The Third Game
Breathless, Ernest finally returned with some paper and a pencil. "What happened? Is it over already?"
With an amused look on his face, Rousseau replied, "The master placed his queen in a compromising situation with a bishop; an affair of the necklace, as it were; when Paul gallantly offered him the option of taking back his move."
Ernest was stunned. "He offered Löwenthal a take back? Are you serious?"
"Quite serious, I'm afraid. But he declined and resigned on the spot."
"Tell me later. I have to catch up on these moves." As he wrote Pwn to K's 4th, the same, Knight to K's Bshp 3rd, the same, he thought, can you beat him again, Paul? Can you beat him three times in a row?
Löwenthal's eyes were closed and he was taking deep breaths, trying to calm himself and to focus. He remembered Hungary, and Germany, and all the players, the masters and near-masters that he had known in Europe, the games with Szén in the coffeehouse, the games with Bilguer and Hampe and Anderssen, the games he had played here in the States. The post-mortums with the players, the lines they had analyzed, the precious tidbits that only the experience of living in Europe can provide, they came back to him now, a flood of recollections of what was possible and what was not and why. And the personal awareness of knowing that he usually lost the first two games to whomever he played--weak players or strong--strengthened his resolve; he was now ready to play.
The boy played his king's pawn again and Löwenthal took a moment before replying. He needed to look at his opponent as an enemy, a combatant who needed to be vanquished. But the vision before him, a small child with short, curly black hair and fawn-like eyes who had to sit on books to be able to reach the board, was too small to represent a threat, too frail to be a challenge. But he has beaten me once, Lowenthal thought. I played good chess and he beat me. I must remember to play the board; I cannot think of him.
He played his king's pawn as well, offering Paul the chance of playing the King's Gambit, but the boy played his knight to f3 instead, and Löwenthal saw his opportunity. They don't play the Russian Game here; this child cannot know the lines I used to play in Germany. He played his knight to f6 with a touch of arrogance, a flourish of the hand as he made his move. They were playing one of his favorite openings.
Paul took the pawn and Löwenthal briskly played the reply d6, confident of his footing. The boy retreated his knight back to f3 and the black knight took the white pawn. Now he should play d4, thought Löwenthal, and when the lad played his queen to e2 he felt justified in his play. This is not dangerous; this just leads to exchanges down the e-file. Löwenthal played his queen to e7, the boy played d3 attacking the knight, and Löwenthal retreated the knight to f6. Playing quickly, Paul moved his other knight to c3, and Löwenthal sensed some pressure, primarily to d5. He decided, bring the bishop out and defend d5 a second time--that should be enough.
The child began looking at his options, his dark, gray eyes rapidly moving, blinking, taking in the possibilities. After a couple of minutes, he played his bishop to g5 and Löwenthal's eyebrows arched again. He continues to press on d5, he will not let this go. This is excellant. I cannot afford to let that pin remain, he thought. This must go now.
He played his h-pawn to h6, challenging the bishop. The boy took a minute or two on his move, taking the knight. Löwenthal took several minutes on his move, no longer playing briskly or with confidence. He took with the queen, and the boy played d4 instantly. He is threatening to win my bishop, he thought, and I cannot play d5 because he just plays knight takes--bishop is pinned. This is strong, very strong. Again, he threatens me on d5! And again, I am taking more time than he! And in my line!
Löwenthal finally played his pawn to c6, the only move that made sense to him. It only took Paul a few minutes to play his move, which was castling to the queenside. More pressure on d5! He is relentless! But now I can occupy d5 and end this pressure. He played his pawn up to d5 and the boy quickly played his knight to e5.
The master went into a deep think after this, carefully looking over the board before deciding what to do. I cannot move my knight to d7; the boy will take and I must take back with my king--that annoying pin. The pawn structure is favorable for playing my a- and b-pawns to attack the white king, he thought, and since I will attack with my queenside pawns my king must find shelter on the kingside. In order to castle I must move my king's bishop, but to where? At e7 it may become a target along the e-file, while d6 seemed passive, also. I must play it to b4, he decided. I will threaten to muss his hair by taking his knight, and after queen to e3 I can castle and begin my attack. Yes, that is the move, and he played it.
The boy looked at Löwenthal again, a long look, and Löwenthal looked back, confused. What is on your mind, little one? Then the boy reached out and took the d-pawn. Löwenthal felt his eyebrows arching again. What is this? After all my precautions, d5 is still weak? He settled down to analyzing the position. Taking with the pawn was impossible; white's queen would play to b5 with a devastating check. He must take with the bishop, but that allows the knight to play to d6, discovering check, and winning the rook in the corner. Sadly, he realized that there was no other way. The boy had pointed out something in the position that the masters in Europe were totally unaware of.
The next few moves went as predicted, with white winning the rook and two pawns for a bishop and knight--slightly better for white. But Löwenthal had played many games with Szén, a player who excelled in the endgame, and he had learned from the master himself the value of the minor pieces. When he played king takes knight he assessed the position as slightly worse for black, but that his active bishops were good compensation, and he could still attack with the queenside pawns.
The boy moved his pawn to f3, away from the reach of one of the black bishops, and suddenly Löwenthal realized that c4 would be strong for white. He played his pawn to b5, sealing off c4 and positioning himself for a general advance on that flank.
Paul played his bishop to e4 and Löwenthal's eyebrows arched again. He ends all ideas of attacking his king; this is an excellant play. I must bring in the rest of my forces, he thought, this is a storm and I need all hands on deck. He brought out his knight.
The boy played his queen rook to e1 and Löwenthal smiled. Very nice of you to notice that protecting the h-pawn by moving to h3 would allow me to play my bishop to g3 and muddy the waters, as they say. He moved his knight to f6 and Paul played rook to e2, apparently ready to double on the e-file, leaving black no choice but to oppose by rook to e8, when white can't double because of the h-pawn.
A swap of several pieces ensued, when the child went into a long think on his move. It's about time, Löwenthal thought, you have not but paused on any position since we've been playing. The child's eyes were focused, rapidly moving and blinking, taking stock of the entire board, leaving no corner unturned, no possibility uninvestigated. Löwenthal watched him with wonder--how could he remain so still, yet his eyes moved so much. He was whistling softly again, a different tune, and sometimes would twirl a curl of hair between his little fingers.
He stopped watching Paul, and returned his attention to the game. If I can maintain my hold on c4, the game is not lost. I will have to reduce my kingside pawns to one, where my pieces and my king can surround and take it. The disadvantage of one pawn on the queenside isn't fatal, either--I must swap off all other pawns, then take the remaining one with my bishop. The king and the rook cannot defeat the king and the knight.
Just then the boy played his pawn to g3 and Löwenthal played according to his plan, moving his pawn to g5. Paul played his king to d2 and Löwenthal was impressed at how quickly, after so long a think, the child moved to meet the needs of the position. Löwenthal moved his knight to an admittedly poor square, g7, but with the idea of redeploying it to h5 or f5 or e6, as the need arose. With an innocent yet confident look, Paul quickly moved his rook from h1 to a1.
Löwenthal was stunned. Again, he does not play the obvious rook to e1! He plays this deep rook move, and yet he takes no time on it! This was part of his long thought; this is what he saw? Szén might have seen such a move, but only after twenty, thirty minutes--this boy took barely a minute! And the move is so strong. This child is trying to force his pawn to c4 and as he just has pointed there is little I can do to stop him. To stop c4 I must play my a-pawn to a4 and choke his queenside, but he just plays his pawn to b3 and I must take or he will take and then play c4. When I take on b3 he just takes back with the c-pawn and his a-pawn will win, with the rook perfectly placed behind it. It suddenly dawned on Löwenthal: he knows how to play this ending for a win. And he had just played the most accurate move Löwenthal had seen him play.
Löwenthal pushed his a-pawn to a4, and Paul answered by playing his king to d3, an important preparatory move to c4. Löwenthal took a moment to bring his king closer to white's threats, but the boy played a4, forcing black to play b4, when white played the dreaded move--c4. Black retreated his bishop to make room for his king and the boy played rook to e1 check. The black king went to d6 and Paul pounced on the position with rook to e5, a move Löwenthal had seen coming but could do nothing to prevent. He exchanged pawns and brought the knight to e6.
White played his rook to b5, keeping it behind the black pawns,and Löwenthal was impressed by the technique the child was displaying. He handles the rook with more touch than even Szén. Such finesse from one so young. And the almost comical way the child moves his men, like the last move with the rook, carefully arching his arm so he would not disturb the other pieces. But there was nothing comical about the moves themselves, moves that were astonishing, as pretty as they were strong. Löwenthal tried repositioning his knight, and the boy continued to inch his way in, first with the rook, then with the d-pawn, then with the rook again, creating fatal threats to the h-pawn, which could only be stopped by losing the a-pawn.
He tried a threat that he acknowedged to himself to be weak, as the boy was not about to move his king and rook onto squares where the knight could fork them. The boy moved his king up to assist the a-pawn. With a sense of desparation Löwenthal played his pawn to b3 where the white king couldn't get to it, hoping to create some threats against white's b-pawn. Paul took his usual moment or two before playing f4, stunning Löwenthal yet again. He returns material to me. Why does he do this?
It took him several minutes to see the point, an almost humorous one. The boy was killing off the last of the black pawns, actually gaining a pawn by "returning material," leaving Löwenthal with no chance of winning the game and every chance of losing it. He sighed deeply and thought, he plays such art, but yet also with such a practical approach as this. This would be excellant play from a seasoned master, but from one so young! He played the moves he knew he had to make and the child's play confirmed his suspicions. The pawns came off quickly, leaving black with an empty, ugly position, but there was one hope left.
Szén had shown him a long time ago during the early days in the coffeehouse that there were certain combinations of pieces that, though looking hopeless, were actually draws with proper play. One of these had to do with rook and a-pawn versus the black-squared bishop. Szén's analysis here was if the king can get to b8 and the bishop on the g1-a7 diagonal black can set up a wall that white cannot crack. Löwenthal began to quietly look for the chance to set up the position.
Paul played his pawn to a5 and Löwenthal thought he saw his chance. He took the white d-pawn with his knight, and Paul immediately skewered them with his rook. Löwenthal took the h-pawn bishop, poker-faced, and waited for the boy's reply.
The reply was to take the knight with check and Löwenthal still held out hope as he had the bishop. He played his king to c8 and white played his rook to b5, cutting the king off from the a-pawn. He moved his king up to c7 and sat back in his chair.
The boy sat calmly, studying the position, then reached out with his right hand. he had almost grabbed the a-pawn when his forearm hit the king, tipping it. He snatched the king, the reflexes of the young, but then realized what he had done and said, "Stupid of me to catch this when I should have let it fall. I must move the king now, and at a point when I need to play the pawn."
Lowenthal couldn't resist. "Perhaps you would like that move back, sir? I cannot hold you to a move you did not intend to make." Paul looked up sharply, with humor in his eyes but a smile that was almost sarcastic, realizing the master had turned the tables on him. "Those are formal rules for formal games. I will not hold you to them."
"But I touched my king and cannot change that. Playing the pawn wins, while moving the king allows a subtle draw."
"You saw the draw? I was certain it was too hidden. Years ago, an old master in Pesht taught me how to draw here. I am surprised you would know this."
"No sir, I hadn't known this, I came across the idea during play."
"Yes, I play my bishop here and my king here and you cannot make progress."
"That's true, sir; I am ahead in material but cannot win when you occupy these squares. A ploy that is as subtle as it is effective."
"And I am amazed you saw it. This is a very sophisticated drawing line; you found this over the board? Extraordinary, just extraordinary; you play so well, especially for one so young. But I shall consider this game a loss. I cannot hold you to a move you so obviously didn't intend to make."
"And I shall consider this game a draw, since I touched my king and you showed that you knew the drawing line and would have played it. Shall we agree to disagree, sir?"
"Of course. But let us call it night as well. I would like to talk to your father a little before I go." He shook Paul's small hand. "It has been a pleasure to meet you. I believe I will be hearing more about you in the future."
"And it has been an honor for me to meet and play so famous a master as yourself." With that, Paul slid down from the chair and headed toward the garden.
"Wait, young man, just where do you think you're going?" Telcide came at him in a rush, her arms wide; she encircled him. "I am so proud of you! Let your mama hug you and love you!"
"Mama, please." Paul hugged her back, the look on his face strained, embarrassed.
The rest of the family came over to him, all smiling, anxious to congratulate their relative. Löwenthal stood to the side, letting the young man have his laurels, remembering back to Hungary and a certain night with Szén, when Löwenthal finally believed he had come of age, had become a master. He smiled for the boy, realizing that he had become to Paul what Szén had become to him--a measurement of strength, a yardstick of accomplishment.
Alonzo, along with Ernest, praised the boy warmly, then turned to Löwenthal. "I pray you'll pardon the demonstration, sir. There is no disrespect intended. And I am sure you can appreciate the reason for this spontaneous outbreak."
"Indeed I can. And I take no lack of respect from this, sir; the amount of praise for the boy can only be equal to the amount of respect this family held for me."
Ernest said, "Well put, sir, and quite true. We could not have been more honored if Staunton himself were to grace our home with his presense."
"Thank you, sir, and I hope to be playing Mr. Staunton soon enough. I have knowlege communicated to me by a friend in Europe that there is to be a tournament of chess to be held in England in conjunction with the great London Exhibition next year." He turned to Alonzo. "I should like to ask of you your permission to communicate to the tournament committee, when it convenes, the accomplishments of your son, with the idea toward inclusion of him in the event. Would that be possible, sir?"
Alonzo looked aghast at the suggestion. "I intend no disrepect, sir, but that is entirely out of the question. Paul has more need of schooling than of chess--his mother and I have been very adamant about that point to him. Also, we cannot spare anyone to properly chaperone him. Besides, such a journey, and for so long a time, would be an immense hardship on him, and his health is not as hardy as it will be later in life. No, I simply cannot consent to this idea."
"Entirely understood, sir. Forgive my lack of propriety in making the suggestion, but I am as caught up in the moment as you are."
"I think we all are, sir; I think we all are."