Trivially Speaking: Names could inspire an opening interest in chess


White begins the game and moves the Four Pawn two spaces ahead. To a novice player such as I once was, my next move would be to counter with my (Black) pawn to the d5 square directly confronting the white pawn.

Oops, thus begins the “Queen’s Gambit.”

This chess opening is divided into two major categories based on Black’s response: either the Queen’s Gambit Accepted or the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The game proceeds from that point in many directions.

The Queen’s Gambit is one of the oldest chess openings but still commonly played today. It is traditionally described as a “gambit” because White appears to sacrifice the c-pawn with the second move but this might become a misnomer because Black can’t whack the pawn without incurring a disadvantage.

If you keep track of “old” chess openings — I don’t — you know the Queen’s Gambit is one of the oldest, around the end of the 15th century.

However, it didn’t become “fashionable” until the 1873 tournament in Vienna.

Aha, the appreciation of positional play allowed the Gambit to reach the peak of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. It was played in 32 of the 34 games in the 1927 World Championship between Jose’ Rau’l Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine.

Well, fine, but it was less seen after World War II, not necessarily due to the Sicilian Defence (employed during World War II on a different playing board).

I am intrigued by these chess opening names; I know little about them.

I can discuss the triangle offense in basketball and the ramifications of a “box and one” defense but those don’t have the attraction of the chess terms.

For instance, the Sicilian Defence was first analyzed in the late 16th century by an Italian guy, but the name didn’t become common until 1813 when an English master standardized his translation of the name of the opening to “the Sicilian Defence” from “il gioco siciliano,” “the Sicilian Game.”

My friend and I never utilized the Sicilian Defence — we didn’t even have Italian pizza in the town at that time.

Perhaps it was because the opening fell out of favor in the late 19th century when some of the world’s greatest players rejected it. That would have done it for us.

The fortunes of the Sicilian were revived in the 1940s and 1950s by several leading players but we were not mentioned in my research.

Let’s examine from a distance another cleverly-named chess opening, the Ruy Lopez. This has the sound of a cocktail made with rum or tequila and coconut milk but that’s misleading (it’s not that much fun).

The Ruy was named after a 16th century Spanish priest Ruy Lopez de Segura. Ruy had time on his hands and made a systematic study of chess openings in his 150-page book on chess, “Libro de Ajedrez,” written in Spanish.

Ruy (cleverly) got credit for the opening even though it had been written in the Gottingen manuscript 70 years earlier. Few people were literate in those times (“You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time” and that’s sufficient — that’s the Willard corollary).

Anyway, Ruy’s opening — I won’t go into detail, no spoiler alert — remains the most commonly used among the open games in master play.

Due to the difficulty in Black (second move) in achieving equality, the little trick has been called “The Spanish Torture” (unrelated to the Inquisition unless you had to play it for hours without a potty break).

I hope this little sojourn into “fun” chess names has invited you to try chess. You have a lot of COVID time on your hands and perhaps you could also develop a tasty Ruy Lopez cocktail. It couldn’t hurt your game.

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