How I Study History
How I Study History (or How I learned to Think for Myself)
About 10 years ago I was lying on my bed playing through some games from Al Horowitz' The Golden Book of Chess. This was a particularly slow and painful process since I hadn't been playing chess for long and could just barely read algebraic notation. This book was written in descriptive notation which I had never seen before. One of the games I played through was No. 111 - Prince Dadian vs. M. Bitcham.
I was charmed by the game and since I had already begun looking into the history of chess and presenting my discoveries, I started investigating this seemingly brilliant prince of chess players. I happened upon one gentleman who had transcribed the moves from a couple dozen games and who allowed me to use his transcription to make a pgn of Dadian's games. I posted this online with the little information I was able to amass from different sources. Among this information was the constant belief that Dadian was a fraud - that he paid masters to lose games in brilliant fashion, or that he created many of the games himself. This belief was so constant that I took it as a truth - never once looking for nor stumbling across any substantiation. I added this little tidbit to my little page.
Prince André Dadian of Mingrelia
About 8 years later I met up with a nice, brilliant researcher from Canada who knew Russian and had access to the John G. White Chess Collection at the Cleveland Library. He was primarily interested in the great Ukrainian-Canadian player, Fedor Bohatirchuk, but because Dadian lived in Kiev for about 20 years at the end of his life, the Prince constituted a side-interest to my acquaintance. We started a collaboration in presenting what we could find out about Dadian. Since his credentials and abilities dwarfed my own, I mostly hung on for the ride.
This universal belief that Dadian was a charlatan hung heavy in the air. We weren't looking to prove or disprove this belief, but simply looking into what we could discover. In fact, it never even occurred to me that there might be some other truth.
Let me interject here that these beliefs didn't appear out of thin air. Accusations and allegations flew wild back in the day, but those were substantially different than the commonly held beliefs of today, and as unprovable back then as they were disprovable. Often accusations themselves are enough to besmirch a reputation regardless of what the truth might be. The intricacies of the Dadian controversy aren't the subject of this article, but it helps to know they exist.
We found out many things about Dadian and the sort of man he was. Above all things he demanded honor while, at times, he didn't always act with complete honor. He had great confidence in the correctness of his own reasoning and was unrelenting when he was convinced he was correct. When we came across an incident, a chess game, where his honor was at stake and his confidence in his own ideas, unique and creative as they were, cause a riff in which he refused to back down, my opinion about Dadian did a 180. I saw a creative, fertile mind at work - one that didn't need to invent games or to pay someone to lose. I also saw a man who savored risk with the complete confidence in his ability to navigate those treacheous waters.
At a party Dadian was throwing in 1903 for the participants in the All-Russian tournament, Dadian & Emmanuel Schiffers were playing a consultation game vs. C.F. Lebedev & V. N. Yurevich.
On move 9, Dadian suggested a move which Schiffers deems ridiculous, sacking a Bishop for seemingly no sound reason. Dadian insisted on the move, angering Schiffers who quit the game. As the game progressed (with Dadian's move intact) The Bishop sack proved to be a time-wasting capture by black and Dadian's idea became more clear. Schiffer's reportedly returned to the game which was soon won by White.
Emanuel Stepanovich Schiffers was the best chess player in Russia from 1870-1880. During that time, he could give Tchigorin a Knight. But Tchigorin's brilliance soon elevated him above Schiffers, after which Schiffers had to settle for being the second-best Russian player. Schiffers is now remembered more for his teaching and publications than for his playing. He edited chess columns in various St. Petersburg newspapers as well as in the magazine Niwa and was both publisher and editor of the chess periodical, Schachmatny Schurnal. His book, Samouchitel shakhmatnoi igry, was published posthumously in 1906. He died the year after this game was played.
White: His Highness Prince Dadian of Mingrelia & E. S. Schiffers
1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. d4 gxf3 6. Qxf3 d5 7. Bxd5 Nf6
Dadian insists on 9. Nc3?!, essentially sacking the Bishop.
the play continues and White wins:
You might say Prince Dadian taught me not to take things at face value and to learn to think on my own.