Edward Winter presents: Unsolved Chess Mysteries (28)

by ChessBase
4/24/2008 – The cast in this further selection from Chess Notes includes not only Morphy, Steinitz and Lasker but also Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx. Other players are Harrwitz, Greco and Ruy López. As usual, readers are invited to join in the hunt for clues. And now there is also an opportunity to obtain inscribed copies of books by the chess historian. Fascinating material.

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Unsolved Chess Mysteries (28)

By Edward Winter

Chess history has so many dark corners that even a familiar photograph may throw up complications. For example, C.N. 4447 challenged readers to name all the figures in the famous group shot taken at San Sebastián, 1911:

Click on the picture to enlarge

The subject was raised after Michael Negele (Wuppertal, Germany) mentioned to us that the caption (see below) in the German edition of the tournament book (Berlin, 1911 and Leipzig, 1919) has only 15 names, whereas 17 individuals are visible. Of the participants, Schlechter and Důras are unmentioned.

For the illustration in C.N. 4469 we used the French edition of the tournament book (Paris, 1911):

The caption enlarged:

The same caption (17 names) appeared in the June 1911 issue of La Stratégie, but the player identified as Důras is evidently Leonhardt, and the figure on Bernstein’s left looks more like Důras than Schlechter. That, though, would mean that Schlechter was absent.

In the detail below, the figure on the right is clearly recognizable as Leonhardt (for comparative purposes, see the well-known group photograph of the following year’s San Sebastián tournament), but we cannot identify the person on the left.

Our conclusions (i.e. Důras on the left of Bernstein, and ‘unknown’ for the person on Leonhardt’s right) corresponded to the caption supplied by Richard Forster on page 796 of Amos Burn A Chess Biography (Jefferson, 2004). They also matched the information given by Vidmar, who provided only 16, and not 17, names when presenting the photograph opposite page 160 of his autobiography Pol stoletja ob šahovnici (Ljubljana, 1951):

In C.N. 4549 Peter Anderberg (Harmstorf, Germany) expressed the view that Schlechter was indeed present and that the top of his head is visible just above Spielmann’s. Our correspondent furthermore suggested that the picture was taken during the fifth round, on 27 February, when the pairings included Spielmann v Tarrasch (in the foreground), Capablanca v Janowsky and, at the third clock, Schlechter v Důras. Finally, Mr Anderberg remarked that an early publication of the photograph was in Die Schachwelt, 31 March 1911, page 82, with the same (incorrect) caption as in the German tournament book.

Reshevsky v Chaplin

C.N.s 198 and 2875 discussed the meeting in the early 1920s between Reshevsky and Charlie Chaplin. The latter’s volume My Autobiography (1964) devoted two pages to the subject. A number of photographs exist of the two together (with or without Douglas Fairbanks), and the first publication we have noted in a chess source is on page 2 of the January 1922 American Chess Bulletin:

A signed copy (‘To my friend Sammy With very best wishes From Charlie Chaplin’) was published on page 320 of the October 1963 Chess Review.

Many years ago we noted that the following alleged game between Chaplin and Reshevsky had been published on page 414 of Şah Cartea de Aur by Constantin Ştefaniu (Bucharest, 1982), with a claim (devoid of any source) that it had been won by Reshevsky in New York in 1923:

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 exd4 4 e5 Ne4 5 Qe2 Nc5 6 Nxd4 Nc6 7 Be3 Nxd4 8 Bxd4 Ne6 9 Bc3 Be7 10 Nd2 O-O 11 Ne4 d5 12 O-O-O Bd7 13 Ng3 c5 14 Bd2 b5 15 Nf5 d4 16 h4 Nc7 17 Nxe7+ Qxe7 18 Bg5 Qe6 19 Kb1 Nd5 20 g3 Nb4 21 b3 Qa6 22 a4 Qa5 23 Kb2 bxa4 24 Ra1 Rab8 25 Kc1 a3 26 Bd2 Be6 27 Bxb4 cxb4 28 Qa6 Qc5 29 Bc4 Rbc8 30 White resigns.

We submitted the game-score to Frank Skoff, who scrutinized the matter in considerable detail in Chess Life, December 1992 (page 37) and June 1994 (page 10), reaching the following conclusion:

‘The game is a myth, to phrase it delicately, though some would bluntly call it a hoax. All that is left is the score, the origin of which is practically impossible to track down since it would have been copied from any game anywhere, or perhaps even composed by the perpetrator, man the myth-making animal in either case.’

Harpo Marx in Moscow (autumn 1933)

From pages 319-320 of Harpo Speaks! (New York, 1961), the autobiography of Harpo Marx:

‘One day when there was no matinee I ducked out and went looking for some kind of action. In front of a good-sized theatre, one I hadn’t been in yet, there was an unusually long line of people. The line wasn’t moving. No tickets were being sold. It had to be something sensational with this many people waiting for a chance to get in.

Since the day I bought my outfit at the government store I had become used to the idea that foreigners didn’t stand in line. I went up to the box office and waved a dollar bill in the window. The cashier grabbed the buck and gave me a ticket. Valootye – foreign currency – worked like magic in Moscow.

The house was packed, and noisy. Most of the audience were standing or walking around, chatting, drinking and eating. Others were sleeping or reading. I had apparently come in during the intermission. Yet the curtain was raised and the stage was lit. Oddest of all was the setting on the stage. There was a small table and a chair. On the table were two telephones, and a bunch of knickknacks. Behind the table was a large, tilted mirror.

It was the longest intermission I ever sat through. Fifteen minutes passed. Twenty minutes. Twenty-five. Nobody seemed to mind waiting that long for the next act.

Then a buzzer sounded. People damn near trampled each other to get back to their seats. In 30 seconds the theatre was silent as a tomb. Everybody was watching the empty stage.

A boy, maybe ten or eleven years old, walks out from the wings. He sits at the table. He picks up the receiver of one of the telephones. He listens for a while, then hangs up without saying anything. He moves one of the little props on the table. The joint is so quiet I can hear my wrist watch ticking. The boy moves another knickknack. A guy comes out, walks to the footlights, announces something to the audience, and the joint goes wild.

People jump to their feet. They yell and throw their hats in the air and embrace each other. The guy who made the announcement shakes hands with the boy and the cheers are deafening. This is absolutely the craziest show I ever saw.

Finally it dawned on me what I had been watching. A chess match.

The kid on the stage, I found out, had been playing the Polish chess champion and the Ukrainian champion, by long-distance telephone. It was nice to know the home team won, but it would have been nicer if I could have gotten my dollar back.’

The above text was quoted in C.N. 5483. That item noted that a slightly abridged version is on pages 206-207 of King, Queen and Knight by Norman Knight and Will Guy (London, 1975), which commented:

‘There seems to be some mystery about the identity of this Soviet boy prodigy.’

Can readers provide any information?

Harrwitz’s defeat of Morphy

As mentioned in C.N. 3113, the various Morphy monographs consulted by us give the second match game between Morphy and Harrwitz (Paris, 1858) as follows:

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 exd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Bb5 Bd7 6 Bxc6 Bxc6 7 Bg5 Nf6 8 Nc3 Be7 9 O-O-O O-O 10 Rhe1 h6 11 Bh4 Ne8 12 Bxe7 Qxe7 13 e5 Bxf3 14 gxf3 Qg5+ 15 Kb1 dxe5 16 Rxe5 Qg2 17 Nd5 Qxh2 18 Ree1 Qd6 19 Rg1 Kh7 20 Qe3 f5 21 Nf4 Qb6 22 Qe2 Rf7 23 Qc4 Qf6 24 Nh5 Qe7 25 Rde1 Qd7 26 a3 Nd6 27 Qd4 Rg8 28 Rg2

28…Ne8 29 Qc3 f4 30 Rh1 g6 31 Rhg1 Qd5 32 Qe1 Qxh5 33 Rg5 Qxf3 34 Qe6 Rf6 35 Qe7+ Rg7 36 Qxe8 hxg5 37 Qe1 Qc6 and wins.

However, we note that Harrwitz himself stated that from the above diagram the game went:

28…b6 29 Reg1 Ne8 30 Qc3 f4 31 Rh1 g6 32 Rhg1 Qd5 33 Qe1 Qxh5 34 Rg5 Qxf3 35 Qe6 Rf6 36 Qe7+ Rg7 37 Qxe8 hxg5 38 Qe1 Qc6 39 f3 Re6 40 Qf2 Rge7 and wins.

Source: Lehrbuch des Schachspiels by D. Harrwitz (Berlin, 1862), page 107.

Staunton also gave this latter version of the game-score in his Illustrated London News column of 2 October 1858.

Noah’s Ark Trap

Wanted: information about the origins of the ‘Noah’s Ark Trap’ in the Ruy López. So far the oldest specimen we have found is, as reported in C.N. 2206, G. MacDonnell v J. Wisker, London, 1876 (Deutsche Schachzeitung, June 1876, pages 172-173), which began 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O d6 6 d4 b5 7 Bb3 Nxd4 8 Nxd4 exd4 9 Bg5 (‘Naturally White should not capture the d-pawn owing to 9…c5! and 10…c4.’).

Annotating a game on pages 355-356 of the August 1895 BCM, James Mason wrote after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 Qe2 d6 5 c3 Nge7 6 a4 ‘Simply by way of episode; or, reminiscent of Noah and his Ark!’, but when the name was first used for the Ruy López trap remains to be discovered.

C.N. 3042 added that about 20 years previously we had seen a game involving Josef Noa (1856-1903) which featured the trap and that we had been struck by the Noa/Noah connection. Subsequently, however, it proved impossible to locate the game in question. In C.N. 3045 Dirk Gruijters (Leiden, the Netherlands) and Dennis Leong (Naperville, IL, USA) suggested that it may have been Noa v Steinitz, London, 16 June 1883, in which there was an opportunity for the Noah’s Ark Trap to arise. The game began 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nge7 5 d4 exd4 6 Nxd4 Nxd4 7 Qxd4 b5 8 Bb3 d6. White now played 9 c4, which the tournament book (page 97) gave a question mark with the comment ‘9 c3 is much preferable’.

Greco and Ruy López

Pages 82 and 88 of Historia general del ajedrez by Julio Ganzo (third edition, Madrid, 1973) had pictures allegedly of Gioacchino Greco and Ruy López (left and right respectively below), and C.N. 3239 asked whether the illustrations had any historical basis.

C.N. 4376 added that the following appeared in the first plates section of Şah de la A la Z by Constantin Ştefaniu (Bucharest, 1984):

Moreover, it was noted that a similar illustration was on a Cuban postage stamp in 1976. (The picture may be contrasted with what appeared on a stamp issued by Guinea Bissau in 1988.)

See too the front cover of Ruy Lopez de Segura by Adriano Chicco (Milan, 1980). Page 31 also referred to a well-known painting by Luigi Mussini, although Dr Chicco added that no (genuine) portraits of Ruy López exist.

The internees

As quoted below, R.D. Picken (Greasby, England) raised a series of questions in C.N. 3540 about a particularly obscure phase of chess history. They were thrown open to readers but are far from easy to answer:

In his book Bogoljubow – The Fate of a Chess Player (Sofia, 2004) Sergei Soloviov provides some interesting biographical material. Pages 18-22 cover the period of the First World War, and Soloviov states that 11 Russian players from the interrupted Mannheim tournament were interned by Germany after the declaration of war against Russia. He names them as Bogoljubow, Flamberg, Selesniev, Alekhine, I. Rabinovich, Bohatirchuk, Maliutin, Romanovsky, Weinstein, Saburov and Koppelman. Who was Koppelman? Soloviov’s book adds that other players at Mannheim representing countries now at war with Germany were also interned. Who were they? Most players at Mannheim were German/Austrian nationals. Hooper and Whyld indicate in the Janowsky entry in The Oxford Companion to Chess that Janowsky was interned (where?) but released to Switzerland after a short internment. (How short, and why was he released when the Russians were not?)

I do not know whether other “enemy” nationals who had the misfortune to be in Germany when war broke out were also interned, but the internment of the chessplayers was carried out very quickly. One would have thought it easier to pack them all off to Switzerland or home.

Gaige provides details of eight tournaments played by the Russian internees, the first in Baden Baden and all the others in Triberg. Participation by the internees varied, but the tournaments were mostly won by Bogoljubow. I have prepared the following table of their participation:


































































Y = player participated in tournament.

It is not clear why Fahrni suddenly competed in the seventh tournament. Was he interned after Mannheim, 1914 and, if so, why? And, if interned, why did he play in only one event?

Moreover, eight tournaments in four years seems a very leisurely regime. What else did the players have to do?

According to Soloviov’s book on Bogoljubow (page 21), Alekhine, Bohatirchuk, Koppelman and Saburov all escaped to Switzerland quite early on in the war. How? Hooper and Whyld ascribe Alekhine’s escape to family influence. Is that true, and what about the others? And if the situation was such that escape was possible, why did the others not attempt it?

Hooper and Whyld also state, in the entry on Flamberg, that he (a Polish player) was allowed to return to Warsaw in 1916. This may be because in 1916 Germany had control of the Polish part of the Russian Empire, and no need was evident to continue his internment. Even so, it would have been expected that each of the players interned for the duration of the war would participate in every event. Yet Maliutin and Weinstein did not.

The nature of the internment seems to have been fairly liberal, and it is stated that efforts were made by supporters in St Petersburg to secure their release. Soloviov says that money was collected to this end in 1914. This puzzles me. With the war in progress, how did the supporters hope to enter into “negotiations” with the German authorities?’

The father of modern chess’

Who was ‘the father of modern chess’? C.N. 2323 raised the question, pointing out that an Internet item on ‘New Orleans Notables’ conferred the title upon Morphy. Some other sources (such as the entry on nicknames in Sunnucks’ Encyclopaedia of Chess) claim that it was Nimzowitsch, but the player most often so called is Steinitz (e.g. on page 196 of Horton’s Dictionary of Modern Chess). However, on page 167 of the June 1888 issue of Steinitz’s International Chess Magazine the sobriquet was used, by the magazine’s London correspondent, to describe Philidor. An article on Philidor entitled ‘The Father of Modern Chess’ was published on pages 207-214 of the May 1893 BCM.

As discussed in C.N. 4773, the phrase also occurred, as a reference to Steinitz, in the English version of a parody by Tarrasch which has been published, inter alia, on pages 121-123 of the March 1891 BCM, pages 151-152 of Checkmate, April 1903 and pages 154-156 of The Treasury of Chess Lore by Fred Reinfeld (New York, 1951). In the original German text, which appeared on pages 60-63 of the February 1891 Deutsche Schachzeitung, the relevant phrase was ‘der Vorläufer unserer modernen Schachstrategie’.

Lasker’s games

Emanuel Lasker

Most readers will be familiar with the Reinfeld/Fine book Dr Lasker’s Chess Career, Part I: 1889-1914 (London and New York, 1935), reprinted in 1965 by Dover under the title Lasker’s Greatest Chess Games 1889-1914. Part II was never published, but a manuscript may still exist. As quoted in C.N. 1500, Reinfeld wrote in the October 1948 CHESS (page 24):

‘Mr Finck’s letter is typical of a number of requests I have had for a Dr Lasker’s Chess Career, Part II. I have had such a manuscript in readiness for a number of years, but I do not know of any publishing firm which has a burning interest in the project. To my deep regret, therefore, the manuscript continues to remain unpublished. If any of your readers know of any way to make publication possible, I shall be deeply grateful.’

Reinfeld did not make it clear whether Fine also collaborated on Part II. More generally, is it known whether the manuscript of Part II exists today?

Below is an inscription by Reinfeld in one of our copies of the Lasker book:

On the subject of signed books, we conclude by mentioning
that a number of our own publications are currently available.

Submit information or suggestions on chess mysteries

All articles by Edward Winter

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 over 5,500 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.

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