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Hidden Chess Figures
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Hidden Chess Figures

The_turtlepro
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Magnus Carlsen, Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, etc. We recognize these chess players almost immediately, similar to recognizing our own names. But what about the lesser-known chess players? They never were able to secure their names in our hearts. Many players were at the top level but were never able to make the push into fame. In this blog, we will be looking at a few of these players, and their accomplishments that could have made them note-worthy.


Before we continue the blog, I would like to sincerely thank Chess.com for gifting me Top Blogger! It feels like just yesterday I pressed the "Create Post" button for the first time, and began to write. Although it was an atrocious (and now deleted) blog, it was still fun to write, and now two years later, on November 1st, 2023, I have been awarded this rank. So, thank you so much Chess.com! Now, let us get back to the blog.


Table Of Contents:

Mir Sultan Khan

Tony Miles

Salo Flohr

Albert Einstein


Mir Sultan Khan:

Mir Sultan Khan, the greatest player you never heard of.

Mir Sultan Khan was a chess genius, a natural talent, a unique case in chess.

-Jose Raul Capablanca, about Sultan Khan

Mir Sultan Khan, born on the New Year of 1903, in British India (now Pakistan), was a chess player who would go on to be one of the strongest, but unknown players. There is no doubt that Khan was an amazing player, but his lack of professional experience left him unknown to many today. He was only active for under 5 years, but in that time achieved things many could only dream of.

It all started when he was at the age of only nine, an age considered late by today's standards, but in the early 20th century, it was a good time to start playing. He did not start with normal chess, however, as he was taught Indian Chess, with changes such as No Castling, The king cannot move until check has been given, etc.

A traditional Indian Chess setup

Khan continued to improve his skills at this version of chess, even so much that he was one of the strongest in the section of modern-day Pakistan that he lived in. He later was taught the more well-known version that we play today. He did not start perfect, however. In his first major tournament, he played poorly, tying for last. 

After this disappointing performance, Sultan Khan went on "The Grind". He received assistance in training by players that he previously competed against, before his return back home. Oh, and did I mention he ended up winning the whole British Chess Championship in between those two events?

It turns out this was not just luck. The proof? Well, let us first look at one of his opponents in one of his tournaments from 1930-31. Jose Raul Capablanca is one of the most known players in the chess community. He was even the World Champion for a time. He got this by dethroning Emanuel Lasker, the person with the longest-ever Championship Reign.  As you can see, this is one capable player. So that in itself proves how strong of a player Khan was, to score this game against him.

This is widely considered as Khan's best game that he played. You can see this through key moves he played, such as:
  • 13. Nxg6: This move attacked the rook, which allowed White to take it with either the queen or the knight, as the pawn used to capture the knight is pinned to the rook.
  • 16. Bh6: This move attacked the bishop pinned to the king, allowing White to threaten checkmate.

Sultan Khan continued his reign of dominance, winning major tournaments as the years went on. In 1932 and 1933, Khan took his second and third British Championship victories, along with representing England at three Chess Olympiads, playing board one on all three occasions. After a short 4-year chess career, Khan settled back in his homeland, retiring his time as a professional.

The story of Mir Sultan Khan is sadly not well known. For a while, he was mostly forgotten, but in recent times, many people have been bringing his story back to life, including content creators such as International Master Levy Rozman (GothamChess).

Chess.com has also put effort into making him known, as occasionally for their game of the day, Khan makes an appearance. In the end, Khan's career seemed to have left him with a bitter taste. His son later stated that Sultan Khan wanted his children to have nothing to do with the game, refusing to teach them. It is still a wonder what could he have become if he had stuck with the game of chess.


Tony Miles:

Tony Miles, an English record-breaker.

If you don't want to be stabbed in the back you should be aware of who is standing behind you.

-Tony Miles

Tony Miles is a player whose career started with everything but ended with everything falling apart. But that is for later. Let's first start with his early life. Tony Miles was always interested in chess, pulling wins in tournaments from a young age. His first big stage win, however, was in the 1968 British U14 Championship. Then came the 1970s, one of his best decades in terms of playing strength. 

His first major tournament victory showed that he was not done with the British Youth Championships. In 1971, he took the victory in the U21 Division, the highest division there was. The next few years were quiet, however. But little did others know, Miles was working hard. In fact, he even was in a race. A race to become the first United Kingdom-born Grandmaster.

Tony Miles and his opponent, Raymond Keene both became Grandmasters in the same year. And this race was heated. Let's look at one of the games that Miles played in this battle.

Eventually, after a long amount of effort, in 1976, Tony Miles became the first ever UK-born grandmaster to walk the Earth! One of the cherries on top was fellow chess player, Jim Slater gave Miles £5,000 as a prize for making history. This accomplishment granted Tony Miles recognition.

After this, he kept on improving up to the point where he sometimes played on par with World Champions. Take the 1980 European Team Championship for example. Miles came into this tournament as one of the good, but not top-level players. Which made it extra surprising when he was pitted against Former World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, and played this game:

Now, when was the last time you saw a 2500-rated player play 1...a6 in response to 1.e4? And against a former WORLD CHAMPION nonetheless. This win helped team England take 3rd place overall in this tournament. A couple of years later, in 1982, Miles entered the United Kingdom Championship, where he took his only win for this tournament.

Tony Miles seemed to not be done with breaking records just yet. In 1984, he went for the most simultaneous blindfolded games, in which he broke the European Record with a grand total of 22 games, a record that stood for a total of 25 years.

In 1986, Miles climbed up to a rating of 2610, a rating that landed him in the Top 10 in the whole world, putting him at #9. But this was one of his last highs in chess for a while, as he started to go downhill. For one, his health started to deteriorate. He had back problems, which were severe enough that he had to lay on a stretcher when playing, to help with the pain.

It's Only Me! : Remembering Tony Miles (23-iv-1955 12-xi-2001) - British  Chess News
Tony Miles lying on a stretcher while playing in a tournament.

He also ended up no longer being the strongest player from the UK. Tony Miles entered another race after this. It was against fellow Englishman, GM Nigel Short, and it was to be the first English to qualify for the Candidates Tournament, the tournament that decides who faces the World Champion in a title match. This time, however, it did not go so well, ending with Short qualifying first.

In 1986, Tony Miles had the opportunity to play a match against at-the-time World Champion, Garry Kasparov. Kasparov is known as one of the best players to ever live, often considered to be the best, only in contention with Magnus Carlsen and Bobby Fischer. So it came as no surprise when Miles was defeated, 5.5/0.5. Afterward, Miles said these words:

I thought I was playing the world champion, not some 27-eyed monster who sees everything in all positions.

- Tony Miles

Soon afterward, due to unrelated problems, Tony Miles was hospitalized due to having a mental breakdown about financials regarding Grandmasters Raymond Keene and Nigel Short. After he was released, Miles continued to play chess, but not at the skill level he was once at.

Tony Miles died on November 12th, 2001, due to heart failure. You would expect such an important piece of history to be remembered, but alas, Tony Miles was forgotten by most. It is unfortunate that he did not go down in history for his accomplishments.


Salomon Flohr:

Salomon Flohr, one of the greatest non-champions

Chess, like love, is infectious at any age.

-Salomon Flohr

Salomon "Salo" Flohr was one of the greatest players of his time but lost his greatest opportunity of fame and high success when a war that rocked the whole world occurred. Salo Flohr's life started on a tragic note when both of his parents were killed when he was young. While living in his new home in Czechoslovakia, he developed a keen interest in chess. 

Salo started winning more major tournaments at the end of the 1920s. He also took up a job of being a chess journalist, to make some extra cash. Soon later, in the 1930s, he started to really show off his strength.

For one, in 1933, he won the Czechoslovakia Championship and was deemed the strongest in the country. He played in other major tournaments, such as a tournament in Moscow, where he won this game against future World Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik:

In the years 1931-1933, he also played some very capable opponents. In a 1932-33 tournament, he beat a different player in this blog, Mir Sultan Khan with a score of 3.5/2.5. He tied in a match against future World Champion, Max Euwe, with a score of 8-8. He also tied in a match against Mikhail Botvinnik.

Salo Flohr became quite popular in his country over time. He landed sponsorship deals with multiple companies, including different cigarettes, slippers, etc. He also was quite the player when it came to FIDE Olympiads. In 1930, on board 1, he scored 14.5/17. His board placement stayed steady throughout his next olympiads, always being board one. Every time he competed, he got over 50% of the points he could get. And soon, he would get his biggest opportunity yet.

Salo Flohr during a chess tournament

For around a decade now, Flohr had been the strongest player in Czechoslovakia. Of course, many people and organizations around the globe recognized his strength and power. This obviously included FIDE, who nominated at-the-time World Champion,  Alexander Alekhine for a title match. All seemed great, right? Well, something heartbreaking was about to happen.

World War II. This was a devastating and awful 6 years of the world, with terrible, terrible things happening. And with it around the corner, FIDE had to cancel the match. This was Flohr's greatest opportunity to become a World Champion and go down in the hall of fame. And the chance was gone.

Salo Flohr made it through the war, while still playing chess tournaments. After the war, he was still an incredibly strong player, and still one of the best in the world. In fact, he was one of the first 27 players to receive this title, when FIDE had just invented it. He also qualified for the 1950 Candidates tournament. To top it off, he had had multiple chess openings named after him.

Flohr may have not been able to become the World Champion like he could have, but he still was arguably the 2nd greatest of his time, only behind Alexander Alekhine. 


Albert Einstein:

Albert Einstein, the physicist of Chess.

Chess grips its exponent, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom and independence of even the strongest character cannot remain unaffected.

-Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein: A name that is recognized all around the globe. Albert Einstein is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists to ever roam the earth, making discoveries such as E = mc2, and even winning a Nobel Award for the discovery of the Photoelectric effect.

Einstein was undoubtedly a very smart man. For one thing, it is theorized that his IQ was to be around the 160 mark, putting him in the top 99.997% of all humans. He was also an inventor, creating things such as the Einstein Refrigerator and multiple different theories.

Albert Einstein has two recorded chess games, happening 20 years apart in 1913, and 1933. The first of which was against a man whose name was simply recorded as "Sell". The second game, however, was against somebody that may spark recognition in your brain. The second recorded game he was playing against J. Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the atomic bomb. But let's not get too hasty, first, we will be looking at Einstein Vs Sell.

Whew. This 19-move game could be summarized in many ways, but orderly is not one of them. Both players had chances, including:

  • 12. ...Kh8: Black had the opportunity to take a bishop, but instead moved Kh8, resulting in White gaining an advantage.
  • 14. h4: White had the chance to move its queen into action but passed up the opportunity. Though a minor mistake, it still could have made an impact, granted Black played the right moves.
  • 15. ...Rh8: This was the main turning point of the game, this allowed White to potentially win a queen if it played the correct string of moves.

All in all, this was not an elite-level game, with Einstein playing at a 950-rating level, and Sell with an 850-rated playing level. Einstein showed much aggression in this game, with multiple times he went for unnecessary attacks and sacrifices.

After this game, Einstein had some pretty big things going on in his life. This was one of the peaks of his career, completing the Theory of relativity, winning a Nobel Prize, and other events. In 1933, 20 years after his game against Sell, Einstein sat down to have a game with Oppenheimer. 

We can definitely see the difference in how Einstein played from 1913 to 1933. For one thing, he had an easier time keeping an advantage, finishing with 0 blunders, and never losing grip of his lead. His performance rating also went from 950 against Sell, to 1700 against Oppenheimer.

Einstein lived out the rest of his life without any more recorded games. It is said that Einstein enjoyed playing chess, but what led him to stay away from tournaments, is he disliked profusely the aspect of chess's competitive side. Perhaps if he had stayed on the path of chess, more people would have known more about his hobby of chess.


Outro:

Thank you for reading this blog! It took a lot of research and effort to make, so I appreciate you reading this! My plan is to make a blog a month, so some of this might not be amazing quality, but I promise you the next blogs on my schedule will be top-tier. 

Schedule:

December: Recap of 2023 Chess

January: The Biggest Missed Opportunities In Chess

February: TBD

Seeya next blog!