François-André Danican Philidor (September 7, 1726 - August 31, 1795) was a French chess player and composer. He was regarded as the best single chess player of his age (see any of the References), although the title of World Chess Champion was not yet in existence. Philidor's book Analyse du jeu des Échecs was considered a standard chess manual for at least a century. He is referred to here as André Danican Philidor, the name commonly used during his lifetime.
François-André Danican Philidor was born to his father’s second wife, Elizabeth Le Roy, whom he wed in 1719 when she was 19 years old and he 72. When François-André was born, his father was 79 years old; he died 4 years later and left his son fatherless.
Philidor astounded his peers by playing three blindfold chess games simultaneously in the chess club of St. James Street in London on 9 May 1783. Philidor let all three opponents play white, and gave up a pawn for the third player. Some affidavits were signed, because those persons who were involved doubted that future generations would believe that such a feat was possible. Now three simultaneous games would be fairly unremarkable among many chess masters (though three simultaneous blindfold games is another matter). Even when he was in his late years, when he was 67 years old (1793), he played two blindfold games simultaneously in London, and he won.
In 1749, Philidor published his famous book Analyse du jeu des Échecs. He printed a second edition in 1777, and a third edition in 1790. The book was such an advance in chess knowledge that by 1871, it had gone through about 70 editions, and had been translated into English, German and Italian. In it, Philidor analyzed nine different types of game openings. Most of the openings of Philidor are designed to strengthen and establish a strong defensive center using pawns. He is the first one to realize the new role of the pawn in the chess game; and his most famous advice was the saying "The pawns are the soul of chess". It was said that the reason why Philidor emphasized the pawns in the chess game was related to the political background during the eighteenth century of France, and that he regarded pawns as the "Third rank" on the chess board (citizens were regarded as the third rank of the society before the French Revolution started in 1789). He also included analysis of certain positions of rook and bishop versus rook, such analysis being still current theory even today (see Philidor position and pawnless chess endgames). He is most famous for showing an important drawing technique with a rook and pawn versus rook endgame, in a position known as the Philidor position. The Philidor Defense (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6) is named for him.
Philidor joined the Royal choir of Louis XV in 1732 at the age of six, and made his first attempt at the composition of a song at the age of 11. It was said that Louis XV wanted to listen to the choir almost every day, and the singers, while waiting for the king to arrive, played chess to relieve their boredom; this may have sparked Philidor's interest in chess.
From 1750 to 1770 Philidor was a leading opera composer in France, and during his musical career produced twenty-one music comedies and one opera. However, when he felt that he was being surpassed by other composers, such as André Ernest Modeste Grétry, Philidor decided to concentrate on chess.
A bust of Philidor is placed on the façade of the Opera Garnier palace in Paris.