08 May 2006

C.J.S. Purdy's correspondence skullduggery

The position in the following diagram is from the book 'How Purdy Won : The Correspondence Chess Career of a World Champion' by Hutchings, Purdy, and Harrison (Thinkers' Press, 1998, p.109). C.J.S. Purdy (Australia, 1906-1979, IM 1951) was the first World Correspondence Champion, a four-time winner of the Australian Championship, and a prolific chess writer. The diagrammed position arose in a game from the event where he qualified for the World Championship final.

In his notes to the game for the position after move 56, Purdy wrote , 'The game is now a "dead draw." Black has the "second rank absolute", which would virtually ensure a draw, even without the Bishops on opposite colors. White, however, must have reasoned that it was impossible to lose, and agreeing to a draw was equivalent to defeat since it gave his opponent first place, he might as well continue. A miracle might happen. It did!'

Preliminary, 1st World Correspondence Championship, 1947

(After 58.Rc5-c4)
[FEN "8/4k1p1/8/8/2Rb4/1P6/3r3P/5B1K b - - 0 58"]

Purdy's notes continued, 'Black, at this stage, was giving "conditionals" against all the obvious moves to show a forced draw by exchange of Rooks. This inveigled White into an error. He wished to anticipate ...Be5.'

Conditionals, also known as 'if' moves, were used more frequently in the days of postal chess. They saved the players time when it could take days or even weeks for a move to be sent internationally. In the current era of email chess, where moves can be received a few seconds after being sent, conditionals are used less frequently. Many of the email servers do not even provide this feature.

Purdy again: 'I did not need a win but conceived the idea out of sheer devilment. I saw that there was one plausible move that might lose for White, and by carefully giving conditionals against the other plausible moves, I might head him into it. Using conditionals psychologically is perfectly legitimate, i.e. you can tell your opponent what you will do against good moves, in the hope of his avoiding them and playing a bad one. Many a win is shortened thereby; and here winning chances are manufactured out of thin air.'

Black played 58...Kd6 and the game continued 59.h3 Ke5 60.Ra4. In his notes Purdy gave both White's moves a '?', and added, 'Incredible as it may seem, White now has only one line to avoid defeat! It is the self-pin 60.Bg2 and 61.Kh2, which prevents a successful invasion by Black's King. So ugly was this that Dr.Bigot [of France], perhaps influenced by the characteristic national preference for elegance in all things, searched for a more pleasing method and believed that he had found it in 60.Ra4?'

After 60...Kf4 61.b4 Be3 62.Ra3 Kf3 63.Bg2+ Kf2 64.Ra1 Kg3 65.Re1 Bd4 66.Rb1 Re2, White resigned. Purdy's long distance psychology had worked. This anecdote impressed me for several reasons:-

  • That there was a win in the position (for Black!) and that Purdy found it.
  • That Purdy used conditionals to steer his opponent away from drawing lines and into the only variation that lost.

Although 'How Purdy Won' was not written by Purdy alone, many of the notes were taken directly or adapted from the large body of work he left behind. Purdy understood chess on a level that few people reach, but was able to explain his ideas to players of intermediate ability.

Spell check


'skull·dug·ger·y or skul·dug·ger·y (skŭl-dŭg'ə-rē) • n., pl. -ger·ies. • Crafty deception or trickery or an instance of it. • [Probably alteration of Scots sculduddery, obscenity, fornication.]'

1 comment:

Pawn Sensei said...

Thanks for posting that interesting story!