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Essay on Chess

Story twenty four: KENNEDY’S LAST MOVE


             In 1960, Mikhail Tal defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in the world championship match. One of the most important games, and a brilliant victory for Tal, was the eleventh, which, after five hours of play, still had not come to a conclusion. The young grandmaster felt that he would be compelled to put in a sleepless night analyzing the ending and was, understandably, agitated.

        Just at this moment, Tal received a telegram from a supporter, a Don Cossack named Fetisov: “Mikhail, you must win. The sons are stronger than the fathers. Were it not so the world would not move forward.”


          Tal cheered up and settled down. He decided to have a good sleep, looking ahead with confidence.

         Tal came to the last adjournment session with renewed strength. (See diagram # 113) 42…Nd5 (the sealed move) 43.Rxf7 Qxf7 44.Qe5 Nc7 45.Qc5 Qf3 46.Bxh7+!

        The essence of White’s idea! Tal’s attack has reached its climax. 46…Rxh7 47.Qg5+ Kh8 47…Rg7 48.Qd8+ Qf8 49.Rh8+ 48.Qd8+ Kg7 49.Rxh7+ Kxh7 50.Qxc7+ Kg6 51.Qxb7 Qe4 52.Qa6! Qe1+ 53.Kg2 Qe4+54.Kf1 Qb1+ 55.Ke2 Qc2+ 56.Kf3 Qf5+ 57.Ke3 Qg5+ 58.Ke2 Qh5+ 59.Kd2 White’s king has avoided queen’s chase skillfully. .59…Kf6 60.Qxc6 Qa5+ 61.Qc3 Qxa2+ 62.Ke3 Kf7 63.d5! exd5 64.Qc7+ Kf6 65.Qc6+ Ke7 65…Ke5 66.f4+ Kf5 67.Qxd5+ 66.Qxd5 1- 0 There is no way to stop White’s passed pawns.

        In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the American Presidential election. Mikhail Tal was greatly interested in Kennedy’s politics. The 8th world champion was fond of saying that Kennedy’s actions on the world stage could have been conducted as if they were done by a chess player of the highest level. He hoped to become acquainted with John F. Kennedy personally. Later, however, a tragic event happened.

        Mikhail Tal referred to a case which had an indirect reference to  President Kennedy. He remembered the date of this occurrence exactly – November 22, 1963 – the day when Kennedy was assassinated.

        During that evening, Tal played simultaneously against 25 students and scientists of Moscow State University. He showed me one game from this event, move by move. Tal’s partner was a scientist, Alexander Konoplyannikov, who had a chess rank of master candidate. As usual, in such an exhibition the grandmaster played with white pieces.

          1. d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 c5 4.e3 Nc6 5.Bxc4 Nf6 6.0-0 e6 7.Qe2 cxd4 8. Rd1 Be7 9.exd4 0-0 10.Nc3 Nb4 11.Bg5 Nfd5 12.Bxe7 Nxe7 13.Ne5 Nbd5 14.Ne4 Ng6 15.Nc5 b6 16.Ncd3  Bb7 17.Nxg6 hxg6 18. Rac1 Qg5 19.Qf3 Rad8 20.Ne5 (See diagram # 114)

         At this moment, Tal’s opponent touched his bishop to move it. But unexpectedly one student ran into the hall, and announced loudly the tragic news from Dallas that President Kennedy was killed.

          Immediately play stopped! The hall was overcome with silence. All participants of the performance were deeply saddened by the grievous news.

         This unforeseen interval lasted several minutes. After this, Konoplyannikov made his move which was outlined - 20…Ba8.

         The Moscow scientist showed a deserving resistance to the “terrible” grandmaster. Black had a sharp threat – 21…Ne3!

        21.Qg3 Qf4 22.Bb3 Rc8 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Qd3 Bb7 25.g3 Qf5 26.Qd2 Nf6 27.f3 i 27…Bxf3  was impossible because of 28.Rf1

       27…g5! With intention to play 28…g4  

28.Qe2 Bd5 29.Ba4 a6 30.Re1 30.Qxa6 Ra8 32.Qb5 g4 33.fxg4 Qe4 30…b5 31.Bd1 Bxa2 32.b3 Bb1 33.Qb2 Bc2 34.g4 Qh7 35.Qc1 Nd5 36.Re2 Nb4 37.Rd2 f6 38. Nd7 Rc6 39.Qa3 Bxd1 40.Qxb4 Qb1 41.Qf8+ Kh7 42.Nxf6+ Kg6! 43.Kf2 Rc2 44.Nh5 Rxd2+ 45.Kg3 Rg2+! 46. Kxg2 Qb2+ 47.Kg3 Qxd4 48.Qe8+ Kh7 49.Kh3 Bxb3 50.Qe7 Bc4 51.Qxg5 Bf1+ 52.Kg3 Qg1+ 53.Kf4 Qxh2+ 54.Ke3 Qe2+ (See diagram # 115) Tal resigned. After 55.Kd4 Qc4+ 56.Ke5 Qd5+ 57.Kf4 Qd2+, White loses his queen. An amateur beat a professional! “I can’t believe my eyes,” said the winner.

          Tal congratulated him, and added that this game “has an historical tinge”. It can be stamped on the memory of two great personalities, John Kennedy and Mikhail Tal.

        On that evening, I spoke to Tal about his world championship contests. The prominent grandmaster, David Bronstein, was right, saying: “It is not good to be a world champion because he loses the title. The only title that remains forever is ex- champion.”  Tal agreed.

        “Let us assume that the highest chess title would be decided by a poll,” I supposed. “In this case, most chess players would have chosen Tal as the possessor of the world chess crown.”

       “In chess, it is throwing down from the throne cruelly,” Tal said with irony. “But it is not as bad as what happened to President Kennedy.”

         When my university chess team was in Germany, we visited the famous palace in Potsdam, near Berlin, where the 1945 historical conference of the leaders of the United States, USSR and England was held. The guide told us about John F. Kennedy who was present here as the special correspondent of the agency “International News Service.”

         We also learned that the organizers allowed journalists to take any souvenir that would remind them of this extraordinary event. The future American president took a piece of an arm-chair on which Josef Stalin had sat.     

          Stalin did not play chess well, but one or two games gave him time to be somewhat distracted from State troubles. Mikhail Botvinnik knew Stalin’s cruel character, but nevertheless decided to send him a letter about problems to challenge the world champion, Alexander Alekhine.

        “If I don’t play against Alekhine, the Americans will organize such a match and win the chess crown,” Botvinnik took liberties to say.

        Stalin could not accept that the American Flag, rather than the Soviet one, would flutter over the chess Olympus. So Botvinnik received a permission to play against Alekhine in Nottingham, England, in August of 1946. Soon after Stalin consented, however, Alekhine died.

         Since our journey to Germany, a heightened interest in the personality of the 36th

U. S. President was observed among the university students. They learned much about his life. Not long before the Second World War, Kennedy visited the Soviet Union. In 1941, he voluntarily entered the Navy, where he served until 1945. In 1943, Kennedy was injured. He was awarded a medal for displaying heroism in saving the lives of the members of his crew. Kennedy’s involvement in journalism was an attractive factor for the university chess players, especially for the students of the faculty of journalism.

         As fate willed, in 1975, the Kennedys were visited Moscow University where they acquainted themselves with its chess club. Sargent Shriver, a well-known American political figure, was at the head of the family delegation. His wife, the older Kennedy’s sister, their children and relatives became members of this group. It was very interesting to all of them. John Kennedy Jr., the President’s son, was at the center of attention.


John Kennedy Jr at Moscow U.

         While foreign guests looked over many chess photos on display, and heard my explanations, two Americans stepped aside and sat down at the chessboard. The young John Kennedy Jr. and his cousin Mark, Shriver’s son, were engaged in a passionate chess battle. Many spectators watched their moves. “John is very capable in chess,” students whispered to each other. Some university grandmasters suggested that if the younger Kennedy would attend classes as a foreign student at Moscow State University, they would help him to achieve a high chess level.

      American visitors learned much new to them.

      Moscow State University has existed for over 250 years while the school’s chess club is about the same age. The initiator of the university, the famous Russian scientist, Mikhail Lomonosov, loved to play chess, and it was demonstrated in a full-length film about his life.

      The great world champions, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky often attended the school’s chess club. The young Anatoly Karpov studied here.

         When journalists took a photograph of both Americans at the chessboard, Sargent Shriver suggested: “Please, hang the picture on display, side by side with the photos of university grandmasters.”

        “I hope to see John with the university champion’s laurels,” I remarked cheerfully. The President’s son heard this and it made him happy. At the age of fourteen, John Kennedy Jr. gave the impression of being a man of with a firm will in life.

         Tal went into details about the Kennedy’s family visit to Moscow University chess club.  He came to the conclusion that chess must be a domestic passion of Kennedy’s relatives. “Did President Kennedy play chess?” Tal asked, and answered the question himself: “Certainly.”

        A new generation of the Kennedys is growing up. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, often plays chess with his young son, Christopher. The great actor considers that the boy has inherent abilities for the game. Good luck!

        Mikhail Tal had many conversations with well-known political figures, including leaders of various countries. He tried to convince them that chess can be useful in public life, especially in state affairs. To be in charge of people requires the ability to make sound decisions in complicated political situations. Chess is also a good training for adopting proper administrative solutions. It can assist in choosing the only possible way for a government to achieve its goals.        

         The 8th world champion wanted to know which of American presidents liked the game. Then it was difficult to answer. But later the Internet gave this information: 10 of all 43 U.S. Presidents played chess. This list includes George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and other American leaders. For example, Jimmy Carter was able to set up a family chess team with his wife, Rosalynn, and his daughter, Amy.  

      So we can say that chess is a useful diversion from everyday presidents’ affairs.