Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky. Memories, part 4 (including a tactical puzzle)


Part 3 here


The international tournament in St. Petersburg was dedicated to memory of the great Russian chess player Mikhail Chigorin who died in 1908. So, Chigorin's dream of organizing a big international tournament in Russia came true only after his death.

The tournament was sponsored like any other in the pre-revolutionary Russia: the money came from subscriptions and random donations.

Bear in mind that at the end of 19th century, the rise of chess movement in Russia, stimulated by M.I. Chigorin's international successes, came to a halt after the Russian champion's string of bad results due to advanced age, illness and overstrain.

All "sponsors" turned away from Chigorin with astonishing indifference and were ready to just forget him.

During Chigorin's last years, a new chess organization appeared in St. Petersburg - the Petersburg Chess Society. After Chigorin's death, this society decided to honour his memory by organizing an international tournament in St. Petersburg.

The organizational committee consisted of the senator [Pavel] Saburov (chairman), the Putilov factory owner Prince [Elim] Demidov San Donato (vice-chairman) and millionaires Bostancioglo, Tereschenko, the American Rice and others.

It would seem that the financial side of the tournament is free of danger - the sponsors were so rich.

But all those so-called "patrons" weren't too willing to part with their money for cultural events, and so a plea for help was issued to common Russian chess players. The subscription was opened across the entire Russia. Even 10-kopeck donations were accepted. Still, the subscriptions didn't yield enough money. Then the Financial and Commercial Assembly whose building hosted the St. Petersburg Chess Society gave 4,000 roubles, most likely as a publicity stunt.

The tournament's line-up: world champion Lasker, Schlechter, Duras, Teichmann, Spielmann, Perlis, Cohn, Mieses, Burn, Forgacs, Vidmar, Tartakover, Speier; Russia was represented by Rubinstein, Bernstein, Salwe, Znosko-Borovsky, Freiman, Nenarokov and me.

The tournament became even more interesting because a month before its beginning, Lasker and Schlechter had agreed on terms of their World Championship match that took place in 1910 and ended with a draw.

Lasker and Schlechter played in the first round. Everyone came to the tournament hall at 10 o'clock to play... except Lasker.

Schlechter immediately played 1. e4, but the world champion came only 30 minutes later and made his move, 1... e5.

Schlechter was in another room. He was warned, "Your clock was started!" "I know!" replied Schlechter, but he took 30 minutes to make his second move, not wanting to have any time advantage before his opponent. The game was very tense and heated, but still ended in a draw.

In this tournament, Schlechter played with uncertainty and quickly fell behind the leaders. After the 8th round, Rubinstein took the lead. In the 3rd round, he defeated the world champion, and in the 9th round, he was to play with me.

I came from Warsaw still recovering from a severe illness, so I began the tournament quite badly. But I wanted to defeat Rubinstein no matter what. I decided to avoid "theoretical" moves, because Rubinstein was the best theoretician of the time. The game was sharp, and I managed to win. This was a sensation.

Another sensation happened in the 16th round. Lasker had 12.5/15, Rubinstein had 11/14. In this round, Lasker played against me. Lasker, who had Black, came 12 minutes late. I came on time, but due to absent-mindedness didn't make my first move. When Lasker came, it was me who suffered from his delay, because those 12 minutes were substracted from my time.

I got advantage out of the opening. The game turned to be very interesting for all Lasker's rivals, especially Rubinstein. One of Rubinstein's fans told the organizers that he feared that I would just throw the game to the world champion, whom I ostensibly worship. But after some more moves, I was clearly winning. I made the decisive 42th move and nervously retreated to an adjacent room. Soon after I was told that Lasker called for me. When I came to the table, Lasker stood up solemnly and congratulated me with the win.

The Chigorin Memorial was won by Lasker and Rubinstein, who scored 14.5/18. Lasker won 13 games, lost two (to Rubinstein and me) and drew three. Rubinstein won 12 games, lost one and drew five.

I finished only 13th, but was given a special award for defeating both winners. Those games are shown below.





In Spring 1910 the St. Petersburg Chess Society organized the capital's chess championship. There were four semifinal tournaments, each having 9 players. I finished first in my group. During the tournament, I met a talented youngster who played in his first competition. It was A.F. Ilyin-Zhenevsky, who after the Revolution became the first organizer of Soviet mass chess movement. Ilyin-Zhenevsky died in the beginning of the Great Patriotic War after a Nazi bombing.

In the finals, I've finished all my games long before the championship's official conclusion and went on tour to Tula, and then to Kazan. Only upon returning to St. Petersburg I learned the results. I shared the first place with Znosko-Borovsky and had to play a play-off match with him, but it never took place.

Now, to my performances in Tula and Kazan.

Among the other events in Tula, I gave a blindfold simultaneous exhibition on 10 boards, the results were +8-1=1.

In Kazan, I gave a simultaneous display on 38 boards, including two blindfold games against strong local players (I won both).

I would like to say some words about this sport - blindfold chess.

The first player in chess history to give a blindfold simul was the famous Philidor in Paris; the three-board simultaneous play was perceived by his contemporaries as a miracle.

Morphy repeated Philidor's feat in Paris, playing at 8 boards simultaneously. This left even greater impression.

Pillsbury subsequently increased the number of boards to 22. Even this was exceeded by a great Czech player Richard Reti and by Alexander Alekhine, who played 32 blindfold games simultaneously, setting a world record.

Of Russian pre-revolutionary masters, Chigorin gave a blindfold simultaneous display in 1885 on 10 boards; he won a beautiful game against P. Arnold, one of St. Petersburg's strongest players at the time.

I also took an interest in blindfold chess once, testing my chess memory. I didn't feel too tired after the game. I liked this sharp and flashy kind of chess performance.

My blindfold simultaneous display against Tula's ten strongest players was my first one. In one game, I gave a complicated, non-obvious mate in six.

During this Tula display, a curious thing happened. On two boards (6th and 7th) I played identically until the moment when I played c3-c4 at one board and castled at the other. When prompted to make my next move, I couldn't remember which move I made on which board.

I had a dilemma: to make an obvious (but probably illegal) move or offer an unfounded piece sacrifice, the acceptance of which would eliminate all doubts. I chose the second option, lost the piece, but won the game!

Here's the list of my blindfold simultaneous displays: 12 boards in Dresden, 10 boards in Leipzig, 12 boards in Warsaw, 15 and then 17 boards in Ekaterinburg in 1917, 10 games in Rostov-on-Don in 1925, and 10 games in Kzyl-Orda in 1926.

The common knowledge is that blindfold chess is unhealthy and damaging for the player's health. I don't agree entirely.

Each chess player has their own limits for blindfold play. The main thing is not to overstep those limits.

For me, blindfold playing wasn't too tiresome. A serious tournament game would sometimes drain much more of my nervous energy than 12-15 blindfold games in a simultaneous display.

What more can be said in defence of blindfold chess in addition to the general considerations of its flashiness? Rubinstein once told me that when he thought about combinations over the board, the pieces were "hindering" him. He probably meant that those pieces were hindering the vision of those same pieces in dynamics, making the variants harder to calculate.

Indeed, calculations require the chess player to be able to unsee what he's seeing, to look past the visual perception of the position on the board.

Isn't it the same thing as blindfold playing? Of course it is, because the player should see something that doesn't exist on the board!

In short, chess is by and large a blindfold game. A chess player operates chess pieces in his mind, plays out combinations and maneuvers that didn't take place yet. So, blindfold playing is good for a sportsman's training and helps him to develop his combinational vision.

The question of blindfold chess' practicability should be discussed thoroughly.

Here's a position from one of my blindfold games I played in the aforementioned Tula simultaneous exhibition. White to play and mate in seven moves.

(No answer is given for the Dus-Chotimirsky's puzzle. I, for one, couldn't solve it, but I'm not a master-strength player.)