Friday, July 05, 2013

Simple Beauty in Chess

Apologies for the very late new posting. I have had to contend with illnesses, a new job, and numerous writing projects, some of which were fortunately part of my income stream. In compensation some classic games and a poem are thrown in for free.

One of the best chess magazines in print, for average players, is CHESS ( ). The analysis does not involve too many spewings from a chess engine but rather actual human-mediated thought processes. In other words, you get words telling you what is going on in the position, strategically and tactically, which is better for understanding and thus improving. I imagine that the names and images of the chess writers are of actual people rather than clever computer interfaces. You also get snapshots of the latest chess news from many different levels of the chess universe.

I mention this magazine because in a recent issue (May 2013, p36) there was an interesting article by a thoughtful young player, Peter Lalic: ‘Bringing back the good times’. In this article there is discussion about poetry in chess – not the kind with stanzas and lines with metre (see below an effort by yours truly) but rather a game that has such a distinctive form  that it is like the structured beauty of a poem. It is exemplified in a game of Capablanca’s against Treybal, played at the great Karlsbad tournament in 1929. Capablanca is White.

I will let the game speak for itself.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Bxe7 Qxe7 6.Nbd2 f5 7.e3 Nd7 8.Bd3 Nh6 9.O-O O-O 10.Qc2 g6 11.Rab1 Nf6 12.Ne5 Nf7 13.f4 Bd7 14.Ndf3 Rfd8 15.b4 Be8 16.Rfc1 a6 17.Qf2 Nxe5 18.Nxe5 Nd7 19.Nf3 Rdc8 20.c5 Nf6 21.a4 Ng4 22.Qe1 Nh6 23.h3 Nf7 24.g4 Bd7 25.Rc2 Kh8 26.Rg2 Rg8 27.g5 Qd8 28.h4 Kg7 29.h5 Rh8 30.Rh2 Qc7 31.Qc3 Qd8 32.Kf2 Qc7 33.Rbh1 Rag8 34.Qa1 Rb8 35.Qa3 Rbg8 36.b5 axb5 37.h6+ Kf838.axb5 Ke7 39.b6 Qb8 40.Ra1 Rc8 41.Qb4 Rhd8 42.Ra7 Kf8 43.Rh1 Be8 44.Rha1 Kg8 45.R1a4 Kf8 46.Qa3 Kg8 47.Kg3 Bd7 48.Kh4 Kh8 49.Qa1 Kg8 50.Kg3 Kf8 51.Kg2 Be8 52.Nd2 Bd7 53.Nb3 Re8 54.Na5 Nd8 55.Ba6 bxa6 56.Rxd7 Re7 57.Rxd8+ Rxd8 58.Nxc6 1-0

It is worth recalling how good these great players of the past actually were, playing in the era before chess became a professional pursuit and with computers doing the substantial part of the thinking for a chess player.

Karel Treybal (1885-1941), was no slouch. He was a Master level player with an ELO of 2490, Champion of Czechoslovakia in 1921, winner of the Silver Medal in the 1933 Olympiad, and he came 6th at Karslbad in 1929. He had an older brother, Frantisek Treybal (1882-1947) who was also a strong player and Champion of Czechoslovakia in 1907. Not bad at all. Here is a game of Frantisek his against the brilliant but flawed attacking player, David Janowski.

Janowski, Dawid Markelowicz - Treybal, Frantisek
Prague 1908

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.O-O Nf6 6.b3 Bd6 7.Bb2 O-O 8.Nbd2 b6 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.f4 Nb4 11.Be2 Ne4 12.a3 Nc6 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Qe1 Qc7 15.c4 f5 16.Rd1 Rad8 17.Nxc6 Qxc6 18.dxc5 bxc5 19.Qc3 Rf7 20.g4 Rdf8 21.gxf5 exf5 22.Bh5 Rd7 23.Rf2 Rfd8 24.Rg2 Bf8 25.Rd5 Qe6 26.Re5 Qf6 27.Rg5 h6 28.Rg3 Rd3 29.Qc1 Qh4 30.Rxf5 Qxh5 31.Rxh5 Rd1+ 32.Kg2 R8d2+ 33.Kh3 Bc8+ 34.f5 Rxc1 35.Bxc1 Rc2 36.Rg1 Kf7 37.a4 Bd6 38.Ba3 g6 39.Bxc5 0-1 (source: accessed July 3, 2013).

It appears that during World War II, Karel Treybal was involved in resistance activity on behalf of his country and paid the ultimate penalty. I quote the following (from accessed July 3, 2013): ‘Treybal  had been arrested on 30 May 1941 in his office at Velvary and was escorted to the Pankrac prison in Prague. He was charged with concealment of weapons for use by Germany’s enemies and for having personal possession of a pistol without authorization. He was condemned to death on 2 October 1941 and executed the same day.’

A sad finish for a brave man, in one of the bleakest periods of human history. Incidentally, Capablanca and Lasker also passed away from natural causes during that momentous year 1941.

Here is the poem mentioned above. A mere exercise in structure for a poetry class but not without some value:

‘The Grandmaster’s Simultaneous Exhibition’
He stops at my board

This small grey man with

Darting, hungry eyes

And watches me move.

He leans on one hand,

Ponders his reply,

Then his other hand - 

A fell bird of prey -

Swoops down to capture

The piece I dared move.

When he comes around

To my board again

I ask him to pass;

Let other players

Fall before I do

I think in my pride.

But his souless eyes

Look up from the board,

Their gaze fixed somewhere

Deep inside my head.

With finality

He utters these words:

‘There is no point

To further thought,

Your game is lost’

And shows me the win

Before moving on.

I leave the table

Humbled and disgraced,

My eyes averted,

First to lose a game.


How often has this happened to ordinary players in simuls?


See you next time pilgrims.