Pondering Modenese

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There was in Italy a chess movement to rival that in Philidor's France, though by that time the Italian influence was almost finished. Around 1750, as Philidor was coming into prominence in France and England, a trio of chessplayers/writers sprung up in Modena, a town in northern Italy.  They've come to be known as the Modenese School.

The first of these was Domenico Ercole del Rio - born in 1718 and died in 1802.
Del Rio was a lawyer by profession. Because he published his first book, Sopra il Giuoco degli Scacchi Osservazione Pratiche d'Anonimo Autore Modenese, anonymously as the title suggests, he has been referred to as the Anonymous Modenese. His book was 110 pages and later expanded by his compatriot, Lolli.
Del Rio's other book, La Guerra degli Scacchi (The War of the Chessman) was only published in translation in 1984 by Christopher Becker.



Giambatista Lolli was born in Nonántola, near Modena in 1698 (he died in 1769). A reader of law by trade, he was the student and competitor of del Rio. He wrote Osservazioni Teorico-Pratiche Sopra il Giuoco degli Scacchi in 1763. This was a huge extension of del Rio's work filling 632 pages. The first part deals with openings, but all most half of the opening theory deals with the Italian game. The part dealing with endings was probably the best treatment to date, particularly in R+B vs B and Q vs B+B endgames.

Lolli's Mate


Lolli's Mate from an actual game



Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani - 1719 to 1796 - was a law lecturer and a priest whose book,  Il Giuoco Incomparabile degli Scacchi, 1769, deals with strategy as well as such openings as the Vienna game and the Ponziani gambit and countergambit.
Ponziani's chapter dealing with chess authors excited the interests of Baron Tasillo von Heydebrand und der Lasa and steered him towards his lifelong pursuit of historical research and book collecting.

The Modenese School advocated the open game, particularly the Italian game, favoring quick development above anything else. Del Rio had read Philidor's book and disagreed with his approach even to the point of including a criticism of Philidor's ideas in Lolli's book. Because of the type of open game that the Modenese School encouraged, they discounted Philidor's ideas of building a stronger center supported by pawns.

The Modenese School was the model for the players of the early 19th century. Quick in developing, quick in attacking, their combinative style set the benchmark for direct attacks on the king.


Well, so much for background.  Now for why I've been pondering these ancient players -

Philidor wrote his famous, and best-selling (it had gone through 70 editions by 1871 alone) Analyse du jeu des Échecs in which he examined, not just openings, but entire games giving his thought process throughout.  In this book Philidor gave his famous axion on page xii of the Preface:
Mon but principal est de me rendre recommandable par une nouveauté dont personne ne s'est avisé , ou peut - être: n'en a été capable ; c'est celle de bien jouer les Pions. Ils font l'ame des Echecs. Ce font eux uniquement qui forment l'attaque & la défenfe ; & de leur bon ou mauvais arrangement dépend entiérement le gain ou la perte de la Partie.

or from his 1749 English version:
My chief intention is to recommend myself to the public, by a novelty no one had thought of, or perhaps ever understood well. I mean how to play the Pawns. They are the very life of this game. They alone form the Attack and the Defence; on their good or bad situation depends the Gain or Loss of each Party.

Now, Philidor and his book became quite famous in his day and beyond, deep into the 19th century.  The works of the Modenese had less spectacular success and generally only among real aficionados despite the fact that they were generally more accurate and advocated the Calabrian style of chess commonly employed by the amateurs of that time and far easier to understand.  Part of the reason was that the players from Modena used the Italian rules, including free castling, that made some of what they wrote about useless to players from most other areas. The also focused on openings and endings, while Philidor did try to present games as a whole.

Yet for all Philidor's talk of pawns and position, the success of his book and the great popularity he enjoyed, very, very few players took his lessons to heart. Some, like Staunton, Wyvill, Szen and Paulsen, did seem to approach chess with an eye for position, often striving for closed positions and the slow crunching pawn play endorsed by Philidor, but most chess players, up to Steinitz, fell into the Romantic school endorsed by the Modenese.

It seems ironic that the mostly ignored Modenese seemed to have had far more practical influence than the highly popular Philidor for an entire century.