Chess in the Wild, Part 2

May 3, 2010, 1:01 PM |

   Before proceeding with the Traxler Defense in any detail, let's examine the man behind the opening, Karel Traxler.  Unfortunately, I can't say I know a lot about him.

     Traxler was born January 17, 1866 in Vlachově Březi, a town in the province of Prachatice in South Bohemia. While studying for the priesthood in Budějovice, he founded a chess club there in 1885 and edited a chess column in the local paper.  As a parish priest, he served in several locales, one of which was at the Church of Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Veselí nad Lužnicí.  He founded a chess club there which hosted the South Bohemian Chess Congress in 1898, 1901 and 1902.  Finally, he was tranferred to Dubu u Vodňan (seeming Vodňany) where he stayed until his death on May 15, 1936. Although he didn't play in very many, he is known to have won a prize in a tournament as early as 1886, and he shared second place in Prague 1891. He won first prize in the chess congress at Veseli in 1902.  Karel Traxler was best known, however, as a probleminst. He and his brother-in-Law, Jan Kotrc, another chess problemist, were considered the two leading Bohemian chess players until Oldrich Duras came along.
     I've never seen it mentioned before, but Traxler was apparently a very strong blindfold player. According to the Columbia Chess Chronicle in 1887
Foreign News
— A blindfold tournament was held in connection with the Bohemian Chess Congress at Pilsen.  There were four contestants, Mr. C. Traxler winning the first prize.

     Here is Traxler's sparkling win against 20 the year old future grandmaster, Duras in the 1902 Veseli tournament:


  I believe that most chess enthusiasts enjoy solving chess puzzles, but only a select group are truly interested in chess problems. Now chess problems, often referred to as compositions, differ somewhat from chess puzzles.  Puzzles generally require the solver to either gain some advantage, to save a seemingly lost position or to simply find a "mate in x moves," usually in a realistic or actual setting with the practical value of acheiving some stated goal as the only objective. A chess problem doesn't usually concern itself with a realistic setting, nor is the actual solution in itself the sole, and sometimes not even the primary, consideration for the solver or the composer.  Problems are usually judged, not just on the complexity, cleverness and economy of the composition, but in the adherence to certain objective criteria and on the presence of a certain subjective beauty or aesthetic value. 
     Karel Traxler seems to have been a first-rate composer, though possibly not on par with the highest echelon, often winning or placing highly in minor tourneys or in the second tier of major tourneys.  Below I've culled some problems from different sources in a sort of Traxler Problem Patchwork Sampler... [ At the end of this series, I'll devote an entire entry or two to the presentation of a large Quilt of Traxler Compositions.]

N.B. The solution may contain only the "key move."

This problem won 2nd prize in the "Leisure Hour"  Problem Tourney of 1900.
[Leisure Hour was an illustrated monthly magazine published in London]


This problem won 1st prize in the Narodni Listy Problem Tourney, 1921.
[Narodni Listy is a Croatian weekly newspaper]



This problem won 1st Honorable Mention in the Swedish Aftonbladet Problem Tourney 1899. [Aftonbladet was/is a Swedish tabloid-style newspaper]


     An unlikely source, a magazine called Our Young People [ a monthly magazine, published in Wisconsin, with articles of general interest to Catholics, put out by the St. John's Institute for Deaf-Mutes], in 1904 contained this equally unlikely tournament game played by Traxler in which his opponent mirrored his every single move and was finally mated:

                                  Value of First Move Demonstrated


Chess at Prague
     As mentioned earlier, Traxler's brother-in-law was Jan Kotrc, another well-known problemist. Several games between the two problemist are preserved. This one, a particularly beautifully played draw took place  in Prague and was published in New Zealand's Otaga Witness on Jan. 30, 1901:


I had mentioned in the first article of this series my intuitive belief that the "P" found in "P. K. Traxler," as his name is often given, refers to "Pater," Latin for "Father" since Traxler was a priest, and not Peter as the OCC claims.  Now, to further complicate the issue, I've come across several references, not to "Peter Karel Traxler," but to "Karel Peter Traxler." Yet, I also came across this authoritative reference in Johann Berger's 1889 Schach-jahrbuch under the section called Addresses and Biographies of Chess Players:
Traxler, Pater Karl, Theologe, in Vlachobfezi, früher in Hammer, Wällisch-Birken und Muttersdorf; starker Spieler, auch Blindlings Spieler (4 P.); Hauptmitarbeiter der Sz. Öeske listy äachov6; £TPrag 86 (Gruppent.) I, 91 II u. UI get; P Tidkr. f. Skak. 97 I; S im Tabor 86.