Thursday, March 09, 2006

(159) Spotting the Easter continuations and comebacks

On Good Friday 1999 I was competing in the first round of the Redbus invitational chess knockout tournament in Southend.
I noticed several copies of the April 1999 edition of The British Chess Magazine on the controller’s desk.
He told me that they were being given away by the Managing Editor, Grandmaster Murray Chandler, who was also playing in the event.
I took one.

On page 199 there is a feature entitled Spot The Continuation.
Readers are presented with nine diagrams taken from actual chess games and in each case are challenged to find the clever moves by which one of the players went on to win.

The comments were:

Nine superb tactical finishes to test your calculation skills. As a hint for diagram one, can you find the elegant mate in three that Black missed?

The first of these was taken from the game Daly Vs Rochev. It was played during an event held in the Irish town of Bunratty in early 1999.

This is the starting position given in the magazine:

Black played the prosaic move 1… Bishop from e7 to h4, which certainly wins. But he could have immediately forced an extraordinary checkmate, featuring the sacrifice of his Queen, in just three more moves!

The sequence is: 1… N(h5)-g3 check 2 K(h1)-g1 2… Q(h3)-g2 !! check 3 R(f2)xg2 3... N(f4)-h3 checkmate

Here is that sequence executed move by move.

I apologise that in all six diagrams from this game I have stupidly omitted a white bishop from c3.

At 8.12 p.m. on April 4th 1999, Easter Sunday, I was flicking across the TV channels in my hotel room when I spotted a scene of John Travolta being knocked down in the street by a bright light in the sky.

I deduced that this must be the film Phenomenon, which I had heard a little about at the time of its release in 1996.

I saw that he gets to his feet and walks into a nearby bar to tell friends of his experience.

Whilst doing so he, in an almost absent-minded manner, beats Robert Duvall at chess by concluding a game for Duvall´s opponent… and by executing the identical three move checkmating sequence that could have occurred in Daly Vs Rochev, Bunratty 1999!
The main differences were that it was now a white Bishop, not a Pawn, at h2 and white also has a Knight at e3 covering g2 (nevertheless Duvall still chooses to capture the black Queen with the Rook from f2, just as would have had to happen had Rochev forced mate).

See it all here -

I was unable to discover who the chess advisor was on the film.

I wrote a letter to The British Chess Magazine about the Travolta coincidence. It was published in their May 1999 edition, with the heading
"It´s life, Jim..."
and Chandler responding that this type of "smothered" mate is known, citing two examples.

But in the first the finish was very different and in the other, from a game Amateur Vs Blackburne, Norwich 1871 (!) (other sources say 1872), just the last two moves of the Phenomenon checkmating sequence are given.

The fact that two master players such as Daly and Rochev could overlook this finale, plus the hint supplied in the magazine, are in themselves testament to how rare it must be.
Also in composed chess problems of the "Force checkmate in a few moves" variety, it is almost always white who is to play and win.
But in not only the Daly Vs Rochev game but also in the game of Blackburne and that concluded by Travolta it is black who gets the chance to deliver the spectacular mate.

The winning sequence of Daly Vs Rochev was the only one of the nine listed in the Spot The Continuation article that was not actually executed.

It was the only continuation that went unspotted.

(Curiously, when in 2003 I gave Yuri Rochev a copy of Coincidences, he said that he had noted the possibility of this checkmate earlier in the game, but had then forgotten about it when the opportunity for the more orthodox win with 1... Bh4 presented itself!)

Joseph Blackburne died in the 1920s. He was regarded as a player of de facto Grandmaster status, before the formal introduction of the title in the 1950s.

He, like me, resided for a few years in Hastings.

Travolta’s character, George Malley, has just left, and then walks back into, his thirty-seventh birthday party. Not only is he transformed from a chess beginner to a very strong player, but he also begins to display other prodigious feats of intelligence, and even psychokinetic powers.
Later it is disputed that these are the products of a genuine encounter, because it is discovered he has a brain tumour that may have been responsible for the illusion of a light in the sky and also his falling to the ground.
It is simultaneously massively expanding his brain’s functioning, whilst progressively killing him.
But I do not see how even this could explain the psychokinetic powers.

The film ends, as it began, with his friends throwing a birthday party for him; his thirty-eighth, even though he was dead.

The British Chess Magazine Spot The Continuation article is the page before one (naturally, on page 200) entitled Another day in paradise, by Murray Chandler himself.
It is a report on the 1999 Bermuda Beach International Chess Tournament, in which Chandler had participated.

He too was then thirty-eight.

My only possible UFO experience had been when I had competed in that same event the previous year and something happened which prompted me to write to the director of the airport:

February 13th 1998
Dear Sir,
I feel that I should report an incident that occurred on February 10th 1998 as I approached Bermuda Airport in a vehicle, accompanied by Mr Sean Ingham and his wife Ruth.
At 6.45 p.m. they were driving me to the airport to catch the 8.15 flight to London. We were only a few minutes away when we all three spotted two strange lights in the sky. They were travelling close together, extremely fast and on an upward trajectory into a bank of dark clouds. They were clearly visible for more than thirty seconds. They were giving off a kind of "flare" effect that none of us had ever seen before from an aircraft. The one on the left, from where we saw them, entered the clouds first and continued to still emit a visible flare for some moments. Then the other entered the same cloud near to it.
We were all at a loss.
In view of its proximity to the airport it is impossible for me to believe that we were the only witnesses to this extraordinary event. As a matter of security interest, if no more, I felt it encumbent upon me to report it to you, and I should be most grateful for your interpretation of what we saw, and whether you have had any other reported sightings of the same thing.
Yours Sincerely,

James Plaskett.
The director, Lester Nelson, thanked me for drawing his attention to this, but said that we were the only people who had seen it.
Tower had reported nothing unusual and there were no aircraft, commercial, civil or military, in flight at that time.

An unidentified flying object does not have to be of extraterrestrial origin.

In the mid 1990s two pilots near Manchester airport were praised for their courage in reporting a large wedge-shaped object which shot past them at high speed and which was not picked up by ground radar.

It turned out that this was the American ´Stealth´ bomber being secretly tested.

I suspect that we glimpsed some other covert military activity, but I would love to know precisely what.

I mentioned the Travolta coincidence to several people, including the chess correspondent of The Scotsman, John Henderson, when he rang on April 7th 1999 to discuss my (joint) victory in the Redbus knockout event.

He told me that the sponsor wanted now to arrange a play off between myself and Bogdan Lalic. Many people were unhappy with the quite unexpected offer made by arbiter Jack Spiegel for us to split the title after our two game match was drawn.
(Oddly enough, after we had drawn the first game I spoke to my wife by phone and she said that the night before she had dreamt that Lalic and I split the title, even though, whilst dreaming, she had been puzzled as to how that would be possible in a knockout tournament.)

Henderson responded that it was quaint that I should have mentioned the coincidence of chess in that film because that very morning he had completed a piece on the sequence of chess moves that appears in the James Bond film From Russia With Love.
This appeared in The Scotsman of April 17th 2009.

The moves had been taken from the celebrated victory of Boris Spassky over David Bronstein in the 1960 USSR championship.
His article begins "We’ve been expecting you Mr Bond."

Travolta’s acting career had undergone a renaissance in the 1990s, when Quentin Tarantino cast him as a gangster in Pulp Fiction.

Prior to that, following his sensational 1978 debut in Saturday Night Fever, his star had rather waned.

In the late 1970s I sometimes had my leg pulled for looking a bit like John Travolta.
In November 1999 Nigel Povah joked to me about that erstwhile similarity and Travolta’s comeback, apropos my, somewhat revived, chess career.

On the evening of April 7th 1999, Hugo Dunn-Meynell, the editor of Food and Wine Review, took my family out to dinner at Rosen´s restaurant.

I made a reference to Easter and he said that he had forgotten when exactly it was this year. He then recalled that it had fallen on his seventy-third birthday, April 4th, the previous Sunday.

This, he said, was only the third time in his life that Easter had fallen on his birthday.

Murray Chandler was also born on April 4th, of 1960, just sixteen days after me. (That year Easter fell on April 17th.)

So the day on which I saw Phenomenon, Easter Sunday, was also his birthday; his thirty-ninth.

When I met Sean Ingham at his Bermudian office in 1998 he had described the bonanza of crab accumulated in his large traps as so appetising for a giant octopus that it must have been "like Christmas, Easter and a birthday rolled into one!"

Chandler’s piece on the Bermudian tournament emphasised that he, at thirty-eight, was like a "semi-retired and world-weary professor" who had been brought in to compete with a bunch of kids, for almost all of the other players were much younger.

On April 9th I spoke with the Managing Director of Redbus, Clifford Stanford
and he affirmed that there had been some criticism about the termination of the tournament, and that he would therefore be arranging a play off between Lalic and myself.
This became scheduled for late July, and I succeeded in winning it.

In the May edition of The British Chess Magazine there was also a report on the Redbus event including a mention of the intended play off.

And there was the welcome announcement that Chandler was giving up his position as Managing Editor because he (once ranked in the world top twenty) wanted to resume a playing career.

In his report on the Bermuda event from the previous BCM he noted that: being so tournament-rusty, my own play was patchy at the start, but by the end I was enjoying the chess, and the company, enormously.

It seems that it was competing there that revivified him back into top chess once more. In December 1999, he was to be one of the outstanding performers for England at the European Team Championships.

My invitation to compete in the Southend event had arrived at the beginning of the year with an accompanying company profile stating how Cliff Stanford, the founder of Demon Internet, had sold the company off at enormous profit, and had now set up Redbus as, essentially, a venture capital organisation. Cliff said that he preferred to think of himself as an "adventure capitalist."

So I thought of Redbus for the financing of my expedition to locate the giant octopus off the Bermuda coast.

During our aforementioned conversation of April 9th 1999, I gave him an outline of the project, and we met on April 28th to discuss it.
This resulted on May 10th, in my receiving the good news that he would advance some of his own money to support the venture.

In late 1998, Sean Ingham revealed to me that he was planning to go back into crab fishing off the Bermuda coast, after an absence of over a decade.
... ... ...
After the publication of Coincidences some people were not so struck by the claimed similarity between myself and Seiffert in the photographs which appear accompanying point (2) of the Narrative, Epilogues and Appendices Entry which here follows Entry 22.
As people in 1988 had actually gasped at the likeness, I felt it encumbent upon me to seek better photos of myself from that period to make it clearer.

In this hope, in 2001 I contacted Francis Bowers, a Lincolnshire chess supplier, and asked if he could locate a copy of a chess magazine from early 1987 which I knew contained a picture of myself.
In September 2001 this arrived in the post, but it turned out that he had made an error.

Rather than sending me the issue containing a picture of myself (June 1987) he had in fact sent me one of February 1987 which contained a picture of Bobby Fischer.

This was in an article by GM Eddie Gufeld in which he reminisced about the Fischer he knew. He mentioned a joke that he and other GMs had played on Fischer in 1967 where Gufeld had constructed a very tricky position and all of the GMs had pretended that they had solved it easily.
Fischer puzzled over it for several minutes before spotting the win.

The win goes 1 Qf5+ g6 2 Qf6 and black is defenceless against a smothered queen sacrifice mate, not unlike the one in Phenomenon, with 3 Qg7+! Rxg7 4 Nf6 mate.

Later we located the picture of me in another mag, although the likeness with Seiffert is not so striking here too.

Here it is -

The papers reported another facial similarity, too -

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