Serendipity – a lucky accident – certainly describes the circumstances by which amateur historian David Reynolds (right) breathed life back into the redundant game.
He is the first to admit that he was an unlikely candidate for the post of Circular Chess Revivalist.
“I wasn’t really interested in chess, either at school or afterwards,” he said. “It happened because I enjoyed looking around bookshops, particularly the history sections.”
In 1982 he bought a 19th Century book, “A History of England”, in a secondhand store in Lincoln’s High Street. He took the volume home, and it sat on a bookshelf for almost a year.
One evening in early 1983, he found himself browsing through the book. By chance, he opened the page on a chapter about medieval pastimes.
There was a passing reference to the long-forgotten version of circular chess. It was a brief description, but it was enough to fire his imagination.
“I started to wonder how it would work, and why it had died out,” he said. “I had nothing to go on apart from what was written in the book. I tried out a few designs on pieces of cardboard, and it really evolved from there.”
He took one of the makeshift cardboard versions along to his local pub, the Burton Arms, West Parade, to show to drinking pal Rob Stevens, who was a keen chess player. They challenged each other to a game, and the novelty quickly caught on.
It wasn’t long before Mr Reynolds, a professional painter and decorator, made the first of the now-familiar wooden boards.
“It needed something in the centre to make the board attractive, and to mark the starting positions for black and white. The City of Lincoln crest was the obvious choice, and that is when it became known as the Lincoln board,” he said.
But does this Lincoln version bear any resemblance to the circular boards that were known to be in use in Byzantine and medieval times?
“No one really knows the answer to that question,” he said. “According to the history books, chess has evolved with new rules, such as castling and en-passent. We have simply adapted the circular game.”
There is one clue. A pamphlet printed for London publisher G.G.J.& J. Robinson in AD1789, “Chess Vol II” (signed “Sloan”) includes a sketch with a numbered guide. It was shown to Mr Reynolds some years after he came up with his design. It is remarkably similar to the Lincoln board.
Now how’s that for a bit of serendipity?.