Serafino Dubois was born in Rome. His early career coincided with a time when the Italian rules of chess differed from those elsewhere in Europe but he wasn't content with being recognized as the best player in Italy - he needed to prove himself on the European board as well.
During the early to middle part of the nineteenth century chess tournaments were few and far between and many of the top players were limited to playing matches against each other, usually for a substantial purse which was either staked by themselves or by their patrons. From the 1840s to the 1860s Dubois took part in many matches against the top players of Europe and it was rare for him to lose, even when he gave odds of the move and a pawn to his opponents.
In 1846 he played a number of games against Marmaduke Wyvill in Rome, who was one of the finest players in England, and it has been reported that Dubois won 55-26 when no odds were given by either side but lost 39-30 when he gave odds of a pawn plus a move to his opponent.
In 1855 he visited Paris and the famous Café de la Régence, a mecca for the leading French players and enthusiasts from abroad, and he played no fewer than four matches, beating the strong French player Jules Arnous de Rivière by 25-7, Seguin by 5-1, Wincenty Budzyński by 13½-6½ but he did lose 4-1 to Lecrivain.
In 1856 he beat Kowsky 11½-1½ and played another match against Rivière but unfortunately the latter score has been lost. Two years later he played the celebrated Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev in the Cafe Antonini in Rome and won a game in 25 moves giving odds of a pawn and ceding the first move. This game was later published in La Nuova Rivista degli Scacchi in 1880.
His best performance came in the London tournament of 1862 where he came 5th with 9 points, ahead of Wilhelm Steinitz who later went on to become the first official world chess champion. Dubois won £10 in prize-money, now roughly equivalent to £700, and after the tournament ended Steinitz challenged him to a match. The future world champion beat his Italian opponent by 5½-3½, but Dubois did win several other matches that same year against Cornelius Bonetti (11½-1½) and against Valentine Green — the first he won 5-0 and the second 5½-½.
Dubois and Italian chess
Dubois moved to the Netherlands in April 1863 and reputedly stayed for about two years. However, he couldn't get used to the climate and returned to Rome where he concentrated on his writing and his promotion of the Italian rules of the game.
From the late 1850s to the early 1870s Serafino Dubois corresponded regularly with French and Russian masters about how to achieve unity in the rules of chess. In particular he was an avid supporter of free castling which was permitted under the Italian rules of the game but not elsewhere in Europe. Under free castling the King and Rook, after jumping over each other, could go to any square up to and including the other's starting point, provided neither piece attacked an enemy piece.
There were other significant differences in the Italian rules too: taking a pawn "en passant" was forbidden and, interestingly, pawns could only be promoted into pieces captured during the game. There was an added twist to the latter rule - if a pawn reached the eighth rank before any piece of its colour had been captured, it had to wait there 'suspended' until a piece was captured, at which time the promotion was possible.
Dubois discussed these issues in his writings of the time. In 1847 he became the editor of the first Italian chess column, L'Album in Rome and by 1859 he was co-editor with Augusto Ferrante of the chess journal La Rivista degli Scacchi which was also based in his home city. He published a three volume work on the differences in the rules between the Italian and French versions from 1868-73 in which he tried hard to defend the practice of free castling.
However by the 1880s Italy toed the line and adopted the normal European laws of chess although it wasn't until the end of the century that the new rules were widely accepted throughout the country.
Dubois was Italy's best player during the 1850s and 1860s. He has been retrospectively rated at 2642 in January 1857 by the Chessmetrics web-site. According to chessmetrcis, Dubois was ranked no.1 of the world between March 1856 and August 1858, until he was replaced by Paul Morphy. He may well have been a stronger player under the Italian rules of the game.
He was very influential within the world of Italian chess and, not surprisingly, chess politics played a big part in his later life. In addition he wrote many articles on the openings and a line of the Vienna, the Dubois Variation of the Hamppe-Muzio Gambit (C25), is attributed to him as well as the Dubois-Reti Defence in the Scotch Gambit (C44). However he was not a keen fan of the French and commented 'This is the most monotonous and annoying play you can imagine - rarely it gives rise to combinations of some interest'. Dubois died on 15 January 1899.
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (July 2007)|