The Prisoner's Game

Sep 4, 2010, 6:55 PM |

The Mannheim Congress 1914

The Mannheim Congress was a series of chess tournaments that were taking place in Germany when World War I broke out. This was the 19th congress of the German Chess Federation. It began on July 20 and was stopped on August.1.   Alekhine, with a score of 9.5-1.5,  won first place for a prize of 2000 German marks ( about $500), followed by Vidmar and Spielmann. In addition there were Marshall, Reti, Janowski, Tarrasch, Mieses, Oldrich Duras, Tartakover, Bogoljubow, Alexander Flamberg, Boris Malyutin, Ilya Rabinovich, Alexy Selesniev, and Samuil Weinstein. Weinstein later became the editor of the Soviet Russian chess magazine Shakhmatny Listok as well as a civilian casualty of the German bombardment of Leningrad during World War II.  Alexander Flamberg, who had some remarkable success in Russia prior to 1914, died in 1926 at age 46 in his native town of Warsaw. Malyutin simply disappeared from the chess scene after about 1917. The others became more or less famous in international competition. (The least known player, Selesniev, played with mediocre success until after WWII.)
Only 11 of the scheduled 17 rounds were played. Frank Marshall escaped to Amsterdam. His baggage showed up in his New York office years later with all of the contents still intact. The Russian chess masters found themselves all under arrest and the prize fund was cut in half. Alekhine was held in a German police station, then a military prison. He feigned insanity and the Germans certified him as medically unfit for military service, releasing him after 6 weeks in exchange for a German internee. Alekhine, who served in the Russian Red Cross from 1915-16, was captured by the Austrians and was hospitalized in Tarnapol for a spinal injury. While hospitalized where he further developed his blindfold skills by playing local chess players sans voir. The Russian government decorated him for bravery. (In 1918 he was a criminal investigator in Moscow and was imprisoned in the death cell at Odessa as a spy in 1919). Tarrasch learned that his son was already killed in action. Bogoljubow married and remained in Germany after the war.

Although Alekhine learned to play blindfold chess at age 10 (he was 8 when he learned to play chess) after learning of Pillsbury's world-record performance of 22 boards in which (according to Alekhine himself, though no  "Alekhine" playing in the simul appears on the list of competitors -it's possible that his brother played under a different name, or Alekhine is confusing that simul with another in which his brother played) Alekhine's older brother participated and managed to draw his game. Alekhine himself wrote, "My first serious blindfold games were played soon after the Mannheim International Tournament of 1914.  As is well known, this trournament was interrupted during the first days of the war and I, together with other Russian participants of the congress, found myself interned at Rastatt Prison. With me there were Bogoljubow, Romanovsky, Bohatyrchuk, Ilya Rabinovich, Weinstein and others.  We had nothing else to do but to while away our free time by playing chess.  Since, however, we did not have boards at our disposal, we had to resort to playing blindfold.  That way I played many games with Bogoljubow and others; some of these were later published in the press." (translation by Buschke, excerpted from Blindfold Chess by Eliot Hearst and John Knott, 2008)

This game was played blindfold, between Efim Bogoljubow and Alexander Alekhine while imprisoned following the disruption of the Mannheim Congress in 1914.