. This post being another time, I'll continue.

The second name that Random.org assigned was no.40 Jean-Michel Péchiné. Unlike the first name on the previous post, I recognized this one and the first link returned by Google, Marie Sebag – France's new wonder-girl (chessbase.com), reminded me why: 'Report and photos: Jean-Michel Péchiné of Europe Echecs'. I'm a regular reader of Europe Echecs. As for the chess history angle, Amazon.fr carries the title Les Echecs : Roi des jeux, jeu des rois by Jean-Michel Péchiné (Gallimard, 1997), which translates to 'Chess : King of games, game of kings'. Since I don't want to get bogged down in translations, I'll stop here.

The third name assigned at random was no.30 David H. Li, who is also familiar to me. He has a Wikipedia page, David H. Li, which informs that he is 'an author on Chinese history and chess'. Since Chinese chess is not one of my passions, I'll also stop here.

The fourth random name (and last for this exercise) was no.33 A. A. Macdonell. Wikipedia adds a footnote '[1]' to his name, referencing 'Murray, H.J.R. (1913), A History of Chess'. Other Wikipedia chess historians covered by the same footnote are H.F.W. Holt, Baron von der Lasa, Antonius van der Linde, A. v.Oefele, M.E.V. Savenkof, F. Strohmeyer, and William Henry Wilkinson. In fact, any pre-20th century chess historian is probably mentioned by Murray (who is himself on the Wikipedia list) and I don't know why Willard Fiske and William Jones aren't covered by the same footnote.

Macdonell -- not to be confused with Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835; 'an Irish chess master, who contested a series of six matches with the world’s leading player Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais in the summer of 1834') or George Alcock MacDonnell (1830–1899; 'an Irish clergyman as well as a chess master and writer') -- has his own Wikipedia page, Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1854–1930; 'a noted Sanskrit scholar'). In his 'History of Chess' (I have the 1962 edition), Murray mentions him nine times. For example, from 'Part I, Chess in Asia', p.44:-

The Nitisara of Kamandaki, 'a work of policy dating probably from the early centuries of our era' (Macdonell, JRAS., 118), contains an important and instructive chapter (ch. xix) of 62 slokas, which specially treats of the chaturangabala, or army. The chapter states that the army is composed of elephants, chariots, horse, and infantry; it discusses the ground most suitable for the evolutions of each of these members; it estimates a horseman as equal to three foot-soldiers, and the elephant and chariot as each equal to five horsemen. It suggests several arrangements as suitable for use in war, e.g., infantry, horse, chariots, elephants; elephants, horse, chariots, infantry; the horse in the centre, the chariots next, and the elephants on the wings.

We are, therefore, entitled to conclude that the fourfold division of the Indian army into chariots, cavalry, elephants, and infantry, was a fact well recognized already before the commencement of our era.

The same four elements -- chariots, horse, elephants, foot-soldiers -- appear as four out of the six different types of force in the board-game chaturanga. The remaining types prefigure individuals, not types of military force. The presence of the King needs no justification. The addition of the Minister or Vizier is in complete agreement with Oriental custom, and the Code of Manu (vii. 65) lays stress upon the dependence of the army on him.

The self-consistency of the nomenclature and the exactness with which it reproduces of the Indian army afford the strongest grounds for regarding chess as a conscious and deliberate attempt to represent Indian warfare in a game. That chess is a war-game is a commonplace of Indian, Muslim, and Chinese writers.

I especially like the ancient observation that 'a horseman as equal to three foot-soldiers'. As for the reference to 'Macdonell, JRAS', the acronym stands for Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, London.

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