GM Gserper
55 | Tactics

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 Mik─Śnas, 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."

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