Bringing Chess To Life With Human Players In Marostica
The next reenactment of a legendary chess story begins on Friday, September 9, 2022. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

Bringing Chess To Life With Human Players In Marostica

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Since 2003, a single woman has chosen a husband from as many as 25 bachelors in the American reality TV program The Bachelorette. She narrows down the pool of contenders until she picks a winner. Because her decisions are usually so hard to make, why not have the bachelors instead compete in a chess tournament to pick the real winner? Using chess to pick a husband does have an ancient precedent.

Horses on stage in Marostica
Horses, not part of The Bachelorette, make an appearance in Marostica as 13 riders with multicolored accouterments perform. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

Bachelorette In 1454

Choosing a husband this way actually happened in 1454 during the Renaissance in Europe. Travel back in time to Marostica, a small town in the province of Vicenza in northern Italy that then belonged to the Venetian Republic. Taddeo Parisio, Lord of Marostica, is the father of the beautiful Lionora, and she has to decide between two suitors who are madly in love with her. But before she can choose one, they challenge each other to a duel, as was the custom at that time.

Family in Marostica
The father and his two daughters await the outcome of the chess match. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

Drama Of Marostica’s Chess Challenge

To avoid losing them in a duel, the father forbade the encounter. He declared that the two rivals would play a chess game, and human actors representing the pieces would show the moves as they were made. Lionora would take the winner as her husband. The loser would also join the family but marry instead the younger daughter, Oldrada.

Soldiers and knights perform in honor of the two chess players
Soldiers and knights perform in honor of the two chess players. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

The two contenders — Rinaldo d'Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara — faced off over a chessboard in the square in front of the castle on the day of a religious festival. Watching the game was not only the father and his court but the families of the two suitors as well as the entire population. To add to the drama, the father insisted that the chess challenge had to be honored by a performance of soldiers and knights with fireworks, dances, and music.

Vieri da Vallonara and Rinaldo D'Angarano sit at the challenge table.
Vieri da Vallonara and Rinaldo D'Angarano sit at the challenge table, ready to decide the fate of their love. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

Celebration of Marostica’s Chess Tradition

Since 1923, the town has celebrated this part of its legendary history with a performance in its main square, Piazza Castello, which is named for the castle that borders the square. The plaza is also popularly known as Piazza degli Scacchi (meaning Chess Plaza). The performance is held every two years during the second weekend of September, although the production in 2020 was canceled because of the coronavirus epidemic. For the reenactment of this chess challenge, about 600 actors dressed in medieval costumes perform as soldiers, fire-breathers, comedians, musicians, jugglers, and flagbearers. Enhanced by fireworks and other scenic effects, the spectacular performance lasts two hours.

Fireworks at Marostica performance
Fireworks explode at a climax in the drama. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

This year the event starts on Friday, Sept. 9, at 9 p.m. local time. The ticket prices range from 23 euros for the silver grandstand for a performance on Sunday evening to 92 euros for the platinum grandstand on Saturday evening. About 3,600 spectators sit in armchairs around the center stage, which is a large marble chessboard in Piazza Castello.

Seating at Marostica performance
With the castle (castello) on one side, spectators observe the production from the other three sides of the chessboard in the main square. Image: Marostica Scacchi.

Chess Games Played At Marostica Reenactments

Because the original moves played by the contenders in 1454 were not recorded and cannot be reproduced, the event organizers since 1954 have instead taken moves from a renowned game in chess history. Each game chosen has to meet specific requirements: it must end with a minimum of 16 and a maximum of 20 moves, last around 20 minutes, and be highly spectacular. One game that has been used is the Opera Game played by Paul Morphy in 1858 that ended on White’s 18th move as illustrated below.

Morale Of Marostica’s Live Chess Game

From the Marostica reenactment, we learn a noble truth: The gioco degli scacchi (game of chess) teaches many things about life. For example, winning or losing is not as important as essere un giocatore (being a player) and not a pawn because a player is fautore del proprio destino (champion of his own destiny) even in defeat, while a pawn is a victim of events even in victory.

Soldiers at Marostica performance
Be a player, not a pawn, in life. Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

Chess Culture In Region Of Marostica

Incidentally, the region includes other important aspects of chess history and culture. In the vicinity of Marostica is the Bertoliana Library in nearby Vicenza. Active since 700, the library houses a rare collection of chess literature. Several handwritten and printed works date between the 13th and 19th centuries and are often enriched with drawings and engravings. Among the treasures are "The game of chess" (1584) by Ruy Lopez de Segura, "Analyse du jeu des echecs ”(1749) by François-André Danican Philidor, and chess essays that explore the history of the game in Europe.

Living chess pieces at Marostica
What would Morphy think if he had known that living chess pieces would enact his famous Opera Game? Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

The Outcome

Although we don’t know the rest of the story about Lionara and her winning husband, take heart in knowing that the winner (Ryan Sutter) of season one in 2003 of The Bachelorette did marry the bachelorette (Trista Rehn). The wedding was broadcast on national TV later that year. More than 20 years later, they are still married and have two children. Perhaps Lionara was just as lucky in life.

Family of leading actors at Marostica
The family is prepared for the marriage of two daughters. Who will the husbands be? Photo: Marostica Scacchi via Instagram.

If you can, make plans to visit Marostica during one of its performances. Imagine what it's like to experience a chess game in the dreamy setting of the castle of Marostica.

Are you familiar with the tradition of live chess in Marostica or other examples? Would you be interested in attending? Please add your comments below.

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