Sunday, December 18, 2005

Vicenzo, The Venetian.

From George Walker's Chess and Chess-players ( London, 1850 ), we learn of Vicenzo di Guagnaro, otherwise referred to as Vicenzo, the Venetian. Described as having a fine face and form, he was a wealthy citizen of Venice, and lived high in its social strata.

On one of the nights of Carnivale, sometime in the 16th century, a grand occassion was held at the Buondelmonte palazzo. A traffic jam of gondolas brought crowds up its marble steps and into " halls of blazing light and beauty. " There, Venice's high society indulged in fun and games. We are told that at that time, chess was at the height of its popularity. Like games of chance although not one of them, chess was often played with high stakes, large amounts of money hung in the balance, fortunes made and lost. One could move up the social and professional ladder if he was known to exhibit great skill in the game.

In the backroom of the palazzo, the 20-yr old Vicenzo looked hopefully at the position before him ( diagram ). With the black pieces, he had reason to be optimistic. Ahead by a bishop and three pawns, the nobleman's material advantage was overwhelming. If that wasn't enough, Vicenzo could also make use of a discovered check when given the opportunity. The D and E pawns are connected and passed, and the same thing can be said about the G and H pawns. In contrast, his opponent's only pawn is isolated and undefended. Altogether, this position gave Vicenzo a great feeling.

At this point in the evening, Vicenzo had already lost " gold, houses and jewel. " Having no more money available, he played on account of his honour and promised to pay tomorrow if he lost the game. If he is unable to pay his debt by morning, he will take his own life. Across the board from Vicenzo sat a masked woman of ivory neck and overall fine appearance. She was, none other, but the owner of the palace, the giver of the feast, the queen of beauty---the Princess del Buondelmonte.

Somewhere in the complicate Venetian world of intrigue, Vicenzo and the Princess del Buondelmonte have become adversaries. There is no love lost between the two. Revenge, hatred, and the need to triumph over the other filled their hearts. It was said that either of them cold drink the heart's blood of the other with a feeling that only Italians could appreciate.

A crowd had gathered around their table to watch the contest. Among them was a fiend described as " not satan in person " but a sort of lesser demon, a " laughing Mephistopheles. " As the game progressed, the players became more tense and tried their best not to let emotions influence their play. The princess needed a miracle, and it was her turn to move. The princess thought hard and long, and despair began to set in. She could not bear to let Vicenzo win this game. It was at this moment that the fiend approached and whispered something in her ear. Immediately, her face lit up and nearly fainted with joy. The princess proceeded to make the moves and checkmated her opponent in 10. Vicenzo, shocked, left the room without saying a word. The princess turned around to embrace and thank the stranger who whispered to her, but found no one there. The guests didnt see anyone either.

The story of Vicenzo goes on for quite a while after this game, but his full story is not my purpose here. The story-teller didnt tell us how the princess won the game. The only clue is that it took 10 moves, assuming that black put up the best defense, to declare checkmate. Remember, it was such a horrible position that only the devil could find a way to victory. After some investigation, it has become clear to me that the princess must have played the fiendish 1. Qa2+!!!.

I offer the following variation using a zigzagging technique:

1... Kf8 2. Qa3+, Kg8 [ black must avoid 2... Ke8 because of 3. Qe7# ] 3. Qb3+, Kf8 4. Qb4+, Kg8 5. Qc4+, Kf8 6. Qc5+, Kg8 7. Qd5+, Kf8 8. Qd8+, Kf7 9. Qe7+, Kg8 10. Qg7#.

This must have been the line that the princess followed. Variations where the black king plays to the corner at H8 or towards the middle at E8 lead to faster checkmates.


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