Carrera's History of Chess Players

Jan 12, 2011, 12:41 PM |

In 1822 William Lewis produced 50 copies of a translation of Pietro Carerra's 1617 book, A Treatise on the Game of Chess.

In the Preface, Lewis wrote:
The Editor has not thought fit to translate the whole of the original, being unwilling to make a large volume. What he has omitted could  not, however, be of any use to the practical chess-player; such for example as the chapter on the origin of the game; an account of a new  game on a board of ninety-six squares, played with the chess-men and two additional pieces, &c ; an exception has, however, been  made in Carrera's account of Chess players, including those of his own time, which appeared to the editor too amusing and interesting  to omit.

Every game, position, and move, is given, and to these the editor has occasionally added notes, which he hopes may prove useful.

Carrera was born in 1571, and died in 1647; his work was originally published at Militello, in Sicily, in 1617; it is a quarto volume of 556  pages, besides the table of contents; it is entitled, "Il Gioco degli Scacchi di D. Pietro Carrera" and is divided into eight books; it is one  of the scarcest works on Chess; the copy in possession of the editor is the only one he has ever seen, nor is there, perhaps, another in  this country. It is equally rare to be met with on the continent.


Below is a transcription of the last part of the book


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, as mentioned by Pausanias in his tenth Book; he was a man of surprizing talent, for, according to some  writers, he was the inventor of measures, numbers, and weights: he was profoundly learned in astrology, and accordingly fixed the solar  year and the lunar month; he was the first who divided the hours and coined money. During an eclipse of the sun, when he was with the  army, he was the first to encourage the soldiers, telling them not to be frightened at that which was produced by natural causes; he  invented the countersign used by soldiers in camp. The four Greek letters Θ Ξ Φ X were invented by him. He lived about 1100 years  before Christ. According to Philostratus, he was stoned to death by the Greeks, at the instigation of Ulysses, but according to Daretes  Frigius, in the sixth book of the Trojan war, he was killed by Paris with an arrow.

Thersites, a Grecian, played with Palamedes. He is described by Homer in the second book of the Illiad as a man of brutal habits and  bad disposition.

Protesilaus and Ajax, Grecian Princes, played the game when the Grecian army was in Aulis; with them were Ajax, Palamedes,  Diomedes, Meriones, Ulysses, and Nireus. Euripides gives an account of it in his tragedy of Iphigenia, but it does not appear which of  the two Ajaces played with Protesilaus, we therefore suppose they were both chess players.

Diodorus, of the city of Megapolis, Theossenus, and Leones, who was born in the island of Mitylene, but of Athenian origin, are  mentioned as chess players by Atheueus, in the first book of the Gymnosophists: it is said of Leones by Fania that he was invincible in  the game.

Ovid, the celebrated poet; wrote on the game of chess, according to Aldo Manutio's life of him; but as the stile differs from that of the  poet, and does not accord with the genius of such a man, some persons reasonably think that it was not written by him ; for my part I  have never seen it.

Macenates and Quintus Galba were chess players, according to Domitius Brusonius.

Canus Julius, a man of great authority, was a chess player. Seneca, in his work on the Tranquillity of the Soul, mentions him in the  following words:

Canus Julius vir magnus ludebat latrunculis, cum centurio agmen periturorum trahens, et ilium quoque citari jubet, vocatus numeravit  calculos, et sodali suo vide, inquit, ne post mortem meam mentiaris te vicisse. Speaking of the same, he says afterwards, Decem  medios usque ad supplicium dies sine ulla solicitudine exegisse.  He was put to death by order of the Emperor Caligula.

Seneca, a Spaniard of the City of Cordova, a man of great integrity and knowledge, learned the game of chess, as he himself  confesses, in the 18th Book, Epistle 106. Latrunculis ludimus, in supervacuis subtilitas territur.  He died at an advanced age at Rome, by  order of Nero.

Calpurnius Pisonis, most able among the Romans, for he descended from Calpus, son of Numa Pompilius, King of Rome, was an  excellent chess player, as clearly appears from the panegyrick of Lucan, in which it is said, amongst other things, that the chess-men  directed by him never lost.

Valerius Martial, Spaniard of the City of Bilbilis, in Celtiberia, a most ingenious poet, was a chess player, and so fond of the game, that  he would willingly have lived in a vile hamlet if he could have had a few comforts, but particularly a chess board and men ; this appears  from his Epigram to Rufus in the second book.

                        Cauponem, laniumque, balneumque;
                        Tonsorem, tabulamque, calculosque;
                        Et paucos, sed ut eligam, libellos;
                        Unum, non nimium rudem, sodalem;
                        Haec praesta mihi, Rufe, vel Bitonti ,-
                        Et thermas tibi habe Neronianas.

He lived during the reign of eight Emperors, namely, from Galba to Trajan : having returned to his native country, he fell ill there, and died  at the age of fifty seven.

Paulus, Novius, and Publius were chess players, according to Martial in the seventh book, in the Epigram to Paulus.

                        Sic vincas Noviumque, Publiumque
                        Mandris, el vitreo latrone clauses.

Pontilianus, according to Martial, was a chessplayer; the poet writes to him that to please him he will let him win. The words are these:

                        Gemma vis ludere vineor.

By the word Gemma is understood chess-men made of gems, or something similar. In this way Lorenzo Ramires, of Prado,  commentator of Martial, interprets it.

Quadratilla, a noble Roman lady, much praised by Pliny the younger in the seventh book in the Epistle to Geminius, was a chess player,  as mentioned by the same author; she died at the age of eighty.

Trigretius or Tigretius, an excellent commander and man of great talents, was a chess player; he is celebrated by Sidonius Apollinaris,  in the eighth book, twelfth Epistle: he lived during the reign of King Theodore. We have not been able to give any account of the degree  of skill professed by the above players.

Mangiolino or Magiolino, of the City of Florence, was famous for playing without seeing the board. He is mentioned by Raphael  Volaterrano in the twenty-ninth book of his Commentaries. He lived a short time prior to that author.

Jacobus de Cessolis, of the order of St. Dominick, wrote in Italian a work on Chess, entitled, " Costumi degli huomini, et uffici delli  nobili;" but he does not give any rules for playing. He lived under the Emperor Charles V. In the same reign Jerom Vida, Bishop of Alba,  wrote the game of chess in heroic verse, which has been much admired by many writers.

Damiano, a Spaniard, was a first-rate player: he wrote a book on Chess, containing some openings of games, and a great number of  ends of games, many of which are beautiful and ingenious. I know not when he lived, but I suppose, during the reign of Charles V.

Arimini and Branci, of Palermo, lived also under the reign of Charles V. They were excellent players.

Don Matteo Li Genchi, Sicilian of the city of Termine, was celebrated in the same reign; he wrote several stanzas on the laws of the  game which, notwithstanding my endeavours, I have not been able to procure.

In the time of our fathers we had many famous players of whom Paolo Boi, Sicilian of the city of Syracuse, and commonly called the Syracusian, was considered the best, and of whom it is proper we should say more than of the other players. He was born in Syracuse  of a rich and good family ; when a boy he made considerable progress in literature, for he had a very quick apprehension; he had a  wonderful talent for the game of Chess, and having in a short time beaten all the players of the city, he resolved to go to Spain, where, he  had heard, there were famous players, honoured and rewarded, not only by noblemen but also by Philip II. who took no small delight in  the game. He first beat with ease all the players of Sicily, and was very superior in playing without seeing the board; for playing at once  three games blindfold he conversed with others on different subjects. Before going into Spain he travelled over all Italy playing with the  best players, amongst others with the Puttino, who was of equal force; they are therefore called by Salvio the light, and glory of the game  of Chess. He was the favorite of many Italian Princes and particularly of the Duke of Urbino, and of several Cardinals, and even of Pope  Pius V. himself, who would have given him a considerable benefice, if he would have become a clergyman, but this he declined, that he  might follow his own inclinations. He afterwards went to Venice, where a circumstance happened which had never occurred before, he  played with a person and lost, having afterwards by himself examined the games with great care, and finding that he ought to have won,  he was astonished that his adversary should have gained contrary to all reason, and suspected that he had used some secret art  whereby he was prevented from seeing clearly, and as he was very devout and was possessed of a rosary rich with many relics of  saints, he resolved to play again with his antagonist, but armed not only with the rosary, but strengthened by having previously received  the sacrament; by these means he conquered his adversary, who after his defeat said to him these words : " Thine is more potent than  mine."

He afterwards went to Spain, where he had the honor to play in presence of Philip II. who gave him the revenue of certain offices in the  cities of Syracuse, of the value of five hundred scudi a year. Boi in his youth was very bold and daring, and desirous of being employed  in the service of his Catholic Majesty by the brother of the King, Don Giovanni D'Austria, to whom the king wrote the following letter of  recommendation in favor of Paolo Boi.

Illustrissimo Don Juan de Austria mi muy caro y muy amado hermano, neustro Capitan General de la Mar. De la persona y servicios de  Pablo Boi Siracusano que esta os dara, se me ha hecho muy buena relacion, y que agora va con desseo de continuarlos cerca de  veustra persona, y assi os he querido escrivir, y royaros, y encargaros mucho, como lo hago, le tengais por muy encomendado para  favorecerle, y empearle en las occasiones, que se offrecieren de mi servicio, que en ello recibire de vos particular contentamiento, y  sea Illustrissimo Don Juan mi muy caro y mui amado hermano neustro Capitan General de la Mar nuestro Senor en vuestra continua  guarda. De Madrid, a 22 de Ayosto, 1575,

                          Vuestra buen hermano,
                                                     IO EL REY,
                                                               Ant. Perez.

From the above letter we learn that Boi had before served the King, but on what occasion is unknown. We also know that he was in  Portugal, and playing with some of the principal persons of that kingdom, he in one day won eight thousand scudi. He also played with  Sebastian, King of Portugal, who not only took delight in the game, but played it himself, and was reputed a good player. They often  played three or four hours a day, and once, when the King was standing playing, and the Syracusian, (as was his duty) with one knee on  a cushion, having played along time, and being desirous of resting, the King assisted with his arm to raise him, that he might kneel on  the other knee.

It is not, therefore, wonderful, that the Syracusian was esteemed by many noblemen of Sicily, Rome, Naples, and other places, and  handsomely rewarded by them, since great kings highly favoured him. He also went to Hungary, where he played with Turks, who are  particularly fond of the game, playing by memory when riding on horseback. The Syracusian was in foreign countries during twenty  years, so that in his own country he was supposed to be dead, for he unwillingly gave any account of himself. When he returned to Sicily  he never had any fixed place of residence, for he was often going from one city to another, either for his own pleasure or to please some Prince, which was the cause of his death, for when in Syracuse, he was invited by the Princess of Stigliano, who highly esteemed  him, as did also her father, who sent him three hundred scudi of gold for travelling expences to Naples, in which city he was shortly  afterwards seized with a complaint in the stomach, brought on by hunting the day before, and died in the year 1598, having attained his  seventieth year. His body was buried in the church of St. Francesco di Paolo, his obsequies being sumptuously celebrated in the  presence of Prince Stigliano and other Neapolitan cavaliers.

I knew him in my youth, when I was at the city of Palermo, in the year 1597 : his hair was quite white, his form robust, and his mind firm.  He dressed very fashionably, like a young man, and was very capricious; nevertheless, he had many excellent qualities—he was very  chaste and modest—he never would marry—was extremely liberal and munificent—very charitable—he attended mass every day,  always giving alms to the priest that officiated, whoever he might be—he confessed and took the sacrament frequently, and was very  partial to religious persons. He never would allow any portrait to be taken of him, and the drawings of him which are now seen were  made without his knowledge. He never would be persuaded, even in his old age, to fix his residence in his own country or elsewhere. In  stature he was rather tall, well-proportioned, handsome, and lively ; eloquent in conversation, and gay and affable with every one. He left  some writings on the game of Chess, which I have not seen. I have thought it proper to give a full account of such a man, that his name  may be known to posterity.

Of no less fame and knowledge was Doctor Gio. Leonardo of Cutri, in the Kingdom of Naples, called Il Puttino, who was known in many  cities of Italy and Spain ; he also played well without seeing the board : according to Salvio he left some writings on the game.

Il Cherico Di Zaffra, a Spaniard, universally celebrated, was equal to the Syracusian and the Puttino, according to some Spaniards and  players.

Sebastian, King of Portugal, was a Chess player, and a youth of elevated mind: he died in battle in Africa, in the year 1578.

Catherine De Medicis, Queen of France, mother of Henry the Third, King of France, was a Chess player with whom the Syracusian  wished much to play, but no opportunity occurred: this I had from himself in 1597. She departed this life in 1589.

John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, was a great Chess player; for being made prisoner by Charles V. and playing at Chess with Ernest,  Duke of Brunswick, he was informed that the Emperor had sentenced him to be beheaded before the gate of Wittenberg; delighted with  the game, or armed with his usual firmness and magnanimity, he heard the news with such fortitude, and without any sign of fear, that he  requested the Duke Ernest to play again. His life was, however, spared by the Emperor, at the request of the Duke Mauritio and the  Duke of Cleves, but under certain conditions.

Ernest, Duke of Brunswick, was delighted with Chess; for, being taken prisoner with the Duke of Saxony, by Charles V., they played  together at Chess.

Antonio Luparello, Sicilian of the City of Caltagirone, followed the steps of the Syracusian, from whom, I have heard, he received the  odds of two moves: he died young at Naples.

Ruy Lopez, a Spaniard, a most famous player; he wrote a work on Chess, in which he enlarges on many openings of games.

Gio. Philip Di Augusta, a Sicilian, born at Militello, my native town, was inferior to the Syracusian by the odds of the Pawn and move ; he  died in Palermo.

Zerone, a Spaniard, equal to Lopez. He also wrote on the game of Chess, but I never saw the work.

Medrano, a Spaniard, is no less praised as an excellent player than Zerone and Lopez; they all three played perfectly well without seeing  the board: between them and the Syracusian there was no difference, and their knowledge of the game was considered equal.

Giovan Domenico Scalmato, of Messina, was a Pawn inferior to the Syracusian, for he played even with the Baron di Siculiana; he was  a great musician, and died at Castro in Sicily.

Pietro Pedrosa, a Spaniard, played even with the Baron di Siculiaua, but won a majority of games.

Giovanni Antonio Gallo, of the City of Palermo, was reputed of equal skill with Scalmato.

Alfonso Cirasa, a Sicilian, was somewhat superior to the Baron di Siculiana; he died in Italy.

Silvio Platamone, a noble Cavalier of Syracuse, played even with the Baron de Siculiana, whose son Andrea, who is now living,  although rather inferior, yet deserves to be mentioned.

Thomaso Schivel, a Spaniard, was of the same strength as Pedrosa, for he won of -the Baron di Siculiana a majority of games.

Giacomo Di Termine, a Sicilian of Alcamo, was a good player, slightly inferior to the Baron di Siculiana.

Christoforo Mezzucco, a Genoese, was equal to the above Giacomo, and therefore deserves mention.

Giacomo Corsetto, a Sicilian of the City of Noto, was equal to the Baron di Siculiana.

Antonino Mazzara, otherwise called Birritta, a Sicilian of Scicli, was a Pawn inferior to the Syracusian. When I was a boy, he came to  Militello very vain of having at that time learned the principles of the game.

Clariano Rosso, a Sicilian of Militello, where I was born, played several times with Biritta, sometimes one winning, sometimes the other;  I am much indebted to him, for what I know of Chess I learned of him; he was so capricious that he never would receive odds of me,  though I willingly offered them, nevertheless he often played even with me, though he was sure of losing. He died in Militello, in 1604.

Pietro Ramires, a Spaniard, who resided in Modica in Sicily, played even with Biritta; so that he may be called a good player.

Tindaro Muratore Doctor of Law, a Sicilian of the city of Mireo, played often with Clariano, of whom he received the odds of the move.

About the same time there lived in Italy, a Ragusian, whose name I have not been able to obtain; he was a very fine player, being  considered about equal to the Puttino.

 Battista Flaciglia, a Sicilian of the city of Lentini, was not inferior to Tindaro; he was a maker of ovens, and was therefore called il Fornaro. I became acquainted with him in Lentini in the year 1596.

Giacomo La Barbiera of Palermo, was equal to the Baron di Siculiana.

Francesco Cardona, a Sicilian of Chiusa, played even with the Baron di Siculiana.

Francesco Citraro of Palermo, received the move of the Baron di Siculiana.

The reader is informed, that some of the above players lived in the time of our fathers, and even until our own time, as also some of  those whom we are about to mention.

In the present age we have had many famous players, among whom Don Horatio Paterno, Baron del Biscari, a Sicilian of the city of  Catania, was equal to the Syracusian, for they played even, and won alternately ; there was however this difference in their play, the  Baron del Biscari took much time in attentively considering almost every move, and the Syracusian played without much delay: he  played also well without seeing the board: he died in his own country, in 1614.

Thomaso Caputo, also called Rosces, of Naples, was reputed about equal to the Baron del Biscari, and like him very slow in moving, to  the great annoyance of the bystanders; he died at an advanced age in Palermo.

Don Salvatore Albino, a clergyman of the city of Benevento, also called the Beneventano, confessed that he was inferior to Rosces;  nevertheless he was an excellent player; he resided some months in Militello, in the year 1598; he died in the city of Palermo.

Don Blasco Isfar, Baron di Siculiana of Palermo, of a noble family, was superior to the Beneventano, and would have been equal to the  best players, if he had not been too fond of wild capricious games. He received the odds of a Pawn from the Syracusian: I saw them  play very often in Palermo, in the year 1597, and the Syracusian could with difficulty give those odds. I know from the frequent practice I  have had with him, that he retained in his capacious memory all the fine moves of the greatest players in Europe, whom he had met at  different times in Italy and Spain. While I am writing this, I hear that he has departed this life in Palermo, to the great regret of every one.

Don Girolamo, di San Giovanni Marignano, a castle so called in Italy, a monk of the Monastery of San Vitale di Ravenna, was a fine  player; as he generally won of the Ragusian, he may be considered equal to the Puttino.

Don Giovanni Di Castro, son of the Count Lemos, Archbishop of Taranto, of the order of St. Benedetto, and a most famous preacher,  played even with the Ragusian, it is therefore proper that his name should adorn these pages.

Constantin Boccaccio, a Sicilian of the city of Termine, played even with the Baron di Siculiana, and is now much spoken of, though old  age has somewhat weakened his play.

Scovara, a Spaniard, and most celebrated player, considered equal to the Syracusian, and therefore justly to be placed among the best  players.

Gregorio Ducchi, wrote in the Tuscan language a poem on Chess, which he called "Scaccheide," in which he poetically personifies the  pieces, but he does not give the laws of the game.

 Doctor Alessandro Salvio, of Naples, wrote a book on Chess, divided into rules, positions and games, and also a Tragedy in imitation  of the Poem of Ducchi; he is a capital player, and has great fertility of invention in the game.

Scipione Portio, a Sicilian of the city of Catania, an excellent philosopher, and much celebrated as his works prove, received the odds  of the "castled King" of the Baron del Biscari, with whom he used to play very often : he is still living, old in years but young in  constitution.

We must not omit Doctor D. Girolamo Cascio, a Sicilian priest of the city of Piazza, who having often played with the best players in  Naples, and in Rome, has become known as a young man of considerable skill, Salvio therefore justly calls him in his book, an excellent  player. In knowledge of Chess he was equal to the Baron di Siculiana.

I should place in the same class Giovan Battista Luparello, a Sicilian of the city of Caltagirone, brother of Antonio, of whom mention has  been already made, if he continue practising the game, as he is rather inferior to Cascio.

Giovan Dom Enico Di Arminio, highly spoken of by Salvio, has become known as a famous player; I believe he is a Neapolitan.

Michele di Mauro, of Calabria, Pietro Di Ruggieri, Cesare Daponti, and Battista, whose surname I know not, are celebrated by Salvio  as excellent players, and worthy of all praise.

Don Pietro Paolo Costanzo, Priest of the kingdom of Naples, whom I knew in Palermo in the year 1603. He was slightly inferior to the  Beneventano; he played with ease, and well.

Alonso Ortega, a Spaniard whom I knew in Palermo in 1611, a most acute player; he deserves to be numbered among the most  excellent; he played extremely well by memory; he gave the move to the Baron di Siculiana.

Don Mariano Marano, a Sicilian priest of Sortino played even with Ortega, he deserves therefore to be named.

Pietro Faylla, of Sortino, played prettily, he received the odds of the " castled King" of Marano.

Nicolo la Rosa, a Sicilian of the city of Mazzaro, is a spirited player, and very fond of the game; he is rather inferior to Marano.

Vito Bussemi, a physician of the city of Sciacca in Sicily, inferior to Marano by two moves, but extremely rapid in play.

Pietro Paolo Bottoni, Doctor of Law of the city of Messina, not inferior to Bussemi, and therefore not to be passed over in silence.

Luciano Timpanello, a Sicilian of the city of Tavorinina, received the Pawn and move of the Syracusian. We must not omit to state that  his wife, daughter, and several sons, all play well, among whom D. Ignatio, monk of the order of Monte Cassino, in the practice of the  game, follows wonderfully the steps of his father.

A Jewess about twenty years old, born in Venice, whose name I am not acquainted with, and who is now alive, and considered an  admirable player; she plays even with Don Girolamo Benedettino, of whom we have already spoken.

Don Annibale Riganato, Priest of Messina, being equal in the game to Timpanello, must not be omitted.

Agostino Lo Vesocovo, a Sicilian of Racalbuto, is rather superior to Pietro Paolo Bottom.

Antonio Boi, a Sicilian of the city of Sciacca, has the reputation of a great player, but to what degree he has attained, I know not.

We must not omit what Alessandro Salivo in the prologue to the Scaccaide says of a player, who neither saw nor heard what was  moved, and played solely by the touch, I suppose he was blind ; Salvio says that this person was going to write a book on Chess: the  following are the lines, which however are not very elegant.

                        Vi sara, dopo quel che oltre il vedere,
                        E con l'udito sol, come gia I'altri,
                        Nuovo modo fara, unqua no inteso ;
                        Che col tatto giocando, e non vedendo,

                        Ne udendo I'inimico, che si fuccia,
                        Li stara a fronte, e quanto quello adoupra
                        Co'l tatto sol conosce,
                        Come udito I'havesse, o pur veduto ,
                        Costui con versi, e prose
                        Fara di Scacchi un libro.

These are the chief players of whom I have been able to give some account; I am not willing to speak of those of an inferior class. If there  be any who have become famous within these few years, and whom I have not mentioned for want of knowing them, I hope they will  excuse it, as I have not willingly omitted any, nor have I spared any trouble in enquiring after players and their strength.

With regard to the opinions I have given of every one, I have been guided in some by the account which Salvio gives in the Prologue to  his Tragedy, and in his Book on Chess; in others, from what I have heard from players and persons worthy of belief, therefore I am not to  be blamed if there should be some incorrectness in them, but rather those who have given me a false account; and this I say, not that I  have any doubt of the truth of what has been told me, but because I know that sometimes truth becomes corrupted without any fault of  him who relates it; besides it is very possible that during the progress of this work, some have improved in the game, and others from  old age, infirmity, and other causes, have become weaker. The number is not small of those players whom I have myself tried, and with whose skill I have become fully acquainted.