Rick Knowlton on Chess History

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Rick Knowlton on Chess History.

Chess: it’s the game of kings. For millennia it has preoccupied some of the greatest minds, taught discipline and focus, and even inspire great art. There is no-one more knowledgable about the history of chess than Rick Knowlton. Rick is the proprietor of AncientChess.com and perhaps the world’s leading expert on the long and complicated lineage that underpins the game. Its history is, so to speak, far from black and white.

He discusses the various variant games that have sprung up over the ages — including courier chess, made famous by a well-known Old Master painting — as well as a set that Leonardo da Vinci may have had a hand in designing. In short, Knowlton says, the modern game can be better understood by understanding its forebears. This is hard to argue with: the great Russian champion Mikhail Botvinnik once observed that chess is the art of analysis. The habits of the immortal players suggest that it is, though of course their games all had room for brilliance and innovation.

Knowlton is not merely a master of chess history and a skilled player himself. He is a craftsman; he reconstructs and builds sets going back hundreds of years. This too is another means to appreciate the game — the players may change but the pieces and the rules governing them do not (or if they do, it is with far less frequency). So don’t wait. Summer is waning, its lazy days of leisure are drawing to a close. Chess is as good a way to stay cool as any: more active then reading and less active than, say, training for a marathon. So pick up a beginner’s board (ore one of Rick’s speciality sets) and a copy of Capablanca, pour yourself a cold beverage of your choosing, and start pondering opening theory.