An Archaeological Expedition (includes endgame problem)

An Archaeological Expedition (includes endgame problem)

Mar 22, 2011, 6:49 PM |

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house I went.

The recent survey question— "How many chess books do you own?"— sent me on a quest to the home of my youth, my grandmother's house, in search of those books. During my chess hiatus, I moved several times, and quite a few boxes went to her basement for storage and somehow never made it out.

Now, my grandmother is a pack rat. She also sells Avon. This is an unholy alliance. To make matters worse, when her older sister had to move into a nursing home, her younger sister— also a pack rat— moved in with her, along with all of her stuff.

The basement consists of two bedrooms, a recreation room, my grandfather's workshop, a small bathroom, and a laundry room, totalling about 800 square feet. You wouldn't know it to look at it. There is a narrow, three-foot walkway through the rec room leading from the base of the stairs to a short hallway on the opposite side. Both sides of the hallway are also occupied. One of the two bedrooms is completely inaccessible, and the other consists of about three feet by three feet of clear space from the door to a queen size bed, and the rest of the room is full. Even the bathroom is not spared. Only the workshop is sacrosanct, an oasis and shrine to my late grandfather. (When he was living, the house would have never been in its current condition.)

When I say "occupied," I mean it's literally floor-to-ceiling stacks of boxes, furniture, and who-knows-what-else. And it's growing... it has spread upstairs into the living room and the spare bedroom since my previous visit a couple of months ago.

Somewhere in this pile was a box containing my chess books, but determining exactly where required nothing less than a suburban archaeological dig. I set out with the expectation of being disappointed, perhaps gaining a little bit of information on where not to look the next time. I almost immediately found two of them, MCO-13 and Andrew Soltis' Art of Defense in Chess, but I already knew where I had last seen those, and they were the low on my priority list. What I was really after was my endgame books.

Speaking of endgames, the following position is from Bernstein – Dake in the 1936 US Championship Tournament. It is black to move and win, but in the actual game black played an inaccuracy resulting in a draw.

Several hours later, I hadn't found any other chess books. I did, however, come across Douglas Adams' More than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide, along with Bernstein's recording of Puccini's La Bohème and Rossini's La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli, so the effort wasn't completely wasted.

I was just about to give up until another day, but I decided to make a last ditch effort: I stood atop the bedroom dresser and scanned the room from that vantage point. Way down at the bottom of a stack of milk crates filled with pulpy romance novels (my great-aunt's, no doubt), I saw the unmistakable cobalt-blue spine of John Emms' Starting Out: The Sicilian. Ten minutes later the crate yielded its other treasures, including my "three most wanted:" Pandolfini's Endgame Course, Reinfeld on the Endgame in Chess, and the crown jewel, Reuben Fine's Basic Chess Endings. There were also a handful of annotated collections of GM games, books of chess problems, and even a couple of my old scorebooks.

My baby.

The one that got away.

I'll still have to make another trip back, because there are more. One in particular that still eludes me is my first edition of Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld's tactics treatise Winning Chess, complete with the attractive original dust jacket.

That will have to be the subject of a future expedition.