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Abu-Bakr Muhammad ben Yahya as-Suli

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Abu-Bakr Muhammad ben Yahya as-Suli (circa 880 - 946) was an Arab shatranj (an ancestor of chess) player who came to prominence sometime in between 902 and 908 when he beat al-Mawardi, the court shatranj champion of al-Mukafti[?], the Caliph of Baghdad[?].

Al-Mawardi was so thoroughly beaten he fell from favour, and was replaced by as-Suli. After al-Mukafti's death, as-Suli remained in the favour of the succeeding ruler, al-Muqtadir[?] and in turn ar-Radi[?].

As-Suli's shatranj-playing ability became legendary and he is still considered one of the best Arab players of all time. His biographer ben Khalliken[?], who died in 1282, said that even in his lifetime great shatranj players were said to play like as-Suli.

Documentary evidence from his lifetime is limited, but the end games of some of the matches he played are still in existence. His skill in blindfold chess[?] was also mentioned by contempories.

One of his most prominent achievements is his book, Kitab Ash-Shatranj (Book of Chess[?]), which was the first scientific book ever written on chess strategy. It contained information on common chess openings, standard problems in middle game, and annotated end games. It also contains the first known description of the knight's tour problem. Many later European writers based their work on modern chess on as-Suli's work.

He also taught shatranj; his most well known pupil is al-Lajlaj[?] ("the stammerer").

Apart from his chess book he also wrote several historical books.

Upon the death of ar-Radi in 940, as-Suli fell into disfavour with the new ruler due to his sympathies towards Shi'a Islam and as a result had to go into exile at Basara[?] where he spent the rest of his life in poverty.

As-Suli's great-grandfather was the Turkish prince Sul-takin[?], and his uncle the poet Ibrahim (ibn al-'Abbas as-Suli).

Sources

  • RC Bell's "Board and Table Games"
  • HJR Murray's "A History of Chess"



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