Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (15)

by ChessBase
9/23/2007 – Chess books repackaged as camouflage in Nazi Germany. Numerous contradictions regarding a four-move game. The chess encyclopaedia that never was. Quotes strangely attributed to Spielmann and Capablanca. These and other mysteries are discussed in the latest selection from Chess Notes. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

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Unsolved Chess Mysteries (15)

By Edward Winter


Click to enlarge

C.N. 3956 reported on efforts to identify all the persons in the above photograph. On the far left is Averbakh and, two places along, Keres. On the other side are, from right to left, Petrosian, Geller and Taimanov. Then, after two unidentified figures, comes Kotov.

The photograph was taken during the 1953 Candidates’ tournament in Neuhausen and Zurich. From the plate section of the tournament book Schach-Elite im Kampf (Zurich, 1954) it can be established that the person fifth from the left is Charles Perret, the President of the Organizing Committee, but can readers identify anyone else?

What happened in a famous gamelet?

R.F. Combe (1912-1952) is chiefly remembered for a defeat, but the details of the game are far from clear. As noted in C.N. 4063, well over a decade before becoming British champion Combe suffered the indignity of losing an ultra-brief game in the Folkestone Olympiad on 14 June 1933. Regarding that encounter with W.R. Hasenfuss page 294 of the July 1933 BCM reported:

‘The most sensational incident, in a minor way, was a four-move win for Latvia against Scotland on the last board, which is surely a tournament record. The game ran 1 P-Q4 P-QB4 2 P-Q4 [sic] PxP 3 Kt-KB3 P-K4 4 KtxKP Q-R4ch and White resigned.’

Robert Forbes Combe (source: Nottingham, 1946 tournament book)

Nowadays the chances are that any reference to Combe in chess literature will concern this gamelet, but it has appeared in contradictory forms. On page 22 of 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (New York, 1955) I. Chernev indicated that it was a Sicilian Defence (1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4), whereas on page 106 of Chess Olympiads (Budapest, 1969) A. Földeák gave 1 d4 c5 2 c4 cxd4. However, in the October 1970 CHESS, page 39, Földeák asked whether it was known for sure which moves Combe had played. Referring to the BCM’s version he wrote:

‘White’s first two moves cannot both be P-Q4. Some sources give it as 2 P-QB4, others as 2 P-K4. Both Alexander and Fairhurst think that 2 P-K4 was played, but at this distance are not quite sure.’

The magazine returned to the matter on page 71 of its November 1970 issue, quoting M.D. Thornton of Stirling (‘long a Scottish C.A. official’):

‘Combe’s game was a Sicilian (played shortly after a particularly exhausting adjournment session) i.e. White’s first move 1 P-K4 and otherwise as you gave it.’

CHESS added:

‘But the famous Belgian magazine L’Echiquier (1933, page 353) gives the first move as 1 P-Q4 – and their correspondent E. Colle was on the spot.

In view of this last circumstance, we are inclined to believe L’Echiquier.’

CHESS was unwise to place its trust in ‘this last circumstance’, given that Colle had died over a year before Combe v Hasenfuss was played.

On page 203 of the March 1971 CHESS Owen Dixson wrote:

‘I was staying in the same house at Folkestone with R.F. Combe and R.N. Coles ...

I well remember the afternoon when Combe returned to the house a bit disconsolate after losing to the Latvian player in four moves ...

You will remember that a few years ago I began to write a book called “Chess in Kent” (it never reached the publishing stage), but I have now turned up the manuscript and found that I wrote on page 41 as follows:

“One of the most promising of Scotland’s younger players some years ago was R.F. Combe, who represented his country in the team tournament at Folkestone in 1933. At that tournament young Combe made chess history by losing his game with Hasenfuss (Latvia) in four moves. The game went: 1 P-Q4 P-QB4 2 P-QB4 PxP 3 N-KB3 P-K4 4 NxKP Q-R4ch White resigns.”

I can vouch for this being the correct score.

“Although I did not happen to be present in the Leas Cliff Hall when this Scottish disaster took place, I was shown the game by Combe himself later in the day. As he cheerfully played over the moves on his pocket set he explained that he could, of course, have continued the game – some people thought he should have done so – but defeat would have been inevitable against a player of the calibre of Hasenfuss.

Combe’s health at that time was poor, and he later became so ill that he was obliged to drop out of big chess, leaving the field clear for those other fine Scottish players, Fairhurst and Aitken. Later, of course, he was to make a fine ‘come-back’ and win the British Championship.”’

CHESS commented:

‘It seems to us that this is closer to absolute certainty than we could have hoped to get.’

It did not, though, put an end to the confusion. On page 44 of the January 1973 BCM R.N. Coles wrote:

‘I was staying at the same hotel in Folkestone as Combe in 1933, and I recall his showing me the game afterwards; the opening move was neither P-Q4 nor P-K4 but 1 P-QB4, and then 1...P-QB4 2 P-Q4. It was the fact that it was an irregular opening and not a Sicilian that lured Combe into his ghastly error.’

In C.N. 4099 Pablo S. Domínguez (Madrid) added:

‘I have found a reference to the Combe v Hasenfuss game in 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures by P.H. Clarke (London, 1963). Pages 59-60 gave the game Klachko v Chembrovsky, Leningrad, 1957, which began 1 d4 c5 2 e4 cxd4 3 Nf3 e5 4 c3, at which point Clarke wrote:

“But not 4 Nxe5 Qa5+ 5 White resigns, which was what happened in the game Combe-Hasenfuss, International Team Tournament, Folkestone, 1933. I wonder whether the Scottish player would have been so generous if he had known that when this trap occurred in a game between the Russian masters Shumov and Jaenisch more than 70 years before, White had not only carried on but even won.”

Our correspondent pointed out that the earlier game was in fact played at the beginning of the 1850s. It was published on pages 289-290 of the 1851 Chess Player’s Chronicle:

Ilia Shumov – Carl Friedrich von Jaenisch
St Petersburg, circa 1851
Sicilian Defence

1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 Nf3 e5 4 Nxe5 (The Chronicle commented: ‘By this hasty slip White loses a piece at the very outset of the play; a loss, however, which is hardly to be deplored, since it gives rise to an attack on his part more brilliant and spirited than we often see in modern days.’)

4...Qa5+ 5 b4 Bxb4+ 6 Bd2 Bxd2+ 7 Nxd2 Qxe5 8 Bd3 Nf6 9 O-O O-O 10 f4 Qc5 11 e5 Nd5 12 Bxh7+ Kxh7 13 Qh5+ Kg8 14 Ne4 Qxc2 15 Rae1 Ne3 16 Rxe3 dxe3 17 Qf5 Qe2 18 Nf6+ gxf6 19 exf6 Qc2 20 Qxc2 d5 21 Qd3 d4 22 Qb5 Rd8 23 Rf3 Bf5 24 Qxf5 Nc6 25 Qc5 Resigns.

Can anything else be discovered about R.F. Combe’s loss at Folkestone?

The encyclopaedia that never was

As noted in C.N. 2427, page 338 of the October 1919 BCM reported that Signor Anton Mario Lanza of Milan intended to bring out an ‘Encyclopaedia of Chess’ and was seeking assistance. Page 88 of the April 1953 issue of the Italian chess magazine La Scacchiera had a photograph of Lanza, whom it called (inaccurately) ‘the author of the world’s first chess encyclopaedia’. Whilst reporting that the work had not yet been completed, owing to Lanza’s long illness, La Scacchiera sounded a positive note of expectation. But there was soon a change of tone by the magazine, which was also the intended publisher of the opus; a frosty editorial in the November 1953 issue (page 238) concluded that, despite a claim by Lanza that compiling the encyclopaedia had required nearly 40 years’ work, no book had in fact been written.

Anton Mario Lanza

The entry on Lanza on page 303 of A. Chicco and G. Porreca’s Dizionario Enciclopedico degli Scacchi (Milan, 1971) affirmed that he tried to compile the book throughout his life but was unable to finish it. Subsequently, two Italian chess bibliographies (Lineamenti di una bibliografia italiana degli scacchi and Bibliografia italiana degli scacchi) recorded that three parts of Lanza’s Enciclopedia degli scacchi had been published (i.e. a modest alphabetical incursion from A to Alborghetti).

There is also some information about Lanza in Storia degli Scacchi in Italia by A. Chicco and A. Rosino (Venice, 1990). Born in Palermo in 1889, he died in Milan in 1964. Is anything more known about  his attempt to write an encyclopaedia?

Book, magician and machine

Over the years a number of C.N. items have discussed a quote frequently attributed to Rudolf Spielmann:

‘In the opening a master should play like a book, in the mid-game he should play like a magician, in the ending he should play like a machine.’

Already in C.N. 325 we asked whether Spielmann was really the originator of this phrase, and in C.N. 4156 Christian Sánchez (Rosario, Argentina) cited the following passage (from the pre-Spielmann era) in the section on Pillsbury on page xiv of The Games of the St Petersburg Tournament 1895-96 by J. Mason and W.H.K. Pollock (Leeds, 1896):

‘A great player was once asked to give his ideas as to how a master ought to play. “In the opening”, was his reply, “a master should play like a book; in the mid-game he should play like a magician; in the ending he should play like a machine.’

The identity of that ‘great player’ is not known, and it may be wondered how Spielmann’s name became attached to the quote. In C.N. 1063 we suggested that the lay-out of the chapter of epigrams in I. Chernev’s book The Bright Side of Chess (Philadelphia, 1948) misled writers into thinking that the observation was Spielmann’s:

It is evident from other parts of that chapter of Chernev’s that when he gave, for instance, two unattributed quotations followed by an attributed one it was only the last of these that he intended to ascribe to the writer named. Thus in the extract reproduced above the ‘poison’ quote has no more to do with Spielmann than does the ‘book, magician and machine’ comment.

Rudolf Spielmann

Conferred sight

Following on from the previous item, a similar case concerns a famous quote widely ascribed to Capablanca:

‘Chess books should be used as we use glasses – to assist the sight; although some players make use of them as if they thought they conferred sight.’

Here too we suggested (in C.N. 1063) that the layout of The Bright Side of Chess by I. Chernev had misled writers:

Click to enlarge

The intermediate quote beginning ‘A recorded game ...’ is also at variance with Capablanca’s prose style, and it would hardly be logical to regard Philidor as the originator of the skittles quote or Marshall as the writer of the Paulsen anecdote. The earliest instance known to us of the ‘conferred sight’ quote being attributed to Capablanca is page 85 of Championship Chess and Checkers For All by L. Evans and T. Wiswell (New York, 1953).

C.N. 4209 reported an excellent find by Michael Clapham (Ipswich, England). He discovered the following on page 139 of The Chess-Player’s Annual for the Year 1856 edited by Charles Tomlinson (London, 1856):

Mr Clapham pointed out that the ‘Classified Contents’ (page ix) list this remark in the section ‘Chess Aphorisms, by the Editor’.

Charles Tomlinson

Will the ‘conferred sight’ quote cease being attributed to Capablanca?

An unidentifiable position

C.N. 1658 gave this position:

White to move.

Play continued 44 h6+ Kxh6 45 e7 Rb8 46 Kc1 Kg7 47 e8(Q) Rxe8 48 Kb2 Re2 49 Ka1 Drawn, according to L. Verkhovsky’s book on drawn games; see page 27 of Nichya! (Moscow, 1972) or page 39 of the Spanish translation Tablas (Barcelona, 1973). The heading in each case was ‘Teichman v Marbl, Leipzig, 1913’, but it has still not been possible to corroborate that curious reference.

From page 27 of Nichya! (Moscow, 1972).

A number of positions with a similar motif have been discussed in C.N. (see pages 21-23 of Chess Explorations), but nothing has yet been discovered about the alleged Teichman v Marbl game.

The Steinitzes and camouflage publications

The one and only Wilhelm Steinitz is not the one and only chess Steinitz. C.N. 3156 gave citations for some mysterious figures in chess literature: W. Steinitz (born circa 1904), Julius Steinitz, Y. Steinitz and K.G. Steinitz.

The last of these wrote a book entitled Der praktische Schachspieler, published in Reutlingen. It is undated, but chess library catalogues give 1888 as the year of first publication. We have yet to find K.G. Steinitz’s volume mentioned in any chess periodical of the time.

There were also twentieth-century editions, and in C.N. 3196 Richard Forster (Zurich) reported the existence of a Tarnschrift version, i.e. a camouflage publication. This refers to the practice, quite common in Nazi Germany, of binding prohibited or otherwise unacceptable (e.g. Communist) reading matter into an innocuous (non-political) book, to reduce the risk of detection. Mr Forster wrote:

‘I eventually found a copy in the Schweizer Sozialarchiv. It is a 96-page book. Page 3 has the original chess preface, but almost all the other pages are the Tarnschrift. Pages 4-79 contain a 1933 pamphlet Der Kampf gegen Faschisierung und Militarisierung der Jugend by Vasily T. Chemodanov, and that is followed by a resolution Die Faschisierung und Militarisierung der Jugend und die Aufgabe der kommunistischen Jugendverbände (pages 80-95). Then page 96 has part of the table of contents (i.e. going as far as page 96) of the K.G. Steinitz chess book. The size of this Tarnschrift volume is about 11 cm by 7.5 cm, as opposed to 15 cm by 10.5 cm for the other 1930s editions. The front cover is yellow on red.’

Our correspondent also pointed out a second example of a chess Tarnschrift:

Schach is a miniature book (12 cm tall) which had first appeared in 1914 in Leipzig, with no author specified. The actual title (as given on the title page) is Praktischer Leitfaden des Schachspiels. A revised edition (112 pages) by Reinhold Anton was published in 1950 (Gebr. Gerstenberg-Verlag, Hildesheim). Bibliographie der Tarnschriften 1933 bis 1945 by Heinz Gittig (Saur, Munich, 1996) states that the Tarnschrift version of this book appeared in 1939. No author was specified, and the publisher was given as Friedrich M. Hörhold of Leipzig. Its 59 “secret” pages (out of a total of 64) were devoted to various texts from the periodical Kommunistische Internationale.’

For further details, see pages 277-278 of Chess Facts and Fables. What else can be discovered about camouflage editions of chess books?

Submit information or suggestions on chess mysteries

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.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (7)
    02.06.2007 – The chess historian Edward Winter presents another selection of mysteries from Chess Notes. They include an alleged game by Albert Einstein, the origin of the Trompowsky Opening, the termination of the 1984-85 world championship match, and the Marshall brilliancy which supposedly prompted a shower of gold coins. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (8)
    In this further selection from Chess Notes historian Edward Winter examines some unauthenticated quotes, the Breyer Defence to the Ruy López, the origins of the Dragon Variation, the contradictory evidence about a nineteenth century brilliancy, and the alleged 1,000-board exhibition by an unknown player. Can our readers help to solve these new chess mysteries?

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (9)
    Why did Reuben Fine withdraw from the 1948 world championship? Did Capablanca lose an 11-move game to Mary Bain? Was Staunton criticized by Morphy for playing ‘some devilish bad games’? Did Alekhine play Najdorf blindfold? Was Tartakower a parachutist? These and other mysteries from Chess Notes are discussed by Edward Winter. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (10)
    15.07.2007 – Did Tsar Nicholas II award the ‘grandmaster’ title to the five finalists of St Petersburg, 1914? What connection exists between the Morphy family and Murphy beer? Can the full score of one of Pillsbury’s most famous brilliancies be found? Did a 1940s game repeat a position composed 1,000 years previously? Edward Winter, the Editor of Chess Notes, presents new mysteries for us to solve.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (11)
    01.08.2007 – Did Alekhine attempt suicide in 1922? Why is 1 b4 often called the Hunt Opening? What are the origins of the chess proverb about the gnat and the elephant? Who was the unidentified figure wrongly labelled Capablanca by a chess magazine? Does Gone with the Wind include music composed by a chess theoretician? These and other mysteries from Chess Notes are discussed by the historian Edward Winter. Readers are invited to join the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (12)
    12.08.2007 – This new selection from Chess Notes focuses on José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942). The chess historian Edward Winter, who wrote a book about the Cuban genius in the 1980s (published by McFarland), discusses a miscellany of unresolved matters about him, including games, quotes, stories and photographs. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (13)
    26.08.2007 – In a 1937 game did Alekhine play two moves in succession? Can the full score of a Nimzowitsch brilliancy be found? Who was Colonel Moreau? Why was it claimed that Morphy killed himself? Who were the first masters to be filmed? What happened in the famous Ed. Lasker v Thomas game? Is a portrait of the young Philidor genuine? From Chess Notes comes a new selection of mysteries to solve.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (14)
    The latest selection from Chess Notes consists of ten positions, including fragments from games ascribed to Capablanca and Nimzowitsch. Was an alleged Bernstein victory a composition? What is known about a position in which Black resigned despite having an immediate win? Can more be discovered about the classic Fahrni pawn ending? Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (15)
    Chess books repackaged as camouflage in Nazi Germany. Numerous contradictions regarding a four-move game. The chess encyclopaedia that never was. Quotes strangely attributed to Spielmann and Capablanca. These and other mysteries are discussed in the latest selection from Chess Notes. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

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