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The Game of Kings. Chaining the times

by Boris Schipkov

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!
HAMLET by William Shakespeare

The ingenious game, passed through one thousand five hundred years of existence, is intended by gods for clever people, intellectuals, commanders, chiefs, mages and kings, the elite of a civilization. The game of chess - a strategic game, teaches planning and accounting of various possibilities for oneself and contender, correct reasoning and logic, military strategy and tactics, disciplines the mind, enhances concentration of attention, strengthens intellectual and volitional abilities. It is entertainment which shows that much in the world depends not on chances or destiny, but on understanding and self-perfection.
The original game quickly became popular with kings, war-lords, scientists and magicians. It is known, that Peter I, Napoleon I, Ivan IV the Terrible, Tamerlan, Frederick II, Philip II, Henry I did not play golf, tennis, football or hockey. They played chess, enjoying their rest time, developing the abilities and joining the world culture.

The most ancient European monarch, who has learned to play chess, most likely was the king of the Franks from 768 and emperor from 800 to 814, Charles the Great (Carolus Magnus, 742-814). He ruled a huge territory including almost all Europe (modern France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, part of Italy and Spain). It is interesting that the slavonic word korol derives from his name Carolus. There was a general rise of culture in Europe during his reign.
In England the kings Henry I (1068-1135), Henry II (1133-1189), Richard I the Lion Heart (1157-1199), John Lackland (1167-1216) and Charles I (1600-1649) were admirers of chess.
In Spain Alfonso X the Wise (1221-1284), the king of Castile and Leon from 1252 to 1284, who patronized arts, sciences and chess, liberated Jerez, Cadiz and other cities from Moors. Under his rule the famous Book of Games was created, telling mainly about chess. Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) played chess also.
Timur (Tamerlane, 1336-1405), the Mongol khan, emir of Central Asia from 1370 was a great lover of chess and named his son Shah Rukh in honour of chess. Timur clobbered the Golden Horde, the turkish sultan Bayezid I, seized Iran, Delhi.
In France Henry IV (1553-1610), the king from 1589 (or 1594), Louis XIII (1601-1643) the French king from 1610, and, of course, Napoleon I Bonaparte (1769-1821), the First consul from 1799, the French emperor from 1804 to 1814 and March-June 1815 played chess.
The Swedish king Charles XII (1682-1718), the Prussian kings Frederick II the Great (1712-1786) and Frederick William II (1744-1797) were noted for predilection for chess.

Russian princes, tsars and emperors were always proud of their chess successes. The foreign envoys reported on high popularity of chess at the court yard and a high art of Russians in the game. Ivan IV the Terrible ("nicknamed for his cruelty Vasilyevich", as was written in one French encyclopedia) (1530-1584), grand prince from 1533, the first Russian tsar from 1547, regularly competed with the men close to him and even died behind a chess board. All subsequent tsars up to Peter I played chess: Fyodor Ivanovich (1557-1598), tsar from 1584, the last ruler of the Rurik dynasty, the second son of Ivan IV the Terrible and Anastasiya Romanovna Zakharina-Yureva (Romanova), he strengthened Russia's control over western Siberia; Boris Godunov (1552-1605), tsar from 1598; Vasily Shuysky (1552-1612), tsar from 1606 to 1610; Michael Fyodorovich Romanov (1596-1645), the first tsar from Romanov dynasty, a distant relative of tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, was elected by Zemsky Sobor ("assembly of the land") in 1613; Alexis (1629-1676, reigned 1645-76), father of Peter I. In imperial treasury there were plenty of various chess sets: crystal, amber, ivory, wooden.

The outstanding tsar from 1682, emperor of Russia from 1721, Peter I the Great (1672-1725) has left the brightest trace in domestic and world history. The victory of the Russians in the Northern war and the transformations made Russia one of the strongest European Powers, gave a push to further development of the state in the next century. Chess was his most favourite entertainment, and Peter I took a chess set and his constant partner - the court priest Bitka - both in military campaigns and foreign travels. There had to be chess tables at all balls and assemblies.
Catherine II (1729-1796), empress of Russia from 1762, princess von Anhalt-Zerbst (German noblesse family) and Pavel I (1754-1801), emperor from 1796, son of Peter III (Peter III was son of Anna, one of Peter I the Great's daughters, and Charles Frederick, duke of Holstein-Gottorp) and Catherine II could also play chess.
It should be noted that my great-grandfather Georgy Romanov, who was a judge in Siberia in the beginning of the XX century, could well be a distant relative of the boyars and tsars of Romanov dynasty. At any case, recent research of an English scientist, scrutinized the DNA of the inhabitants of Great Britain bearing one surname (and many never heard or knew anything about their namesakes), has shown that all of them were distant but still relatives. It is interesting that I have distant relatives of Romanovs both in Russia, and in Germany.

The words boyars, boyarin derive from a word "boevoi" (battle) and mean noble people with a high fighting spirit. The boyars were members of the upper stratum of Rus society in 10-17 centuries and occupied leading roles in government, after the great prince. The word tsar derives from the Ancient Rome title of the emperor Caesar, from the name of one branch of gens Julii, to which Gaius Julius Caesar belonged.
The Boyars Romanovs intermarried with the Rurik dynasty through Anastasiya Romanovna, who was the wife of Ivan IV the Terrible and mother of the tsar Fyodor Ivanovich. The descendants of the great prince Igor, the son of Rurik, intermarried with the Byzantian emperors through the sister of the emperor Vasily II Anna, which the prince Vladimir Svyatoslavovich married, and the daughter of the emperor Constantine IX Monomachus Irina, who was the wife of Grand Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavich and mother of Grand Prince Vladimir Monomakh. The niece of the last Byzantine emperor Sofia Palaeologus was the wife of Grand Prince Ivan III Vasilyevich. Byzantium, also called East Roman Empire has arisen as the result of the division of the Roman Empire into West and East, therefore it turns out, that we have much in common with Ancient Rome post hominum memoriam.

Bibliography: M.Kogan "Ocherki po istorii shakhmat v SSSR" 1938, .Gizycki "S shakhmatami cherez veka i strany" 1964, "Bolshaya Sovietskaya Entsiklopediya", Britannica.


© 2000-2003 Boris Schipkov