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The story about discovering America

Libor Havlíček st. | May 24, 2011 – 11:024 Comments | 1,443 views
The story about discovering America

Only a few people know that the mankind entered modern period thanks to one chess game. Even among the chess population, only a few chess players know, that America was discovered as a result of sacrificing two rooks, one after another. Sacrifice of two white rooks, in two following moves, led to discovery of the New World, to the end of middle age and beginning of the new era. How is that possible? Let me explain…

It is a fact that America was discovered on October 12 1492, when Christopher Columbus thought his dream came through. Victor Hugo wrote that Columbus’ fame was not a result of arriving to the destination, but the result of pulling the anchor on the shipboard. Victor Hugo was mistaken and so were the historians, because Columbus’ fame resulted of the event, in which Isabella of Castile persuaded Ferdinand of Aragon to sacrifice two rooks! Let’s start from the beginning…

Christopher Columbus was born sometimes from August to October 1451 in Genoa, the first born child of father Dominic and mother Susan. Father Dominic was a weaver, following his grandfather’s, Jan’s, career. Sailors, weavers, cheese makers and cheese traders were common occupations in family history. In school in Genoa, where the sons of drapery guild members studied, did Columbus learn the basics of geography and cosmography. His biography is known; let’s therefore jump to year 1486.

From Columbus’ diary, which was preserved to date, we can tell that on January 20th 1486 Columbus came to the Spanish court, the court of two catholic kings. At that time, the court of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile was situated in Cordoba, as after the union of the crown of Aragon and the crown of Castile, a severe war against Moors began and the army of Castile quickly moved towards beautiful castles of Alhambra.

January 1486 was for Columbus the beginning of a 5 years long waiting period for the approval of his dream exploring voyage from the royal couple. The royalty took their time and despite of many supporters of Columbus’ plan, the decision process was very long. According to annals, Columbus received some payments from the court. He even participated in the siege of Moor’s bastille and many other events up to summer 1491.

It was clear that the polite hesitation of the queen towards Columbus’ plans was changing into disagreement with exploration. As if by miracle, Columbus met in summer Franciscan Perez, an ex-confessor of the queen, who had a great influence on her. Thanks to Juan Perez, who was persuaded by Columbus’ explanations, and his influence on the queen, Isabella changed her mind and was on Columbus’ side. The queen’s support was ensured; now it was necessary to get the king’s approval, which was not easy, since the approval would mean a huge expense for the court. And it wasn’t easy to get money from the Spanish court.

In April 1492, three months after final defeat of Granada, the Spanish council met. King Ferdinand, bored and upset from the long meetings, in order to get a break from the state issues, had admiral Fonsec to come in and relax over a chess game.

While enjoying your game, you can sometimes suddenly find out, that your game is in a dead end, and you don’t know what to do. After an hour long battle, in which king Ferdinand was white, following position originated:

King Ferdinand was thinking hard how to avoid defeat, when suddenly by standing Isabella found out, that the fate offered her a possibility to solve financial problem of Columbus’ expedition. She paused and exclaimed: “Darling, can you not see, that you can win; but only if you sacrifice the most important, both of your rooks?”

King afterwards reviewed his position, found the solution to hopeless situation and overplayed his opponent:

Admiral Fonsec gave up with amazement: “Your majesty, miracle! With such minor sources you gained an excellent victory, even though I had more material!”

King Ferdinand, still hardly believing he just won, recognized through what the smart queen and his opponent said, that the kingdom can achieve great results only through a sacrifice, and called for Christopher Columbus consequently.

In April 17th 1492 the catholic couple and Christopher Columbus came to agreement, which in addition to financial support of the exploration assured the admiral right to name governor-generals and governors of all explored islands and lands; and other rights.

And this is how a chess position, in which queen Isabella found the sacrifice of two rooks leading to a victory, decided about exploration of America and became a break-point in history of mankind. The 31,9 meters long ship Santa Maria carried in the captain’s cabin first chess set, that crossed the Atlantic Ocean, first one that came from Europe to America. All following exploring ships carried abroad chess sets across the Atlantic. Spanish annals say that the last Inca in the south part of the New World was learning how to play chess in his prison cell. Chess did not save his life; however, it brought fame to Columbus.

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Comments (4)

  • Wwqlcw says:

    Please stop. There were people here already, whose ancestors (…my ancestors) had done whatever “discovering” had been done of North, Central, and South America. He merely called Europeans’ attention to what had already ago been discovered long ago. Call it the “European’s Discovery of American” if you must, but it is offensive to bulldoze past a history and achievement of indigenous people in the “New World” (which is in fact just as old as the rest of it).

  • Gregory O. Grant says:

    The book “The World Of Chess” (by Anthony Saidy and Norman Lessing) says that this game between King Ferdinand and Fonseca was actually played earlier, specifically recorded by Hernando del Polgar in two letters dated February 2 and February 4, 1492, rather than April as in this web page.

  • David says:

    LOL! I guess it’s utrbdsnandaele. Don’t expect good food from a bakeshop, unless it’s bread.But come to think of it, I used to enjoy having lunches at Goldilock’s & Red Ribbon when I was still in Manila.

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