25 October 2016

'Alekhine in Soviet Land'

Of the different topics introduced in Albrecht Buschke's Chess Life history columns (see last week's post 'Alekhine's Early Chess Career' for an introduction), the longest series of columns was 'V. Alekhine in Soviet Land' (30 columns). The first of those columns is shown below, split into five parts to keep it compact.

Chess Life 1951-03-05
(Click image for larger version)

Buschke wrote his columns about 30+ years after the events they covered, which today would be equivalent to a chess historian writing about the first Kasparov - Karpov World Championship matches. The second half of the 20th century's second decade was a tumultuous period. Alekhine (born 31 October 1892) was 21 years old when the first World War (WWI, 1914-1918) broke out and 24 when the Russian revolution (1917) occurred. In normal times those would have been among his most productive chess years, but those were not normal times.

Now that more than 65 years have passed since Buschke's columns first appeared, how much of his material has passed into chess lore? I noted a number of topics in that first 'Soviet Land' column and performed the obvious web searches. Buschke wrote,

In Russia, there was only one chess magazine, the "Shakhmatnyi Vestnik", Moscow, in existence in 1914, then in its second year, and it stopped publication with the double number for October 1916, which was probably published considerably after this date, possibly even after the February revolution of 1917.

We mentioned already in a previous installment [CL 1950-07-05] that this last issue of "Shakhmatnyi Vestnik" contains the news item about Alekhine's hospitalization in Tarnopol, his unique chess activities from his bedside, and the blindfold game with Feldt, later also published by Alekhine in "My Best Games of Chess (1908-1923)" as game no.48 and properly dated as "played in a blindfold exhibition at the military hospital in Tarnopol, September 1916."

Alekhine himself had published this blindfold game before in his pamphlet "Das Schachleben in Sowjet-Russland", which appeared some time in 1921 as one of the numerous publications of the German chess book publisher Bernhard Kagan, but is neither reliable nor complete.

There is a wealth of reference material in those few paragraphs. First, from Di Felice's 'Chess Periodicals, 1836-2008':-

2414. Shakhmatnyp Vestnik [Moskva] (1913–1916) Vol.1, no.1 (Jan 1, 1913)–Vol.4, no.19/20 (Oct 1/15, 1916). Fortnightly. • Editor: S.P. Simson. • Editorial staff: O.S. Bernstein, L.B. Zalkind, K.I. Isakov, D.N. Pavlov, V.N. Platov, A.S. Seleznev. • Publisher: Alexey A. Alekhine; printed by Tip. Ryabushinsky. Moskva. Russia. 23 cm. Magazine. General. Russian.

We saw Alexey Alekhine last month in Alekhine's Brother (September 2016), who undoubtedly had non-public information about his famous younger brother. For the Tarnopol story, here is an excerpt from Andre Schulz of Chessbase, 'The Big Book of World Chess Championships; 46 Title Fights – from Steinitz to Carlsen':-

Alekhine joined the Red Cross, took part in the war as a Red Cross helper and was wounded in 1916, receiving severe contusions to his back. He spent several months confined to his bed in a convent hospital in Tarnopol.

That excerpt, plus several paragraphs surrounding it, can be found in John Watson Book Review #115: Kings of Chess (theweekinchess.com). For the Feldt game and related stories, see Alexander Alekhine vs M von Feldt; Tarnopol 1916 (chessgames.com).

As for 'Das Schachleben in Sowjet-Russland' ('Chess Life in Soviet Russia'), here's an excerpt from 'Timman's Titans: My World Chess Champions' by Jan Timman:-

Right after the Revolution, [Alekhine] had been in danger in Russia as he was of noble birth. There is a classic story. A sentence of death had been pronounced on him, which had to be signed by five judges. One of the judges refused to sign, out of respect for Alekhine's successes on the chessboard. This meant he was saved for the time being. Not much later, he decided to leave his motherland, and his roving life began.

With the Berlin chess publisher Bernhard Kagan, Alekhine published a thin book called Das Schachleben In Sowjet-Russland. Grandmaster/journalist Savielly Tartakower wrote a brief introductory word, which starts as follows: 'As the wild animals in the Arion sage [saga?], so the Bolshevik rulers also tolerated the magic of chess.' These were sardonic words as an introduction to Alekhine's negative discourse on Soviet chess.

The first sentence of the book reads: 'Chess life in Petrograd and Moscow, which already left a lot to be desired at the beginning of the war, experienced its definitive downfall after he October Revolution.'

As with so much in chess history, one thing leads to another. Two other versions of the 'death sentence' story are in the Andre Schulz book mentioned earlier. The allusion to 'wild animals in the Arion [saga]' is explained in another Chessbase article, this time in German: Der Zauber des Arion, which Google Translate gives as 'The Magic of Arion'. I could also go on about Alekhine's books of his 'Best Games' or Buschke's further reference to 'Russian chess historian M.S.Kogan' and his book of 'sketches'. But I have to stop somewhere and that point is now.

24 October 2016

Korchnoi's Events 2004-05

Continuing with Korchnoi's Events 2002-03, I added another two years of Korchnoi's career to Viktor Korchnoi's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (1946-2005). Yearend 2004 saw the first (and only) tournament game between former World Champion challenger Korchnoi and future World Champion Magnus Carlsen; see Viktor Korchnoi vs Magnus Carlsen; SmartFish Chess Masters (2004) (chessgames.com), subtitled '"Father Time and Baby New Year" (game of the day Jan-01-07)'.

The comments to the game indicate that Carlsen should have drawn...

Dec-29-04: The official site says Magnus lost on time because he had missed out a line in his scoresheet by mistake and therefore thought he had already made 40 moves. Korchnoi agreed that the final position couldn't be won.

...and mention previous instances of the same:-

Dec-30-04: Lajos Portisch had the same mistake once against a FIDE-master, because of the scoresheet: that paper's rows were so dense that the 8-time-world championship candidate wrote one move into two gaps! His opponent did the same so the grandmaster was outfoxed by this devilish trick and lost on time after 39 moves.

Jan-05-05: Another infamous time loss because of the score-sheet was : J Mason vs Tarrasch, 1895.

The year-over-year record shows that GM Korchnoi was playing fewer events each year:-

  • 2003: 12 events
  • 2004: 10 events
  • 2005: 7 events

According to a previous post, Korchnoi's Events 1998-99 / 2014-15, he still had ten years of chess in his future.

23 October 2016

Chess and Social Trends

This blog's association with Chess Club Live (CCL) has been running for 4 1/2 years now. It started with one of those messages in the rare category that I call 'big things in small packages'.

Subject: New message from Michael Chukwuma Mkpadi
Sent: April 26, 2012

I like your chess articles. I run the Facebook page www.facebook.com/chessclublive and the website www.chessclublive. I would love to have your permission to post your articles by RSS as I know our fans would love them.

Regards, Michael, Chess Club Live
Twitter: @ChessClubLive
Wiki: http://wiki.chessclublive.com/

I acknowledged the relationship in a previous post, Chess Club Live (August 2013; 'it's high time I collected those posts into a separate category to give credit where credit is due'). For the past few years I've been including the series of Chess in School posts in that category, Posts with label CCL, but it's now time to change direction.

I offloaded that series of posts into a new category -- Posts with label CIS -- in preparation for a new series where I'm going to look at the sociology of chess. It's a big subject and I won't be surprised if it also runs for more than a year or two.

CCL is a modern phenomenon made possible by the success of social media. While it's had its ups and downs -- squabbles over copyright, surreptitious injections of inappropriate material, heated discussions over the boundaries of the envelope -- the primary direction has been straight up. The following chart shows that it reaches many tens of thousands of people every day.

Chess Club Live (Facebook)

CCL currently accounts for about half of the traffic to this blog -- I know this because the RSS feed breaks from time to time. I'm looking forward to delve further into its mysteries and into the overall sociology that surrounds chess as a global cultural phenomenon.

21 October 2016

No Controversy Here

In the previous edition of Video Friday, Animating a Controversy,

I had the choice between two topics that were exceptionally popular over the past fortnight: the flap over the Women's World Championship -or- the 'Queen of Katwe'. Since Disney's story of Phiona Mutesi will likely be with us for some time, let's go with the other topic.

The flap died down after a week or so, while the 'Queen of Katwe' is still gathering steam. For this edition I had a number of good Katwe clips from which to choose, including interviews with two of the movie's principals.

Entertainment.ie talks to Queen of Katwe director, Mira Nair (7:47) • '...about the production of the Disney true life tale.'

The other interview on my short list was also from Entertainment.ie: David Oyelowo talks chess and Queen of Katwe. What role does David Oyelowo play? In its page on the film Queen of Katwe, Wikipedia informs,

[10-year-old Phiona's (Madina Nalwanga)] world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) at a missionary program.

See also the Queen of Katwe - Official Trailer from Disney Movie Trailers.

20 October 2016

Front Page News

How does chess manage to become front page news? With a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance.

On several occasions I've repeated stories from Alan Lasser’s Game of the Week newsletter (GOTW; a little over 100 subscribers; last seen here in A $20.000 Endgame, October 2014), but this one is the best so far. The GOTW issue of 1 October announced,

I became the 2016 Rhode Island State Champion last weekend. It was somewhat flukey of course. The tournament was under-promoted, they didn’t bother putting the ad in Chess Life and I didn’t see it on the web until ten days before the event. Maybe that was the reason that the eleven player Open section contained only two players who were actually from Rhode Island.

After congratulating Alan, I received some more info.

The Norwich Club [Connecticut] was the first to use me for publicity, it only took them a week to include in their emails, "the 2016 Rhode Island Champion plays here". When I pointed this out to Dan Smith at Westerly, he got it together to call the local newspaper. The interview didn't go all that well. It seemed at the time like the reporter cared neither for the message nor the messenger, that she was laughing inside at the crazy chess players, as if she had just seen the Fischer movie.

We expected that if the news was printed at all, it would be a small article in the back section of the paper, just in front of the classifieds. We were all shocked to see a reasonable portrayal of the club on the front page. The world seemed upside down. When was the last time chess players were on the front page? Not since Robert J, I reckon.

So much for 'a small article in the back section of the paper'.

The online version of the article is available at Westerly Man Is State's Chess King. It starts, 'Age checkmated youth in the 2016 Rhode Island State Chess Championship this year. The new state champion, Al Lasser, 65, of Westerly said he was the "underdog" against opponents less than one quarter his age. "The average age of my opponents was 15 -- they were either masters or nationally ranked in the top 100 list for their age," he said. "One of my opponents in the tournament was eight years old and there was an 11-year old who beat me."'

In his message to me, Alan continued,

As you can tell from the grin in my face; I thought me winning the title was the funniest joke in the world, and I was in on it!

He thinks that there is a crucial part to the back story.

The reporter asked "why is chess fun?" I was dumbfounded. I didn't know the answer to this very simple question and knew the reporter wasn't going to publicize the chess club if we couldn't say it was fun or why it was fun. I thought I must know the answer but I just couldn't remember it.

As I lay awake in bed that night, haunted by the spectre of failure, finally I recalled that the appeal was biological and dashed off an email to explain the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush. I think that saved the day for us.

A couple of years ago I posted about GM Kasparov's #WhyILoveChess, and followed it with my own answer, Endless Discovery (both September 2014). It's a question that every keen chess player should be able to answer.

Small state + small city + small tournament + small newspaper = big result, plus the newspaper article is packed with human interest. Every state chess champion deserves to have his or her story told.

18 October 2016

'Alekhine's Early Chess Career'

Last month, in Buschke in Chess Life, I mentioned a 'series of Albrecht Buschke history columns titled "Alekhine's Early Chess Career"'. Buschke started writing for CL a few months earlier, where the first column was a historical calendar:-

  • 1949-08-20: Memorable Chess Dates (2 issues of CL)

This was followed by a series that took over a column previously written by 'Guilherme Groesser', a pseudonym used by CL's editor, Montgomery Major.

  • 1949-09-05: Chess Life Abroad : Moscow - Budapest match (more++; 8 issues of CL)

The last of those columns coincided with the first for 'Alekhine's Early Chess Career', subtitled 'Additional Data':-

  • 1949-12-20: I. Mannheim 1914

That first column is reproduced below (split into three pieces to keep the image compact).

Chess Life 1949-12-20

The objective of that column was to introduce two previously unknown Alekhine games. The objective of Buschke's next two columns was to show examples of 'a remarkable "lack of sportsmanship" on the part of Alekhine':-

  • 1950-01-05: 'The Unknown Alekhine' by Reinfeld : Nenarokov match & Tenner game
  • 1950-01-20: (cont.) Alekhine - Nimzovich 1914

After this early meandering, Buschke found his stride, writing over 50 columns on the early Alekhine. These covered various themes that often continued over multiple issues of CL (which was usually only four pages at the time, published twice a month).

  • 1950-02-05: II. The Quadrangular Tournament, St. Petersburg 1913?
  • 1950-02-20: III. The Match with Levitsky, 1913 (9 issues of CL)
  • 1950-07-05: IV. The Moscow Championship Tournament 1916 (15 issues)
  • 1951-03-05: V. Alekhine in Soviet Land (30 issues)
  • 1952-07-20: VI. Stockholm 1912 ('slightly out of sequence')

Part IV ('The Moscow Championship', which wasn't!) uncovered another of Alekhine's indiscretions: the 'Five Queens' game. Some years later, Chess Review called it the 'Chess Hoax of the Century'; see February 1965 'On the Cover' (February 2015). An extensive discussion of Buschke's discovery is in Tim Krabbé's Alekhine's 5 Queen game (timkr.home.xs4all.nl). For the game itself, see Alexander Alekhine vs NN (1915) "The Harem" (chessgames.com). Buschke's final column was about the 'Chess Olympics of 1920':-

  • 1952-11-20: V. Alekhine in Soviet Land

Although the column mentioned 'following installments', there were none.

17 October 2016

Korchnoi's Events 2002-03

Take Korchnoi's Events 2000-01 and add two more years. What have you got? For now, let's call it Viktor Korchnoi's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (TMER; 1946-2003). While I was working on this, I realized that many of the previous events said only 'Match', without any mention of the opponent. Here's a list:-

1982 -- Match vs. Timman, 6 gms; Hilversum (Netherlands)
1991 -- Match vs. Morovic, 6 gms; Santiago (Chile)
1993 -- Match vs. Piket, 8 gms; Nijmegen (Netherlands)
1995 -- Match vs. Greenfeld, 3 gms; Beer-Sheva (Israel)
1995 -- Match vs. Xie, Jun 4 gms; Wenzhou (China)
1996 -- Match vs. Brunner, 6 gms; Bern/Zurich (Switzerland)
1996 -- Match vs. Hernandez, 8 gms; Merida (Mexico)
1997 -- Match vs. Bacrot, 6 gms; Albert (France)
1998 03 Match vs. Miton, 6 gms; Krynica POL
1999 03 Match vs. Spassky, 10 gms; St Petersburg RUS
2001 01 Match vs. Ponomariov, 8 gms; Donetsk UKR
2003 01 Match vs. Sadvakasov, 8 gms; Astana KAZ
2003 11 Match vs. Navara, 2 gms; Prague CZE

The same info is now on the Korchnoi TMER as well.