Wednesday 21 November 2018

Philidor v Morphy; the results are in!

The solutions to 64 shakhmatno-shashechnaya gazeta's New Year's Quiz were published in the paper for 30th March 1939.

The inconsistencies in the illustration of Philidor in play against Morphy were as follows:

1. The chessboard is shown with 10 x 10 squares.

2. The chessboard is the wrong way round.

3. Philidor, who died in 1795 and Morphy, who was born in 1837 obviously never met.

4. Chess clocks of the type shown had not been invented during either of their lifetimes.

5. The portrait on the wall is of V. A. Chekhover, born in 1908 long after the Philidor and Morphy eras.  


Finally, a cartoon from 64 shakhmatno-shashechnaya gazeta for 31st December 1939:

Grandpa, you have lost on time!...

Friday 16 November 2018

If only...

Vintage Russian chess literature is full of wonderful photographs, drawings and cartoons, rarely seen in the West. 

Larger version below

This drawing was included on the back page of 64 шахматно шашечная газета for 30th December 1938. This is 64 shakhmatno-Shashechnaya gazeta, or 64 chess checkers gazette.

The picture of Philidor playing Morphy was part of the New Year's Quiz featuring six questions. The heading to this picture asks "How observant are you", and the caption states "In this picture an artist has drawn two famous chess players. Not being particularly knowledgeable in chess, he made major inconsistencies. Take a closer look at the picture and list these inconsistencies"  

Questions 3 and 6 were draughts related. I have the 1939 volume but have not yet tracked down the solutions.

This newspaper size periodical is number 12 in Di Felice's Chess Periodicals where he states that it was published weekly. However, it was actually published every five days and there were 72 four-page issues in 1938.

                                          © Michael Clapham 2018

Wednesday 14 November 2018

The Royal Game, by Stefan Zweig.

Another posthumous publication, this chess novel was first published as Schachnovelle in Buenos Aires in December 1942, a few months after Zweig had committed suicide with his wife on 22nd or 23rd February 1942. 

Stefan Zweig

The English edition, The Royal Game, was published in 1944 having been translated from the German MS. by B. W. Huebsch. 

Although written in the late 1930's and early 1940's the story is set in the 1960's aboard a passenger ship sailing from New York to Buenos Aires.

This is the improbable tale of Dr. B., an Austrian lawyer, who had been arrested by the Gestapo and kept in solitary confinement. To stop himself going mad he taught himself chess, using a book stolen from one of his inquisitors. He had no board or pieces but played endless games against himself in his head, and consequently went mad.

25 years later, having abstained from chess during this time, he comfortably outplays and beats the world chess champion, Mirko Czentovic, in a full length serious game, after a chance meeting aboard the liner. Unfortunately the moves were not recorded for posterity (or scrutiny).

Czentovic, a taciturn Yugoslavian idiot savant peasant, could not memorize a single game of chess, yet became champion of the world aged 20 having mastered every secret of chess technique in just six months.

Stefan Zweig evidently had little knowledge of the game, portrays unlikely scenarios and uses incorrect terminology. The story has many anomalies and loose ends, and raises several unanswered questions. 

Nevertheless, the author, a master of psychology, does give an insight into the torment, obsessive behaviour and monomania that the game can induce, and he includes this excellent observation (on page 13 of my copy although there are many different editions):

"It stands to reason that so unusual a game, one touched with genius, must create out of itself fitting matadors"


The Royal Game is also included in various anthologies including The Chess Reader, compiled by Jerome Salzmann, New York 1949, and Sinister Gambits, edited by Richard Peyton, London 1991:

Thanks to Tony Peterson for images of The Royal Game, and also to Peter Braunwarth for the precise publication date of Schachnovelle.

Monday 12 November 2018

A Short History of Chess by H. J. R. Murray

A Short History of Chess, by H. J. R. Murray, Oxford 1963.

Further to the brief reference to this posthumous publication in the previous article, Dr. Tim Harding has provided some intriguing information on the evolution of this work, ascertained from research carried out at the Oxford University Press in 2005. Letters seen by Harding in the archive file on Murray at the O.U.P.  give a fascinating, behind the scenes, glimpse of the difficulties in producing this book.  

The following comments are provided courtesy of Dr. Tim Harding and the Oxford University Press:

"Whether the posthumous ‘Short History of Chess’ did much for Murray’s reputation must be doubted. The original manuscript or typescript is unavailable so I cannot confirm yet whether the date of composition (1917) given in the publisher’s note is certain, probable or unreliable. Nor, in the absence of any correspondence from the author relating to it, is it clear for whom exactly this work was composed."

"From some correspondence I have been allowed to see in the Oxford University Press archive, the original idea, after Murray’s death, was that Goulding Brown (a some-time contributor to ‘British Chess Magazine’) would write a final chapter to bring the story up to date, but the editors at the Press were unhappy with what he produced. It was decided that Brown’s chapter would continue Murray's work up to about 1930 only and Harry Golombek was commissioned to write a second extra chapter, although Brown was unhappy about  this, judging  from letters in the file from the Press to Kathleen Murray [H. J. R. Murray's daughter]. (At the same time Golombek was working on his own chess history for another publisher, but this was a popular work based on secondary sources.)"

"Ultimately, after the project had hung fire for some years, the Press gave Golombek a deadline of late 1962 to finish his work and this must have spurred him into action since the book appeared in 1963. There must have been a compromise with Goulding Brown, too, because in the printed book his chapter goes up to 1945 and overlaps with Golombek, who starts with Alekhine and the decline of the hypermoderns. In the O.U.P. file there is even a mention that a new edition was being considered as late as 1976 but, so far as I am aware, it was never proceeded with – just as well because it would have been even less a genuine Murray work than the first edition."