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Philidor

                                     
                                             François André Danican Philidor

There are several very good biographies of Philidor on the web:
Bill Wall's Master Profile - Philidor
Wikipedia - Philidor
My own:  Danican
              Forgotten Philidor
             
Philidor's Opponents

So, I'll only give a bare bones version here:



   François André Danican Philidor had a chess career that spanned over 50 years. He was born 9-7-1726 in Dreux, France. He was from a family of musicians. His father was married twice and his second wife was was about 50 years younger than he. Our Philidor, one of his 20+ children, was one of the youngest children from the second marriage, so by the time he was of age, most of his siblings were already dead as was his father.
   Philidor was more or less on his own his entire life. He started by singing in a boys choir at age 6. It's said that when his voice broke and he had plenty of free time, he would hang around the musicians, many of whom played chess. One of them needed a chess partner and none was available, so Philidor, who had never actually played, offered to sit in. Philidor won the game - then took off running fearing the wrath of his much oldest opponent.
   Philidor was recognized as a musical prodigy, but the field of music was highly competitive and at age 14, he went off to Paris to earn a living by giving music lessons and copying scores. He started hanging around the Café de la Regence which was the world's center for chess at the time. There he met de Kermur, Sire de Legal, considered the best player in the café (therefore, in Paris, and therefore, possibly the world). Philidor became so obsessed with chess that he lost most of his music students from neglect. After 3 years, Legal was no match for him. At that time, 1744, Philidor gave his famous simultaneous (2 games) blindfold chess demonstration. His results were poor, =1 -1, but the demonstration was considered an extraordinary display of mental power and praised througout the world, making Philidor a celebrity of sorts.
   The next year Phlidor took a job organizing a concert tour that featured the 13 year old harpsichord prodigy, the daughter of the producer. While in Holland, the poor girl died and the tour closed. Philidor was stuck in Rotterdam without funds. He started playing chess for money to survive. From here on, chess became more than just a pasttime for Philidor - it became one of his sources of income.
   When he earned enough money, he took off for England. In London he played Phillip Stamma, the noted Syrian chess author whose reputation exceeded his talent. Philidor beat him most conclusively (+8 -2 but one of the loses was really a draw. Philidor allowed any draw to be considered a loss) , effectively ending Stamma's chess career. He also played against and defeated (+4 -1) Sir Abraham Janssen whom many consider to have been Philidor's stongest opponent.
   Returning to Holland in 1748, Philidor wrote his book, "L'analyse du jeu des Eschecs." This was the first real book since Greco (not counting the Modenese writers). His approach was entirely unique. He wanted to teach principles rather than moves. No one had ever approached chess in this manner. He also understood something about positional play. He wrote the famous line, "Les pions sont l'ame du jeu" or "Pawns are the soul of the game,"  indicating that pawns are the most static and therefore the most reliable anchor with which to apply principles. His book was well received.
   Philidor played a 3 game blindfold simul in Berlin in 1751, this time winning every one. Except for a match with Legal in Paris, which he won, Philidor devoted most of his time to music. It wasn't until 1771 that he started playing chess seriously again - and this was in London. the Parsloe Chess Club members underwrote Philidor's expencces to come there from February to June each year and allowed him to earn extra money teaching and playing side games. Philidor did this for 20 years and produced very little musically during this time, so it might be surmised that chess had become his main source of revenue.
   Philidor started giving blindfold demonstrations to make a little extra cash. While in Paris, he had played, and defeated the Turk, the famous automaton built by Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1770. Oddly, the Turk also became his prime competitor for audiences in London.
   Philidor republished his book twice. While successful in it's official releases, it was even more so in the cheaper rip-offs. It became a profound influence in chess, particularly in England.
   In 1792 Philidor was accidentally put on a French list of "persona non gratis,"  thanks to the French Revolution. He was stuck in England. It was finally all straightened out after 2 years, during which he hadn't seen his wife and children and supported them by sending his earning. But before he could leave for France, he died. This was 8-24-1795.
   Philidor was buried at St. James in London. Of the possibly thousands of games he had played, only 68 were ever recorded and even these games were only those played in the last eight years before he died. We'll never fully know the strength of Philidor in his prime.

   Prof. George Allen  published his
"The Life of Philidor, Musician and Chess-Player" in 1863. In that booklet it states that Philidor's father was married 3 times as opposed to twice which my original sources maintained.
     Also, I found there that... he gave his last chess exhibition on June 20, 1795, playing two games blindfolded and a third with sight of the board. One of his three opponents was George Atwood, the mathematician and churchman, who recorded his game against the failing French giant, and who subsequently recorded two more games he played against Philidor at the Régence nine days later. This proved to be Philidor’s last visit to the club. He would die on August 24, 1795
    George Allen also divulged some interesting fact about Philidor: 
    Philidor married the daughter of a composer and sister to three musicians. (On February 13, 1760 at the age of thirty-three).
   Philidor never taught any of his five sons and two daughters to play chess.
   Prof. Allen noted that Philidor hardly knew if there be such a thing as wit, writing that the only "bon mot" recorded of him  appears to have been uttered very seriously, without the least thought of being witty:  One day, he entered the house at the moment when two of his sons, of about fourteen and sixteen, were trying their strength at chess. He looked at their game, and after following it for two or three moves, said to his wife, "Ma chére amie, our children have fairly succeeded in making chess a game of chance."
Philidor seems to have been a very generous person, sometimes giving not only money but even his own clothes to needy musicians who would come calling.

     John Hilbert summarized Allen:
                And the great man’s days were rather predictable at
                this point in his life, with his mornings devoted to his
                music and his afternoons to play at the Régence. No doubt
                modern players would find Philidor’s gyrations of body and
                twisting of limbs when playing chess a nuisance. That Philidor
                did not consciously engage in such antics seems fairly clear,
                as from his wife we learn he underwent similar contortions
                when alone, composing, at which time Philidor’s wife said
                he was playing the silkworm. In any event, Philidor’s motions
                and even mumblings at the chessboard—he was said also to
                unconsciously talk nonsense to himself while concentrating—
                did not prevent the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and, later,
                Maximillien Robespierre, from flocking to the Régence to
                watch the great man play.

   Henry Bird states in his "Chess History and Reminiscences" talking about Philidor's London opponents:
                Whilst the players who contended against Philidor at the
                slightest shade of odds included Sir Abraham Janssens,
                the Hon. Henry Conway, Count Bruhl, Mr. George Atwood
                (mathematician and one of Pitt's financial secretaries),
                Dr. Black, the Rev. Mr. Boudler, and Mr. Cotter. Stamma,
                of Aleppo, engaged in London on works of translation, and
                who was one of the best chess players, was matched against
                Philidor, but won only one out of eight games. These contests
                took place at Slaughter's Coffee House, in St. Martin's Lane,
                long a principal meeting place for leading chess players.
                Philidor does not seem to have tried more than two games
                blindfold, but such was the astonishment they caused at the
                time, that doubts were expressed whether such an intellectual
                feat would ever be repeated; and certainly from the tenor of
                press notices of the event.
   From Bird, we also learn that... "several auspicious circumstances had greatly contributed to aid Philidor in his London career."   By circumstances, Bird means associations.
   These associations include people such as these dignitaries:
Lord Sandwich at the Hague, the Duke of Cumberland, General Conway, Count Bruhl, the Dowager Lady Holland and Sir Gilbert Elliot.
   While subscribers to the re-prints of his book include:
The Duchess of Argyle, the Duchess of Bedford, the Duchess of Buccleuch, R. H. Lady de Beauclerk, Viscountess Beauchamp, Miss Sophia Bristow, Marchioness of Carmarthen, Marchioness of Lothian, Duchess of Montrose, Duchess of Devonshire, Countess of Derby, Lady Derby, Madame Dillon, La Countesse de Forbach, Dowager Lady Hunt, Dowager Lady Holland, La Countesse de Hurst, Miss Jennings, the Duchess of Manchester, the Countess of Ossery, the Countess of Powis, Lady Payne, the Marchioness of Rockingham, the Right Hon. Lady Cecil Rice, the Countess Spencer, Lady Frances Scott, Miss Mary Sankey, Miss West, and the Countess of Pembroke.
   as well as:
Dukes Argyle, Athol, Ancaster, Bedford, Bolton, Buccleuch, Cumberland,  Devonshire, Leeds, Manchester, Marlborough, Montague, Northumberland, Richmond, Roxburgh; Marquis Carmarthen, Rockingham; Earl Ashburnham, Besborough, Dartmouth, Egremont, Gower, Holderness, Northington, Ossory, Powis, Spencer, Shelburne, Waldegrave; Lords, E. Bentinck, Bateman, Barrington, Beauchamp, Breadalbane, G. Cavendish, John Cavendish, Clifford, Denbigh, Fitzmaurice, Fitzwilliam, Falmouth, Harrowby, Hillsborough, Irwine, Kerry, Kinnaird, March, Mountstenart, North, Oxford, Palmerston, Polnarth, Robert Spencer, Temple, Tyrunnell, Warwick, Willoughby de Broke, Amherst, Petre.
   and such statesmen as:
the Earl of Chatham, Pitt, C. J. Fox, Lord Godolphin, Lord Sunderland, St. John and Wedderburn. as well as prominent players such as:
General Conway, Count Bruhl, the French Ambassador, Duke de Mirepois, the Turkish Ambassador, Dr. Black, Sir Abram Janssens, George Atwood, Mr. Jennings, Mr. Cotter, and the Rev. Mr. Bouldeer.

Comments


  • 12 months ago

    LaurenceGlazier

    Music by the great composer

  • 13 months ago

    melvinbluestone

    "Fiddles and Fianchettos" is actually the third in the famous Jane Austen trilogy, after Sense and Sensibilty and Pride and Prejudice. 

        Just kidding. Terrific article, as always. What a fascinating period in the history of chess...... the transition from the 18th to the 19th century.

  • 13 months ago

    JacobMatheny33

    Fiddles and Fianchettos... not a bad way to spend a lifetime.

  • 13 months ago

    adamstask

    thank you. I enjoy your articles. 

  • 13 months ago

    IM Squarology

    awesome. what an amazing life Philidor had.

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