Ruy López de Segura, also known as Rodrigo “Ruy” López de Segura, was a renowned Spanish chess player, author, and Catholic priest. Born around 1530 and believed to have died around 1580, he is best remembered for his influential treatise called “Libro de la Invencion liberal y Arte del juego del Axedrez,” which was published in 1561 and is regarded as one of the early books on modern chess in Europe.
López was born in Segura de León, a town in Extremadura, Spain. In 1559, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Pius IV for matters pertaining to the church. During his time in Rome, López engaged in chess matches with local players, including a young Leonardo di Bona. It was from Italian players that he acquired the term “gambit.”
While in Italy, López came across Pedro Damiano's chess treatise, but he did not find it particularly valuable. This experience may have inspired him to write his own book on chess, which was eventually published in 1561.
López enjoyed a reputation as the strongest chess player in Spain for nearly two decades, with his closest rivals being Alfonso Ceron and Medrano. He even had the opportunity to showcase his skills before King Philip II of Spain, whose admiration led to López being granted a benefice and a golden chain adorned with a rook. López was also highly regarded for his ability to play blindfolded chess.
There is some discrepancy regarding López's travels to Rome. While it has been mentioned by Alessandro Salvio that López visited Rome again in 1572, it is more likely that López made only one visit in 1559.
Around 1574, López was still in the service of the royal court in Spain when Paolo Boi (formerly Leonardo di Bona) visited on his European tour. Their encounters, involving Ceron as well, are considered by some as the first international chess tournament. Boi and an improved di Bona emerged victorious against López and Ceron in Madrid, with King Philip II as witness. However, López managed to defeat Ceron in subsequent games.
The exact dates of López's birth and death remain uncertain, but it is believed that he was born before 1534 and lived at least until the 1574 tournament.
López's most significant contribution to chess was in the realm of opening theory. Peter J. Monté even referred to him as the “father of opening theory.” López's analysis of the King's Gambit, in particular, surpassed previous writings on the subject. He held the distinction of being the strongest player in Spain and possibly even Italy for about twenty years. It should be noted, though, that the concept of a world champion did not exist until much later in the nineteenth century.
López's reputation was somewhat tarnished by the criticisms of the Modenese Masters, who viewed his work as lacking in fruitfulness and method and making little progress beyond Damiano's contributions. H.J.R Murray argued that these criticisms were unfair and likely rooted in the Masters' rivalry with Philidor, whose style of play resembled that of López.
López's book, “Libro de la Invencion liberal y Arte del juego del Axedrez,” is divided into four parts. The first part delves into the origins, benefits, rules, and strategies of chess, featuring quotations in Latin from classical authors. The second part focuses on openings and solidifies López's status as the “father of opening theory.” The third part presents a critical evaluation of Damiano's opening analysis. The final chapters of the book are dedicated to odds chess, where López once again critiques Damiano's approach.
In his book, López presents a collection of sixty-six games, out of which twenty-four were borrowed from Damiano's earlier work. The quality of López's games has been a topic of debate among various authors, with differing opinions on the quality of his analysis.
It is worth noting that López's book seldom includes variations that culminate in checkmate. Instead, he often concludes lines with comments highlighting how black must lose their queen or how white has a very advantageous position.
Leonardo Giovanni da Cutri, also known as Giovanni Leonardo di Bona, was a renowned Italian chess master who lived from 1533 to 1578. He gained the nickname “Il Puttino,” meaning “Small Child” in Italian. Born in Cutro, Calabria, Leonardo pursued a legal education in Rome. In 1560, he suffered a defeat in a chess match against Ruy López in Rome.
From 1566 to 1572, Leonardo embarked on a journey, playing chess and refining his skills in cities like Rome, Genoa, Marseille, and Barcelona. During this time, he frequently competed against Paolo Boi in Italy, and they were considered equals in terms of playing strength.
Leonardo achieved a monumental accomplishment in chess history by winning the inaugural international master tournament in Madrid in 1575. This extraordinary victory solidified his position as the strongest chess master of his time. Leonardo, along with Paolo Boi, then traveled independently to Lisbon to challenge Il Moro, the esteemed chess champion of King Don Sebastian of Portugal. Once again, both Leonardo and Paolo emerged victorious, with Leonardo prevailing first, followed closely by Paolo Boi, in defeating Il Moro.
As a result of his successes, Leonardo sought to honor his hometown. He petitioned for tax forgiveness for Cutro and bestowed upon it the title of the “City of Chess.” Every year, this remarkable event is commemorated on a specific day in August.
Impressed by their achievements, the King graciously rewarded Leonardo with the epithet of the “wandering knight” (Il Cavaliere errante). In light of this recognition, Leonardo decided to leave Portugal and return to Italy. He eventually settled in Naples, where he served as the esteemed chess master for the Prince of Bisignano.