Friday, September 26, 2014

Napoleon and Chess

Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte was a chess lover? Yes: The French military genius who reformed the First Empire, turned the armies of France against the rest of continental Europe, and won stunning victories on the battlefield also devoted most of his time towards the royal game. Unfortunately, as he was too preoccupied with conquering Europe, he was unable to spare time to train his chess to the top level; as a result, many sources label him as a mediocre player. Only three of his games have been recorded, and the authenticity of these games have been disputed.

Napoléon Crossing the Alps by Jacques Louis David, 1801 (Image from Wiki)

But for today, we will not go into a lengthy discussion on how strong Napoleon was as a chessplayer, or whether those games which he played were authentic (if you're interested, you can read this article by Edward Winter on Napoleon and Chess: Today, we will just relax and take a look at one of his games against Madame De Remusat, a distinguished lady at the consular court of Malmaison Castle. The  game features bold (although rash) sacrifices by Napoleon to hunt down the enemy king, a symbol of the Romantic School of Chess which was predominant during the time.

Napoleon Bonaparte vs Madame De Remusat
Malmaison Castle 1804

1. Nc3 e5
2. Nf3 d6
3. e4 f5?!
4. h3!?

After 4. Bc4 Nc6 5. d3 White has a huge lead in development.

4... fxe4
5. Nxe4 Nc6
6. Nfg5?! (D)

Position after 6. Nfg5

Today, standard theory would recommend continued development as the wiser option: For example, after 6. Bb5 Nf6 7. d3 Bd7 8. O-O Qe7 9. Be3 O-O-O we have an interesting double-edged situation where both sides threaten to attack on opposite wings, as is seen in modern games.

6... d5
7. Qh5+ g6
8. Qf3 Nh6?

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake"
-- Napoleon Bonaparte

A blunder that relinquishes control of the f6 square, allowing White to unleash a brutal attack on the enemy king. In contrast, after 8... Qe7! 9. Bb5 (there are too many tactical problems for White to solve) 9... dxe4 10. Bxc6+ bxc6 11. Nxe4 Bf5 White would have been a piece down with little compensation!

9. Nf6+ Ke7
10. Nxd5+ Kd6
11. Ne4+ Kxd5 (D)

White to move and mate in 3

"One sharp blow and the war is over"
-- Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805)

Now spot the mate in 3 before scrolling down!
12. Bc4+! Kxc4
13. Qb3+ Kd4
14. Qd3# (D)

Final position after 14. Qd3#

And hopefully y'all have been entertained well by this miniature. I will end off with another quote by the Emperor that relates directly to what we learn in chess:

"The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies."
-- Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard (Iimage from Wiki)

Vive la Empereur!


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