Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, born in 1726, was one of the first chess theoreticians. In an era when chess was seen by almost everybody – even its most dedicated enthusiasts – as a mere game, Philidor had to have a certain “weight” in his soul to look for higher principles in this “casual” diversion.
His most famous concept was “the pawns are the soul of chess”. His actual words were “…they are the soul of chess: it is they which uniquely determine the attack and defense, and on their good or bad arrangement depends entirely the winning or losing of the game.” It has been claimed that his emphasis on the pawns was related to the politics in France leading up to the French revolution. Ironically, when the revolution did occur the revolutionary government exiled the guy who emphasized the importance of the common citizens of the chess board.
In any case, his understanding of the value of the pawn center, of passed pawns, and of pawn phalanxes allowed him to mow down his opposition, who largely saw pawns as encumbrances to the attacking power of the pieces.
Here is one of his most famous games, which shows Philidor’s approach to pawn play. The opponent in this game is a guy named Smith – believe me though, it was not me! Nevertheless, people with such a common name often are put in the role of the anonymous “bad guy”, the hero’s designated opponent and victim. See the Matrix movies…
While he is probably more famous as a chess player nowadays, Philidor was also a musician and composer. In the 62nd championship of Russia, in December 2009, GM Artyom Timofeev created a symphony of pawns which would make Philidor proud, and must have captivated onlookers. Let’s see this game.
Time to pause for the camera. Here is the position after White’s fiftieth move. White has only a knight against two rooks. But his pawn phalanx will form an unstoppable tidal wave.
Not only are the pawns unstoppable, their power of controlling squares renders the rooks useless. A wonderful illustration of a space advantage. Here is how the game ended:
The final position deserves a special diagram: