Abu-Bakr Muhammad ben Yahya as-Suli

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Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Yahya al-Suli (c. 880 – 946) was a nadim (boon companion) of successive Abbasid caliphs. He was noted for his poetry and scholarship and wrote a chronicle called Akhbar al-Radi wa'l-Muttaqi, detailing the reigns of the caliphs al-Radi and al-Muttaqi. He was a legendary shatranj (an ancestor of chess) player, still remembered to this day.

Upon the death of al-Radi in 940, al-Suli fell into disfavour with the new ruler due to his sympathies towards Shi'a Islam and as a result had to go into exile at Basra, where he spent the rest of his life in poverty. Al-Suli's great-grandfather was the Turkish prince Sul-takin and his uncle the poet Ibrahim ibn al-'Abbas as-Suli.


Akhbar al-Radi wa'l-Muttaqi

Al-Suli's chronicle has long been in the shadow of more famous chronicles such as those of al-Mas'udi and Miskawayh, perhaps because al-Suli was seen as a nadim and not a serious scholar. However, the account in significant for offering an eyewitness account of the transition to Buyid rule. It was during al-Radi's caliphate in 936 that the position of "amir al-umara" was created, which allowed for the transfer of executive power from the caliph to an "amir", a position that the Buyids later used to establish a new dynasty alongside the Abbasids. After this point, the Abbasids never regained their full power. However, al-Suli's account makes it clear that not all power was transferred to the amirs. He treats the period as a time of crisis, but not the end of the Abbasid caliphate.


Al-Suli came to prominence as a shatranj player sometime in between 902 and 908 when he beat al-Mawardi, the court shatranj champion of al-Muktafi, the Caliph of Baghdad. Al-Mawardi was so thoroughly beaten he fell from favour, and was replaced by al-Suli. After al-Muktafi's death, al-Suli remained in the favour of the succeeding ruler, al-Muqtadir and in turn ar-Radi.

Al-Suli's shatranj-playing ability became legendary and he is still considered one of the best Arab players of all time. His biographer ben Khalliken, who died in 1282, said that even in his lifetime great shatranj players were said to play like al-Suli. Documentary evidence from his lifetime is limited, but the endgames of some of the matches he played are still in existence. His skill in blindfold chess was also mentioned by contemporaries. Al-Suli also taught shatranj. His most well known pupil is al-Lajlaj ("the stammerer").

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