This blog will begin and end with my two favorite practical chess jokes. In my recent blog, “What’s Inside YOUR Chess Mind?” I presented 10 chess positions discussed by Aagaard in his book that attempts to gain insight into the minds of chess players. Position 4 arose during a tournament game in Russia between Stern and Kushnitzky in the pivotal year of 1952. In my first blog I only gave the position. Here is that position again, along with the moves as they were played out in the actual tournament game.
As you can see the tournament game itself ended in a draw by stalemate. Or did it?
What actually transpired was a marvelous practical joke. As Aagaard tells the story, the diagrammed position is only partially correct. Black actually had another pawn on a6 during the game. But when Stern stood up to walk around the tournament hall during the game, Kushnitzky noticed that he could play the game to a stalemate if only his a6 pawn was off the board.
Hence, Kushnitzky simply removed the troublesome pawn from the board, and Stern did not notice its absence when he returned. The moves played out during the game are as I have given them in the diagram. But after the unearned draw, Kushnitzky explained his practical joke and, as a true gentleman would, resigned the game!
But not all chess jokes are of the practical nature, of course. Some are just plain jokes. And although most chess jokes that I have been able to uncover are not particularly funny, I did enjoy the following that appears in somewhat different form in Susan Polgar’s chess blog.
In 1972 a group of Soviet gulag prisoners listened to the first five games of the Fischer-Spassky world championship match on a smuggled radio. At that point the match was tied at 2.5 points each, and just before game 6 the prison guards discovered the radio, confiscating it before the hapless prisoners could learn the outcome of the match.
Some two weeks later, a new prisoner arrived in the camp. Eagerly crowding around the newcomer, the prisoners pressed him for the final results of the match, whereupon he sadly replied, “I lost.”
Another joke that may or may not strike you as funny relates a conversation between two friends who meet each other on the street.
“My wife told me that if I go to the chess tournament tomorrow, she’ll take our children and leave me.”
“So what will you do?” inquires his friend.
“e4, as always” was the answer.
Let us return to jokes of the 'practical' nature, which I prefer. In 2006 at the Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, a nice joke was played on Veselin Topalov by Lauren Verster, a non-chess player who was attending the tournament for the Dutch television show De Wereld Draait Door (The World’s Going Crazy). The former MTV personality, upon arriving at the tournament to interview Topalov, proceeded to challenge him to a game. (photo above)
What was not known to Toplalov at the time is that tournament director Tom Bottema was secretly transmitting moves to Verster, who was wearing a wireless earpiece. The game concluded when Verster offered the bewildered Topalov a draw in order to avoid playing into the wee hours of the morning.
We cannot have a chess blog about jokes without something by the inimitable Bill Wall, who provides the world with the following limerick:
In chess, my wife has one ambition
To win under any condition.
But to this date
She has yet to mate
She just can't find the right position.
And finally, another wonderful chess hoax took place a year before the Stern-Kushnitzky game that began this blog. The perpetrator of this joke was no less than the American champion Frank Marshall. In 1951, Alton Cook related that Marshall once agreed to help a postal player cheat by giving him advice during the course of the game.
Shortly after they arrived at an arrangement for this ruse, the other player in the same game also approached the famous Marshall for advice. Marshall, who must have been a marvelously wicked man, agreed to help the second man cheat as well. In essence, Marshall was playing solitaire chess, using the cheaters to shuffle his pieces on the board, unbeknownst to each other. The game continued in this manner for many months, with each player wondering how his opponent could play the great Marshall to a draw.
I am certain that many people who read this blog will have their own jokes or stories regarding practical jokes that they would like to share. Please use the comments section to spread the fun!
Note: I thank RetGuvvie98 for correcting my error on the first joke above. It was Black who had the extra pawn on a6.