|After the death of
Philidor in 1795 there was a period
of silence in the chess world. In 1775 four men had gotten together and
wrote a book called Traité Théorique et
Pratique du Jeu des échecs par une Societé d' Amateurs or simply
Traité des Amateurs. It wasn't a
great book but it did earn a certain amount of popularity, enough to have
been reprinted several times and translated into German. These four men
Leger. Although they didn't even
approach Philidor's level, they were considered the best in the world in
the years following his death. Verdoni, in fact, replaced Philidor at
Parsloe's in London until he also died in 1804. Bernard and Carlier led
the crowd at the Café de la Régence in Paris.
English chess was weak but organized, French chess was strong but chaotic. Eventually strength grew from organization and weakness from chaos, but at the turn of the century, France was still the place to play chess.
Around 1798 a French player worthy of Philidor's crown appeared almost out of nowhere. His sudden emergence was compounded by his nearly mythical claims and deeds. He was Alexandre Louis Honoré Lebreton Deschapelles who claimed to have learned all he needed to know about chess in just four days.
According to George Walker, Deschapelles noted:
"I acquired chess, in four days! I learned the moves, played with Bernard, who had succeeded Philidor as the sovereign of the board; lost the first day, the second, the third, and beat him even-handed on the fourth; since which time I have never advanced or receded. Chess to me has been, and is, a single idea, which, once acquired, cannot be displaced from its throne, while the intellect remains unimpaired by sickness or age."
It's true that Deschapelles had a facility for games and excelled, not only at chess, but at billiards, Polish draughts, trictrac, and whist despite the fact that he had lost his right hand in a battle during his youth. In that same battle he received a sabre cut that opened his skull diagonally from his forehead to his chin, disfiguring him and inspiring the believe that such a wound actually freed his brain, empowering his mind.
His father and brothers had been in the service of Louis XVI. During the French Revolution, they fled France. Deschapelles, himself, was a revolutionary and received his wounds fighting for Napoleon but when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, he turned against him and tore off the Cross of Honor (of which he received one of the first ever issued) he had received from the army.
Taking up chess in 1798, Deschapelles quickly took up residence at, and figuratively ruled, the Café de la Régence.
In 1806, after the battle of Jenna, the army to which Descapelles was attached entered Berlin. There Descapelles challenged the best chess players of Germany and won, giving them rook's odds.
In 1812, Deschapelles was making a good living as a superintendant of the tobacco monopoly, a post granted to him by Marshall Ney, Napoleon's enthusiastic, if not particularly bright, aide.
In 1815, after Waterloo, Deschapelles formed a band of partisans which named him their general. It didn't last long.
In 1820, Deschapelles took on Bourdonnais as a student.
In April 1821, John Cochrane, then 23, visited France. He, Deschapelles and Bourdonnais played a triangular contest - each one playing the others. First, Deschapelles played Bourdonnais and Cochrane giving them each the odds of a pawn and 2. He beat Cochrane 6-1 but lost all 7 of his games to Bourdonnais. Deschapelles then played Cochrane even but requiring himself to win 2/3 of the games as a form of odds. Cochrane won that match. That's the only recorded instance of anyone beating Deschapelles even, but then, again, Deschapelles almost never played even.
Also in 1821, Willian Lewis came to Paris expressly to play Deschapelles. Lewis won the 3 game match receiving odds of pawn and the move by drawing two and winning one. Deschapelles then challenged Lewis to an extended match of 21 games at odds of pawn and 2 at much greater stakes but Lewis declined.
In 1822, Deschapelles gave up chess, most likely because Bourdonnais by now was the better player. He took up whist and quickly mastered the game winning more money at this game than he ever had at chess. With his new found wealth, he and his bride rented a villa near Paris with orchards, pheasants, pumpkins and melons. His melons and pumpkins even won prizes and were highly valued, leading George Perigal (an English player who, incidentally, took part in the first telegraph game in England in 1845 as well as being on the London team in the correspondence matches against Edinburgh in 1824 and Paris in 1834) to write, "M. Deschapelles is the greatest chess player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest whist player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest billiards player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest pumpkin-grower in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest liar in France."
Deschapelles resumed playing chess in 1836 when, after 14 years of non-play, he drew a 3 game match (+1 =1 -1) against Saint-Amant giving odds of pawn and 2. He won a 5 game match (+2 =2 -1) against Wilhelm Schulten of Germany in 1842 at odds of pawn and 2. He then played Saint-Amant a 5 games match winning +3 -2.
For the last year and a half of his life, Deschapelles was confined to bed. He suffered delusions which he expressed by composing rambling constitutions for various countries. His final wishes were that he should die unannounced and unheralded, buried in a pauper's grave.
Two games of Deschapelles:
[White "John Cochrane"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Bc5 5. Ng5 Ne5 6. Bxf7+ Nxf7 7. Nxf7
Bb4+ 8. c3 dxc3 9. bxc3 Bxc3+ 10. Nxc3 Kxf7 11. Qd5+ Kf8 12. Ba3+ d6 13. e5
Qg5 14. exd6 Qxd5 15. dxc7+ Kf7 16. Nxd5 Bd7 17. O-O Rc8 18. Bd6 Ke6 19.
Bg3 Bc6 20. Rad1 Bxd5 21. Rfe1+ Kf6 22. Rxd5 Nh6 23. Ra5 Nf5 24. Rc5 Nxg3
25. hxg3 Kf7 26. Rd1 Rhe8 27. Rd6 Re7 28. Rf5+ Ke8 29. Rd8+ Rxd8 30. Rf8+
Kxf8 31. cxd8=Q+ 1-0
[Event "pawn and 2"]
[Site "St. Cloud"]
[White "John Cochrane"]
[FEN "r1bqkbnr/ppppp1pp/2n5/8/3PP3/8/PPP2PPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]
black removes f7.
white makes the first 2 moves
1.e4..., 2.d4 Nc6
1... d5 2. e5 Bf5 3. c3 e6 4. Bd3 Nh6 5. Ne2 Qh4+ 6. g3 Qh3 7. Kd2 Bxd3 8.
Kxd3 Qf5+ 9. Kd2 Ng4 10. Ke1 Qe4 11. Rg1 Nxh2 12. Nd2 Qd3 13. Kf2 Ng4+ 14.
Ke1 Qe3 15. Nf1 Qf2+ 16. Kd2 Qf3 17. Kc2 Nf2 18. Qd2 Qe4+ 19. Kb3 Na5+ 20.
Ka4 Nc4 21. Qe1 Qc2+ 22. b3 Nd3 23. Ne3 Nxe3 24. Qd2 Nb2+ 25. Kb5 c6+ 26.
Ka5 Nec4+ 27. bxc4 Qa4# 0-1
Read George Walker's account of Deschapelles: The Chess-King from CHESS & CHESS-PLAYERS, kindly transcribed and generously made available by Mark Weeks.