Philidor: ‘Pawns are the soul of chess’

Edward Winter


François-André Danican Philidor (C.N. 3446)

To our article The Most Famous Chess Quotations we plan to add shortly Philidor’s remark about pawns being the soul of the game. For example, to cite page xii of his book L’analyse des échecs (London, 1752 edition): ‘... les Pions. Ils ſont l’ame des Echecs.’ (The modern spelling of ‘ſont l’ame’ is ‘sont l’âme’.)

If a reader has access to a range of editions of Philidor’s book (in French and English) we shall be grateful for information on how the wording of this observation may have varied over the years.


We are grateful to Jurgen Stigter (Amsterdam) for providing substantial information on the earliest appearances of Philidor’s remark about pawns being the soul of chess. The first occurrence was on page xix of L’Analyze des Echecs (London, 1749):


Below, to show the context, is the full page:


Subsequent editions in French (e.g. dated 1752 and 1754) featured the identical text, but with minor variations in spelling and accents.

The first English edition of Philidor’s book, Chess Analysed [Cheſs Analyſed] (London, 1750), had the following (pages ix-x):




Our feature article The Most Famous Chess Quotations includes the following:

‘... les Pions. Ils ſont l’ame des Echècs.’ (Modern spelling: ‘... les Pions. Ils sont l’âme des Echecs ...’) L’Analyze des Echecs by F.-A.D. Philidor (London, 1749), page xix.

‘... the Pawns: They are the very Life of this Game.’ Chess Analysed [Cheſs Analyſed] by F.-A.D. Philidor (London, 1750), pages ix-x.

Bill Brock (Chicago, IL, USA) notes that the customary English version is, of course, ‘Pawns are the soul of chess’, and we wonder when that exact wording was first seen in print. And has it ever appeared in any English edition of Philidor’s book?


The question raised in C.N. 5826 (when the exact wording ‘Pawns are the soul of chess’ first appeared in print) remains open.

Below are two citations from the 1860s, the first of which does not name Philidor:


Beadle’s Dime Chess Instructor by Miron Hazeltine (New York, 1860), page 44.


The Life of Philidor by George Allen (New York and Philadelphia, 1865), page 31.

On page 7 of Basic Chess Endings (Philadelphia, 1941) Reuben Fine built on the remark:

‘The pawn, as Philidor put it, is the soul of chess, and we can add that in the ending it is nine-tenths of the body as well.’


‘“The pawns are the soul of chess”, said Philidor, more than a hundred years ago.’

The above comes from page 21 of 1000 Best Short Games of Chess by Irving Chernev (New York, 1955). The reference to ‘more than a hundred years ago’ is strange indeed.

A separate feature article discusses other uses of the phrase ‘soul of chess’ by writers on the game.

See too François-André Danican Philidor.

Latest update: 4 July 2024.

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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.