Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (6)

5/21/2007 – A further miscellany of mysteries from Chess Notes includes an alleged tournament game in which Black was mated at move three, the unclear circumstances of a master’s suicide, a chess figure who was apparently unaware of his year of birth, the book allegedly found beside Alekhine’s body in 1946, and the chess notes of the poet Rupert Brooke. Join in the hunt for clues.

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Unsolved Chess Mysteries (6)

By Edward Winter

A three-move game (C.N. 3295)

In C.N. 3295 Avital Pilpel (Haifa, Israel) quoted the following from pages 10-11 of Cannibals in the Cafeteria by Stephen Pile (New York, 1988):

‘Gibaud has been overthrown. Ever since 1924 this French chess master has been revered for achieving defeat in only four moves. A Monsieur Labard [sic] played the walk-on part in this great scene.

But in the 1959 US Open Championship somebody called Masefield was a useful foil, moving around the white pieces in a match that enabled the immortal Trinka to be checkmated in three moves: 1 P-K4 P-KKt4; 2 Kt-QB3 P-KB4; 3 Q-R5 mate.’

That C.N. item noted that ‘Masefield v Trinka, Omaha, 1959’ is the reference often found in modern sources; however, several Internet pages suggest that White was the British composer Comins Mansfield, that Black was ‘Trinks’, that the game was played in 1961 and that the moves were 1 e4 f5 2 Nc3 g5 3 Qh5 mate. Moreover, C.N. 4493 quoted from page 30 of Das Spiel der Könige by Alfred Diel (Bamberg, 1983):

‘Die kürzeste Turnierpartie wurde 1959 bei der Offenen Meisterschaft von Omaha (USA) gespielt. Dabei wurde Trinks von Mayfield nach 1 e4 g5 2 Sc3 f5 mit 3 Dh5 mattgesetzt.’ [The shortest tournament game was played at the Open Championship of Omaha (USA). Trinks was mated by Mayfield after 1 e4 g5 2 Nc3 f5 3 Qh5.]

C.N. 4506 noted that on page 64 of his book TV Chess G. Koltanowski affirmed that the game went 1 e4 f6 2 d4 g5 3 Qh5 mate and occurred between players named Mayfield and Trent at the US Open at St Louis. So what is the truth about this game supposedly won by Masefield/Mansfield/Mayfield and lost by Trinka/Trinks/Trent?


The suicide of Rudolf Swiderski (C.N.  2776)


Rudolf Swiderski

Reference books usually state that Rudolf Swiderski committed suicide, at the age of 31, in Leipzig on 12 August 1909, and C.N. 2776 requested further details. In a subsequent item (C.N. 3654) Jerry Spinrad (Nashville, TN, USA) sent the following report in the Washington Post, 12 August 1909:

‘Famous Chess Player a Suicide.
Special to The Washington Post.
Berlin, Aug. 11. – Swiderski, the celebrated chess player, was found dead today. Apparently he had poisoned and shot himself.’

The obvious question was how Swiderski could have died on 12 August when the despatch from Berlin was dated 11 August, and we began the investigation by noting that contemporary chess magazines offered various death-dates. For example, 12 August was given on page 286 of the September 1909 Deutsche Schachzeitung, which reported that Swiderski had killed himself on account of his living circumstances and rather than undergo a necessary operation: ‘Am 12. August schied Swiderski aus eigener Entschliessung aus dem Leben. Unzufrieden mit seinen Lebesverhältnissen und von Krankheit heimgesucht, zog er den Tod einer notwendig gewordenen Operation vor.’

Deutsches Wochenschach (15 August 1909, pages 285-286) put no exact date, merely stating that Swiderski had died suddenly in the past week. Deutsche Schachblätter (15 August 1909, page 56) accorded Swiderski’s death five lines, reporting that he had died suddenly in his 31st year. Nor was a date specified by L. Bachmann is his obituary of Swiderski on page 194 of Schachjahrbuch für 1909 (Ansbach, 1909). The Wiener Schachzeitung (October 1909, pages 351-352) printed an impossible date of death (2 September), whereas the American Chess Bulletin (October 1909, page 227) put 2 August.

C.N. 3654 also commented that only the Washington Post indicated, speculatively, the cause of death (the unusual combination of poisoning and shooting). Moreover, it stated that on 11 August Swiderski was ‘found dead’, which did not necessarily mean that he died that day. Later, in C.N. 4728, Olimpiu G. Urcan (Singapore) submitted a report from the Trenton Evening Times of 11 August 1909:

‘Noted chess player ends life
Leipsig. Aug. 11. – The body of R. Swiderski, the noted chess player, who committed suicide on August 2, was found today in the room where he had poisoned himself and then fired a bullet into his head. The body was badly decomposed. The date of the suicide was determined by a note left by Swiderski. Swiderski was recently convicted of perjury in a trial that involved him in a disgraceful scandal.’

What further information is available in the German press of the time or in official records?


A Burn miniature?  (C.N. 2837)

Black is said to have won by 1…Nxe4 2 dxc6 Qf2+ 3 Kd1 Qxe2+ 4 Bxe2 Nxc3+, but who was he? The position appeared with the meagre caption ‘N.N.-Burn’ on page 322 of Moderne Schachtaktik, volume 1 by L. Pachman (Berlin, 1961) and on page 195 of the Czech version Taktika Moderního Šachu (Prague, 1962), although it was omitted from the heavily-abridged English translation, Modern Chess Tactics (London, 1970). We asked in C.N. 2837 whether Black was really Amos Burn (or, perhaps, one of the Byrne brothers).

In C.N. 2843 Christian Sánchez (Rosario, Argentina) reported that he had found the following game in a database: 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 d4 Qxd5 4 c4 Qe4+ 5 Ne2 e5 6 Nbc3 Bb4 7 Qa4+ Nc6 8 f3 Bxc3+ 9 bxc3 Qh4+ 10 g3 Qh5 11 d5 Qxf3 12 Rg1 Ne4 13 dxc6 Qf2+ 14 Kd1 Qxe2+ 15 Bxe2 Nxc3+ 16 White resigns. After 12 Rg1 the position is the same as the one given in the Pachman book, except that there is no white pawn on e4. The heading to the game was ‘Amateur-Burn, 1969’. Armed with this information, we expected to find the score in a contemporary source – whatever ‘contemporary’ might mean in this context (evidently not 1969, since Pachman’s book was published in the early 1960s) – but the only subsequent development was that in C.N. 4455 Mr Sánchez reported:

‘I can provide a more “solid” source for the game. It appeared on pages 105-106 of 200 celadas de apertura by Emil Gelenczei (published by Martínez Roca, Barcelona) – merely with the heading “N.N.-Burn” and no date or place. The fact that the date 1969 appeared prominently on the copyright page could explain why that is the year given in the heading to the game in the database.’

From library catalogues we note that the book first appeared in Hungarian in 1958. Can any reader send us a copy of the relevant passage?

See also page 904 of the outstanding book Amos Burn A Chess Biography by Richard Forster (Jefferson, 2004).


Amos Burn


Purdy’s year of birth (C.N. 4924)

In a number of C.N. items (listed on page 271 of Chess Explorations) Cecil Purdy’s year of birth was discussed. It used to be given as 1907 but now appears in reference books as 1906. In the entry for Purdy in Jeremy Gaige’s Chess Personalia (Jefferson, 1987) one of the citations was the announcement of his birth on page 1 of The Times (London) of 26 May 1906. Below is the text:

‘PURDY – On the 27th March, 1906, at Port Said, to EMILY and J.S. Purdy, M.D., F.R.G.S., Surg.-Capt., New Zealand Militia, a son (CECIL JOHN SEDDON). New Zealand papers, please copy.’

That might be regarded as putting an end to the matter but, as mentioned in C.N. 1623, page 146 of the 1 July 1949 issue of Purdy’s own magazine, Chess World, stated that he was born, in Port Said, in 1907. The year 1907 was also given in an article about Purdy by Gunars Berzzarins on page 282 of the December 1951 Chess World, and C.N. 4924 mentioned too the second edition of Purdy’s book Guide to Good Chess (Sydney, 1951); once again, the year stipulated (in a ‘thumbnail biography’ from Who’s Who in Australia) was 1907. Page 161 of the August 1960 Chess World had a biographical feature on Purdy, and it too put 1907. Jeremy Gaige was still giving 1907 in the revised edition of A Catalog of Chessplayers & Problemists (Philadelphia, 1971).

However, 1906 was the year presented by Anne Purdy (whom he married in 1934) on page 14 of C.J.S. Purdy His Life, His Games, and His Writings edited by J. Hammond and R. Jamieson (Melbourne, 1982). Assuming that Purdy was not born in 1907, when exactly did he find out?

Above is a photograph of C.J.S. Purdy in the 1920s (from page 284 of Chess World, December 1951).


Alekhine’s death (C.N. 3807)

There are many mysteries concerning the death of Alexander Alekhine in Estoril, Portugal, and no-one has established with certainty the cause of his demise (see our feature article 'Alekhine's Death'). One curious sideline was discussed in C.N. 3087. According to reports related on pages 70 and 84 of the book Xeque-Mate no Estoril by Dagoberto L. Markl (Porto, 2001) and emanating from the Portuguese newspaper O Século of 25 March 1946, a poetry book, Vers l’Exile, was found beside Alekhine’s body, open at a passage which read (in our translation from the two slightly different Portuguese versions given), ‘This is the destiny of (all) those who live in exile’. Xeque-Mate no Estoril had two spellings of the poet’s name, ‘Margareth Sotbern’ and ‘Margaret Sothburn’, and we have been unable to identify the poem or the poet. Can any reader do so?


Rupert Brooke’s chess notes (C.N. 4587)

As mentioned in C.N. 2372 (see pages 162-163 of A Chess Omnibus), various quotation books attribute the observation ‘History repeats itself; historians repeat one another’ to Philip Guedalla, in his 1920 work Supers and Supermen. In that item, though, we pointed out that the English poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) gave the epigram as his own invention in a letter to Geoffrey Keynes dated 4 June 1906. See pages 53-54 of The Letters of Rupert Brooke chosen and edited by Geoffrey Keynes (London, 1968).


Rupert Brooke

A Chess Omnibus (C.N. 2518) also mentioned that the sole reference to chess that we had found in Brooke’s published writings was in his 1914 essay ‘An Unusual Young Man’. However, in C.N. 4567 we reported that among the Brooke papers in the King’s College Archive Centre, Cambridge is a small (13 cm x 8 cm) notebook containing a few pages of chess material in the poet’s handwriting (reference RCB/M/21). The notes are in pencil and difficult to reproduce, but King’s College granted us permission to show two of the pages:


Click to enlarge

It would seem that Brooke was copying openings material from a book or magazine, but which one? The reference to Staunton relates to remarks which had originally appeared on page 148 of his Handbook (London, 1847). The other pages in the notebook have only brief jottings about chess openings. Elsewhere there are two (non-chess) entries dated 1902 and 1904, suggesting that the chess material was also written around that time, when Brooke was at Rugby School.

It may be recalled that Rupert Brooke died in the Great War, aged 27. Some six months previously he wrote for Cathleen Nesbitt a poem entitled ‘Safety’ which concluded:

War knows no power. Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death’s endeavour;
Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.

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Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then around 5,000 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center.


Articles by Edward Winter

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (1)
    14.02.2007 – Since Chess Notes began, over 25 years ago, hundreds of mysteries and puzzles have been discussed, with many of them being settled satisfactorily, often thanks to readers. Some matters, though, have remained stubbornly unsolvable – at least so far – and a selection of these is presented here. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (2)
    12.03.2007 – We bring you a further selection of intriguing chess mysteries from Chess Notes, including the origins of the Marshall Gambit, a game ascribed to both Steinitz and Pillsbury and the bizarre affair of an alleged blunder by Capablanca in Chess Fundamentals. Once again our readers are invited to join the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (3)
    27.03.2007 – Recently-discovered photographs from one of Alekhine’s last tournaments, in Spain in 1945, are proving baffling. Do they show that a 15-move brilliancy commonly attributed to Alekhine is spurious? And do they disprove claims that another of his opponents was an 11-year-old boy? Chess Notes investigates, and once again our readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (4)
    10.04.2007 – What would have happened if the score of the 1927 Capablanca v Alekhine match had reached 5-5? Would the contest have been declared drawn? The affair has been examined in depth in Chess Notes. Here chess historian Edward Winter sifts and summarizes the key evidence. There is also the strange case of a fake photograph of the two masters. Join the investigation.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (5)
    30.04.2007 – We bring you a further selection of mysteries from Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, including an alleged game by Stalin, some unexplained words attributed to Morphy, a chess magazine of which no copy can be found, a US champion whose complete name is uncertain, and another champion who has vanished without trace. Our readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (6)
    19.05.2007 – A further miscellany of mysteries from Chess Notes is presented by the chess historian Edward Winter. They include an alleged tournament game in which Black was mated at move three, the unclear circumstances of a master’s suicide, a chess figure who was apparently unaware of his year of birth, the book allegedly found beside Alekhine’s body in 1946, and the chess notes of the poet Rupert Brooke. Join in the hunt for clues.

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