May 29, 2011
It is almost certain that as far back as Carthage, chess must have been played in some shape or form, and considering that Malta played an important role in the Punic Wars, the inhabitants of the then Maltese Archipelago must have witnessed the game at its very origins.
The geographic importance of Malta in the Mediterranean made the island a strategic centre on the chess board of the Feudal System in the 15th century. It was given as a fief to the Knights of the Order of Jerusalem, by the Emperor Charles V of Spain, after the Turkish Sultan had forced them to abandon Rhodes. Early in the 1500, Grandmaster De l’Isle Adam came to Malta bringing with him the remnants of an international Order which for the next 268 years had to flourish and attract other European Langues to its fold.
During all these years and with the increase of the Spanish influence in the Order, it is almost certain that the Castillian and Aragonese branches brought the game of Don Ruy Lopez de Segura to Malta. Later, in the short French stay, followed by the British intervention early in the 1800s, the Maltese began slowly to the hobbies of the elite.
Almost 80 years later, in the first issues of the Daily Malta Chronicle, the first Maltese chess enthusiast and organiser, Leone Benjacar, recorded his first chess problems and chess articles. His perseverance in trying to organise the game bore fruit some ten years later when other Maltese players such as Monreale, Marich, Ghio, Preziosi, Cesareo and Monpalap Depiro started to meet and play matches and tournaments of which games are still in existence.
In the 20th century, the first official chess Promoter, Croce Bonaci, left no stone unturned to see that Pawlu Izzo Clarke met all the best representatives of the English Fleet and regular meetings of chess players at a well-known coffee house, in Queen Victoria Square, Valletta, nicknamed “Cafe de la Reine”, earned it the much more appropriate title of “the meeting place of the 64 square-eccentrics”.
In 1923 the idea to create a Maltese Chess Association was finally becoming a fact. Whereas from 1880 to 1893, Benjacar created the Malta Chess Club in Valletta, Erin Serracino-Inglott increased the membership of chess players to enable him to form an Association.
The first official championships occurred in Malta with the birth of FIDE (1924-25), whilst the first official Congress was in 1926. The first Malta champion was Oscar Serracino-Inglott, who won against all his opponents hands down. Oscar, being the son of the photographer Anthony Serracino, could not have but an excellent photographic souvenir commemorating the acquisition of the Malta title – a photograph playing against himself, not finding any other valid opponent!
Regular tournaments, congresses and matches were held until the first international contact was made in 1930. Master Mieses of Germany did come to Malta leaving quite a good impression on the local players even though he was already over 70. His visit created more interest in the game and only five years later, Malta was fortunate enough, through the efforts of Erin Serracino-Inglott and against all financial difficulties, to host the World Champion Alexander Alekhine.
At the first post-war Congress, a Boys’ Championship was introduced. At the tender age of 10, Mario Serracino-Inglott won the first title. There were at the time more than 15 chess circles all over the Island, including one in Gozo, boasting each of an average of 40 to 50 players and all named after past World Champions starting from Morphy to Lasker. As in the pre-war years, it all started by the opening of a chess club in St. Julians, controlled ably by the Darmanin brothers, and another chess club in Cospicua resuscatated by Erin Serracino-Inglott, both clubs appropriately named after Alekhine and Capablanca, respectively.
The idea to organise that same year the first International event in Malta met with success and the Malta Chess Association, then affiliated with the British Chess Federation, pooled for direct links with FIDE in order to expand and participate in official International events. Dr. Max Euwe visited Malta in 1959, when he gave some simultaneous exhibitions. The subject of Malta’s affiliation to FIDE was discussed and Euwe himself promised to ‘sponsor’ it.
That same year Malta became a full FIDE member and confirmed part in 1960 in the Chess Olympiads. Since 1960 Malta has been invited to take part in all FIDE events, but due to lack of financial support, it was only possible to take part when these occurred within reasonable distances. The first to achieve FIDE international recognition and rating was Harry Camilleri.
However, chess players continued to face difficulties with personal sacrifices in order to assert themselves in the international field. After 1976 the situation became untenable and the Federation found a valid representative in Joe Pisani Rossi, who not only organised the International Rating Tournaments, but also succeeded in acquiring the right to hold the Olympiads in Malta – the first ever developing country of its size to attempt such a feat.
The Olympiad was held, and Dr Andrew Borg in Malta’s second team won a silver medal on the sixth board. This feat was achieved once again by his brother Geoffrey Borg in Thessaloniki in 1984 when he received the silver medal, this time on the first board for Malta.
Since the Olympiad, a large number of international tournaments have been hosted in Malta, and the national team has also participated in all the Olympiads held since then. More recently Geoffrey Borg, the current Federation President, was elected to the post of FIDE Vice President (2006-2007) then FIDE CEO during the 2010 General Assembly.