"He who hated draws", special feature 2: Ostende and Barmen 1905 report

"He who hated draws", special feature 2: Ostende and Barmen 1905 report

Jan 12, 2012, 8:25 AM |

A very interesting report about the Ostend 1905 tournament from Grigory Ge, Russian actor, playwright and a friend of Mikhail Chigorin. Supplemented by Dawid Janowski's games compiled by Sergey Voronkov and Dmitry Plisetsky.

Ostend, 12 June - 19 July 1905

The Ostend tournament was in the full swing. Famous players from the entire world came, telegrams were being sent everywhere, telling of someone's victory or defeat. The tournament's lineup was brilliant: Chigorin, Maroczy, Janowski, Schlechter, Wolf, Marco, Burn, Blackburne, Tarrasch, Teichmann, Taubenhaus, Marshall, Alapin and the young Leonhardt - his first-ever tournament amongst such greats. If Lasker also competed, the full circle of the chess luminaries would be closed...

I watched our Mikhail Ivanovich [Chigorin]'s progress from London, and my national pride was hurt: every morning, I'd open the newspaper and read, "resigned", "resigned".

I was perplexed. The London players were perplexed as well: Chigorin was once the conqueror of the great Steinitz!

After receiving Mikhail Ivanovich's letter, I couldn't take it anymore: I packed my suitcase and rushed to Dover next day. In Dover, I boarded a steamship and, after two hours, we came to Ostend.

Villa des Etoiles, where most of the players lived, was almost in the city's center. A quarter-hour later, I've been already knocking at Mikhail Ivanovich's door...

Finishing our coffee, we headed to the kursaal. Straight from the hotel, via a sidestreet, we came to the seafront, the world's most beautiful and comfortable. Along the sea, barred from the rising tide by a tall granite dam, an endless, some 4-kilometer long, ribbon of the seafront is headed left, laid with smooth, pretty ornamented tiles. This wide, precious road passes Leopold's palace, the luxurious Royal Palace hotel and enters the neighbouring health resort, Blankenberge. To the right, there's kursaal, covered by white marble, truly Europe's best and richest one.

"You see this white dome at the back of the kursaal", Chigorin pointed. "We're playing under this dome. Wait a bit, I'll send a telegram... What a stupid situation: sending telegrams about my own defeats, daily!"

Chigorin worked for the Novoe Vremya and had to dethrone himself constantly, sending impartial reports about the tournament. The post office was also close, in the kursaal's basement.

I must confess that I was quite anxious. I was going to see a whole group of famous people, the phenomenal players with incredibly sophisticated brains... Really, those who don't know chess can hardly imagine how hard the chess professionals work on development of their art!.. Like a piano player who should constantly exercise to train his fingers, a chess player cannot leave the world of chess moves even for a day, or else his mind would lose his elasticity. Such strain often causes troubles. Many great chess players went mad. It's enough to remember Steinitz, Pillsbury and our Schiffers.

We walked up the wide marble stairs into the vast concert hall. Passing through the second, also vast, correspondence hall, we finally approached our destination. I saw a round, columned room from far away. Between the columns, behind a red rope, they sit - silent, aloof, immersed in their strange, fantastic world...

That's how those luminaries look!.. It cannot be!

They look like average salesmen or shabby clerks from some offices. Badly, even poorly-dressed, in rather bad-looking jackets. And the faces... Nothing professorial, nothing that could indicate painstaking mind-work. Our Mikhail Ivanovich stood out with his refined looks. Further study of those phenomena only confirmed my first impressions.

I come around the tables, placed in a perfect circle beside the columns. On each table, there's a simple wooden chessboard and double chess clocks. At the sides, there are cardboard signs with players' names and home cities. Looks like a museum or menagerie. First, you look at the inscription, and then you look at the animal - how does it look? Or vice versa.

There's not many watchers at the rope. Everyone keeps silence, and all dialogue is in whispers.

Here's Marshall from America, "New York" is written on his carton. An incredibly thin and tall young man with a wavy mane of fair hair. His face is shaven, with a Mephistophelian profile and parrot-like pointed nose. He squints his small, close-positioned eyes through long yellow eyelashes. He's sitting sideways, legs crossed, the upper leg is so high that his sharp knee almost reaches his chin. There's a cigar in his mouth, and a bronze chess Knight on his watch chain; another Knight, smaller, is on his tie pin. He chews his cigar more than actually smoking it, spitting the chewed tobacco aside. Chigorin complained to me that these tobacco leftovers would often fly under his nose...

Marshall plays Janowski, with "Paris" written on his carton. It's a lean, swarthy man, some 30 years old (actually, Janowski was 37 at the time - Sp.), with a small black moustache; dressed better than most others, with white shoes on his feet, he looks self-assured and calm. Immovable, like a statue, he looks at the board through his frameless pince-nez. How Janowski wound up as a Parisian, I fail to understand. He's a great player, sometimes brave up to insolence. He rarely attacks first, but when he sees his opponent's dubious move, he'll quickly find a weak spot, start his attack and finish his opponent off like no-one else.

Here's Maroczy from Hungary. Budapest is on his carton. Thin, with long, combed-back dark hair and big grey eyes on a pale face. His looks, manners, playing style - everything is likeable. Maroczy always creates interesting games and positions. He's a professional chess player, but when he's not playing at tournaments, he's employed as a teacher in his home city. Maroczy is currently considered one of Europe's strongest players.


Against Maroczy, there's a Doctor Tarrasch from Nuernberg. This "Doctor" title always follows Tarrasch - on his carton, on his calling cards, in conversations. Tarrasch is middle-aged, with fawn-coloured hair, grin of yellow, hard teeth, trimmed small beard, wearing a pince-nez. He surely looks like a fop: a white kepi with yellow band, yellow shoes and funny-coloured socks. He's walking, slightly shaking on his legs, with a self-assured and pleased look. Dr. Tarrasch is considered a well-educated player, and at the players' assemblies, he always speaks with much authority.
There's "Wien" written on Schlechter's carton. It's a young, thoughtful man with a really insignificant looks. Grey, dull eyes look tired and sad, straight hair bristle in all directions, he hasn't shaved his beard for three days. His face is gaunt, pale, covered by perspiration... He sits, propping his head on both hands and running his fingers through the hair. The cigar in his mouth isn't burning... He's a great player, perhaps not too talented, but very diligent. I think he'll end up like Steinitz or Schiffers.
The bell signals for a break. The arbiter comes to collect the sealed moves in adjourned games.
During the dinner, the dining room was filled with players. They were actively discussing their current games... I listened to their conversations and was utterly perplexed. Someone who didn't know a thing about chess would think they are in an asylum... Knights, Queens, Bishops and other strange creatures - b5, g4, h7 fly around from table to table like a stupefying nightmare. Everyone remembers the positions of all pieces in all games, predicts further maneuvers and evaluates them. In some cases, someone would produce a pocket chess set with flat pieces inserted into the holes in the leather. They would quickly recreate the position, and the board would go all around the dining hall, starting even more discussions. Those people's visual memory is incredibly sophisticated!..
By the way, let me tell you a curious story about Janowski. This incident cost him 2,500 francs. Janowski was half a point ahead of Maroczy and should have easily won the first prize.
Once, in the morning, after getting a good position against Teichmann and presuming that he'd need a lot of thought to defend, Janowski came out to the terrace to breathe the fresh sea air. His small black eyes were radiant with smugness. He came to me in measured, pompous steps.
"A fine game, Janowski, isn't Teichmann in a tight situation?" I said.
"Well, yes."
He took out a cigarette with a deliberately slow motion, feigning total calmness.
"I like your bravery", I tried to cheer him up. "You never fear your opponents."
Janowski lighted his cigarette and put his hands in pockets.
"Can anyone of them play me at all? I could give all of them 5-game odds..."
"Isn't that too much?"
"What do you say? Is this even a game? Just monkey tricks... Your Chigorin, is he good at all?"
"Well, he's good... really good."
"Ah, stop that! What does he think?.. He thinks, and thinks... What is there to think? He needs to resign, not think! He thinks so much that I can't play him at all, I get headaches from his thinking. That's why I granted him a draw!.. He shouldn't go to tournaments, he should lie down on his stove at home and think."
"He's ill, Janowski, this is really bad... Something similar might happen to you."
"To me? Let's see what happens to me!.. I won't lose a single game in Barmen!"
After some more chatter, Janowski noticed that Teichmann made a move. I followed him and sat down at their table.
Obviosly wishing to show his bravery and confirm my remark, Janowski suddenly attacks the pawn before Teichmann's King with his Knight, takes it, gives away the Knight... and loses the already-won game in several moves. Maroczy won in that round, and they switched places - Maroczy now was half a point ahead. They finished the tournament in that order: Maroczy received 5,000 francs, and Janowski - only 2,500. I can imagine how he cursed me deep in his soul!..
Barmen, 14 - 30 August 1905
Mr. Burn owned a lonely island somewhere in England; this chess maniac, preparing for the Barmen tournament, even offered Alapin, who was renowned for his analysis strength, to go with him to the island and study some complicated variants together. Mr. Burn guaranteed Alapin to pay all fares, provide full board and lodging for a month and even a substantial sum of money... This offer was very tempting, but Alapin, fearing to "go mad", declined it...
In Barmen, I was present only at the very end of the tournament. The small provincial German city was packed with chess players. We all marveled at the miracle of engineering art - the suspension railway (the famous Wuppertal Schwebebahn - Sp.), flying quickly around the city over the people's heads. In the evenings, we gathered in cafes; again, the same chess talks and chess, chess in incredible quantities...
The tournament was held on 120 boards, by categories. The chess players were situated in several huge halls of some club. Some female players were admitted, but they didn't demonstrate many talents.
Chigorin played much better and came sixth. Maroczy occupied the first place, followed by Janowski... After Ostend, the bright sun, sea, rich and luxurious public, Barmen looked grey and unattractive. Again the pairs, reclining on the boards as though hypnotized, quiet whispers, intense faces...
After the tournament, the Germans held a dinner, for which everyone should have paid with their own money though. We gathered in the hall of a restaurant, the walls of which were decorated with various wise sayings, and on the shelves, there were many fancy beer mugs. There were many toasts, and the Germans cried hoch! (Cheers!) so loudly that it was both scary and a bit funny.
A grizzled old man delivered a long and boring speech which he was reading from notebook. I didn't understand a word in German, but I saw by everyone's face that they were equally bored and suddenly screamed at top of my lungs: hoch! Hoch!
The hall erupted. Everyone jumped up and, brandishing their mugs, also screamed Hoch!, much satisfied with the foreigner's expromt and laughing at me sympathetically. The speaker tried to insist on continuing, but they calmed him down.
Everyone left the restaurant quite late. We, Russians, quickly separated from the others. It was raining slightly. The shops were closing their iron curtains. The pavements shined from the rain, playing with the specks of light from street lamps...
Alapin had no umbrella, and so he hid under mine, wearing his short jacked with a coloured handkerchief. Chigorin walked quickly ahead of us. Alapin looked tired, disappointed. His sad grey eyes were locked on Chigorin's back. He was obviously going to say something, something he thought about through the evening, and finally spoke.
"Yes, it's bad, very bad..."
"What's bad?" Chigorin turned.
"Our things look bad, Mikhail Ivanovich..."
"Speak for yourself."
"I do... The game is harder now, much harder. The youth is so strong. We can't catch up."
"You just played poorly, that's the reason of your philosophizing."
"Yes, perhaps you're right..."
We came to a deserted, dark square. The last tram wagon passed by.