Josef's Site

Essay on Chess


         A unique chess exhibition, called “Divine Moves,” was once organized in the vast hall of the Big Y supermarket in Northampton, Massachusetts. This demonstration included not only chess but also literature. First of all, customers were acquainted with the chess creation of Pope John Paul II. He was keen on the game and even composed chess problems in his youth, studying in Krakov, Poland. The future Pope played chess with pleasure before he became a priest.

         a) Karol Vojtyla

             Mate in two        


         The world-wide chess composer, Marian Wrobel, who was a relative of the “Polish” Pope, probably told him about another chess creator, David Przepiorka. Both composers were friends. Once they compiled together a chess studio which they decided to publish under a pseudonym. Since “przepiorka” in Polish means “quail” and “wrobel” – “sparrow”, it was decided to adopt a common pseudonym using birds. In 1928, the new author appeared in the Polish chess magazine – “Jaskolka” i. e. “swallow”.  It is said: “One swallow does not make a summer.” Then, “Jaskolka” sent “his” other studios to many foreign chess magazines but nobody could reveal this pseudonym for a long time. So Pope John Paul II had a good time on the chessboard during his youth.

            b) Karol Vojtyla

                Mate in three        


         A part of the program was devoted to Stefan Zweig’s The Royal Game. The conversation was about Mirko Czentovic’s first steps in chess.

         “After his father’s death the twelve-year-old boy was taken in out of pity by the priest of his remote village. The good man strove honestly, by coaching him at home, to make up for what the taciturn, unresponsive boy with the broad forehead seemed unable to learn at the village school…In the evenings, when the priest smoked his long, countryman’s pipe and played his usual three games of chess with the village police sergeant, the fair-haired lad squatted dumbly beside them and stared from under his heavy lids, apparently half-asleep and with indifference, at the board with the black and white squares.”    

         c) Karol Vojtyla

              Mate in three       


         Beyond this the audience was acquainted with four chess problems by Karol Vojtyla, they quickly guessed that this was the real name of Pope John Paul II before coming to the Vatican. The first two were published in the Krakov Catholic school newspaper. The next two were given to a friend, Michal Rodzaj, who sent them to the French magazine “Europe Echecs” in 1979.    

         “It is difficult to create chess problems and studios,” said Vassily Smyslov. In his opinion, it is a field where a composer opens the true, natural beauty of chess. It is the real poetry of chess. The 7th world champion was engaged in composition of studios from his youth up. “In my old age, I have allowed my fantasy to rise up to the level of perfectly understanding chess,” Smyslov informed his fans. “Perhaps, it was my personal manipulation to God!”

         d) Karol Vojtyla

              Mate in two *


         The search for the divine moves was the center of the customer’s attention. A competent organizer, William BuSteed of Northampton, was appointed to handle advertising and publicity. John Chalifoux, a local customer, distinguished himself in the ability to guess the Pope’s ideas. Unfortunately, I have forgotten to ask him, was he a Catholic or not… However, he won free groceries, as the first prize. The Big Y managers were overjoyed at this social event because it was an unusual novelty at the market.

          When I lived in Russia, my chess friends from the Polish embassy in Moscow gave me the latest number of the Polish chess magazine (1979, # 10) with the interesting information about chess in the Vatican.

         Among the Popes who were interested in chess, was Innocent III (1160-1216). He wrote extensively and one of his works included his thoughts about chess. Using illustrations from chess, he made comparisons between life and death, and morals and ethics…The handwritten treatise provided a major contribution to the terminology of chess and to creating the rules of the game in Europe. Pope John Paul I (1912-1978) also played chess with pleasure, especially when he was a priest.

         In 1559, Ruy Lopez, a Spanish priest, was in Rome in connection with the confirmation of the Pope’s appointment, and beat the best Italian chess players of the day. In 1561, after returning to Madrid, he published a book in which he described the first variations of the King’s Gambit.

         Everyone who strives to improve his proficiency in chess should get to know something of its history. This is especially true of opening theory which has developed exponentially over the centuries. Many generations first learned how to attack and defend using the King’s Gambit. This led to some very sharp and interesting play and it is useful to acquaint oneself with this ancient opening. The King’s gambit has a great past and it comes to us as if it were an old wine in a new bottle.

Janowsky- Steinitz

Cologne, 1898

1.e4 e5 2.f4 King’s Gambit! 2…exf4

         Naturally! Steinitz accepted all gambits on principle, going to the most incredible lengths to retain the extra pawn. On the other hand, Janowsky was a genius of attacking play.

3. Bc4 Ne7 4.Qh5

         I would not advise you to bring out the queen too early in the game. It is a very valuable piece and exposing her to the attack of lesser forces may only lose time because you will be forced to retreat. In this case, however, the move was a continuation of the opening debate at that time.    

4…Ng6 5.Nc3 Qe7

         “This move contradicted principles of development which were propounded by Steinitz, but he always wanted to refute any gambit. When Steinitz was unable to do it by usual means, he looked for unusual ones,” wrote the fifth world champion, Max Euwe. 

6.d4 Nc6 7.Nf3 Qb4 8.Qd5  Nd8

         “It was compelling but typical of Steinitz at the same time: he often withdrew his pieces to the last rank.” (Euwe).

9.a3 Qe7 10.0-0 d6 11.Qh5 c6 12.Bd2 Ne6 13.Rae1

         After 13.d5 Nc5 14.Rae1 Nd7 Black would seize the control of the key point on e5.

   13…Qc7 14.d5! Nd8 15.e5!

         “Black’s position looks very dangerous, anyone might lose all interest. But it was Steinitz’s particular delight to hold such difficult situations. He is not dismayed and still retains his booty.” (Euwe)

15…dxe5 16.Nxe5 Bc5+ 17.Kh1 0-0 18.dxc6

         “So that if 18…bxc6 or 18…Nxc6 19.Nxg6 hxg6 20.Qxc5 winning a piece. In case of 18…Nxe5 White prepared a beautiful mate attack: 19.Rxe5 Bd6 20.Nd5 Qxc6 21.Nf6+ gxf6 22.Rg5+! But Black has a neat reply.” (Euwe) 

18…Be3! 19. Kf3?

         “The best continuation here was 19.Bxe3 Qxe5! 20.Qxe5 Nxe5 21.cxb7 Bxb7 22.Rxf4 Nxc4 23.Rxc4, and White must win in the endgame after all in spite of bishops on opposite colors. But Janowsky wanted to win in the middle game.” (Euwe)

19…Bxd2 20.Ng5 h6 21.Qxg6 hxg5 22.Nd5 Qxc6

         The variation 22…fxg6 23.Nxc7+ Kh7 24.Nxa8 Bxe1 25.Rxe1 Nxc6 is also possible.

23. Ne7+ Kh8 (See diagram # 42) 24. Qxg5

         “White loses sight of the strongest continuation of the attack. The best chance was 24.Bxf7! Nxf7 25.Nxc6 Bxe1 26.Ne7! Bd2 27.Qh5+ Nh6 28.Ng6+ Kg8 29.Nxf8 Kxf8 30.h4! with equal possibilities because Black cannot play 30…gxh4? 31.Qc5+ Ke8 32.Qe5+ Kf8 33.Qd6+ and 34….Qxd2.” (Euwe)

 24…Qh6 25.Qc5

         Threatening 26.Ng6+ and 27.Qxf8+, but this is parried easily.

 25…Ne6 26.Bxe6 Bxe6 27.Re5 Be3! 28.Qb5 g6.

         Suddenly it turns out: Black has the attack.

 29.Qxb7 Kg7!

         The threat is 30…Qxh2+, and mate.

30. Qf3 Rad8 31.h3 Qh4 32.Nc6 Bg4! 33.Qxg4

         Otherwise 33…Bxh3

 33…Qxg4 34.hxg4 Rh8+ 35.Rh5 gxh5 White resigns. 0-1

         Steinitz accepted all gambits on principle, going to the most incredible lengths to retain the extra pawn. Sometimes he even contradicted principles of development which were propounded by him, but Wilhelm always wanted to refute any gambit. “When Steinitz was unable to do it by usual means, he looked for unusual ones,” wrote the fifth world champion, Max Euwe.  

         Steinitz was the first universally recognized world champion. The loss of the title and serious financial trouble caused him to have a mental breakdown in the beginning of 1900. When he was taken in hospital, he “had” some long distance calls. Steinitz rang up God, challenging Him to a game and offering Him odds of pawn and move.

         Bobby Fischer believed that if he would play against God, the result would be only a draw. Some people speculate in this case, it may be more difficult to become world champion in chess than to create the universe in a single day.

        In 1960, Boris Spassky boldly applied King’s Gambit against Bobby Fischer, and won.  

       Anyone who answers 1.e4 with 1…e5, must be prepared to face the King’s Gambit, including world champions. Anatoly Karpov, playing in the youthful world championship (Stockholm, 1969), showed a reliable way to fight against King’s Gambit with Black.

      Only once, at the tournament in Paris (1995), Garry Kasparov made a choice of using the King’s Gambit instead of the habitual Sicilian. His opponent, the young and talented Russian grandmaster, Alexander Morosevich, launched a risky assault with White. But Kasparov successfully deterred the pressure. The loser was not distressed. Morosevich told journalists about himself: “The reason of my playing in tournaments is not only the wish to win money, and to gain points, but also the desire to show a good game. I do not drink alcohol, I do not smoke, I don’t play cards, don’t go to casinos, and I am not a philanderer.”

          Alexander Alekhine often used King’s Gambit in simultaneous exhibitions. Ones, he gave such a display blindfold and won the following game using this opening.

Alekhine - Mikulka

Olomuos ( Simul) 1928

1. e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.d4 h6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Bc4 Nc6 7.Nd5 d6 8.c3 Nge7 9.0-0 Nxd5 10.Bxd5 Ne7 11.Bb3 Ng6 12.g3! fxg3 13.Nxg5 0-0 14.Qh5 gxh2+ 15.Kh1 hxg5 16.Qxg6 Qe8 17.Bxg5 Be6 18.Rxf7 Bxf7 19.Bf6 1:0

         Mikhail Tal, the great master of attacking play, was an argent supporter of the King’s Gambit but used it mostly in quick games. Tigran Petrosian, the great master of defensive play, was convinced of King’s Gambit’s return to the chess stage in the not very distant future.

         It is interesting that every major religion has, at some point, prohibited the playing of chess, usually because of its origin as a game of chance, and the popularity of betting on the game by both players and spectators.

         Holidays are a part of the national and religious life of each people, as a good way for everyone to become acquainted. For example, Jewish people have a harvest festival, Sukkoth. This event commemorates the forty years the children of Israel spent in Sinai desert on the way from Egypt to Israel. Temporary huts, so-called ‘sukas’, are built: the open roof is covered with branches and decorated with fruits.          

         For those who gathered in the ‘suka’ it was a continuation of the tradition that was born in the Israeli’s city Haifa in the middle of the last century. Sukkoth tournaments and talking about funny chess cases became there popular. I learned about such festival arrangements during my business trip from Moscow to Israel in 1990.

         At that time, the Soviet Union and Israel did not have diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, I succeeded in establishing friendly contacts between Moscow and Tel-Aviv universities, probably the first ones in International sports life. At first, the Israelis came to Moscow and got a warm welcome.

         The day after arriving, foreign guests attended the Red Square and were present at the military parade devoted to the anniversary of October Revolution, the last one in the Soviet history.  Chess players from Tel-Aviv stood near the rostrum of the Mausoleum close by the leaders of Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltzin.

        Moscow University chess team’s return visit was held in several months, also during the anniversary of the State of Israel. Once, in the hotel where my students stayed, we met the Israeli leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

         “Do the Israeli leaders played chess?” I was asked in the Northampton supermarket and answered. “I know that Golda Meir, the “Iron Lady”, stood out for chess among the Israeli prime ministers.”

         The branch of the company International Health Services in Spingfield, Massachusetts, has arranged an Adult Day Health Serenity Care for Russian speaking elderly citizens. They are attending regularly this comfortable and hospitable house which has a pet name in Russian - Rodnik (say it in English Spring). In figurative sense, it means a source which sheds health like water welling up from the earth. Medical attendance is a part of the program of pastime.

Seniors at Maccabee Games

         In connection with the sixties anniversary of Israel, I gave an interesting lecture about Maccabi Games. I talked about many popular sports in the Jewish country. My “chess uniform” was like a surprise for the listeners. I was awarded a gold medal as the best coach at the 1997 Maccabi Youth Games in Seattle.

         Besides this substantial conversation, chess amateurs took part in a simultaneous exhibition in which they could play, eat and drink at the same tables and time. Everyone was in a good mood. After all, no one had ever played chess simultaneously in a food store. In the end, everyone was a winner – the store, the customers, and the chess enthusiasts.

         * Solutions of Karol Vojtyla’s problems: a. 1. Nd2. (March 4, 1946); b.1.c8N Ka3 2.Nb6 axb6 3.axb6 Mate (March 4, 1946); c. 1.Nf3 Threatens 2.Nf4+; 1…g1Q 2.Nfd4+; 1…Rxc7 2.Nxc7+ (April 19, 1946); d. 1.Qa7 (May 21, 1946);