Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess


January 21, 2005


The 18th century was self-styled as the The Age of Enlightenment.

Although this movement encompassed Art, Music and Literature, it was more evident in the philosophers, scientists and social engineers of the time.

For our purposes in discussing chess, the important factors are that the European intellectual center was now France and that chess, once simply considered a complex game, was embraced by the intellectuals who brought some of their powers for abstract thought to bear on chess. Chess was still considered a game, for sure, and as a game, only deserved a certain amount of one's time and energy, but, even so, they helped raise chess to a higher level, and essentially helped keep chess alive. In the previous half century, the popularity of chess had been waning and little was published and few new ideas had been advanced. Greco book was the chess bible and people memorized his games without understanding them. The understanding of chess started to become more significant as people more capable, and with more leisure time, took up the game.

Much of the philosophic discussions and discourses took place in coffeehouses. In Paris, the most famous coffeehouse was the Café de la Régence.

The Café de la Régence attracted the greatest minds and personages of the era: Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Ben Franklin, Robespierre, a young Napoleon.

They gathered to discuss ideas and to play chess. The greatest of the chess players was de Kermur, Sire de Légal who was soon to be supplanted by an even greater player: Francois-Andre Danican Philidor.

The Café de la Regénce, located on rue Saint-Honoré near the Louvre on la Place du Palais-Royal, first opened it's doors in 1670. It was owned by an American. Around 1740, it inherited the chess cliental from the Café Procope and for the next century and a half, it became the chess Mecca.
In 1840, George Walker described the Café:

"On Sunday all keep their hats on, to save space, and an empty chair is worth a ransom. The din of voices shakes the roof as we enter, like a beast-show at feeding time! Can this be chess, the recreation of solitude? We sigh for cotton to stuff our ears. Mocha is brought. We sip. Manners are to be noted and chessmen are to be sketched. The English are the best lookers-on in the world, the French the very worst. They do not hesitate to whisper their opinions freely, to point with their hands over the board, to foretell the probable future, to vituperate the past. I have all but vowed that when next I play chess in Paris, it shall be in a barricaded room."

Around 1760, Diderot remarked: "Paris is the place in the world, and the Café de la Regence the place in Paris where this game is played best."

There is an impressive list of professional house players who worked La Régence and players who visited there:

Ignazio Calvi - an Italian player was the house professional there for 4 years. He was able to stash away 40,000 francs.

de Kermur, Sire de Légal


Voltaire played a correspondence game, via courier, with Fredrick the Great at La Régence.

Diderot  tells us that the chessboards were rented by the hour. At night, when a candle had to be fixed on either side, the rent was higher. "Paris is the place in the world, and the Café de La Régence the place in Paris where the game is best played."

Ben Franklin - according to "Simpsons Contemporary Quotations", compiled by James B. Simpson. 1988:

"Dr. Franklin was U.S. Ambassador to France, and the center of the chess world was located at the Café de la Regence. None other than reputed world champion Francois Andre Philidor was a regular at the Café, and Franklin visited the Café in 1781 with the intention of having Philidor autograph his copy of one of Philidor's books on chess. Of course many visitors to the Cafe were making the same request to which Café proprietor Jacques Labar had a prepared denial to keep Philidor from constant interruptions. However upon recognizing the distinguished Franklin, Labar promptly presented him to Philidor, who graciously autographed Franklin's book. Once gone, Labar turned to Philidor saying, 'Francois, you just autographed your book for the American Ambassador!' Philidor looked up from his game for the first time and said, 'That's funny, I never knew that he was a chess player'."



Jacque-Francois Mouret, known for his drinking as well as his chess, was both the most renowned operator of the Turk and a house professional at La Regence.

William Schlumberger, America's best player between 1826-1837,earned 4 francs/day giving lessons there. He taught Saint-Amant the game. (Schlumberger was also the Turk's last operator)

Pierre Saint-Amant

Lionel Kieseritzky

Daniel Harrwitz, whom Lasker called, "a great player".

Paul Morphy - who played and won his match with Harrwitz there, as well as his famous 10 hour blindfold demonstration against 8 strong players (winning 6, drawing 2). But contrary to Bird's description of the Cafe de la Régence as "Morphy's old haunting grounds," Morphy, in a letter to Daniel Fiske in 1863 stated, "I have, for my own part, resolved not to be moved from my purpose of not engaging in chess hereafter. The few games that I have played here have been altogether private and sans facon. I never patronize the Cafe de la Régence; it is a low, and, to borrow a Gallicism, ill frequented establishment."

In 1855 the Café de la Régence moved to a different location, but chess continued to be played there until 1916 when the chess room was closed down.



Sarah's Serendipitous Chess Page
The Life and Chess of Paul Morphy
Sarah's Chess History Forum

Chess - in  general

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Chess History

Mark Week's History on the Web
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My Chess Biographies

Carlos Repetto Torre
Gioacchino Greco
Henry Thomas Buckle
La Bourdonnais
Francois Andre Philidor
Rashid  Nezhmetdinov
Rudolf Charousek
William E. Napier
G. H. Mackenzie
Lisa Lane
Karl Schlechter
Prince André Dadian
Henry Thomas Buckle
Joseph Blackburne
Isodore Gunsberg
James Mason
William Lewis
George Walker
Augustus Mongredien
Adolf Anderssen
Saint Amant
Daniel Harrwitz
Samuel Boden
Johann  Löwenthal
Howard Staunton
The Duke of Brunswick
Charles Henry Stanley
Jacob Henry Sarratt
Alexander McDonnell
Joszef Szen
Vincent Grimm
John Cochrane
George Atwood

My Historical Explorations

    Seeds to the Renaissance
    The Catalysts
    Chess Literature
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    Sofonisba Anguissola
    Schaccia, Ludus by Vida
    The Black Death
    Da Vinci
by William Jones
    Aristotle's Children

Chess Automatons
The Origins of Chess



Franklin's Morales of Chess Pandolfini's Comandments
Six Chess Vignettes
Chess History is a Pain!
Fischer's 10 Greatest
My Life as a Chess Criminal Celebrities Playing Chess
Mis/Dis Information
Morphy's Brilliant Moves
What is Chess

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