Deschapelles, the Pumpkin Farmer


Alexandre Louis Honoré Lebreton Deschapelles

     After the death of Philidor in 1795 there was a period of silence in the chess world. In 1775 four men had gotten together and wrote a book called Traité Théorique et Pratique du Jeu des échecs par une Societé d' Amateurs or simply Traité des Amateurs. It wasn't a great book but it did earn a certain amount of popularity, enough to have been reprinted several times and translated into German. These four men were Verdoni, Bernard, Carlier and Leger. Although they didn't even approach Philidor's level, they were considered the best in
the world in the years following his death. Verdoni, in fact, replaced Philidor at Parsloe's in London until he also died in 1804. Bernard and Carlier led the crowd at the Café de la Régence in Paris.
     English chess was weak but organized, French chess was strong but chaotic. Eventually strength grew from organization and weakness from chaos, but at the turn of the century, France was still the place to play chess.
     Around 1798 a French player worthy of Philidor's crown appeared almost out of nowhere. His sudden emergence was compounded by his nearly mythical claims and deeds. He was Alexandre Louis Honoré Lebreton Deschapelles who
claimed to have learned all he needed to know about chess in just four days.
     According to George Walker, Deschapelles noted:
"I acquired chess, in four days! I learned the moves, played with Bernard, who had succeeded Philidor as the sovereign of the board; lost the first day, the second, the third, and beat him even-handed on the fourth; since which time I have never advanced or receded. Chess to me has been, and is, a single idea, which, once acquired, cannot be displaced from its throne, while the intellect remains unimpaired by sickness or age."

It's true that Deschapelles had a facility for games and excelled, not only at chess, but at billiards, Polish draughts, trictrac, and whist despite the fact that he had lost his right hand in a battle during his youth. In that same battle he received a sabre cut that opened his skull diagonally from his forehead to his chin, disfiguring him and inspiring the believe that such a wound actually freed his brain, empowering his mind.
     His father and brothers had been in the service of Louis XVI. During the French Revolution, they fled France. Deschapelles, himself, was a revolutionary and received his wounds fighting for Napoleon but when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, he turned against him and tore off the Cross of Honor (of which he received one of the first ever issued) he had received from the army.
     Taking up chess in 1798, Deschapelles quickly took up residence at, and figuratively ruled, the Café de la Régence. In 1806, after the battle of Jenna, the army to which Descapelles was attached entered Berlin. There Descapelles challenged the best chess players of Germany and won, giving them rook's odds.
     In 1812, Deschapelles was making a good living as a superintendant of the tobacco monopoly, a post granted to him by Marshall Ney, Napoleon's enthusiastic, if not particularly bright, aide.
     In 1815, after Waterloo, Deschapelles formed a band of partisans which named him their general. It didn't last long. In 1820, Deschapelles took on Bourdonnais as a student.
     In April 1821, John Cochrane, then 23, visited France. He, Deschapelles and Bourdonnais played a triangular contest - each one playing the others. First, Deschapelles played Bourdonnais and Cochrane giving them each the odds of a pawn and 2. He beat Cochrane 6-1 but lost all 7 of his games to Bourdonnais.
Deschapelles then played Cochrane even but requiring himself to win 2/3 of the games as a form of odds. Cochrane won that match. That's the only recorded instance of anyone beating Deschapelles even, but then, again, Deschapelles almost never played even.
     Also in 1821, Willian Lewis came to Paris expressly to play Deschapelles. Lewis won the 3 game match receiving odds of pawn and the move by drawing two and winning one. Deschapelles then challenged Lewis to an extended match of 21 games at odds of pawn and 2 at much greater stakes but Lewis declined.
     In 1822, Deschapelles gave up chess, most likely because Bourdonnais by now was the better player. He took up whist and quickly mastered the game winning more money at this game than he ever had at chess. With his new found wealth, he and his bride rented a villa near Paris with orchards, pheasants, pumpkins and melons. His melons and pumpkins even won prizes and were highly valued, leading George Perigal (an English player who, incidentally, took part in the first telegraph game in England in 1845 as well as being on the London team in the correspondence matches against Edinburgh in 1824 and Paris in 1834) to write,
     "M. Deschapelles is the greatest chess player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest whist player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest billiards player in
France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest pumpkin-grower in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest liar in France."

     Deschapelles resumed playing chess in 1836 when, after 14 years of non-play, he drew a 3 game match (+1 =1 -1) against Saint-Amant giving Saint-Amant odds of pawn and 2. He won a 5 game match (+2 =2 -1) against Wilhelm Schulten of Germany in 1842 at odds of pawn and 2. He then played Saint-Amant a 5
game match winning +3 -2.
     For the last year and a half of his life, Deschapelles was confined to bed. He suffered delusions which he expressed by composing rambling constitutions for various countries. His final wishes were that he should die unannounced and unheralded, buried in a pauper's grave.

Read George Walker's account of Deschapelles: The Chess-King from CHESS & CHESS-PLAYERS, kindly transcribed and generously made available by Mark Weeks.

Two games by Deschappelles:



Nice article.

Excuse my ignorance but could somebody please explain the concept of odds, eg. at odds of pawn and 2?

Thanks muchly,

Evil H


self-explanatory from above diagram - white gets to make 2 moves in the beginning; and black has a P (usu. f7) missing.


Every student of bridge knows the Deschapelles coup [similar to the merrimac coup - leading a 'winning' card into a tenace - K usually - but the one is to conserve parner's entries; the other is to destroy opps' [usu dummy's] entry.

It is routine even at my bridge-level --- but a merimac coup by *declarer* would be called good play! [the deschapelles-by-declarer is easy since dummy is visible: it is hardly a coup so i is NOT called a descapelles coup.]

wikipedia definition:

The Deschapelles Coup, named after a 19th century French chess and whist player Alexandre Deschapelles[1], is the lead of an unsupported honor to create an entry in partner's hand. It should not be, but often is, confused with the Merrimac coup, the lead of an unsupported honor to kill an entry in an opponent's hand.