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         The History and The Culture of Chess


 The 1902 International Chess Tournament of Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo      


February 1, 1902 -
It's 9:00 PM on Saturday night and the great hall where the some of the most noted chess players of the time will assemble for the next five weeks is buzzing with activity. Even though the drawing of names would begin on Sunday, the most distinctive sound that permeates the hall this evening, and every evening thereafter, is that unique musical hum of the roulette wheels coupled with the pings of the ivory balls. The chess tournament will command the attention of the press and publicize the name of Monte Carlo throughout the world, but gambling pays the bills.

The sound of the roulette wheel is only a symbol of the uniqueness of Monte Carlo. And understanding its singularity adds a dimension of richness to the overview of any or all of the four tournaments held there from 1901-1904.  


     Cradled between the southern tip of the French Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco has one of the most temperate climates on Earth.  In February, the dead of winter, when most places are feeling the effects of the season, Monaco maintains a mean temperature of 8° C (47° F) while in summer the mean is just 26°C (78°F). With little manufacturing, agriculture or industry, Monaco depends upon its natural blessings to sustain itself. As the smallest principality in the world, next to the Vatican, Monaco makes the most of its mere .75 sq. mile and beautiful French Riviera location by promoting and catering to tourism.

     Monaco had a stormy past, but for our purposes, it begins in 1860 when Prince Charles III of Monaco signed the Franco-Monegasque Treaty which ceded to France 80% of what comprised Monaco in exchange for 4 million francs and complete autonomy as a protectorate of France. It also left Monaco, the poorest nation in Europe, with no source of revenue other than what it earned from the sale of salt and custom rights to France. The land, what little there was, proved unsuitable for agriculture and the location itself was very inaccessible  Charles and his mother Princess Caroline had little choice  but to develop a strategy to bring money into Monaco. Even before the treaty, Princess Caroline, aware that gambling casinos had been outlawed first in France and more recently in Germany, had pushed for creating a gaming establishment to fill that profitable void. In 1857 they formed companies called the "Sea-Bath Society" or the "Société des Bains de Mer"  and the "Foreigner's Club of Monaco" or the "Cercle des Etrangers de Monaco" [1] to operate the first casino, the Villa Bellevue. But this venture met with little success. After the treaty, now with some seed money, they brought in experienced outside help. This help came in 1863 with the arrival of François Blanc and his wife Marie, lately of Homburg, Germany, where he had successfully operated a casino/spa. Blanc paid 2 million francs for the franchise to operate the casino that was newly constructed on the rocky Plateau des Spélugues (the Plain of Caverns). Blanc took over the Société des Bains de Mer et Cercle des Etrangers de Monaco and bought out the Villa Bellevue. He negotiated to receive a 50 year commission to operate a casino from which the Prince would receive 400 shares in the Sea-Bath Company, 10% of the profits and a stipend of 154,000 francs/year.
     The game of roulette had been around for a while, mostly in the form introduced by Gabriel de Sartine in Paris. Roulette was popular with casinos since it was difficult to cheat against.  François Blanc, along with his twin brother, Louis, redesigned the French roulette wheel which had 38 slots - 36 slots numbered 1-36, plus a 0 slot and a 00 slot. The Blanc's version had only 37 slots since they eliminated the 00 slot. This design gave the house slightly less favorable odds (from a 5.26% edge to a 2.70% edge) and made the game far more attractive to players. In fact, in turned roulette into the most popular gambling game in Europe.

Charles Garnier, who built the Paris Opera House, was hired to build the new casino. At first it was proposed to rename the "Plateau des Spélugues" as Charlesville or even Albertville (after Charles' son and heir), but the name settled upon in 1866 was Mount Charles or Monte Carlo.
Blanc arranged the building of the Hotel de Paris,  completed on January 1st, 1864. Almost immediately the famous architect, Godinot de la Bretonnerie, was commissioned to construct an addition. In 1868 the Café-Divan, whose building housed a café, a restaurant, a jewelry shop and a tobacconist, was completed. All these structures were illuminated by gaslight from Monaco's new gas facility. Most importantly, in 1868, the laying of the Nice-Ventimiglia railway (it's existence greatly due to Blanc's offering France 5 million francs in low-interest loans) and the paving of some roads made Monte Carlo suddenly quite accessible.  In 1869 an unprecedented 170,000 people  visited Monte Carlo, a success marked by the abolishment of taxation.
 the original casino under construction


 Charles Garnier                                                      Théâtre de l’Opéra                     

Prince Charles had gone blind by 1864 after which Princess Caroline controlled things until her grandson, Albert, came of age (Charles' wife - Albert's mother-  Antoinette de Mèrode-Westerloo, had already died from cancer).   François Blanc died in 1877, leaving an estate of more than 200 million francs. His widow, Marie ran the casino until her own death in 1881. During her tenure, Charles Garnier was again commissioned, this time to reconstruct the casino with the entertainment center, the Théâtre du Casino, its immense gaming room and its trademark cupola crown with dual pinnacles. The Théâtre du Casino (or the Théâtre de l’Opéra) was dedicated on  January, 25th 1879 with the world-famous Sarah Bernhardt reciting a poem. Later the Opera, under the directorship of Raoul Gunsbourg, would feature  such illuminaries as Gigli, Caruso, Melba, Muzio, Patti, Tamagno, Chaliapine, Garden, Schipa, Pons, Lubin,  Thill and Dalla Rizza.   An Atrium, designed by Jean-Baptiste Dutrou, sported 28 columns and a huge, bronze candelabra.

                                                           François Blanc                               Marie Blanc

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Prince Albert

     Marie and François' son, Camille, ran Monte Carlo for the next sixty-five years. Camille Blanc, of course, headed the Société des Bains de Mer or the Cercle des Etrangers, as it was generally referred to at that time (now called SBM), at the time of the 1902 tournament. Princess Caroline died in 1879. Prince Albert, Charles' son, was more interested in scientific research, particularly oceanography and paleontology,  than in the operation of government.  Prince Albert married Marie-Victoire de Douglas-Hamilton (their marriage was annulled in 1880) in 1869.  Their child, Prince Louis II, would succeeded his father in 1922 and carry on the royal line. When Prince Charles died in 1889, Albert took over the throne. Besides his research, he constructed the Oceanographic Institute, the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology in Monaco and the Institute of Human Paleontology in Paris as well as the International Institute of Peace.

 Also in 1889, Albert married Marie Alice Heine, an American woman originally from New Orleans. Her story parenthetically aligns with the 1902 tournament.

Princess Alice

Marie Alice was born in 1858 at 900-912 Royal St. in New Orleans, just a few blocks from where the Morphy family lived.  Her father was a successful banker who made his original money in real estate. When the American Civil War threatened to reach New Orleans, Michael Heine moved his family to Paris. Incidentally, this was around the time Paul Morphy also left for Paris. Marie Alice only returned to New Orleans twice in her life. She became part of Paris society and married a Marquis. Her husband died in 1880.  Prince Albert had his first marriage annulled that same year. Marie Alice later met  Prince Charles and in 1889 when he ascended the throne, they married. Since she brought to the union a fortune equaling about 120 million dollars in today's currency, the marriage was more a benefit for Albert and Monaco than for Marie Alice Heine, now Princess Alice. Both Alice and Albert were idealists in their own ways. They toyed with the idea of turning the Casino of Monte Carlo into a hospital "for the poor and ailing who require a warm climate for their delicate health." But practicality reigned. The Prince's ideals led him to oceanography, while the Princess' ideals led her to the theatre, the ballet, and the opera. But their ideals kept them apart and while the Prince was riding "Princess Alice", his boat, the real Princess Alice was enamored with the operatic composer Isidore de Lara (real name: Isidore Cohen). The affair lasted many years, but it all culminated during the 1902 Chess Tournament at Monte Carlo - on Feb.18th to be exact.  The Princess and Prince arrived at La Salle Garnier (in the Théâtre de l’Opéra) to attend the opening of "Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame" and the Princess stopped to whisper something in the ear of Isidore, whom they had come across there and whom the Prince apparently recently started suspecting to be her lover. When she turned to resume her entrance with the Prince, he slapped her face in front of everyone. Alice continued to the opera box as if nothing happened while Albert left. She never returned to the palace and they officially separated on May 30. However, she never divorced him and forever retained her title. Isidore remained her lover (in Paris) and composed up until her death after which he never composed again.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Isidore de Lara

Under the direction of Prince Albert, Princess Alice and Camille Blanc, Monte Carlo continued to improve. The Hôtel Hermitage was revamped and its Winter Garden was capped with a glass dome engineer by Gustave Eiffel himself. The famous Rotonde wing was added to the Hôtel de Paris .

The the Café de Paris was rebuilt in 1897 along a Moorish style of architecture. That very year, during a grueling auto race from Marseille to Monte Carlo, Edouard Michelin, who developed detachable pneumatic tires for cars and created a dynasty in the process, crashed his automobile into one of the the pillars of the new Café de Paris.

        Glass dome of the Winder Garden

                                                                                                                             Rotonde wing of the Hôtel de Paris

Café de Paris



   Prince Charles III                      Princess Caroline                      Prince Albert I


[1] The information on the actual establishment of the Sea Bath Society is unclear and contradictory. Presented here is one, reasonable, scenario.

Note 1:  Monaco stems from the Greek word Monoikos. This word was used exclusively in speaking about Hercules, i.e. Herakles Monoikos, which means the Solitary Hercules. Monaco was the Port of Monoikos.

Note 2: In 1902, the year of the tournament, a movie was filmed in Monte Carlo entitled Ten Minutes at Monte Carlo. Basically, a camera was mounted in a motorcar which drove from  the Credit Lyonnais in Monte Carlo to the Place du Palais de Monaco. According to this review site, "It shows at first to the spectator a perspective of gardens, having for a background the magnificent Casino, at the angle of which the sea suddenly breaks into view. Immediately a hilly landscape is entered into, the descents and ascents being perfectly felt. On the right can be seen the elegant vision of hotels, villas, and balustrades emerging from the grass; on the left, at intervals, the sea, and in the distance the rock of Monte Carlo dominated by towers from which floats the flag of Monaco. Through this landscape, essentially changing and lively, the Railway Station of Monaco is reached, from which, after attacking a stiff incline and going beneath a row of overhanging trees, we arrive at the Place du Palais, where the troops of the principality are defiling."