Caissa, Goddess of Chess

Students of the U.S. Chess Center are taught that tactics follow strategy, and that Caissa smiles upon those who follow her principles and punishes those who do not. 

While widespread worship of Caissa has never occurred, many chessplayers have learned that it is best to understand her precepts.  Control of the center, rapid development of minor pieces, and protection of the king must be accomplished before the attack commences, except if the opponent is violating those principles (perhaps should we call them edicts) else the wrath of Caissa shall be felt. 

From where did these concepts derive?  Much is lost from history, but the earliest published reference to Caissa as the goddess of chess comes from the 16th century poem, Scacchia Ludus, by Hieronymus Vida.  The poem, in the original Latin or translated into English, describes a game between Apollo and Mercury.

No less an authority than former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov expressed sorrow for violating Caissa’s principles, when he wrote in the first volume of his On My Great Predecessors series that the goddess had “punished me for my conservative play.”  Even when Kasparov was unable to calculate every possible move, he understood the truism that proactive, attacking moves are nearly always better than passive moves.

More than two centuries following Vida’s poem, an Englishman, William Jones, prepared an additional ode to Caissa.  In his 1763 poem, he elaborated on Vida’s history and suggested that chess was invented by Venus’ brother as a gift Mars would provide to win Caissa’s favor.

Without an ability to question the gods referenced, we may never know the truth behind the origins of the game.  Yet, we teach our students that when they don’t respect Caissa’s principles they operate at great risk.