25 June 2013

Damiano's Gambit

The naming of things proves that Clio, the muse of history, has a wry sense of humor. A case in point is Damiano's Defense. Pedro Damiano (1480-1544) analyzed the opening that bears his name. But, his analysis demonstrated its flaws, not its virtues. In the old chess prior to the late fifteenth century, defending a central e-pawn with f6 was solid. But, when the queen and bishop became the powerful pieces of modern chess, the posibilities of rapid attack changed the game. These new rules may have been in place for a generation in Damiano's day, or they may have been adopted just as he was learning the game. Nonetheless, he was not the first one to examine the opening and conclude that it favored White.

The Göttingen Manuscript, so called because it is in the Göttingen University Library, dates from the late fifteenth century. It examines four moves after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3: 2...f6, 2...d6, 2...Nf6, and 2...Nc6. According to H. J. R. Murray, A History of Chess (1913), the author seems to have considered 2...Nc6 as best (784).

Also dating from the late-fifteenth century is the work of Luis Ramírez de Lucena (c.1465-c.1530), Arte de axedres (c.1497), published in Salamanca. Murray points out that Lucena seems to have struggled a bit with the new rules.
He overlooks a mate on the move, because he has forgotten the Bishop's new move, and ends with a mate which the new Queen can spoil by capturing the mating piece. It looks as though Lucena had written his book in a great hurry. (786)
Murray presents Lucena's analysis of the opening that would come to bear Damiano's name.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 fxe5

3...Qe7 is also mentioned. Mikhail Chigorin played this move in 1897 (see "Opening Disaster: Damino's Defense").

White to move

4.Qh5+ Ke7 5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ d5 7.Bxd5+ Kg6 8.Qg3+ Kf6

8...Qg5 is also examined.

9.Qf4+ Kg6 10.Qf7+

Overlooking 10.Bf7#

10...Kg5 11.d3+ Kg4 12.Qf3+ Kh4 13.g3+ Kh3 14.Qh5+ Kg2 15.e5+

The final position is presented as checkmate despite the possibility of 15...Qxd5.

Neither the Göttingen MS nor Lucena's work appear to have influenced later writers to any significant degree. They are the oldest extant works on modern chess, and that is the limit of their interest. In contrast, Pedro Damiano, Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li partiti (Rome, 1512) went through numerous editions and influenced all subsequent writers. There is some evidence that the 1512 edition, the oldest extant, was not the first edition (see Murray, 787).

Damiano's analysis includes the following, according to J. H. Sarratt, The Works of Damiano, Ruy-Lopez, and Salvio on the Game of Chess (London: T. Boosey, 1813).

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 fxe5 4.Qh5+

Black to move


4...g6 5.Qxe5+ Qe7 6.Qxh8 Qxe4+ 7.Kd1 is presented as the main game by Sarratt.

5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+

Black to move


6...d5 7.Bxd5+ Kg6 8.h4 h6 9.Bxb7 Bd6 10.Qa5 is presented by Sarratt as the second variation.

7.Qf5+ Kh6 8.d3+ g5 9.h4 d5 10.hxg5+ Kg7

White to move

11.Qe5+ Nf6 12.gxf6+ Qxf6 13.Qxf6+ Kxf6 14.Bxd5 1–0

The game, as I have it here, is presented by Sarratt as a variation of the main game (see variation at move 6 above).

From 1512 to 1560, Damiano's book went through seven editions. By 1560, according to Murray, it would have been of value only to beginning players. It was in 1560 that a priest from Spain, Rodrigo (Ruy) López de Segura (c. 1530 – c. 1580), made his acquaintance with the book in Rome. He traveled to Italy on church business following the ascension of Pius IV as Pope. While there, he spent his leisure time playing chess. His book, Libro de la invencion liberal y arte del juego del axedrez (1561), was published shortly after his return to Spain.

Ruy Lopez demonstrated that his skill was superior to that of the leading players in Rome. But he learned from them a new term that has become a standard part of chess vocabulary: Lopez wrote, "It is derived from the Italian gamba, a leg, and gambitare means to set traps..." (Murray, 813). He named the opening in some games that he played in Rome, "el gambito de Damian" (Damiano's Gambit).

Murray presents an opening fragment from a game Lopez played with Il Puttino (the youth), who was probably Giovanni Leonardo de Bona.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nxe5 fxe5

Murray notes that 3...Qe7 had been known by Spanish players since the time of Lucena.

4.Qh5+ g6 5.Qxe5+ Qe7 6.Qxh8 Nf6

According to Murray, "a move known since Damiano as a means of keeping the White queen out of play."

7.d4 Kf7 8.Bc4+ d5 9.Bxd5+ Nxd5 and Lopez eventually won.

White to move

Several years later, Leonardo played Lopez in Madrid, where he exacted his revenge for the lessons in Rome in 1560.

Lopez did not think highly of Damiano's book, but he immortalized him by naming a well-known opening after him. It is an opening still played by beginners, but it was much more popular among strong players in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As late as the end of the nineteenth century, it appeared in a master level tournament.

No comments:

Post a Comment