The Göttingen manuscript is the earliest known work devoted entirely to modern chess. It is a Latin text of 33 leaves held at the University of Göttingen. A quarto parchment manuscript of 33 leaves, ff. 1–15a are a discussion of twelve chess openings, f. 16 is blank, and ff. 17–31b are a selection of thirty chess problems, one on each page with a diagram and solution. Authorship and exact date of the manuscript are unknown. Similarities to Lucena's Repeticion de Amores e Arte de Axedres con CL iuegos de partido (c. 1497) have led some scholars to surmise that it was written by Lucena or that it was one of Lucena's sources. Although the manuscript is generally assumed to be older than Lucena's work, this is not established. The manuscript has been ascribed possible writing dates of 1500–1505 or 1471.
The manuscript is exclusively devoted to modern chess (using the modern rules of movement for the pawn, bishop, and queen, although castling had not yet taken its current form), and no mention is made of the earlier form. The rules are not explained, so the manuscript must have been written at a time and place when the new rules were well established, or it was addressed to a player familiar with the new rules. The addressee of the manuscript is not named, but was evidently a nobleman of high rank. Some particulars of the manuscript suggest that the author was from Spain or Portugal and that it was copied at some point in France, although this is not certain.
|This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.|
The attention paid to the opening in the manuscript reflected the greater importance of study of the early part of the game caused by the changes to the movement of the pieces in modern chess. The old game tended to develop slowly, with victory often achieved by capturing all enemy pieces to the bare king. The modern game developed much more quickly due to the new ability of the pawn to make an initial move of two squares, and the greatly enhanced powers of the bishop and queen. Checkmate became a more common end to the game, and study was required to develop early attacks and defend against them. Subsequent chess writing would continue to emphasise study of the opening (Eales, 78; Murray, 783).
The twelve openings in the manuscript include four attacks in which the Prince to whom the work is addressed is the first player, and eight defences where he is the second player. They include one example each of 1.c4 (English Opening) and 1.f4 (Bird's Opening), two examples of 1.d4 (Queen's Pawn Openings) including a Queen's Gambit, and eight examples of 1.e4 (King's Pawn Openings). Every King's Pawn Opening included is a Double King's Pawn Opening as Black always responds to 1.e4 with 1...e5. One example of the Bishop's Opening (2.Bc4) is given. The other seven King's Pawn Openings are King's Knight Openings (2.Nf3), to which the author seems to suggest that 2...Nc6 is the best defence (Murray, 784). Although no evaluation of the resulting positions is given, some of the examples continue well into the middle game; the eighth is given through move 33. In the order in which they appear in the manuscript, the openings are:
- Damiano Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6)
- Philidor Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6), example favoring White
- Giuoco Piano (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5)
- Petrov Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6)
- Bishop's Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4)
- Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 Classical Defence)
- Ponziani Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3)
- Philidor Defence, example favoring Black
- Queen's Gambit Accepted (1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4)
- 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Bf5 (a form of the London System)
- Bird's Opening (1.f4)
- English Opening (1.c4)
All thirty problems are also found in Lucena's work, and all but one (number 24) are found in Damiano. Many of the thirty problems are given special conditions, such as specific pieces that can't move or requirements that mate be delivered by a pawn or by two consecutive checks by pawns (Murray 1913, pp. 794–6). Examples of problems in the manuscript:
- No. 5
- 1.Qb7 2.Qd5#
- No. 18
- 1.Ng4 2.Nf6 3.Ra8+ 4.Rg8 5.g6+ 6.d6#
- No. 20
- 1.Bd1+ 2.Qd7+ 3.Qd3 4.axb3+ 5.bxc4+ 6.c5#
- No. 24
- 1.Kd7 2.Ne5 3.Nc4 4.Na5 5.Bd4 6.a7+ or b7+ 7.b7# or a7#
- Murray 1913, p. 782, points out that the manuscript seems more advanced than the works of Lucena to which it is compared, dealing only with modern chess and making no mention of the older rules. Arte de Axedres describes the differences between the old and new rules and includes problems using the old rules, making it a work in the period of transition to modern chess. Both works share some material, although it is possible that they both were drawing on older material. A later manuscript from the 16th century repeats the openings of the Göttingen manuscript in a slightly modernized form and attributes them to Lucena. If this is correct, it suggests that the Göttingen manuscript is Lucena's later and more mature work.
- Dr. Fritz Clemens Görschen (1911–1981) writes in Schach Echo (1975) that King Alfonso V of Portugal had the manuscript when he visited France in the winter of 1474–5 and that it had been written in 1471 (Hooper & Whyld 1996, p. 156), although Eales 1985, p. 74, brands this as speculation.
- The text for the first sample game begins: "Thus your lordship plays the king's pawn to the fourth square from the king's place, and if the opponent does the same, play the king's knight to the third square of the king's bishop, and if he guards the pawn with the pawn of the king's bishop, take his pawn with the knight…". The second begins: "Let us suppose, magnificent lord, that he does not guard his king's pawn with the pawn of his bishop but with that of the queen…". (Eales 1985, pp. 73–4)
- F.C. Görschen found that the style and syntax of the Latin text indicate a Spanish or Portuguese speaker as the author (Eales 1985, p. 74). Indications suggesting that the manuscript was copied in France or that the author was French include: (1) At the beginning of the manuscript bishop is called stultus rather than the more familiar alphinus. (In French, the bishop is the fou.) (2) The names used on the chess diagrams are R (roy), D (dame), Fo (fol), Ch (chevalier), Ro (roc), and P (Pion). (3) The manuscript uses a form of king's leap (the predecessor of castling) that is associated with French and Spanish chess (Murray 1913, pp. 782–3).
- Eales, Richard (1985), Chess, The History of a Game, B.T. Batsford, pp. 73 ff., ISBN 0-7134-4607-2
- Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1996), "Göttingen manuscript", The Oxford Companion to Chess (2 ed.), Oxford University, p. 156, ISBN 0-19-280049-3
- Murray, H.J.R. (1913), A History of Chess, Oxford University Press, pp. 782–784, ISBN 0-19-827403-3