Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess

 November 2006

Christopher Columbus

All this information (with the exception of the wikipedia portion) came from Lawrence Totaro of Ultimate Chess Collecting

excerpted from The Washington Post, Sunday, March 5, 1916

Chess Discovery in America

   "Do you know that Columbus' discovery of America was mainly due to a hard-fought game of chess," asks David A. Mitchell, chess editor of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. According to an old Spanish tradition, Ferdinand of Spain used to pass the closing hours of each day over the chessboard, his principal antagonist being an old grandee, whose skill put the monarch's power to a severe test.
   Columbus had long been dancing attendance at the court, in pursuance of the one object of his life - the grand expedition in search of a new world - and although he had hitherto failed in his aim he had enlisted the sympathies of the good Queen Isabella.
   The day arrived when the great navigator was to receive his final answer. He wended his way toward the palace at nightfall, more with the intention of ...[misprint]... any hope of success. Isabella, however, had not resigned herself and Columbus to defeat, and upon being notified of her favorite's arrival she sought the king, who, being absorbed in a close game with the old grandee, was in no mood to be bothered by the importunate sailor.
   The queen's interruption had the effect of merely distracting the monarch's attention, causing him to lose his principal piece, which was followed by a volley of imprecations on sailors in general and Columbus in particular. The game grew worse and worse and defeat stared the king in the face, while the grandee chuckled as loudly as he dared.
Now, Isabella had considerable knowledge of the game, and when Ferdinand told her that her protégé should be successful or otherwise, according to the result of the game, she immediately bent all her energies on the board.
   The contest had been unusually long, and the courtiers clustered around the table, much amused at the excitement of the king and the smug satisfaction of the old grandee. And so the game, which was to decide the discovery of a new world, went on until Isabella leaned toward her husband ear, and exclaimed:
   "You can checkmate him in four moves!"
   In the utmost astonishment, the king reexamined the game and found that his wife was correct.
   In a few minutes the game was won, and the king rose and announced that Columbus should depart on his voyage of discovery, with the title "Admiral of the Fleet."


        Columbus at the court of Spain


Columbus' Financing

To keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, he was put on a salary for seven years. After continually lobbying at the Spanish court, he finally had success in 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella had just conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian peninsula, and they received Columbus in Córdoba, in the Alcázar castle. Isabella turned Columbus down on the advice of her confessor, and he was leaving town in despair, when Ferdinand intervened. Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch him and Ferdinand later rightfully claimed credit for being "the principal cause why those islands were discovered". King Ferdinand is referred to as "losing his patience" in this issue, but this cannot be proven.

About half of the financing was to come from private Italian investors, whom Columbus had already lined up. Financially broke after the Granada campaign, the monarchs left it to the royal treasurer to shift funds among various royal accounts on behalf of the enterprise. Columbus was to be made "Admiral of the Seas" and would receive a portion of all profits. The terms were unusually generous, but as his own son later wrote, the monarchs did not really expect him to return.

According to the contract that Columbus made with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, if Columbus discovered any new islands or mainland, he would receive many high rewards. In terms of power, he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Atlantic Ocean) and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands. He has the right to nominate three persons, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to 10 percent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity; this part was denied to him in the contract, although it was one of his demands. Finally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits.

Columbus was later arrested in 1500 and supplanted from these posts, which led to Columbus's son taking legal action to enforce his father's contract, who was also arrested. Many of the smears against Columbus were initiated by the Spanish crown during these lengthy court cases

the above account culled from Wikipedia


David A. Mitchell, mentioned in the newspaper account above, was a prolific and respected chess author in the early 20th century. He also vanished without a trace in June of 1926. Edward Winter researched this and published the article Disappeared, in 2000


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