Wikileaks founder's mysterious chess tweet

by Macauley Peterson
1/13/2018 – What has Wikileaks founder Julian Assange got up his sleeve this time? In the early morning hours in London on Saturday, he decided to tweet some chess! But why? We can only guess. | Photos: @JulianAssange on Twitter , Frank Marshall portrait at the Marshall Chess Club, Jose Capablanca in 1919 Public domain via WikiMedia Commons.

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Assange knows his classics?

Early Saturday morning, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over five years, was apparently looking at some chess. He tweeted out a diagrammed position from nearly a century ago with no explanation:

The tweet immediately fueled speculation about its meaning, including from those chess-illiterate:

White has an advantage but of course the game is far from over. This isn't even a particularly critical position. Black's attack has stalled but White's king is exposed and he has a lot of work to do to extracate his queenside pieces and consolidate the extra material.

The source of the position was quickly discovered:

The full thread is quite long and full of a good deal of nonsense, but no one seems to have much of a clue about what the position really means (although there are a few interesting, if half-baked theories, mostly dealing with right-wing tropes about "Crooked Hillary").

What we do know

The game was played October 23rd, 1918 in New York, between Jose Capablanca (two and a half years before he was World Champion) and Frank Marshall who was in the midst of his long reign as U.S. Champion (1909 to 1936).

You can find the full game in any version of MegaBase:

 

You can also find it in the Live Database.

Live database Capablanca vs Marshall, 1918

Edward Winter covered the backstory to the Marshall Gambit and the New York tournament where it was played:

The then US champion, Frank James Marshall, played 8...d5 against Capablanca in the first round of the New York, 1918 tournament, and some writers still perpetuate the myth that Marshall held the gambit in reserve for many years to spring it on the Cuban.

New York, 1918 | Photo: Chesshistory.com

New York, 1918 | Photo: Chesshistory.com, republished with kind permission

Winter goes on to detail how Marshall not only passed up the chance to play the gambit line that now bears his name on several occasions against Capablanca in the preceding years, but also that there was an historical precedent as far back as 1893, and Marshall himself may have played the line a year earlier in 1917, although the dating of this game in a few sources is not definitive.

Perhaps Wikileaks can tell us!

But seriously, what does any of this have to do with Julian Assange? Your guess is as good as ours.

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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adbennet adbennet 2 hours ago
Times have changed. I notice no one is wearing shorts in 1918. I can't even tell the spectators from the arbiters.
richardpe richardpe 1/16/2018 12:02
Truth isn't a "right-wing trope(s) about 'Crooked Hillary'". Truth is beauty. Beauty is truth. Do try to keep up.
Alpha Zero Alpha Zero 1/14/2018 01:34
Great article. Exciting enigma.
@genem
You're right that the picture doesn't show the game Capablanka vs Marshall. The picture is taken 13 days later (November 5) and shows the game in round 11 where Capablanka beats Oscar Chajes in 81 moves (C48 Four Knights)
macauley macauley 1/14/2018 10:52
@genem - Yes, see Winter's original.
genem genem 1/14/2018 09:40
In the NY 11 photo, Capablanca is clearly the second from the left ~ of all the seated people. But his opponent is not Marshall: besides Capa is playing as Black in the photo, whereas Capa was White against Marshall. Maybe Marshall is the player sitting with his back to Capa's back, the third seated person?
flachspieler flachspieler 1/14/2018 08:20
I was asked to give a translation of "Schachnovelle".
Here is a possible one to English and a link to the corresponding Wiki page:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Royal_Game
TMMM TMMM 1/14/2018 03:22
@empleomatic The 1918 reference being 100 years ago makes some sense, but I doubt he will try to communicate secretly with someone through such a public channel as Twitter.

My guesses:
(1) He visited some chess site with this position, and accidentally clicked a "share" button somewhere to post it on Twitter.
(2) Given how media "analyzed" his photo wearing an Ecuadorian shirt, he thought he'd have some fun and mess with the media/US/... with a meaningless red herring like this - it's just a random chess position.
Cizia Cizia 1/14/2018 12:48
Maybe the message is simply " Who will win in such a hard and messy situation ? "
turok turok 1/13/2018 11:45
wow seems to me this was a perfectly good waste of a space to report on this garbage-seriously I could care less. Not sure why anybody would care=-sorry-glad I didnt waste time reading and went straight here
mag00 mag00 1/13/2018 09:10
my humble opinion:

two thirds from the victory
(despite the "USA" are hunting him"
empleomatic empleomatic 1/13/2018 08:57
My opinion is that this chess position between Capablanca vs Marshall tweeted by J. Assange has one or two hidden clues for somebody else. 1. Why did Assange chose a game between a chessplayer from Cuba vs one from the USA? will he try to escape to Cuba? 2. The game was played on 23rd October 1918, it is about a centenary game, but What will happen on this date of 23rd October 2018 with regards to the political and legal situatrion of Assange in ten Ecuador's Embassy at London? I suspect that he is giving a clue to somebody with this date. See you!. R. Meléndez (Venezuela)
flachspieler flachspieler 1/13/2018 08:48
Two ideas:
(i) linking to: Schachnovelle - Stefan Zweig (Assange tormented like
the main person in the novel ?!)
(ii) "Marshall" is not only the name of a chess master...

But the white king (Assange) survived and even was victor
in the end.
1