Chess Explorations (99)
By Edward Winter
One of the most famous games in chess literature is 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nd2 e5 3 dxe5 Ng4 4 h3 Ne3 5 White resigns. When it appeared on page 8 of Schachmethodik by S. Tartakower (Berlin, 1928 and 1929) it was described as ‘the shortest tournament game of all time’:
If Tartakower could be proved right, that would be the end of the matter, but no such game has been found in the records of 1924, and all manner of other ‘information’ has been seen in print. For example, in his introduction to Chess Tactics (Ramsbury, 1984) Paul Littlewood called it ‘the shortest match game known in chess literature – Gibaud-Lazard, Paris, 1927’. Richter’s Kombinationen (various editions) dated it 1935.
A further complication is that a similar but longer game (1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Bg4 3 Ne5 Nf6 4 Nxg4 Nxg4 5 Nd2 e5 6 h3 Ne3 7 White resigns) had been published pre-1924. From page 221 of the June 1921 BCM:
This text appeared in the ‘Colonial and Foreign News’ section, of which the Editor was apparently P.W. Sergeant.
In C.N. 7904 Dominique Thimognier (Fondettes, France) gave a cutting from page 12 of the Feuille d’Avis de Lausanne, 24 June 1933 (chess column by André Chéron):
In short, both Gibaud and Lazard had stated that it was merely an off-hand game and had not happened in a tournament. C.N. 7927 gave, courtesy of Alain Biénabe (Bordeaux, France), the relevant page of Lazard’s book Mes problèmes et études d’échecs (Paris, 1929):
As mentioned on page 351 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves, a flat denial from Gibaud came on page 420 of CHESS, 14 July 1937:
‘Monsieur Gibaud asks us to correct a mistake made by the author of Curious Chess Facts [Irving Chernev] and quoted by us last month. He never lost any tournament game in four moves. Searching his memory he recalls a “skittles” he once played against Lazard, a game of the most light-hearted variety, in which, his attention momentarily distracted by the arrival of his friend Muffang, he played a move which allowed a combination of this genre – but certainly not four moves after the commencement of the game. Rumour, he said, must have woven strange tales about this game, coupling it perhaps with the theoretical illustration Znosko-Borovsky gives on page 24 of his Comment on devient brillant joueur d’échecs (Paris, 1935).’
Notwithstanding all the above contradictions, Irving Chernev maintained that the moves 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nd2 e5 3 dxe5 Ng4 4 h3 Ne3 5 White resigns had indeed occurred in a tournament in Paris in 1924 between Gibaud and Lazard. It was the opening game in two of his books, 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (New York, 1955) and Wonders and Curiosities of Chess (New York, 1974). On page 30 of the Summer 1955 issue of the Chess Reader Chernev indicated that he considered that Tartakower ‘should be a fairly good authority’, given the game’s appearance in Schachmethodik. However, on the basis of documentation now known (and particularly the BCM report reproduced above) the most likely conclusion is that in Paris in 1920 Gibaud and Lazard played a quick, off-hand game which went 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Bg4 3 Ne5 Nf6 4 Nxg4 Nxg4 5 Nd2 e5 6 h3 Ne3 7 White resigns. Can anything further be discovered?
Chernev being a highly popular writer (and, in many respects, rightly so), his version of the Gibaud v Lazard game has tended to predominate. As is well known, many chess writers freely copy from secondary sources without bothering to make an independent check. If readers care to make a search for ‘1000 Best Short Games of Chess’ on the Chess Notes website they will find many examples of faulty game-scores and other incorrect information in that book which have been unquestioningly copied in other publications.
Of course, such unquestioning copying is not plagiarism, the latter being a particularly sordid corner of the chess world which will never be eradicated without maximum public exposure. The latest instance is the discovery by Justin Horton that material from the first volume of Kasparov’s My Great Predecessors series has been misappropriated by Raymond Keene in The Spectator.
For further details, see C.N. 8099.
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, about 8,100 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). In 2011 a paperback edition was issued.
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. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.