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Superstitions!

  • GM Gserper
  • | Apr 22, 2012
  • | 12490 views
  • | 67 comments

Chess players are very superstitious people! Almost every strong player I know has his own superstition. By far the most common one is a "lucky" pen or pencil. Even Mikhael Tal (who had the nickname "the Magician") half jokingly blamed the loss of his World Champion title on the loss of his lucky pen.  He said that he forgot it just for a couple of minutes on the table but when he remembered and returned back it was already gone (probably taken by one of Tals' numerous fans as a souvenir). Personally I had dozens of "lucky" pens throughout my chess career and when one of them stopped working (meaning I lost a game), I always had another one!

Another popular chess superstition has probably something to do with the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Many chess players seem to avoid cutting their hair during important tournaments. Anatoly  Karpov joked once that one of the most difficult things during his first World Championship match vs. Gary Kasparov in 1984 was to wait for 5 months (that's how long the match lasted) before he got his haircut!

It is a well known fact that if you truly belive in something, in most the cases it will come true.  This is exactly what happened in the next curious story told by Lithuanian International Master Vladas Mikenas. He played in the famous International tournament "Kemeri 1937."  Today it would be called a super tournament since many of the strongest players of that time such as  Alekhine, Reshevsky, Fine, Flohr, Keres, Tartakower and Stahlberg participated. Mikenas had just finished his third round game and was having dinner in a restaurant.  Suddenly Alekhine came to his table and asked if Mikenas wouldn't mind him joining.

So, they had their dinner together, but the conversation was kind of awkward. Mikenas could feel that Alekhine was still affected by the loss of his World Champion title to Euwe. Trying to fix the situation, Mikenas offered Alekhine a shot of vodka.  Alekhine refused saying that now he drinks only milk. He insisted that he lost his title only because of alcohol and now he was doing everything he could to regain the Title. Mikenas sincerely wished him the best of luck, and suddenly the conversation got easy and friendly.  At the end of the evening, Alekhine wished Mikenas the best of luck in tomorrow's game and left the restaurant.  A minute later Alekhine returned to the table and asked Mikenas who he was going to play tomorrow. "I am playing you, Dr. Alekhine" smiled Mikenas.

The next day during the game Alekine (who was an extremely superstitious person) looked pale. He clearly remembered the previous day's conversation and saw it as a bad omen.

Now let me interrupt Mikenas' tale for a second and offer you this exciting game as a test of your tactical skills. Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move and see the annotations if you click "Solution" and then "Move list"


While Mikenas was thinking about his move in the next position he noticed that Alekhine looked very nervous. A waiter offered him a cup of coffee. Alekhine thanked her, but instead of a cube of sugar dropped a White pawn in the cup. He noticed his mistake, pushed the coffee away and spilled it.  Mikenas couldn't understand why Alekhine acted so weirdly.  At the end he decided that Alekhine really wanted to beat Mikenas, but now Black had a chance to go for an endgame where White didn't have many chances to win. And what do you think, my dear readers?


A simple and beautiful combination that even a club player wouldn't miss, right?  Except Mikenas played 23...Bxe4??   Mikenas remembers that after he played this horrible move and missed a chance to finish the game in his opponent's typical style, Alekhine was extremely happy. With a shaky finger he pointed at the c2 square and said: 'Young man, you just missed a chance to win the game instantly by playing Rc2!"  "It's OK", answered Mikenas, "I'll try to beat you a second time!" The most amazing thing is that he managed to achieve this goal.  Here is the whole game:



There are two more interesting things about this unusual game. As you remember, this game was played in the 4th round. The first three games of the tournament, Mikenas had lost! Another curious detail of this game is that according to the discovery of the famous chess historian Edward Winter, one old book about Alekhine stated that : "At one point during his game against Mikėnas, Alekhine accidentally made two moves in succession. Under the FIDE rules that were then in force, the tournament director, Hans Kmoch, could not enforce any penalty."  But personally I doubt it since in this case Mikenas would have  mentioned this funny detail for sure, just like he mentioned that "Our relations had always been good but after this game, Alekhine would not speak to me for three days. Great chessplayers do not like to lose."

Comments


  • 2 years ago

    GM_rudy

    TQ SIR...

  • 2 years ago

    g-levenfish

    Very interesting! I like these historical anecdotes.

  • 2 years ago

    leonelcm

    Very nice article, so insstructive and interesting. Thanx for sharing...

  • 2 years ago

    Sahasrara

    @pank, even if it may not be magic, why not use it?

  • 2 years ago

    Sahasrara

    Elubas, I agree that not everything explained yet by science can still be explained by science in the future. However, IMHO it may be possible that even the supernatural phenomenon today may be explained by science in the distant future, but that does not disprove that this phenomenon existed before. In fact many supernatural events may in fact turn out to be advanced science, but why not attempt to take advantage of it? Who knows it may just work. 

  • 2 years ago

    Elubas

    Sahasrara: How is the tooth fairy not a good example? It, like many arbitrary ideas, has no evidence for it, but is crutching on the fact that we don't know everything, so we can't know that it's not true. Does that still mean it's logical to believe in the tooth fairy? Well, not any more logical than the video game case.

    Just because there is one thing science cannot explain does not mean that we should assume something else, for which there is no evidence, to be true.

    Case in point: A god of lightning. This was once assumed by some to be true a long time ago, because science at that time couldn't explain it (and of course, it can be explained now -- don't ask me though Smile). Considering that so much can be explained by science, I get just a little feeling that anything that can't currently be explained by science, still has a scientific truth, except that we haven't discovered it yet. Believing in the supernatural is a lot like a present version of believing in the God of lightning, explained above.

  • 2 years ago

    Tiuri

    I just came across this game in the Tactics Trainer. Laughing Thanks GM Serper for a great article!

  • 2 years ago

    isuru10

    wow

  • 2 years ago

    rapper7

    I LOVE THE SONG SUPERSTITIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!Laughing

  • 2 years ago

    fahim620

    nice.....speacially ..........end game tactics........

  • 2 years ago

    Sahasrara

    "But again, this is like hoping the tooth fairy exists. Sure, maybe it's in another dimension somewhere that we can't observe, but to assume that is, again, taking a 1 in infinity shot, because evidence can't separate it from any other story I might make up." - Not a good comparison. Some people actually believe, and it logically makes sense to them (they have no doubt) that there has to be some "power-beyond" our 3d world. They do not have to think it up, it is absolute reality to them. Just because you cannot convince yourself that this may be true, does not mean someone else cannot. There are some things for example that science cannot yet explain, and it is in these fields that these mysterious ideas still have potential to be true. I think it is best to keep ones mind open to things, instead of pre-programming oneself to automatically deny certain possibilities. 

  • 2 years ago

    mobidi

    Supperstition? Yes! Of course. Simple person ALWAYS are in  deep TRANCE (hypnotic trance).Only few players in the world (3-4) can to AVOID it,but it is very BIG PROBLEM (solved by Lasker ,Fischer and now- Carlsen ).Chess is NOT for weak spirit...Just free Your mind (if You can...).

  • 2 years ago

    Elubas

    "I wouldn't say one would be dreaming these things up, some people believe that there is a power which we do not yet see or understand (I guess some people deduce this with logic). Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that some people trust their intuition thinking that this is some kind of sign from the well supernatural. "

    But again, this is like hoping the tooth fairy exists. Sure, maybe it's in another dimension somewhere that we can't observe, but to assume that is, again, taking a 1 in infinity shot, because evidence can't separate it from any other story I might make up.

    You see what I mean? It's too presumptuous. Say you hear an unidentified noise. You can't explain it; does that mean it must be a ghost? But if we're saying that in other dimensions, strange things might exist, that go against the laws of our own world, how do we know it's not, for example, an invisible, talking video game case making the voice instead of a spirit?

  • 2 years ago

    drmow11n

    Do tournament players try to "psych themselves up" before a game?  There seems to be some physiological processes that go along with the psychological.

  • 2 years ago

    drmow11n

    I think the superstitions might be in part more about the routine or ritual of preparation for a game, although people really do believe in some sort of mystic power.  They might be closer to right than one might think -- at the level of GM's -- for ANY sport -- one doesn't just sit down and charge right into the game.  There is a sort of mental preparation that must be followed.  Breaking the ritual of preparation may be a distraction.  if one loses one's lucky pen, one might find oneself thinking about it, possibly at critical times -- instead of the game!

  • 2 years ago

    mrwrangler

    Like the GM I knew who wore argyle socks at tournaments. Certain baseball players were know to wear ladies stockings under their socks, some pitchers don't shave the days before their next starts. You can find supersitions in many competitive fields. Some from the silly to the bizare.

  • 2 years ago

    drmow11n

    I'm serious!

  • 2 years ago

    drmow11n

    I knew a player who believed it was bad luck to fall out of a thirteenth-floor window.  He actually had to forfeit a game once when he did this.

  • 2 years ago

    Sahasrara

    I wouldn't say one would be dreaming these things up, some people believe that there is a power which we do not yet see or understand (I guess some people deduce this with logic). Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that some people trust their intuition thinking that this is some kind of sign from the well supernatural. 

  • 2 years ago

    AskVarg

    Ah my bad. I thought you mean after the initial move 18. Qe4

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