Giovanni Leonardo Di Bona, the first International Master champion in the History of Chess

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Giovanni Leonardo Di Bona

Giovanni Leonardo, known as Il Puttino (Small Child), was born in Cutro, Calabria. Giovanni Leonardo di Bona won the first known international master tournament in the history of chess becoming the strongest chess master of the time.

Giovanni Leonardo was studying law in Rome when he was defeated by the Spanish priest Ruy López. Ruy López de Segura was a Spanish priest and later bishop in Segura whose 1561 book Libro de la invención liberal y arte del juego del Axedrez was one of the first definitive books about modern chess in Europe. He moved to Naples, where he lived for a couple of years, as a guest of an uncle with whom he practiced. He had played many times against Paolo Boi in Paolo Boi, considered to have been one of the greatest chess players of the 16th century. They were regarded as being equal in strength.

Back in Cutro he freed his brother, who was kidnapped by the Saracens, defeating the leader of the pirates and winning 200 ducts.

Together with his servant Giulio Cesare Polerio he went to Madrid to challenge the Spanish priest Ruy López. He made a stop in Genoa, where he was a guest in a private home and engaged with the daughter of the owner.

In the summer of 1575 he arrived in Madrid, Leonardo played against Ruy López, Spanish Champion and King’s confessor. Philip II came to know of this young player able to fight with the Spanish champion: Philip made them play at his presence. Leonardo needed at least two wins over their final three games. Leonardo defeated the king’s confessor and Philip II filled him with gifts.

Upon hearing the news of the death of his girlfriend, he left for Portugal where he defeated the Moor, the eminent King Sebastian chess champion. King Sebastian nicknamed him “The wandering knight”.

He died at the court of the Prince of Bisignano, in Naples, poisoned by envy.

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