Gambit refers to a chess opening in which pieces are sacrificed so as to gain a better position. It was first described in Spanish in the Lopez 1561 chess classic Libro de la Invencion Liberal y Arte del Juego del Axedrez. It took until 1813 for this book to be translated into English. And so it was via a very different route that the word “gambit” found its way into English.
The first translation of the Lopez work was into Italian in 1584. And so it was that one of the greatest chess players of the seventeenth century, the Italian Gioachino Greco read it. He may well have been the first professional chess player in the world. He travelled through Italy, France and England, paying his way using his chess skills. He seems to be the first person to record entire games, which he wrote up in various manuscripts and then collated in a book. This work and other manuscripts by Greco were translated by Francis Beale and published in London in 1656 under the title The royal game of chess play. The subtitle comments that the book also included illustrations of almost one hundred gambits. This is the first time the word “gambit” appears in English.
This book also includes the first-time use of other chess-related words, such as “chess-player” with the chess-specific verbs of “fork” and “castle”.
However, it was only some 200 years later that the word “gambit” started to be used in contexts not related to chess, but with the similar idea of sacrificing something to gain an advantage.
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