The Dilaram problem in Kochanowski's Szachy & the Polish Defense... two aspects of Alexander Wagner

The Dilaram problem in Kochanowski's Szachy & the Polish Defense... two aspects of Alexander Wagner


Isn't it beautiful!?! It's a stained glass of 15th c., originating from Hôtel de la Bessée in Villefranche-sur-Saône [now in Musee de Cluny], just a little color changed. It illustrates somehow the first part of this blog. A woman paying attention to the chessboard while a man doesn't. Anyway... first a fairy tale.

Kochanowski's Szachy

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Dane princess, Anna. Princes & strong men from all over Europe had come to ask from her father, King Tarses, to marry her. But two of them stood out, Fiedor and Borzuj. So much they desired her that they were willing to fight for it. However, wise King Tarses showed a chessboard instead.

Rules were explained, advice were taken, and a legendary chess game started. The struggle was hard and long and after many moves [and some illegal move attempts] Fiedor, having the blacks, was in a really difficult position... just right before getting mated. Thinking it over and over again, the hours were passing and in the end it was decided that the game should be adjourned till the next day.

During the night, beautiful Anna sneaked into the play room and looked sad at the adjourned position. She preferred Fiedor and wanted him to win! But how?! Black was obviously losing...

And all of a sudden the idea came up! He should sacrifice the rook! And she turned the horns of the black Rook, pointing the white King, so to signal to Fiedor the winning move!

The morning came and Borzuj and Fiedor sat around the chessboard again. And Fiedor noticed the change of his Rook's placement, and started to think... and in the end grasped the winning plan and sacrificed his Rook, checking Borzuj's King and winning the game!

Fiedor and Anna were married while Borzuj didn't even come at the wedding! And they lived happily ever after...

compilation of Kochanowski's portrait by Jan Matejko [19th c.] and Szachy 1919 edition in,MzEzNTc1/64/#item 

The poem

The above is a short by me summary of the Jan Kochanowski's work under the title Szachy. The poem was originally published in 1565, dedicated to count Jan Krzysztof Tarnowski. Kochanowski stated at the end of his poem that Vida's work was his inspiration [=gdziem Widę przejmował]. Probably he was referring to Marco Girolamo Vida and his famous Scacchia Ludus of 1527, where also a chess game is described poetically.

However there're differences regarding the background and the story plot. Vida's game is played by Apollo and Mercury at the Olympus. Kochanowski's by two men for the love of a woman. It must be noted that in Vida there's also a small but strong female presence. Scacchidis [later Caissa], a Seriad nymph, who gave her name to the game.

[editable poem's text in Polish in, also more regarding literature in Kochanowski's Gambit by Wiktor Weintraub, article in]

Dilaram chess problem / mansuba

But, as I see it, a more significant loan is the adjourned position, shown above. Wiki author mentions that it's based on an older famous shatranj mansuba under the name Dilaram problem, citing Ziomek's Renesans, 1999, p. 272. And seems to be true. A fact that should be mentioned is the really good diplomatic relationships between Ottoman Empire and Kingdom of Poland during the 16th century, something that maybe could justify such a quick, as it seems, loan.

from Man Ms 57

One typical position in shatranj mansubat is the above from the so called Man MS 57

On this Murray, p. 311 n. 83, writes:

"In S it is called mansuba al-jariya (the maiden's problem). In F it is called the problem of Dilaram chengi, and the following story is told, as from al-Lajlaj [*Murray's fn: No importance can be attached to this use of al-Lajlaj's name, for he plays an entirely mythical part in this work]. Dilaram was the favourite wife of a certain nobleman, who had given her this name because his heart knew no peace without her, the name Dilaram meaning 'heart's ease'. Once he was playing chess with a very strong player, and finally staked Dilaram on the game. The game went badly for him, and he found himself in such a position that his opponent appeared to have a certain mate on the next move. At this moment Dilaram cried out in distress, 'Sacrifice your two Rooks, and not me.' Her lover saw the line of play that she meant, and won the game. With everincreasing embellishment this story is given in all the later MSS., and reaches its most ornate form in Durgaprasada's Urdu work. Here the hero of the game is the Moghul Emperor Shah Julian, and his four wives all advise him, but Dilaram alone sees how to save the game. This problem was one of the most popular of all the Muslim problems..."

recent drawing of the Dilaram story created by artist Ludmila Gavrilova, found in [no further info found]

Fascinating! In F MS a wife, Dilaram, founds a similar solution on a difficult chess position helping the man that she loved, just as in Szachy. However she's a wife, while Anna, the Dane princess, is more of a maiden, like in S MS.

I couldn't find any copy of the two aforementioned MSS [mentioned by Murray as S & F], just info around them. The S MS [the one that just mentions it as the maiden's problem] is probably MS Pococke 16 (Bodleian Library) written around 1571 by Damascene Ibn Sukaykir [d.1579], a traveler writer. So a little later than the Kochanowski's poem.

The F MS remained untracked in the web. Murray, p. 178, mentions it as MS Nuri Osmaniye, Stambul, No. 4073, written by the noted Turkish poet Firdawsi at-Tahihal around 1501, who was the author of the immense Sulaiman nama... After some search he's probably referring to Firdevsi-i Rumi [b.1453], or of Bursa, author of a big encyclopedic-historic work under the title Suleymanname.

However I had some luck, at least regarding the available visualization. Murray, next to F MS mentions another by the same author, the Q MS, known now as Munich MS 250 of the 1st half of the 16th century [BSB-Hss Cod. turc. 250]. It seems to be in Persian and Murray doesn't give any more info for the Dilaram problem & the story in this particular MS but I think I've tracked it.

from MS Mun. Turk. 250, f. 38, Firdevsi's Şatrançnâme

As you can see, something isn't right. In order to work with the shatranj known solution, as in Man MS 57 above, the knight of g5 should be on g4 and black shouldn't have R on b7 ~ b8 or b6 could work [if you want to check it, the FEN of the displayed in the MS position is 6k1/1r6/5PP1/6NR/K1n5/2p4B/1r6/7R w - - 0 1 // maybe on c3 there should be a black Q[Firzan] instead of a pawn, but this doesn't change the rest of the comments]. I couldn't find some solution for this position but it really looks like the Dilaram one. Maybe the story had some deceit element in the solution, maybe there's a solution I can't see or maybe it's just incorrect. Anyway...

Just before this diagram there's a page with one of the few illustrations of this MS. Unfortunately the digitized Munich MS is in b & w, but this particular page can be found in color in the front page of the website. Above it there's a text with the following title...


After some OCR and toying with the Persian alphabet, I think I've managed to identify one word of the title [underlined in the image = دلارام ], that is pronounced as Delaram or Dilaram! [Persian & Arabic are written from right to left, while letters change form if written next to others. Word " دلارام " is constituted by the letters " د ل ا ر ا م " that are "d - l - a - r - a - m", but after 'd' an 'i' or 'e' can be pronounced. [For some side-confirmation-comparison check also this Persian song's title]

However I don't know what exact part of the story could be presented in the illustration...

from MS Mun. Turk. 250, f. 37

The Dilaram problem had probably passed in European medieval chess...

from BNF MS Lat 10286 f.91v, that is Traité du jeu des échecs, by Nicolas de Nicolai of 14th century

However more interesting are the illustrations of Libro de los juegos of Alfonso X of Castile [late 13th century]. In this work the Dilaram position appears in four illustrations. But only in three it has the known by shatranj solution, namely of folios 38r, 39v & 56r.

from Libro de los juegos, f.62r, probl. 100

In the above position, resembling to Dilaram's, the solution is described differently.

First move similar 1...Bc4+[disc. with leap] but instead of the typical response of hiding K in Dilaram's problems, here white plays 2.Ra7, covering like engine's desperate move, 2...Rxa7+ 3.Ra6 Rxa6+ 4.Kb8 and now instead of finishing with 4...Ra1+, 5...b2+, 6...Na3#, black plays 4...Rh6 threatening the unavoidable quicker back rank mate with 5...Rh1#.


Regarding the art, the problem 100 of f.62r is also more unique compared to other Dilarams. A female can be seen playing, a maiden, against a man, while in 38r are two grown men, in 39v two boys and in 56r two women. This maiden of f.62r hasn't been identified as in other illustrations, where one can possibly see one of the two Alfonso's wives, Violante & Mayor, or his daughter Beatriz.

However, "Calvo rather unconvincingly suggests that perhaps the miniaturist has set the lovers of the Dilaram story in a European setting (1987: 233)", in Los libros by Sonja Musser, PhD 2007, p. 952.

And the funny thing here is that man is winning, showing the rooks to the maiden, that she should probably sacrifice but with no actual effect [according to the described in it solution]. Something like a possible variation!

Dilaram's lover learnt his lesson very well and he's teasing her somehow or the original story was different?!?


The game's reconstruction

Getting back to the story of Kochanowski in Szachy, a reconstruction try of the poem's game was published in Szachista Polski 4/1912 within a contest. It was signed by some Wanda Reger Nelska, who later was identified as anagram of Alexander Wagner. Yuri Averbach, in his Searching for Truth [В поисках истины], 1967, p. 4, also worked on the poem's game and its reconstruction, giving two more possible endings, but under some question compared to the poem's indications.

I can't judge the correctness of this reconstruction, the poem is written in poetic Polish! Averbach also noted this difficulty [p.5="Поэт выступает в роли шахматного комментатора, а вы никогда не пробовали восстановить партию, слушая рассказ комментатора по радио или телевидению? Попытайтесь! Читая поэтические комментарии Кохановского, можно угадать лишь отдельные ходы."]

So here is how it appeared in 1912, and in any case the adjourned position on move 75 is really well described in the poem, and seems to be out of question...


Alexander Wagner

Alexander Wagner [1868-1942 Lviv, then Poland, now Ukraine], a lawyer, had a strong chess appearance in the late 1890s and early 1900s, mainly as a correspondence but also an amateur club chess player.

However in his short passing by, he introduced two new opening ideas in the early 1910s. One is the so called Swiss Gambit, 1.f4 f5 2.e4, analyzed via correspondence games that were played at the same time during 1910-1914 [firstly presented by Wagner in Schweizerische Schachzeitung 2/1912, from where probably the name, but also articles can be found in of the same time Szachista Polski 2/1912 & in WSZ 1913, 130 ]. However it doesn't seem to be a really new opening idea at the time, maybe just the following moves were analyzed in some more depth.

Alexander Wagner

Polish Defense

A really new opening idea seem to be the so called Polish Defense, 1. d4 b5, opening that seemed really sharp to me. It's bearing its name by the Polish opening, 1.b4, played probably for the first time by Wagner in 1914. First analysis can be found in Szachista Polski 4/1913 and in a following WSZ 1914, 151. For history reasons, the first Wagner's game is following and his analysis given in WSZ 1914, 152. Although the latter maybe isn't possibly so sound, it's given more for the first ideas.


And a beautiful recent one, 1.d4 b5...


Practice showed that one of white's strongest second moves is probably 2.Nf3. This transformed a little the opening and the line can be found as 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b5 [instead of 1.d4 b5 2.Nf3 Nf6]. In this line the sharp 3.Bg5 is one of the most popular following white's choices.


3.g3 can remind some Reti [or English] opening setups or even some QGD. An other popular choice is the quiet 3.e3. Even in faster time limit, the following game demonstrates some main opening idea.


The main idea of Polish Defense, ...b5, can be found and in other openings. One is in King's Pawn Opening, St. George Defense, 1.e4 a6 2.d4 b5, but as here b5 isn't really hanging, I don't know if it's really of Polish Defense. An other is the rare Nimzowitsch-Larsen attack, Polish variation, 1.b3 b5, but also there b5 isn't immediately threatened. A sharp Polish variation can be found in the Reti. 1.Nf3 b5 2.e4 Bb7...



....thanx for reading