The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair

| 21 | Fun & Trivia

In 1968 the movie entitled The Thomas Crown Affair was released, starring Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown and Faye Dunaway as Vicki Anderson.  Thomas Crown stages a two million dollar bank heist while Vicki is the insurnace investigator who suspects that Crown was the brains behind the bank job.  When Crown invites Vicki to his mansion, she eyes his highly stylized chess set.  Crown asks her, "Do you play?" and she responds "Try me."  By the 12th move they reach a postion that occurred in the game Zeissl-Walthoffen, Vienna 1898 (Ruy Lopez, Schliemann variation).  The game played is very seductive (perhaps the sexiest chess scene ever recorded in the movies and lasted over 7 minutes), and just before she is about to mate (she announces "check"), Crown circles the chess board and says, "Let's play somethng else" and sweeps her off her feet, embracing and kissing.  A different mating game is then played, and I am sure he wins this one.  The music score for this scene (besides "The Windmills of Your Mind") is called "The Chess Game," composed and conducted by Michel Legrand.  The chess scene was spoofed in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

The chess scene from the Thomas Crown Affair can be found on You Tube here:

The chess scene from Austin Powers: The Spy That Shagged Me can be found on You Tube here: (funny)

The remake of the movie in 1999 had no chess scene, but Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) says to Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan), "You know, Tommy, I'm all checkmated out."

There was a real Thomas Crown, who might have been the first British grandmaster and world class player.  He was Gordon Thomas Crown (1929-1947), who was about the same age as Steve McQueen.  He could have grown up to be a millionaire businessman and sportsman, but would not have lost to Faye Dunaway in 18 moves like the movie version (unless he threw the game on purpose).

Gordon Thomas Crown was born on June 20, 1929 in Liverpool, Lancashire, England.  In 1938, at the age of 9, he learned how to play chess after first made aware of chess by a chess match between the B.B.C. and radio listeners.  He became a member of the Liverpool Chess Club (founded in 1837), and soon won the Lancashire Junior Championship three times (1944, 1945, 1946).  He represented Lancashire in the English Counties' Championship.  He was on the 1945-46 winning team when Lancashire won the English Counties' Championship for the 8th time since 1921. 

In April 1946, at the age of 17, he took 2nd place in the British Boys' Championship at Hastings.  In August, 1946, he played in Section 2 of the British Championship at Nottingham , and took 6th place, defeating section winner Edward G. Sergeant (1881-1961), who was London Champion in 1951.  He was then invited to the Hastings Chess Congress to play in the 1946-47 Premier Reserves section.  He took 1st place in the Premier Reserves "B" section with 6 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss (to E.G. Sergeant).  C.H. O'D Alexander (1909-1974) won the Premier section. 

In early 1947, Crown was part of the British team that played a visiting Dutch team.  Crown won both of his games.  He was then invited to play in the British Championship. 

At first, the Selection Committee did not consider Crown was good enough to compete.  But there was an opening in the British Championship after the previous winner, Robert Combe (1912-1952) decided not to play and withdrew from the event.  The event was held at Harrogate from August 11th to August 22nd.   Crown took clear 3rd place in this event (ahead of Milner-Barry, Sir George Thomas, Gerald Abrahams, and other masters).  1st-2nd place went to Harry Golombek (1911-1995) and Reginald Broadbent (1906-1988), with Golombek winning after a play-off.  Both players scored 8 out of 11 points.  Crown defeated Broadbent in 26 moves and scored 7 out of 11 points. 

Crown was then invited to play on the Great Britain team as board 4 in the Great Britain vs. the USSR team match.  The British team included C.H. O'D Alexander, Golombek, Sir George Thomas, Gordon Crown, William Winter, P. Milner-Barry, W. Fairhurst, J. Aitken, Gerald Abrahams, and R. Newman.  The USSR team consisted of Paul Keres, Smyslov, Boleslavsky, Kotov, Bondarevsky, Lilienthal, Flohr, Ragozin, Bronstein, and Tolush.  The event took place in London on September 21-23, 1947.  Crown played Alexander Kotov (1913-1981), defeating him in the first game on the first day and losing to Kotov in the second game in 37 moves.  Kotov took 2nd place in the 1939 USSR Championship, behind Mikhail Botvinnik and was the 3rd Soviet player to hold the Soviet Grandmaster title (after Grigory Levenfish and Botvinnik).  Kotov was Moscow champion in 1941.  In 1948, he tied for 1st with David Bronstein in the USSR championship.  USSR won the match 15-5.  Crown and Newman (who beat Tolush) were the only British players to win a game against the powerful USSR team.

In October, 1947, Crown played in the British team against a team from Australia and won his game.  In November, 1947, he was admitted to the hospital.  He was a diabetic and had an appendicitis attack.  On November 17, 1947, his appendix burst and he died of peritonitis (inflamation of the peritoneum) after complications from surgery.  His death was reported in the January 1948 issue of CHESS magazine and there was an expectation that he would some day play for the World Championship.  At the time of his death, he was working on a chess book about the recent British-Soviet and British-Australian matches.

Here is the game in which Gordon Thomas Crown defeated Alexander Kotov.

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