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Who was the Sicilian?

Everyone knows that the Ruy Lopez Opening is named after a Spanish priest; and that the Giuoco Piano is named after a reclusive Italian monk, as I revealed to the world in a previous blog.  But not everyone knows that the Sicilian Opening draws its name from yet another priest, a 17th-century Italian named Pietro Carrera from Militello, Sicily.

It was the English player/writer Sarratt who dubbed this opening the Sicilian, honoring Carrera who, in 1617, published Il Gioco degli Scacchi (The Game of Chess) in which 1. e4  c5 first appeared in print. 

Carrera only approved of four opening moves for White. He rather dogmatically stated in chapter 1 of Book 2 that there are “four methods of beginning the game; the first is, to play e4; the second d4; the third f4; and the fourth c4; any other opening is not deserving of commendation.” [algebraic notation supplied for clarity]

Italian Cover Page

Most of Carrera’s book was translated into English in 1822 by W. Lewis, but he did not translate a chapter on the origins of chess, nor did he translate the portion of the book in which Carrera describes a chess variant.  Some references to Carrera’s variant refer to it as a game played on a 10x8 board with two extra pieces placed between the rooks and knights.  One of these extra pieces is called the Champion and combines the moves of the rook and knight.  The other extra piece is called the Centaur, and it combines the moves of the bishop and knight.  The photo at the top illustrates these pieces.

You can actually play this chess variant against a computer if you click here.

However, in Lewis’ introduction to his translation he does not refer to an 80-square board, but to a 96-square board.  Since the Oxford Companion to Chess also refers to Carrera’s variant as using a 96-square board, either the sources that cite Carrera’s variant as using an 80-square board are wrong, or else Carrera invented more than one chess variant.

Carrera himself was wrong about one thing in his book. He believed that chess was invented by a character from Greek mythology around 1100 BC.  Although the chapter on history was not translated, Carrera’s descriptions of various chess players appear in a separate chapter at the end of his book.  In this chapter, he wrote “Palamedes, son of Nauplius, King of the Island of Eubea, now called Negroponte, inventor of the Game of Chess, used to play with Thersites, in presence of Ajax”. 

English Cover Page

Carrera also wrote other interesting things in his text.  For example, “The word Gambit is a term used in wrestling, when one party, by a sudden attack trips up his adversary.” And in a short chapter on blindfold play he wrote that “It is not necessary to be very skillful in order to play without seeing the board, for common players succeed in it.”  Indeed, Carrera was correct in this observation, as I described in an earlier blog on blindfold chess. 

There is a long list of puzzles included in the text, some of which were originals by Carerra.  For example, in the following diagram White can simply mate with Qg8, but the challenge is not to find the quickest mate.  It is to mate while adhering to the following rather intricate constraints on the solution:

“White to win in thirteen moves with a Pawn, checking on the tenth, eleventh and twelfth moves with the other Pawns, and not to move the King.  N.B. Black’s Pawn is not allowed to become any Piece but a Queen.”

 

 

While he has been described as not among the strongest of players, Carrera must have been a fierce competitor, judging from the advice he gave to chess players on how to prepare for a match: “He must abstain some days from meat to clear his brain as also to let blood, he should take both purgatives and emetics to drive the humours from his body, and he must above all be sure to confess his sins and receive spiritual absolution just before sitting down to play in order to counteract the demoniacal influence of magic spells.”

That is a man who took his chess seriously, indeed. 

Serious about chess

Comments


  • 5 years ago

    TiiK_ToK

    your blogs are gr8!

  • 5 years ago

    drox_s

    worth reading.

  • 5 years ago

    checkersgosu

    @gemini1974

    He was wrong because 1) Ajax was not a real person and 2) chess was invented in India.

  • 5 years ago

    bcieslak

    “He must abstain some days from meat to clear his brain as also to let blood, he should take both purgatives and emetics to drive the humours from his body, and he must above all be sure to confess his sins and receive spiritual absolution just before sitting down to play in order to counteract the demoniacal influence of magic spells.”

    My rating started climbing after I started this regime..Yell

    All kidding aside, a very interesting article, thanks..

    BC

  • 5 years ago

    ppeets

    did monks and priests have nothing better to do than play chess and invent champagne?

  • 5 years ago

    sharpurmind

    Hello Kurtgodden,

     

    Nice article.  Please read the following link to get a glimpse about Satranj originated from India which is modified into modern chess over the time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shatranj

    Interesting how the game developed and migrated to different parts of the world.

    RK

  • 5 years ago

    kunduk

    thanks for the blog..

  • 5 years ago

    masterRETI

    kurtgodden you are the man! your blogs are awesome.

    anyway i suggest to all reading this particular blog to pick up a copy of THE IMMORTAL GAME by David Shenk. It is a history of the greatest game of all time and he takes you through the famous Immortal Game move by move. a great read it was.

    Again, hats off to kurtgodden!!

  • 5 years ago

    shiro_europa

    haha. the carrera chess computer is weak!

  • 5 years ago

    Muhammad333

    "Some references to Carrera’s variant refer to it as a game played on a 10x8 board with two extra pieces placed between the rooks and knights.  One of these extra pieces is called the Champion and combines the moves of the rook and knight.  The other extra piece is called the Centaur, and it combines the moves of the bishop and knight.  The photo at the top illustrates these pieces.

    You can actually play this chess variant against a computer if you click here."

     

    This version of chess is actually called "Capablanca Chess."

  • 5 years ago

    RoyalStraightFlush

    Nice!!

  • 5 years ago

    JG27Pyth

    That variant is interesting (it's like having three queens) ... but the chess engine for carerra chess is useless. It's hardly better than random legal moves.

    Thanks for the blog, very informative.

  • 5 years ago

    Muhammad333

    I loved this blog! It was great Kurtgodden!  I always thought it was named after the island of Sicily, but I was wrong. It was named after a person. This was a very interesting topic.

  • 5 years ago

    thesexyknight

    Or maybe it was named after Sicily, the island. A thing from sicily would therefore be sicilian....

  • 5 years ago

    ItalianGame

    interesting. Eh, the puzzle has some errors but other than that excellent

  • 5 years ago

    ClaypOT

    Nice article.

    One minor thing... I recommend never calling somebody from Sicily and Italian. I nearly had my head bit off by some guy when I called him Italian (in a non-derogatory way, mind you). He responded with a vehement, "I am not Italian! I am Sicilian!"

    lol...

    Anyway... Again, nice article...

  • 5 years ago

    gemini1974

    fascinating! congratulations!

    but you say "Carrera himself was wrong about one thing in his book. He believed that chess was invented by a character from Greek mythology around 1100 BC.   ... he wrote “Palamedes, son of Nauplius, King of the Island of Eubea, now called Negroponte, inventor of the Game of Chess, used to play with Thersites, in presence of Ajax”."

    Why you believe he was wrong? I am interesting in your comments.

  • 5 years ago

    pro2duo

    I think, I become your blogs fans :D

    arif

  • 5 years ago

    vincent_pang

    None the less, a good read.

    Keep up the good work!

    Vincent

  • 5 years ago

    vincent_pang

    Uh, before I do get started on reading it, are you sure it's not Sicilian (you wrote Sicilan)?

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