Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Chess and Poetry

Credit: see below.

On the subject of chess and other arts, one should note the Persian poet Ferdowsi, who is not only considered Persia's greatest poet, but also wrote about the history -- or rather legednary history -- of chess.

In  his famous Shanama he tells the famous legend of chess being invented as 'war without bloodshed' to tell a queen that her son had died in battle, and the inventor of chess asking, as his reward, for one grain of wheat on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, etc. -- the total being 2^64 -1, or about 460 billion tons of wheat. (Source: Murray's History of Chess, Ch. XII, 'Invention of Chess in Muslim Legend').

Murray adds in the same chapter by that all early Muslim writers on chess openly admitted the game was invented in India and set the story of its invention there. Still, some, perhaps out of national chauvinism, argue that Ferdowsi's term Hind refers not India but the eastern part of the Persian empire, making the game "really" Persian.

We doubt it; it was popular scholarly opinion in China that chess is "really" a Chinese invention, in the middle ages chess' invention in Europe was attributed to various classical or biblical figures such as Solomon or Achilles; a Jewish 19th century player, Alexandre, attributed it to Moses; and so on. But we digress.

The above problem is given by Fasher as having been composed by Ferdowsi in Shachmet Le'Hana'atcha (Chess [used as a verb! - A. P.] for Your Enjoyment), p. 125 of the second (1980) edition. Both the rook and the king, as is well known, moved in the same way even during that time.

Fasher notes:
White has an extra rook but Black threatens to win the the rook on c5 or the rook on a8 [actually, 1. ... Rh8 is mate - A. P.]. But White still wins!
How? Solution below.

The problem is that we have not managed to find any other source attributing this problem to Ferdowsi. Murray's History of Chess has almost 600 problems of Indian (Chaturanga) or Muslim (Shatranj) chess, but none of them fit this diagram; nor is Ferdowsi credited there with composing chess problems. What is Fasher's source?

Solution (annotations and punctuation by Fasher):

1. Rh5! (threatening 2. Ra6#) RxR
2. Ra6+! K~ 3. Ra5+ K~ 4. RxR and wins.


  1. On The Manual of Chess Combinations: Chess School 2, page 23, problem 96 appears the exact problem.
    The solution at the Solution's Appendix at the end of the book, page213 gives credit to "Civis Bologniae", XIV. I assume probably to be a name of a Chess Magazine in Italian.

  2. Thanks! Your reply is posted, as you can see, and I'll look for the magazine...