Mir Sultan Khan. 'Perhaps the greatest natural player of modern times'.

Mir Sultan Khan. 'Perhaps the greatest natural player of modern times'.

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O.K. So now I am doing requests! A while ago I had intended to follow up my posts on Atkins and Michell with some stuff on Thomas, Yates, Sultan Khan and Alexander, but never got round to starting!

Since MiddlegamerUmesh asked for something On Sultan Khan, described by Hooper and Whyld as 'Perhaps the greatest natural player of modern times' in The Oxford Companion to Chess, I have quickly ( less than 10 hours is quick for me!) thrown together a couple of  the bits and pieces that I have on him and a few games.

There is enough biographical data on him around the internet for anyone interested to  learn more.

First of all a youtube link - yes really. Many years ago now, there was a U.K. television programme 'The Sultan of Chess'. It was great stuff, and has recently resurfaced on the following link. 

I have a special affection for it, because it features my dear friend Rritson.

Mir Sultan Khan was born in a part of the Punjab that is now in Pakistan, I believe, in 1905. Coles, who knew Sultan Khan personally, gives his birthplace as Mittha Tawan in the Sarguda district. 

Learning the Indian form ofchess from his father, by the age of 21 he was seen as the best player in the Punjab. At this point the wealthy chess patron Sir Umar Hayat Khan took him into his household, and saw to it that he learned the Western form of the game. Early in 1929, as related by Ritson in the documentary, Sir Umar came to England, bringing Sultan Khan and Miss Fatima - his female chess protege with him, which allowed Sultan Khan to compete in the west.


Soon after his arrival we get the earliest of  his games to be played in the west, in a London simultaneous exhibition by the Great Capablanca.

Shortly afterwards he played a training match with B.E.Siegheim, one time South Africa Champion, who seems to have lived a fascinating life. 

In his memoirs published in Barry Wood's 'Chess', and later put out in book form by Arthur Hills, William Winter gives the following.



As the details of his short careeer can easily be found in places like wikipedia and, I will not repeat them here, ( there is some great stuff on Winter's site here:- for example)  and move on to some chess. His finest moment was the following game, which inspired Capablanca to describe him as 'a genius'. Since it has, in my view, never been properly annotated, I have decided to devote the little time that I have for putting together notes, to this game, and then add a selection of others without notes. Capablanca did not lose very often, and games where his is simply outplayed are rare indeed. I think it is a truly brilliant game, and begs the question of  just how good Mir Sultan Khan could have been, or become, had circumstances been different.

A pgn file of some of his games can be found here:- 

A game from Sultan Khan's first tournament in the West - he didn't do well, but it was an invaluable learning experience.

A game that helped him on the way to his  first British Championship - in the absence of Yates and Thomas it is true - but no mean achievement for a newcomer!

One from his first International Tournament.

nullThe two players with Alekhine and Maroczy at London in 1932.

As someone from a constituent of 'The British Empire' which was onder British rule at the time, Sultan Khan was qualified to represent 'England', as a couple Indian cricketers of the time did, or 'The British Empire Team' at the Chess Olympiads.

Shortly afterwards he took part in an international event in Liege. Two games are of particular interest to me.

I have mentioned elsewhere that I think players of exceptional natural talent are just naturally strong in the endgame. In this next game Sultan Khan pulled off a mirace! Two Pawns down in an ending isn't great. Two Pawns down in an endgame against Rubinstein!!?? 

The story, emanating from Tartakower, I think, is that Frank Marshall was not exactly sober during the following game!

A good example of 'sober defence'!

Tartakower won that tournament crushingly - by a 2 point margin over a strong field, and has the following to say in his Best Games 1905-1930, quoting the Belgian journalist Edmond Lancel:-

' The Victor, grand-master Tartakower, has shown an indisputable superiority over the other participants.......If we cast an eye over the final placings, it seems that the victor belongs to a is only a step from this to raise the question of a match for the world championship between Alekhine and Tartakower'. Shortly after Liege, Tartakower and Sultan Khan met in a match for the best of 12 games - Sultan Khan won by 4 wins to 3, with 5 draws. In the following game Sultan Khan produced a text book endgame against one of the aknowledged masters of endgame play.

Sultan Khan's first meeting with the World Champion. Tartakower and Du Mont - in 500 Master Games - say ' The manner in which Black wards off his great opponent's furious onslaught is a model of coolness and sagacity.'

In this Olympiad Sultan Khan crushed two of the greats.

A photograph from 1932 with Sultan Khan and the remarkable T.H.Tylor.

nullThe story goes that the following game cost Alekhine a tidy sum of money - Sultan Khan and Buerger took on Flohr and Landau in a pair of matches, with the total of the two matches to decide the winners. Although Sultan Khan lost by the odd game, his partner, Buerger, won by a big enough margin to decide the contest, and cost Alekhine his bet on Flohr and landau.

In this final game Sultan Khan - perhaps unknowingly - is met by an opening idea later credited to Keres. a nice positional exchange sacrifice eventually helps him to victory.