The Discoverer of Smothered Mate

| 20 | Chess Players

Gioachino Greco (1600-1634), known as Il Calabrese, was born in Celico, in the province of Calabria, Italy. Greco was a notable chess player and writer. His hand-written booklets, originally presented to his wealthy patrons, about opening traps and matting patterns are regarded as classics of early chess literature and are still sometimes taught to beginners. He studied the Giuoco Piano (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5), and published his analysis in the form of short games/constructions around 1625.

Even if Greco's chess games, against unknown players, are certainly constructions, they at least reveal much ingenuity and a high level of playing.

Among his games/constructions was the first smothered mate! Smothered mate is a checkmate delivered by a knight on a king which is hemmed in by his own pieces.  Since his own pieces surround the king and block his escape routes, the king is said to be "smothered."

One of the earliest examples was published in England in 1656 in Beale's Royal Game of Chess Player:

Mikhail Botvinnik considered Greco to be the first professional chess player! and I would like to add that Greco was the first opening analyst!

Greco spent the last years of his life at King Philipp IV's court. He came into fellowship with the Jesuits and in 1634 attached as an adjunct to a congregation of Jesuits that set sail for the East Indies. He died in the West Indies, seemingly from a disease that he contracted there.

He left his entire fortune from chess to the Jesuits but his chess legacy is with us!

Today we shall see first another smothered mate, and then a composition by Greco where he uses the theme of the “wrong rook pawn.”



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