14 March 2017

Principle of Development: Early History

Morphy is sometimes credited with inventing the concept of development, or at least understanding it better than anyone else before those who followed him began to articulate it in their books and articles.
James Stripes, "Chess at the Opera" (2 February 2017)

Development Theory

Paul Morphy (1837-1884) is often credited with having been the first chess master to comprehend the principle of development. Richard Reti seems to credit him with practically inventing the concept.
[T]his is Morphy's most important discovery--it is essential to develop he pieces without delay, to bring them quickly into action and not to lose any time. Morphy's contemporaries on the contrary indulged all too frequently in premature attacks with their forces insufficiently developed, or in unnecessarily timid defensive moves.
Reti, Masters of the Chessboard (2012), 20.
Max Euwe expresses the point with slightly more nuance, and filtered through the writings of Wilhelm Steinitz.
Development, the centre, open lines; these, according to Steinitz, were the three leading principles which Morphy followed. They were for him prime objectives, absolutely fundamental factors in the battle, whereas for Anderssen they had real significance only insofar as they furthered some previously selected aim.
Euwe, The Development of Chess Style (1966), 23.
In Paul Morphy and the Evolution of Chess Theory (1993), Macon Shibut challenges Reti's claim, echoed by Euwe. Shibut analyzes Morphy's games with Anderssen, and Reti's analysis of them, demonstrating a tendency by Reti to force the facts of the games to conform to his thesis. Morphy's development was systematic and intentional. Anderssen's development was haphazard and incidental. Shibut argues that their games reveal otherwise.

Shibut states, "Whatever the date of its first explicit formulation, the principle of development was certainly understood in a practical sense long before Morphy" (29). Shibut advocates examining carefully eighteenth and nineteenth century master games. His view is that these games "at least manifest the principle of development" (29).

History of Development

The explicit formulation of this principle of development, as is well known, occurred after Morphy had given up chess. Wilhelm Steinitz gets credit. Hence, his name is associated with the Modern School, chess as a scientific enterprise with laws of strategy. Articulation of development in the late nineteenth century gave chess theory a solid foundation upon which to build, and thereafter the games of the masters before Morphy lost their instructive value.

Previously on Chess Skills, I have inquired into the origins and meaning of this term, development. In my reading of old classics of chess literature, I have attempted to trace how the term has been understood. I also have sought its first articulation in the writings of Steinitz and his predecessors. Two previous posts offers snippets of this ongoing research: "Thinking about Development" (August 2015) and "What is Development" (July 2016).

This morning's reading, however, revealed that articulation of the concept of development precedes Morphy's birth by more than half a century. It is found in an 1820 English translation of an 1869 Italian text. The Italian text is Il Giuoco Incomparabile degli Scacchi by Domenico Lorenzo Ponziani (1719-1796), but Ponziani's name does not appear in the English translation, which credits Dr. Ercole dal Rio (1718-1802) with authorship. The English book is by J. S. Bingham, a pen name for J. B. Smith, an English naval officer, according to David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (1996), 314.

Here, then, might be the earliest clear formulation of the principle of development. Credit the Modenese Masters--Dominico Ercole del Rio, Ponziani, and Giambattista Lolli (1698–1769). Ercole del Rio published La Guerra degli Scacchi (The War of the Chessmen) in 1750. Lolli expanded this work as Osservazioni Teorico-pratiche Sopra il Giuoco degli Scacchi (Theoretical-practical Views on the Game of Chess) in 1863, and then Ponziani's text appeared in 1769. A second edition of Ponziani's text appeared in 1782 and included his name. Nonetheless, Smith chose to translate Ponziani's earlier version and credit it to Ercole del Rio.

One hopes that Smith was a better linguist than he was a historian.

Whether the principle of development was articulated in earlier works by Ercole del Rio and Lolli must await further reading. Of course, some of my readers may be well ahead of me on this matter. Ercole del Rio's La Guerra degli Scacchi was translated into English by Christopher Becker and published alongside the Italian thirty years ago.

Here, then, is Ponziani's articulation of the principle of development, as translated by Smith.
The opening of the game ought to be made with the greatest possible development: that is to say, it is to be executed by the shortest method, chusing those moves which put in action the greatest number of combatants; that one Piece does not impede another, but can act with due promptitude; and that every Piece be so situated, that the adversary cannot annoy it, without danger to himself, or loss of time.--Whoever, at the beginning, has brought out his Pieces with greater symmetry, relatively to the adverse situation, may thence promise himself a fortunate issue in the prosecution of the battle.
Bingham, The Incomparable Game of Chess (1820), 32.
This formulation of the principle of development certainly bears a strong resemblance to the principle that guided Morphy's play, as Valeri Beim expressed it in Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005), he "sought the move that followed the principle of bringing into play the greatest number of pieces in the shortest possible time" (emphasis in original, 16).


  1. Like expert in many fields, Reti didn't know the history of his own. That's not surprising. I see this constantly among physicists. Never get your history of physics from a physicist, unless it is one of the exceedingly few who have dwelled in libraries, studying it.

  2. Even historians may reveal such defects. They do not always know the history of history.