A young Philidor
|For our case, page XVI of Philidor's first book (1749) is
a valuable source. Philidor -see his portrait left
and right-, complained about the baneful influence from draughts on chess.
He advocated the rule that a pawn could only be promoted to a taken piece. So
when a player's rook was taken the pawn could only be changed into a rook. In
his time, many players applied an extended rule: a pawn could be promoted to any
piece. I quote the French text , with my translation.
"(...) il m'est impossible d'avoir assez de complaisance pour épargner mes compatriotes, qui ont donné dans une erreur aussi grande que celle des Allemands. Ils sont d'autant moins pardonables, qu'il y a parmi eux une quantité de très bons joueurs, et même des plus excellens de l'Europe. Il est donc à presumer qu'ils sont laissez entrainer (comme j'ai fait autrefois) par une mauvaise coutume, établie, selon toute apparence, par quelqu'ignorant qui aura été l 'introducteur de ce jeu dans le Royaume, je me persuade que c'étoit un joueur de Dames qui ne sachant, à peu pres que la marche des Echécs, s'imaginoit qu'en allant a Dame, ou en pouvoit faire autant que sur un Damier."
An elder Philidor
Translation: "I can impossibly express a favourable opinion on my fellow-Frenchmen, for they have made a mistake as big as this of the Germans. I do not forgive them all the more since there are many excellent players, even the best of Europe, among the wrongdoers. One could suspect they were carried by a bad habit (as I have myself in the past), taken up from some nincompoop I suppose. I am convinced it has been a draughts player who, not understanding more about chess than the course of the pieces, was in the belief the promotion in chess did not differ from the promotion in draughts."
There was no limit on the number of queens in Spain and Italy (but a pawn could only promote to queen) [Murray 1913:833]. Is it possible that chess players in France and Germany borrowed this rule? Probably not, considering the way chess players symbolized a promoted pawn: by two pawns planted on one square, as if they had to do with a promoted draughts singleton. Philidor got enraged at this silly custom: "The base of a pawn is nearly as big as a square, it is really a nice image!"
Philidor playing blindfold in London in 1784 [Golombek 1976:118]
So we see chess players running with their pawns to the promotion row to secure the game by brute force -a copy of the draughts strategy- instead of thinking up a plan to catch the enemy king in a mating web. Just in this time, Philidor introduced a complety new strategy. He gave the pawn a new role, an important one, and hence his epigram: "Pawns are the soul of chess".
It does not look plausible to me that Philidor realised he admitted an essential element from draughts: he published his famous chess book when he was only 23 years old, at an age we cannot overlook ourselves and are unaware of the influences we are exposed to. One century later Antonius van der Linde had an overview of a bygone time. "Das Damespiel drang geistig mit Philidor selbst in's Schachspiel ein", wrote he [1874 II:400]. Translation: With Philidor the game of draughts penetrated into the soul of chess". What has Linde seen? The following.
To modern players it is pretty obvious to use pawns to control the centre of the board. Philidor advised to have them marched as a closed group, as a serried line, a chain, covered in the back by the bishops in particular [Golombek 1976:120-1, Silbermann & Unzicker 1977 I:513, Eales 1985:115]. This strategy was new. Philidor had been raised with the ideas of the Italian Greco, who recommended to attack with the strong pieces immediately; to come to an attack one could easily sacrifice some pawns [Silbermann & Unzicker 1977 I:51-53].
Philidor complained about the influence from draughts. A human being is unable to shirk out of the ideas of his time, a Philidor neither. As many of his contemporaries he played both chess and draughts. Some fragments from his draughts games and some of his draughts compositions were set down. See this combination. White wins by 28-23 (19x37) 42x22 (25x23) 39-34 (17x28) 38-32 (28x37) 34-29 (23x34) 24-20 (15x24) 44-40 (35x44) 50x6 W+. It is true, Philidor was not Paris' strongest draughts player, but this combination can only be made up by someone of substantial force.
What was Philidor's strategy when playing a game of draughts? Like in our time, the main strategy was to strive for the control of the central squares, combined with a horizontal dispersal of the singletons to block breakthroughs -see the position on the diagram. The singletons advance in a closed formation, form a chain, and must support and protect each other.
Philidor lived in a time when chess was subjected to pressure from draughts. The strategy of Philidor's chess playing compatriots and their German colleagues is characterised by the accent on the promotion, and as a consequence on pawn play. Therefore we may conclude that Philidor's pawn play was generated by the strategy he applied when playing a game of draughts.