Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

Chess with living pieces in the amphitheatre of Prague. At the top left is the Black king and his retinue; at the top right is the Black queen with her retinue.


Those 256 Men Played A "Stormy" Game 


Leopold Hoffer called it one of the grandest spectacles of chess with living pieces.1  The ‘game’, played at the Prague Amphitheatre on September 15th, 1895, represented the defeat of the Hungarian and Croatian King, Mathias Carvinus, by George of Poděbrady, the Hussite King of Bohemia, in the battle of Vilémov in 1469.

The theatre’s field of battle was a large space of 2,304 square meters, divided, of course, in 64 squares.2  The two armies numbered 256 men, with horses and chariots, which means that, on average, each ‘piece’ was comprised of eight men. The Chess Monthly (October 1895, page 38) wrote:

Each Pawn consisted of a group of lance-bearers in historical attire; the Knights were mounted, the horses being splendidly comparisoned; the Castles were in the shape of war-chariots, drawn by four horses each, the warriors who occupied them bearing the Hungarian and Bohemian colours; the Bishops were also on horseback, each surrounded by a group of lance-bearers. The suits of the Kings and Queens were really gorgeous.

The display of chess was organized during the Prague Ethnographic Exhibition. The whole cortege paraded the exhibition grounds amid great public interest before it entered the Amphitheatre around 5 o’clock. The old Bohemian chorale Svatý Václave added luster to the entrance.3

First the armies maneuvered for some time on the chequered, theatrical battle ground, and then the actual contest began, each capture being a small battle of the groups representing the pieces. The problemist Jan Dobruský composed the game that was exhibited.4  It had the following course:

Bohemian Forces - Hungarian Forces

  • Chess Performance with Living Pieces

  • Amphitheatre, Prague, September 15, 1895

  • C22 Center Game

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Qxd4 d6 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Qd1 Ne5 6.  b4 c6 7. f4 Nd7 8. Bc4 Nb6 9. Bb3 Bd7 10. a4 a6 11. Qh5 g6 12. Qf3 Bg7 13. Bb2 Ne7 14. Nge2 Rg8 15. Rd1 Qc7 16. Rd2 Rd8 

17. Ng3 c5 18. e5 dxe5 19. bxc5 Qxc5 20. Nce4 Qc6 21. fxe5 Nf5 22. a5 Nc8 23. Bd5 Qb5 24. Nxf5 gxf5 25. Bxf7+ Kxf7 26. Qh5+ Ke7 27. Ba3+ Ke6 28. Ng5+ Kxe5 29. c4 Qxc4 30. Bb2+ Kf4 31. Rf1+ Ke3 32. Qf3, mate


Source: Deutsches Wochenschach, October 6, 1895, page 356.

The Hungarian king, after being checkmated, rode up to George of Poděbrady to offer his sword, while the orchestra played Hospodine pomiluj ny, the old Bohemian chorale after a victorious battle.

The originator of the idea and director of the whole affair was Franz Moucka, secretary of the Bohemian Chess Club. The pianist Karel Pospíšil, who was also a problemist, composed the music for the occasion. Those 256 men were recruited from the Prague Chess Club and the Sokol Society.5  Even though the weather was bad that day, the performance was watched by 8,000 spectators through the storm and rain.

The drawing, based on a picture by Ateliers Adler in Prague, was made by E. Limmer. The position did not occur in the game that was published in the Deutsches Wochenschach. The picture resembles the position after White's 21st move, with the exception that no knight is posted on e7 and f2 is occupied by a pawn.

Hoffer claimed that the Bohemian forces were White and the Hungarians Black.6  The drawing suggest the opposite. Perhaps, the first player had Black.  


* The diagrams were given in the original source.


Notes:   1 The Chess Monthly, October 1895, page 38.   2 Deutsche Schachzeitung, October 1895, page 323; Deutsches Wochenschach, October 6, 1895, page 356.   3 Deutsches Wochenschach, October 6, 1895, page 355.   4 Deutsche Schachzeitung, October 1895, page 323; Deutsches Wochenschach, October 6, 1895, page 356; The Chess Monthly, October 1895, page 38; The British Chess Magazine, November 1895, page 468.   5 Deutsche Schachzeitung, October 1895, page 323; Deutsches Wochenschach, October 6, 1895, page 356.   6 The Chess Monthly, October 1895, page 38.


Picture: Chess with Living Pieces in Prague (Illustrirte Zeitung, November 9, 1895).  

 © March 2017 Joost van Winsen. All Rights Reserved

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