Gioachino Greco, known as Il Calabrese, or The Calabrian, was considered by Soviet World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik to have been the first professional chess player. Born around 1600 in Celico near Cosenza, Greco was by age 19 considered one of Europe's strongest players. A pioneer of the Giuoco Piano (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4), and a bold attacker, Greco paved the way for Philidor and Morphy. He traveled to Paris and London at age 21 to play against those cities' chess luminaries, coming away with numerous victories, not to mention some 5000 scudi, a sizable purse that was stolen from him when he was beset by highwaymen outside of London. It was in London that Greco began to record entire games, move by move, rather than just noting compelling positions; he would sell these game manuscripts to wealthy patrons, or give them away to admirers—more than twenty survive today. Greco continued to travel, making it as far as the Americas to play chess. After contracting an exotic illness at the age of 34 (some records say age 30), Greco died in the East Indies; he left his estate to the Jesuits. Some of his surviving manuscripts found their way into the hands of the English publisher Henry Herringman. These were condensed, and the resulting text appeared on the market as The Royall Game of Chesse-Play. It was not the first English chess book (being preceded by works composed by Thomas Middleton and Arthur Saul, as well as a 1562 English translation of Damiano), but it was the first complete primer, and the first to distinguish between tactics and strategy. This English translation of Greco's MSS, by one Francis Beale, is regarded today as quite inaccurate—many of the gambits, if followed literally, lead to insoluble, illogical, or illegal positions. But many of the errors likely stemmed from bad grammar and scratchy handwriting (Greco was not known for his precision with language), as well as mistakes in Greco's original dictation. Even Greco's name is misspelled Biochimo on the title page. (The first translation into French, in 1669, is considered a far more precise edition, and later English editions correct the errors of the first.) Greco was known for capitalizing on external advantages to win chess games, such as arranging the board so that direct sunlight was in his opponent's eyes. Greco was also the first to embrace the standardization of castling kingside (o-o), which was formally adopted in Italy and Portugal in 1623; the move was famously eponymized alla Calabrista. This English edition is illustrated with a line engraving of Charles I, and a small woodcut of an open chessboard on p. 14. Our copy has a few corrections in the text in a contemporary hand, and an interesting remark on p. 8 that states one may not castle while in check. A good, complete exemplar of the first edition.
Full title: THE | ROYALL GAME | OF | CHESSE-PLAY. | SOMETIMES | The Recreation of the late | King, with many of the | Nobility. | Illuſtrated | VVith almoſt an hundred | GAMBETTS. | BEING | The ſtudy of BIOCHIMO | the famous Italian. || [Rule] | [Rule] || LONDON, | Printed for Henry Herringman, and are to be | ſold at his ſhop at the ſign of the Anchor, | in the lower walk of the New | Exchange, 1656.
London: Henry Herringman, 1656.
Octavo, 150 x 98 x 14 mm (binding), 145 x 94 x 11 mm (text block). A8 [A1+χ1] a2 B-H8 I4 K2. A1 and K2 blank and present. Gathering a2, the epistle dedicatory, which is usually bound after A, is here found between A2 and A3. 19th-century polished calf, spine gilt, titled in gilt on a black morocco lettering piece in the second compartment ROYALL | GAME | OF | CHESSE, marbled ends, silk bookmarker. Wear to covers, extremities bumped, scuffs to spine, head cap chipped, inner hinge tender. Interior: Title woodcut border trimmed at fore edge and tail edge, leaves a bit toned, head margin a trifle precious.
Bookplate of South London antiquary and military veteran Leonard James Shrubsall (1879-1952) to upper pastedown; 18th-century custodial signature of C. J. Carter to head margin of title; a few remarks in a mid-19th century hand on the history of English chess books, beginning with Caxton in 1474, to recto of A1; scattered 20th-century penciled cataloguers' and booksellers' notes to endpapers.
Linde-Niemeijeriana 395; Leon, Joseph A. The games of Greco, London: George Routledge, 1900; Allen et al., Catalogue of the Chess Collection of the Late George Allen, p. 31; Weissman, Stephen, "Chess: A Bibliophile's View," The Grolier Gazette 22/23, 1975, p. 44 (noting that there are two issues of our book, one of which leaves Richard Lovelace's dedicatory poem unsigned); not in Gay, Bibliographie anecdotique du jeu des échecs. ESTC R23418; Wing G1810.