NimzoRoy's TOP TEN Chess Myths

NimzoRoy's TOP TEN Chess Myths


NimzoRoy's TOP TEN Urban Chess Legends 

I've put them in chronological order because I couldn't decide on how to rate them in terms of #1 thru #10 based on their popularity and/or bogosity. If I don't provide verifying links just go to Edward Winter's Chess Notes and look them up in his archives. He is a very accurate and reliable chess historian who doesn't unquestioningly repeat bogus “facts” he's read without investigating, verifying or refuting them, unlike many other chess writers - and many hack writers as well. 

History is a set of lies agreed upon NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth LENIN 

Speaking of liars, Baron Munchausen (pictured above, from a movie poster for Terry Gilliam's excellent film version) is one of the most famous tellers of "tall tales" in literature and I thought he would be a fitting avatar for this blog.

  1. Curt von Bardeleben walked out on a lost position vs Steinitz at Hastings 1895 without resigning and made Steinitz wait for his flag to fall. TRUE. Huh? But as Paul Harvey used to say, here's “the rest of the story:” CvB was upset by excessive spectator noise and told Steinitz he was walking off in protest. Steinitz spent the rest of CvBs time showing some of the noisy spectators how he intended to win if the game had continued. Just saying that CvB walked out makes him appear rude and unsportsmanlike, which he was not – at least not in this case. BTW the game is awesome, check it out!

  2. The spectators threw gold coins on the board after US Champ Frank Marshall beat S. Lewitzky at Breslau in 1912. TRUE – but here's “the rest of the story:” The spendthrift spectators were not rewarding Marshall for his brilliant win capped by a spectacular Queen sac, they were disgusted gamblers who had bet on his heavily favored opponent to win (Lewitzky had beaten Lasker and Rubinstein in earlier rounds). The coins were not for Marshall but for the faithful few(?) who bet on him. Perhaps one or more winning gamblers “tipped” him however?  

    PS: See comments by Estragon and myself made on this entry (after the article ends, below), at this point I'm no longer certain my version is totally accurate either.

  3. The Czar of Russia names the first five “Grandmasters of Chess” at the end of the 1914 St Petersburg International Tnmt. FALSE. Nobody at St Petersburg in 1914 (or anyplace else for the next 28 years) including all of the contemporary newspaper accounts of the tnmt seems to have been aware of this “fact” prior to 1942 when it first appeared in Frank J Marshall's Best Games of Chess

  4. Lasker and Tarrasch played a match for the world championship in 1916. FALSE. They did play a match in 1916 and it was not for the World Championship.

  5. Capablanca lost one game in ten years (out of 99 vs world class opponents) – beginning with his last loss at St Petersburg in 1914 and ending with his first loss (to Reti) in the NY International Tnmt of 1924. FALSE. The NYT is to blame for this one, they overlooked a loss Capa had in 1916. Between October 23, 1973, and October 16, 1974, Mikhail Tal had a string of 95 tournament games without a loss (46 wins and 49 draws) (Soltis 2002, p. 44) (Tal 1976, p. 500). Tal also has the second-longest unbeaten run in top-level competition. He went unbeaten in 86 games from July 1972, when he lost to Uusi in the tenth round at Viljandi, until April 1973, when he lost to Balashov in round two of the USSR Team Championship in Moscow. This streak included 47 wins and 39 draws (Tal 1976).

José Raúl Capablanca famously went eight years without a loss (Feb 10, 1916 to Mar 21, 1924, including his World Chess Championship 1921 victory over Emanuel Lasker), but this was "only" 63 games.

  1. GM Frank J Marshall waited ten years to play his Ruy Lopez Marshall Attack vs Capablanca. FALSE This gambit became famous when Frank James Marshall used it as a prepared variation against José Raúl Capablanca in 1918; nevertheless Capablanca found a way through the complications and won. It is often said that Marshall had kept this gambit a secret for use against Capablanca since his defeat in their 1909 match. BUT in several games between 1910 and 1918 Marshall passed up opportunities to use the Marshall Attack against Capablanca.

  2. Alekhine studied law at the Sorbonne, and claimed to have got a doctorate there in 1925: FALSE (it's true he made the claim however) he was known widely as 'Dr. Alekhine'. TRUE  Researchers have failed to find any trace of this (Alekhine attending law school, much less graduating)  in the records of the Sorbonne  

    BUT, one player here stated in a forum post that several of Alekhine's peers (ie world class GMs) referred to him as "Dr Alekhine" and after all they weren't gullible and wouldn't have believed him if it wasn't true - so there! 

    SOURCE:  Edward G. Winter (1981-11). World Chess Champions. Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0-08-024094-7.

  3. Alekhine did not choke to death on a piece of meat. He was poisoned (or shot) by the KGB. (Mar 23, 1946 in Lisbon, Portugal) FALSE. The official autopsy concluded he choked to death on a piece of meat. Decades later it turns out that the official version of his death is bogus and contradicted by rumors, hearsay and conspiracy theories. For instance, GM Najdorf's third cousin spoke to someone who was told by someone else that the official autopsy was a cover-up, and blah-blah-blah yada yada yada. But on the other hand, can anyone actually prove that Lee Harvey Oswald was not in Lisbon on March 23, 1946?

  4. The US State Dept refused to let GM Reshevsky play in the 1950 World Challengers Tnmt held in Prague, Hungary. FALSE. Reshevsky did not want to play. The State Dept did not prevent him from doing so. BUT, in 1956 the State Dept refused to allow legendary Soviet GM David Bronstein to enter the US and play in a tournament held in Dallas TX, and in 1965 Fischer was prohibited from going to Cuba to play in the Capablanca Memorial Tnmt - but he still participated by playing all his games via Telex (whatever that is, or was) from the Marshall Chess Club in NYC. Perhaps these sordid incidents helped keep the "Reshevsky Rumor" alive and well for several decades?

  5. The first US player to become an official world chess champion was Bobby Fischer (1972) FALSE. In 1886 Wilhelm Steinitz, who was now a permanent US resident, and who played under the US flag became the first official world chess champion by defeating his arch-enemy Johannes Zukertort in the first official world chess championship match - which took place in the USA. In 1888 he became a naturalized US citizen. BUT, Fischer is the first native born US citizen to become an official World Chess Champion - Steinitz was born in Austria. Coincidentally all 3 US World Chess Champions (counting the unofficial champ [1858-62] Paul Morphy),  ended up going nuts in varying degrees - maybe we'll have better luck with #4?