Gioachino Greco

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The cover of a 1656 printing of Greco's work. Pictured is Charles I of England.[1]

Gioachino Greco Cusentino[2] (c. 1600 – c. 1634) was an Italian chess player and writer. He recorded some of the earliest chess games known in their entirety. His games, all given with anonymous opponents ("NN", for the Latin nomen nescio), were quite possibly constructs,[3] but served as examples of brilliant combinations.[4]

Mikhail Botvinnik considered Greco to be the first professional chess player.[5]

Greco was also known in Italy as il Calabrese ("the Calabrian"). He was born in Celico, a village near Cosenza.[6] His parents were not necessarily Greek. The name "Greco" was given to people who originally came from that part of Calabria where they spoke a Greek dialect, and lived in areas where the dialect was Latin-based, like in the Cosenza area.


Little is known about the life of Greco. He was born around 1600 in Calabria – from which he took his sobriquet. Greco apparently showed an early aptitude for chess, leaving home uneducated and at a young age to make a living over the board.[2] Mariano Marano, a Sicilian priest[2] and eminent Italian player of the day, took him as a student. By 1620 Greco had become skilled enough to write his first manuscript, Trattato Del Nobilissimo Gioco De Scacchi,[2] copies of which were given to his patrons in Rome.[7]

Greco soon traveled to Paris, where he continued to find great success over the board. His victories over the strongest French players – among them the Duc de Nemours, M. Arnault le Carabin, and M. Chaumont de la Salle – granted him both fame and riches; by 1622 Greco was travelling to England with an extra 5,000 crowns.[8]

Greco is said to have been waylaid during this journey, however, resulting in the loss of his newfound wealth. Undeterred, he continued to London and played the English chess elite. During his stay in London Greco began recording entire chess games rather than single instructive positions, as had been the usual manner.[9]

Greco returned to Paris in 1624 and began rewriting his collection of manuscripts. It is unclear whether he actually played these games – to modern eyes, his opponents' play seems dubious at best.[10]

Not one to remain in one place for long, Greco left Paris for the court of Philip IV in Spain. Aside from the eminent Spanish players, Greco also happened to encounter and defeat his old mentor Mariano Morano. By this point Greco had shown himself to be the greatest player in Europe with victories over the champions of Rome, Paris, London, and Madrid.[8]

Having conquered the Old World, Greco traveled to the New. Greco succumbed to disease in the West Indies soon after arriving. The exact date of Greco's death is unknown, but he was certainly dead by 1634.[8] His chess earnings were given to the Jesuits.[2]


Greco was a remarkable chess player who inhabited the era between Ruy López de Segura and François-André Danican Philidor. At that early date, no great corpus of chess knowledge had yet been amassed. It is for this reason that Greco's games should be understood as those of a brilliant inventor and pioneer rather than as guides to sound play.[10] They are also valuable examples of the Italian Romantic school of chess, in which development and material are eschewed in favor of aggressive attacks on the opponent's king. Greco paved the way for many of the attacking legends of the Romantic era, such as Adolf Anderssen, Paul Morphy, and Philidor. Greco's innovation to record entire games is perhaps his greatest legacy. In 1656, years after his death, much of Greco's work was collected and republished as The Royall Game of Chesse-Play by Francis Beale in London.[11] Games were not described in the now-familiar algebraic notation; rather, the movement of each piece was given in descriptive notation, like so:

The Fooles Mate.

Black Kings Bishops pawne one house.

White Kings pawne one house.

Black kings knights pawne two houses

White Queen gives Mate at the contrary kings Rookes fourth house

in which "house" refers to a square on the chessboard.[12]

In addition to the games ("Gambetts") listed in his manuals, Greco often gave general advice to his readers and an overview of the rules of chess ("The Lawes of Chesse"). These range from the familiar ("If you touch your man you must play it, and if you set it downe any where you must let it stand") to the bizarre ("If at first you misplace your men, and play two or three draughts, it lieth in your adversaries choice whether you shall play out the game or begin it again.").[13] Greco also describes the premodern necessity of announcing check to one's opponent and the disgrace of what he calls a "blind Mate" – a checkmate given but not noticed.[14]

The "Lawes of Chesse" were also not entirely standardized in Greco's time; for that reason, the rules as published by Beale would have been meant for a specific population. For example, Greco specifies that when castling in France, "the Rook... goeth into the Kings house".[14] In other countries the rules for castling were different. Modern castling, which Greco also describes, is sometimes called "alla Calabrese" in Greco's honor.[15]

Openings Named for Greco [16][edit]

  • Greco Defence – 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Qf6 – A popular opening choice by novice players, it has also been used by players who, according to International Master Gary Lane, "should know better".[17] Also known as the McConnell Defense.[18]
  • Greco Countergambit – 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 – An aggressive but rather dubious choice for Black which often leads to wild and tricky positions. FIDE Master Dennis Monokroussos even goes so far as to describe it as "possibly the worst opening in chess".[19] Also known as the Latvian Gambit.
  • Calabrese Countergambit – 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 f5
  • Bishop's Opening- Greco Gambit- 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3. f4
  • Giuocco Piano: Greco's Attack- 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3
  • Giuocco Piano: Greco Variation- 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.O-O Nxc3
  • King's Gambit Accepted: Bishop's Gambit, Greco Variation- 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 Bc5
  • King's Gambit Accepted: Greco Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 Bg7 5.h4 h6 6.d4 d6 7.Nc3 c6 8.hxg5 hxg5 9.Rxh8 Bxh8 10.Ne5
  • Queen's Gambit Accepted, Central Variation, Greco Variation – 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 b5

Example games[edit]

As one of the players during the age of the Italian Romantic style, Greco studied the Giuoco Piano (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5), among other openings. These games are regarded as classics of early chess literature and are sometimes still taught to beginners.

Among his games/constructions were the first smothered mate:

NN vs. Greco, 1620
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Re1 0-0 6.c3 Qe7 7.d4 exd4 8.e5 Ng4 9.cxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Qh4 11.Nf3 Qxf2+ 12.Kh1 Qg1+ 13.Nxg1 Nf2# 0–1

and this impressive queen sacrifice:

Greco vs. NN, 1619
1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5 4.exf5 Bxg2 5.Qh5+ g6 6.fxg6 Nf6 7.gxh7+ Nxh5 8.Bg6# 1–0


This composition by Greco uses the theme of the wrong rook pawn:

Greco, 1623
a7 black rook
f5 black bishop
g5 black king
f3 white bishop
f2 white rook
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
g1 white king
Black to move and draw
Solution: 1...Ra1+ 2.Rf1 Rxf1+ 3.Kxf1 Bh3! and Black will sacrifice his bishop for the g-pawn or it will transform into an h-pawn after 4.gxh3.[20]

Quotes about Greco[edit]

  • "Greco was the Morphy of the seventeenth century, and it may safely be said that in brilliancy and fertility of invention he has never been surpassed." (J.A. Leon, 1900)[21]
  • "The games of Calabrisian Greco can be considered as a great education for beginners and intermediate players; even the most dedicated connoisseur of the board wants to find in its many unknown twists and elegant ways of playing, which enrich or round off his experiences." (translated from German, Max Lange)[22]
  • "At the start of your career, you make a move against me, because of your proud step all my plans fail, as you approach I see all my defenses crumble, my champions fall while I resist in vain, my King Knight Rook and Queen don't measure up to your pawns." (translated from French, unknown)[11]

See also[edit]



  • Averbakh, Yuri (1996). Chess Middlegames: Essential Knowledge. Cadogan. ISBN 1-85744-125-7.
  • Gufeld, Eduard; Stetsko, Oleg (1996). The Giuoco Piano. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-7802-0.
  • Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992). The Oxford Companion to Chess (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280049-3.
  • Murray, H. J. R. (2012) [1913]. A History of Chess. Skyhorse. ISBN 978-1-62087-062-4.
  • Leon, JA; Hoffman (1900). The Games of Greco. G Routledge.
  • Walker, George (1831). A New Treatise on Chess. Sherwood, Gilbett and Piper.
  • Beale, Francis (1656). The Royall Game of Chesse-Play, Sometimes the Recreation of the Late King, with Many of the Nobility. London.
  • Benjamin, Joel; Schiller, Eric (1987). Unorthodox Openings. MacMillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-016590-0.
  • Lane, Gary (2001). "Opening Lanes" (PDF).
  • Monokroussos, Dennis (8 November 2007). "One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure".
  • Wall, Bill (17 November 2015). "Gioacchino Greco".
  • Hudson, Shane (January 2011). "".

External links[edit]