Francois-Andre Danican Philidor (1726-1795)

Francois Philidor was the best chess player of his time, dominating the game for almost 50 years to the extent that he would offer odds (starting advantages, such as an extra pawn or move) to even the best players in the world. He was tutored in chess by Sire de Legal, the best player in France, at the age of 15, but Legal quit when Philidor reached age 18 because the pupil could beat the master every time.

Around this time, Philidor began to demonstrate the art of playing blindfold chess, playing two players at once in public in Paris, the first recorded instance of simultaneous blindfold chess. Apparently he had learned how to do this during long hours of insomnia when he was younger, a story familiar to many chess players (for example, Anatoly Karpov, who used to play chess in his mind while staring at the ceiling of his bedroom). Philidor went on to play three opponents blindfold, seemingly with few problems. Though this was incredible at the time, it puts his achievement in perspective to consider that the current record stands at 56 simultaneous games without a single loss, set by Grandmaster George Koltanowski in 1960.

When he was aged 22, Philidor published L'analyze des Eschecs (Chess Analysis), in which he made his famous statement, "Pawns are the soul of chess". It was Philidor's understanding of pawn structure and positional strategy in chess that set him far apart from his contemporaries, and L'analyze des Eschecs was very popular, making quite a lot of money for him. His name is given to the opening he played and analyzed most deeply, Philidor's Defense, which has fallen out of favour in modern chess but is still regarded as a solid option for Black.

The other string to Philidor's bow was music composition, and he was good enough at that to have his bust carved into the Opera House in Paris, where it can still be seen together with his family coat of arms, which is, appropriately, a chess board. At age 11, his first musical piece was performed in front of King Louis XV.

He died in 1796 in London, with his obituary in the local newspaper reading:

"On Monday last, Mr. Philidor, the celebrated chess player, made his last move, into the other world."


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