Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (20)

12/11/2007 – After Pillsbury died, did a chessplayer examine his brain? Was Edward Young a pseudonym used by Fred Reinfeld? Did Blackburne overlook a standard queen sacrifice? Who discovered Capablanca’s missed win against Fine at AVRO, 1938? Did Fischer play a training match in the 1970s against Collins? On these and other matters from Chess Notes readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

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Unsolved Chess Mysteries (20)

By Edward Winter

Hallucinations

C.N. 2557 commented on our inability to find game-scores which fit in with the following report, taken from page 315 of the Chess Amateur, July 1908:

‘Referring to “hallucinations that occur in match and tournament play”, Mr Bruno Siegheim mentions in the Johannesburg Sunday Times that in one of the games of the Blackburne-Steinitz match, a check which could have won a rook was left on for several moves. The possibility was seen by everyone present in the room except the two players. Mr Siegheim adds that a still more curious incident occurred at Breslau, in an Alapin-Blackburne game. Mr Blackburne checkmated his opponent, but assuming that Herr Alapin would see the mate, Mr Blackburne did not announce it. Herr Alapin looked at the position intently, trying to find a move, and the spectators smiled and whispered. At the end of five minutes Mr Blackburne relieved his opponent’s anxiety by informing him that he had been checkmated.’

Can readers offer suggestions regarding these alleged games?


Queen sacrifice missed?

The game-score below, from a simultaneous display, was presented in C.N. 2562. It had appeared (without notes) on page 154 of Schachjahrbuch 1914 I. Teil by L. Bachmann (Ansbach, 1914), but we wonder if it is correct, given that, at move 23, White could have forced mate with a standard queen sacrifice.

Joseph Henry Blackburne – E.S.
St Petersburg, 9 May 1914
Vienna Game

1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 Bc4 Nc6 4 d3 Be7 5 f4 exf4 6 Bxf4 Na5 7 Nf3 Nxc4 8 dxc4 d6 9 O-O Bg4 10 Qe1 Nh5 11 Be3 O-O 12 Nd5 a6 13 Rd1 c6 14 Bb6 Qd7 15 Ne3 Bxf3 16 Rxf3 Qe6 17 Nf5 Rae8 18 Bd4 Nf6 19 Qg3 g6 20 Nxe7+ Qxe7 21 Bxf6 Qxe4 22 Qh3 Re6

23 Bc3 f6 24 Re1 Resigns.


Fischer v Collins in the 1970s

Javier Asturiano Molina (Murcia, Spain) drew attention in C.N. 4688 to the following passage about Bobby Fischer on page 483 of ‘Garry Kasparov on Fischer My Great Predecessors Part IV with the participation of Dmitry Plisetsky’ (London, 2004):

‘In 1977 he easily defeated a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (3-0), and he crushed his teacher Collins in a training match (+16 –1 =3).’

Our correspondent asked what is known about this ‘training match’ against John W. Collins (1912-2001), and the question remains open.


Pillsbury’s brain

In C.N. 2405 John S. Hilbert (Amherst, NY, USA) wrote:

‘Elmer Ernest Southard (1876-1920) played chess for Harvard University for four years, participating in the annual Princeton-Harvard-Yale-Columbia Intercollegiate chess tournaments during 1895-1899. He annually dominated play in these events, finishing his college career with a record 22-2 result. Southard’s distinguished professional career was cut short on 8 February 1920, when he died of pneumonia at the age of 43. His son, Ordway Southard, continued the association with chess, publishing Leaves of Chess a journal of scaccography from January 1957 through 1961.

In researching Elmer Southard’s chess career, I obtained his obituary in the New York Times for 9 February 1920. There we learn that Southard was “a member of the St. Botolph and Boston Chess Clubs, and noted as one of the foremost amateur chess players in America. Dr Southard was particularly interested in the case of Harry N. Pillsbury, the former American champion chess player, who in the later years of his life lost his mind. Dr Southard made an examination and study of the brain of Pillsbury in an attempt to decide the mooted question of whether a genius for chess tends to deteriorate the mind.”

Had Dr Southard been a Freudian psychoanalyst, his examination of Pillsbury’s “brain” might well be written off as poor word choice by the Times writer responsible for the obituary. At the time of his death, though, he happened to be Bullard Professor of Neuropathology at Harvard Medical School, as well as pathologist to the Massachusetts Commission on Mental Diseases and a Director of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Institution. It appears that Pillsbury’s brain may actually have been in his hands.

Does anyone know if Dr Southard’s study of Pillsbury’s brain has survived, perhaps in the vast depths of Harvard’s libraries? Has anyone else seen Pillsbury’s brain?

Information about the master’s period in hospital is available in our feature article Pillsbury’s Torment.

Below, from our collection, is an envelope handwritten by Pillsbury in 1899:



Switched envelopes

C.N. 4404 quoted the following from page 51 of A. Alekhine Agony of a Chess Genius by P. Morán (Jefferson, 1989):

‘The 1942 “switched envelopes” anecdote best illustrates Alekhine’s patriotism: he mailed a pro-Communist letter to the Third Reich, and a pro-Nazi letter to the USSR.’

How far back can this story be traced?


Bonjour Blanc

Bonjour Blanc by Ian Thomson (London, 2004, but originally published in 1992) is subtitled ‘A Journey through Haiti’, and the publicity material stated that ‘a Swiss chess champion’ was one of the ‘lively gallery of eccentrics’ encountered by the author. He is named as Gottfried Kraüchi, and a brief sample passage from page 70 is reproduced below:

For Kraüchi read Kräuchi. The term ‘a Schweiz-Deutsch’ is peculiar, and, as mentioned in C.N. 4939, we can vouch for none of the other information, except that he was indeed listed as the Haitian delegate on page v of FIDE’s minutes of the 1988 Congress in Thessaloniki. His name appeared there as ‘Gottfied, Krauchi’ (sic). Do readers know any more about him?


99% tactics’

‘Chess is 99% tactics’ is a famous quotation, usually ascribed to Richard Teichmann. The best corroboration we can offer for it was given in C.N. 2307, from page 134 of volume 4 of Schachtaktik by E. Voellmy (Basle, 1930):

‘Zu meinem Trost hat der grosse Meister und Lehrer Teichmann mir vor Jahren in Zürich auseinandergesetzt (wobei er leicht übertrieb): “Das Schach besteht zu 99% aus Taktik”.’

C.N. 2339 gave a quote from page 3 of Reuben Fine’s book The Middle Game in Chess (New York, 1952):

‘Among players of equal strength, it is always the last blunder, and the ability to see it, that determines who will win. At every level of chess skill, including the world championship class, it is still true that tactics is 99 per cent of the game.’

As noted on page 342 of A Chess Omnibus, many variations of the remark have been seen. For instance, on page 137 of the July 1955 Chess World C.J.S. Purdy wrote:

‘Kostić once said chess was 90% tactics, and he was right – not necessarily in the precise figure but in the general idea it conveys.’


‘Edward Young’

C.N. 5014 mentioned the continuing search for information about ‘Edward Young’ (see page 327 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves). Books and articles appeared under that name, but page 659 of Douglas A. Betts’ volume Chess An Annotated Bibliography of Works Published in the English Language 1850-1968 (Boston, 1974) stated that ‘Edward Young’ was a pseudonym for Fred Reinfeld.

The first appearance of the name that we have found is on page 114 of Chess Review, April 1955, at the start of a two-page article:

The two volumes below have the same contents and were published in 1960 by, respectively, Arco Publications, London and Castle Books, USA:

Does solid proof exist that Fred Reinfeld was ‘Edward Young’?


Capablanca v Fine

C.N. 2907 (see pages 230-231 of Chess Facts and Fables) discussed this position, with White to move, from Capablanca v Fine, AVRO, 1938:

The Cuban played 40 Rxg5, and the game was drawn after 40...Rb4 41 Kh3 e5 42 Rg1. However, 40 h5 would have won. C.N. 593 mentioned that 40 h5 had been commented upon by Wolfgang Heidenfeld on page 8 of his book Draw! (London, 1982). The missed win, wrote Heidenfeld, ‘was pointed out a good 20 years later by Paul Schlensker in Schach-Echo’. Thanks to a lead from another correspondent, Paul Timson (Whalley, England), we were subsequently able to show (in C.N. 1475) that 40 h5 had been given as early as 1951, by Gerald Abrahams. He published the game on pages 254-256 of his book Teach Yourself Chess, and in the original edition (1948) he wrote:

‘40 RxP. Leaving Black with a “cut-off” king.’

In the Revised Edition of 1951 this was amended to:

‘40 RxP. P-R5 appears to win easily. If 40…R-Kt8 41 K-Kt2, etc.’

Also in C.N. 1475 the Dutch librarian Rob Verhoeven informed us that a search at the Royal Library in The Hague had failed to locate where in Schach-Echo Paul Schlensker had indicated the winning move. That question remains open today. However, unless Heidenfeld’s words ‘a good 20 years later’ regarding Schach-Echo were a mistake, Abrahams gave 40 h5 much earlier than did Schlensker.

Was Abrahams the first to point out 40 h5 in print?

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.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (16)
    Did Lasker invent a tank? Why did Mieses complain to FIDE about Bogoljubow? What merchandising carried Flohr’s name? Who coined the term ‘grandmaster draw’? What did Hans Frank write about Alekhine? Did Tom Thumb play chess? These are just some of the questions discussed in the latest selection from Chess Notes. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (17)
    This further selection from Chess Notes examines some gross examples of fraud and plagiarism in chess literature. A number of books, for instance, have been published in Canada and India under the names of Brian Drew, Frank Eagan, Thomas E. Kean and Philip Robar, but did any of those individuals even exist? Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (18)
    An apparent missed mate in one at the 1936 Munich Olympiad; an enigma regarding two Fox brilliancies; the origins of the Swiss System; an untraceable painting of Staunton; the strange case of the prodigy Birdie Reeve. These and other mysteries are discussed in a further selection from Chess Notes. Readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (19)
    18.11.2007 – A further selection from Chess Notes focuses on games and positions. Why is it claimed that Rubinstein played an ending that repeated a nineteenth-century composition? Did Chigorin remove one of his own pieces from the board in an endgame against Tarrasch? And what about the game which Fahrni purportedly won by moving his remaining pawn backwards? Join in the hunt for clues.

  • Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (20)
    After Pillsbury died, did a chessplayer examine his brain? Was Edward Young a pseudonym used by Fred Reinfeld? Did Blackburne overlook a standard queen sacrifice? Who discovered Capablanca’s missed win against Fine at AVRO, 1938? Did Fischer play a training match in the 1970s against Collins? On these and other matters from Chess Notes readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues.


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