Chess,news,music,sex,nonsense (Yes!)

 

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TODAY’S CHESS NEWS AROUND THE WORLD!

(mostly)

 


GREAT LASKER PICTURES!!

Quienes

I came across these photos of Emanuel Lasker on the great Blog ”Quienes jugaron ajedrez”  Some I had seen before, but most were completely new to me.  ENJOY!  I suggest you take a look at the blog and investigate….


CHESS PUB IN BRAZIL!

ChessBrazil1

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I like to post material about chess cafes and pubs (and disco’s) that use the name or theme or whatever with ‘CHESS’.  Today it is the turn of a popular site in Brazil.  WEBSITE  INSTAGRAM  FACEBOOK.

 

Chess, news, tidbits and potpourri

(Click on images to get whole story!)

PART 1: ALEKHINE’S DEATH

Today (March 23) marks the 70th anniversary of the death of the legendary Alexander Alekhine, perhaps the greatest player of all time.  I reproduce here the article that was published for the first time here 7 years ago.

 

PART 1: ALEKHINE’S DEATH: A NEW PERSPECTIVE

PROLOGUE

This article is not an investigation into the death of Alexander Alekhine on that fateful Saturday evening in Estoril . This article lacks the rigour of such an official investigation. However, this article is the result of much investigation into the death of Alexander Alekhine. Careful, painstaking and exhaustive investigative work over the past 20 years.

I don’t present a conclusion as much as I simply present where I am at this very moment in this investigative work. Given the lack of information of what really happened on that evening of 23rd of March, and especially the lack of clarity of how the Portuguese authorities proceeded in the days immediately following the champion’s death, I am the first to recognize that any new information that might come to light in the future on this subject might change my entire perspective and opinion.

Finally, this article is a personal opinion. I have tried to remain loyal to the known facts, but I recognize that my interpretations of these same facts may be controversial.

INTRODUCTION

@B

In London, on the evening of the Saturday 23rd of March 1946, the British Chess Federation (BCF) held an extraordinary reunion where, after much heated debate, it was decided to go ahead and organize (in England, probably Nottingham) a World Title match between the title holder, Alexander Alekhine, and the young Soviet superstar, and heir apparent, Mikhail Botvinnik. A 10,000 dollar purse was guaranteed by the Moscow Chess Club.


Immediately after this historic decision was taken, the BCF sent a telegram to Alexander Alekhine, informing him of the good news. It was expected that Alekhine, who was staying in room 43 of the Parque Hotel in Estoril, Portugal, would receive the telegram the very next day (Sunday), and in all likelyhood leave for England soon afterwards.

By the time the telegram reached its destination, however, Alekhine was already dead: the World Chess Champion had unexpectedly died within hours of the telegram being sent! Just when his career was about to be resurrected from the ashes of World War II, Alekhine’s life vanished in a moment as brief as a flick of the eye.

Coincidence or not, Alekhine’s sudden demise has been the source of much speculation from chess players through out the world for the past 70 years, and has given rise to numerous conspiracy theories.

 

The death of World Champion Alexander Alekhine is not something that will likely go away any time soon. There are unanswered questions. There are many elements of a good mystery. (Some one in France has recently tried to create a theatrical piece based on it!) I personally have been interested in the circumstances surrounding his death ever since I first moved to Portugal some 20 years ago, from when I first started to hear about the doubts connected with the official version of Alekhine’s death.

Since that time I think that I have read most of the known literature on the subject, in the portuguese, spanish, french and english languages. I have spoken with numerous people in the chess community, both here and abroad, trying to gain some historical insight and political perspective . The internet has facilitated much of this work in recent years, especially with the boom of blogs; (there are some amazing blogs out there!) I have done a lot of research on related subjects, as well.

I have come to realize that if we only look as curious chessplayers at what happened to Alekhine in Portugal in 1946, then we will be missing a good part of what really happened. We should not try to separate his death from the social context of the time when it occurred, and for this reason I think it is insightful to understand some important aspects of Portuguese society that existed back then in 1946.

 

 

The Portuguese are a great people with a rich culture and a long, colourful history, and they have made enormous contributions to modern civilization. But between 1933 and 1974 a very repressive dictatorship installed itself in power in Portugal. The people were deprived of the basic democratic rights and freedoms that we today consider essential.

The government’s principal mechanism for maintaining control of the country was PIDE (Policia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado) which should be considered a combination of secret police, intelligence service and propaganda organization. It was tremendously effective in repression, intimidation, spreading fear and terror. Torture and arbitrary arrest were common. As an intelligence service it was one of the very best in the world. Israel later modeled its own services after it.

PIDE controlled every aspect of Portuguese society and answered only to Salazar. All opposition to the regime was eliminated. Dissidents were swiftly punished. All foreigners were watched, and counter-espionage was a state priority. There was total censorship of the press and radio. Mail was routinely opened, telephone calls recorded, and people watched 24 hours a day.

An extensive network of informers and infiltrators was developed. A climate of fear and distrust was encouraged. PIDE officials wielded enormous power, and could arbitrarily arrest any person for up to 3 months without that person having to be brought before a judge and charged with something. And there were easy ways to extend detention for another 3 months .

Compared with other examples of dictatorships, however, Portugal comes out looking good. There were fewer murders and less brutality than the Franco dictatorship next door. The people who became members of PIDE were intensely patriotic, religious and believed zealously in the correctness of what they were doing. And this probably goes a long way to explain why Salazar’s dictatorship lasted so long as it did : PIDE became an integral part of the very fabric of the Portuguese way of life.

 All of this should be kept in mind when we consider the circumstances surrounding the death of Alexander Alekhine. Many chess historians have not done so , and as a result they have failed to properly understand important aspects of Alekhine’s death.

THE DEATH OF ALEKHINE’S DEATH:

THE ‘OFFICIAL’ VERSION

 

Remarkably, there is not a lot publicly known about the exact circumstances surrounding Alekhine’s death, even 70 years later.

The official account (limited to Luis Lupi’s letter of March 24 to the Associated Press in London, England, its photos, as well as the autopsy on the 27th ,assisted by Dr. Antonio J. Ferreira) can not be accused of being overly-informative and ingeneral seem to raise more questions than answers. The autopsy raises questions of competence.

Furthermore,the published photos, as we shall soon see, have raised doubts as to their overall credibility.

Finally, there are no witnesses mentioned anywhere, though Francisco Lupi (the step son of Luis Lupi, Portuguese chess champion and close personal friend of Alekhine) later provided some valuable background information both to Alekhine’s last days as well as to the scene in room 43 on the morning of the 24th when the photos were taken.

This pervasive lack of precise and accurate information gives the impression of an incomplete story surrounding the death of Alekhine, and together with the unusual timing of his death, has naturally led to speculation and rumour. Conspiracy theories have arisen, some claiming that Alekhine was murdered by the Russians. Others say it was the French or the perhaps even the Portuguese themselves. Still others say that Alekhine committed suicide!

Much of what has been written about this in books and on the internet is just pure nonsense and does not even respect precise dates and names. Much is romanticized. Often one writer takes what another has put forward as a theory and then treats it as proven fact. Or another writer will simply spice up one aspect of the story and invent new facts. Still others will copy and quote incorrectly the work of others. And the apparent contradictions in the official story just serve to fan these flames.

Having said all of this, however, we must stay focused on the official version put forward. Despite its defects, this version remains the one source of legitimate information on the death of Alexander Alekhine.

This consists primarily of Luis Lupi’s letter (A) to London on the 24th and the autopsy (B) of the 27th assisted by Antonio J. Ferreira :

A: On 24 March 1946 the following letter (together with the photos of the body of Alekhine, given below ) was sent by Luis C. Lupi to Robert Bunnelle of the Associated Press in London:

 

‘Dear Bunnelle,

Herewith please find four (4) negatives and three prints of EXCLUSIVE ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOS taken by me. They are ALEXANDER ALEKHINE last photographs. I took these pixs with a small camera that I borrowed in the Hotel Park in Estoril where I rushed to cover the Alekhine death story – without my own camera! This is why they are not so good.

Pixs show ALEKHINE lying dead in his hotel room just as he was found in the morning of 24/3, by one hotel waiter. He must have died the night before (23/3) at about eleven p.m. as, according to the porter of the hotel, the Chess Champion went in about 23.40 – and had ordered his dinner to his room as usual.

He seemed to be sleeping so calm and natural he looked. Doctors said he must have died suddenly just when he was beginning to eat. On his right hand he still held a beefsteak – He ate with his hands and used knife and fork only when he ate in public…

The giant of Chess – dead, resembled a fallen oak tree. In his face he kept an expression of deep thought.

For captions suggest you use (if you will use these gruesome pixs…) and rewrite my messages of 23/3 slugged 01230 and 02345. Will you have a couple of prints on these negatives (a couple of each, please)? and oblige

Yours sincerely, Luís C Lupi.’

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B: Apparently a death certificate from the 24th had been signed by Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira, (of whom I will discuss in more detail later in this article) but I have been unable to find any physical traces of this document, either in books or on the internet. However, the autopsy was performed in the Departamento de Medicina Legal na Escola Medica da Universidade de Lisboa on the 27th of March, 3 days after Alekhine’s death, in the presence of the same Dr. Antonio.J. Ferreira.

 

A photo of the obit from this autopsy (on the 27th of March) can be found in Dagoberto L.Markl’s remarkable book ”Xeque-mate no Estoril; A morte de Alekhine”, (2001).

The obit is in the upper left hand corner. Luis Lupi’s letter is below it. Together with the photos taken in Room 43 of the Parque Hotel, they are the official story of the death of the champion.

The obit was signed by Dr. Asdrubal d’Aguiar (1883-1961), a well respected doctor at the University, and an assistant Maria Figueiredo, though about the only thing that I can make out from the photo with any clarity is the date! Reliable sources say that the autopsy report indicated that death was due to asphyxia. It also noted signs of arteriosclerosis, cronic gastritis and duodenitis.

I should also add that later, specifically addressing the mounting conspiracy theories surrounding Alekhine’s death, Dr. Antonio J. Ferreira clarified his position in a short letter to Alekhine’s son , once again ruling out any foul play:

”I was present at Alexander Alekhine’s autopsy which took place in the Department of Legal Medicine, of the Medical School of the University of Lisbon. Alekhine had been found dead in his room in a Estoril hotel under conditions that were regarded as suspicious and indicated the need of an autopsy to ascertain the cause of death. The autopsy revealed that Alekhine’s cause of death of [sic] asphyxia due to a piece of meat, obviously part of a meal, which lodged itself in the larynx. There was no evidence whatsoever that foul play had taken place, neither suicide nor homicide. There were no other diseases to which his sudden and unexpected death could be attributed. Antonio J. Ferreira, M.D.” (September 1967)

There was little else to it in terms of details; no other information was ever made available or released for public consumption; there was no official news conference.

From what we can see, every aspect of this event seems to have been played down or sanitized of any drama:

Alekhine, quite simply, seemed to have died while eating alone in his hotel room, choking on a piece of meat. Death was apparently instantaneous. There was no foul play, we are assured right from the beginning. The photos show Alekhine slumped backwards infront of a small dining table, with a serene ,almost relieved, expression on his face. The champion had not suffered as he passed into the after life…and we can all rest assure that Alekhine was now in a better place…

That is the official story as far as the Portuguese authorities wanted us to come to know it . Clearly, the hand of state censorship/propaganda was not absent!

The photos circulated the world many times over, and were reproduced in hundreds of chess magazines and thousands of newspapers. It is understandable that the Portuguese government wanted the world to accept this story about Alekhine’s death: it is always embarrassing when someone famous dies while being a guest in your country. The simpler and less complicated the explanation, I suppose,the easier it is to accept.

But not everybody in Portugal bought the official story:

A few weeks later, on the 15th of April, a Lisbon newspaper (Diario de Lisboa) carried a front page article entitled ”O segredo do Quarto 43; A morte misteriosa de Alexandre Alekhine” (The secret of room 43; the mysterious death of Alexander Alekhine).

A day later (the actual date of the funeral of Alekhine) the same article was carried in the prestigious ‘Diario de Noticias’. (This article in its entirety can be found in Markl’s book , starting on page 136.)

 

The article was penned by a well known Portuguese journalist, Artur Portela (of whom I will discuss a bit later on in more depth). Because this article raised some questions that did not quite fit in with the official version of how Alekhine had died and of the validity of the autopsy results, and especially raised the possibility that Alekhine might have been murdered, it was quickly discredited by the powers that be as mere journalistic sensationalism; of even trying to shamelessly profit from the misfortunes of a famous person.

Curiously, even to this day, Artur Portela’s courageous effort to challenge the official version of Alekhine’s death continues to meet ridicule and scorn:

”Effectivement Alexandre Alekhine a été trouvé mort le 24 Mars 1946 dans sa chambre. Comme témoignent les journaux de l’époque, sa mort était entourée d’un mystère que tout naturellement les propres journaux se chargent d’amplifier, amplifiant à la fois leurs propres ventes. Spéculateurs à la recherche de l’augmentation du salaire perdu, les journalistes se plaisent à chercher – trouver ou inventer – le poil dans l’œuf. Suffit d’imaginer le cadre imaginé par l’un d’entre eux – Artur Portela en grand romancier – et publié au Diario de Lisbôa le 15 Avril 1946, rendant compte d’ “A morte misteriosa”, qui avait permis à son auteur de demander un confortable avancement ; et à nous, comme nous sommes à l’intérieur d’un film, cela va nous permettre d’avancer en arrière jusqu’à retrouver l’Hôtel do Estoril et la chambre 43, où l’on vient de trouver le corps d’Alekhine.”

B: Even the renown Rui C. Nascimento, in the introduction to Markl’s ”Xeque-Mate no Estoril” did not spare Portela. He starts with ”No seu artigo, e dificil distinguir factos de produto da imaginacao.” (essentially, ”In his article it is difficult to tell fact from fiction.”) and then Nascimento takes his gloves off and really blows into it!

Rui Nascimento , born in 1914 and still alive and well when this article was first published, is a Portuguese author, poet, musician , chess composer and has his own BLOG  I recommend the reader visit just out of curiosity.

It was naturally in the best interests of the Portuguese government that the topic of Alekhine’s death go away, and a chorus of criticism followed. Artur Portela never again wrote anything more about the subject from what I have been able to discover. And no other Portuguese newspaper even dared to contradict the official version for decades to come.

But this did not stop people , especially chessplayers, from privately voicing their doubts about the official story of Alekhine’s death. Rumours spread of foul play and a coverup.

On the website INFOPEDIA you can even find an (unsubstantiated) Portuguese reference to Dr. Antonio J. Ferreira later denying his official role in the entire affair: ”Não obstante, o Dr. António Ferreira, xadrezista e médico, responsável pela emissão da certidão de óbito do campeão, teria mais tarde confidenciado a amigos que o corpo de Alekhine foi encontrado na rua, baleado talvez por razões políticas.”

(translation: ”However, Dr. Antonio J. Ferreira, chessplayer and medical doctor, responsible for the death certificate of the champion, would have later confided in some friends that the body of Alekhine was found out in the street, perhaps shot for political reasons.”)

I had also heard of this rumour in the first years that I was in Portugal.

MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL

As a starting point in the process of re-visiting Alekhine’s death in Estoril 70 long years after the fact, I think it is necessary to be frank and state what should be obvious to anyone today who even remotely follows the popular crime scene investigation(CSI) trend on TV: that there was no independent investigation into the death of Alekhine!

There was no rigor in the process at any point. There was no real science involved. There was no CSI team of forensic experts sealing off the hotel room while they take away samples to their lab. There was no coroner involved at any stage. And even the photo shoot seemed choreographed…

As I will try to show in this article, the entire aftermath surrounding Alekhine’s death, securing the hotel room, , taking the photos and breaking the news to the rest of the world, as well as the autopsy ,was controlled and carried out (from beginning to end) by PIDE (the Portuguese intelligence service of that era).

THE PHOTOS

 

Let us start by dismantling the myth of the official photos: take a look at the two photos (photo1 and photo2) of Alekhine lying dead in his hotel room (43) at the Parque Hotel in Estoril.

The two photos are shot from slightly different angles. The author of these photos was none other than Luis C. Lupi, the government appointed representative of Associated Press in Portugal,a high ranking PIDE official and step-father of Francesco Lupi (chess champion of Portugal). There is good reason to believe that Luis Lupi was the highest authority at the scene on the 24th.

a) In the photo on the left , in the upper right hand corner (on the commode,between the cup and two vases) you will notice a sort of dark coloured binder. Comparing the exact same area in photo2, you will see a difference: in photo two there is some paper on top of the dark coloured binder. Why the difference? Was it carelessness on Lupi’s part, and if not, why was he adding/taking away something from a crime scene ?

b)The chessboard: Francisco Lupi admitted to Rui Nascimento several days after the photos had been taken that his stepfather had intentionally placed the board in the photo! This time there is not doubt that it was not a question of carelessness, but rather a deliberate manipulation of the crime scene.

c)The dinner table: the placement of the objects on the table seems very unnatural and cluttered, and together with the absence of any visible food (?) on the plates, it seems as though dinner had already been finished sometime before Alekhine had actually died. Or are we to assume that it was the very last bits of food (some piece of beef) that Alekhine had choked on? (This exact point has been raised by many over the years). Or is this just one more example of Luis Lupi preparing the scene before taking the photos?

d)According to Luis Lupi’s letter to London, a piece of meat was found in Alekhine’s right hand. This is not at all clear from the two photos. Considering that Lupi himself was taking the photos, and taking considerable liberties, one must wonder why he did not want to show this in the photos.

There are several other questions that have arisen about the scene ( a book of verse located close to the body, open to a specific poem, mentioned by Francisco Lupi; as well as a broken vase that Artur Portela discussed in his April 15 article in Diario de Lisboa, but no trace of can be seen in the two photos) but I feel that for our purposes it is not worth pursuing them here.

What is only too apparent from all of this is that Luis Lupi did not photograph the scene in room 43 as he found it, but rather he first re-arranged and/or introduced objects before taking the photos. We must question his real motives. The only uncertainty is to what extent Lupi invented the scenes in these photos , and as such, I believe we must today, 70 later, consider them as little more than propaganda.

LUIS LUPI’S LETTER TO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IN LONDON

Considering that so little of what we can really consider official has been written on Alekhine’s death, this letter is very significant, and deserves close scrutiny.

Lupi errs about the times mentioned for when Alekhine is supposed to have returned to the hotel from a stroll and took dinner. Clearly, Alekhine could not have died at 11pm if he then arrived back at his hotel 40 minutes later!

Probably just an unimportant slip of the pen that Lupi , undoubtedly tired after such an eventful day, did not catch before he sent off the letter; however, it does create some uncertainty as to exactly when Alekhine was back in his hotel.

Lupi is also bit misleading when he gives the impression that he rushed to the hotel just to cover the death story, when in fact everything points to him actually being the highest ranked authority on the scene and being in complete charge of the situation.

Ofcourse, we must consider the possibility that perhaps Luis Lupi wanted the A.P. representative in London to think of him only as being a journalist going about his normal business.

The dead body of Alekhine was officially discovered at 11a.m. by the hotel barman Ivo (Markl,page 143), but already at 10:30 (a half hour earlier) Luis Lupi’s step-son (Francisco Lupi) had been woken up and told to get down to the Parque Hotel because something had happened to Alekhine:

”All I know is that on Sunday morning about 10.30 I was awakened and asked to hurry to Estoril, because something had happened to “old Dr Alex”. I entered his room together with the Portuguese authorities…”

(Francisco Lupi in his article ‘The Broken King’ , page 187 of Chess World, 1 October 1946)

Francisco Lupi omits indicating who woke him up, but we might assume it was his step-father, Luis Lupi. I will later come back to the very important question of how Lupi could have known about Alekhine’s death half an hour before his corpse was officially discovered in his hotel room.

On a different item in the letter, Luis Lupi gives the impression that more than one doctor was present in the room examining the corpse: ”Doctors said he must have died suddenly just when he was beginning to eat.” but this seems highly unlikely. How many doctors does one need to prove that Alekhine was infact dead?

As far as we know only Dr.Antonio J.Ferreira was present in the room, and that he signed some type of death certificate.

THE AUTOPSY ON THE 27th OF MARCH

I have always found it curious that the basic conclusion of the autopsy of the 27th of March ,by the experienced Dr. Asdrubal d’Aguiar and assisted by Dr Antonio J. Ferreria, did little more than mirror what Luis Lupi had written in his letter of the 24th of March to Robert Bunnelle: that Alekhine died suddenly while eating.

Questions of the competence of the autopsy have been raised ever since the results were made public: asphyxia, provoked by a piece of meat that had lodged itself into the larynx. Looking at the peaceful position of Alekhine’s body in the photos, surely there must have been more. Perhaps this provoked a heart attack? The obit mentions that the body showed signs of arteriosclerosis, chronic gastritis and duodenitis, but just in passing.

What about Alekhine’s liver? Alekhine is reported to have had a serious drinking problem all of his adult life, some saying between 3 and 4 litres of conhaque each day. But nothing is mentioned in the autopsy report about his liver. Surely a serious omission!

”One day in Munich (1934) Alekhine invited me to his room, where Mrs. Alekhine played hostess. She opened a large trunk, which, to my amazement, contained nothing but liquor bottles – a traveling bar. I had a feeling of foreboding for the man whose chess genius I so greatly admired.’‘-Kmoch

You can readily find a multitude of other references of Alekhine’s alcoholism 

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In Xeque-Mate no Estoril ,on page47, Markl quotes the spanish historian Pablo Moran:

Some time during the July 1945 Gijon Tournament, he (Alekhine) showed up at the office of Dr. Casmiro Rugarcia, a chess aficionado who had befriended him during his soujourn in that city.
”Senor Rugarcia, I am here to be examined. I want to know the truth about my health. I implore you not to lie or deceive. Tell me how I stand.”


The examination revealed a grave cirrhosis of the liver. ”He had an enormous liver”, related Rugarcia, ”so big that it almost reached his right nipple. There was no cure, and his days were numbered.”

”Did Alekhine find out?”

”Naturally, I had to tell him. But I initiated the conversation with ‘Maestro, you must quit drinking.”

”That I know. Your colleagues all tell me the same thing.”

”But you are desroying yourself with each drink, and if you don’t quit you will die very soon.”

”And if I quit drinking, how long may I live?”

”If you quit drinking, look after yourself and lead a well-ordered life, you may still live a few years.”

Alekhine looked at the physician with obvious compassion, put on his jacket, turned away and as he left, said: ”Then it is not worth while to quit drinking.” (Moran, pp 1-2)

How could an experienced doctor like Dr. d’Aguiar not have noticed the problem of Alekhine’s liver?

And what about the apparent contradiction when Dr. Ferreira wrote to Alekhine’s son ” There were no other diseases to which his sudden and unexpected death could be attributed.”. Many have pointed out that arteriosclerosis and chronic gastritis are serious enough problems and each could have , under certain circumstances, caused Alekhine’s death. (Some sources say that Alekhine developed heart problems while living in Spain.)

Clearly the autopsy report leaves key questions unanswered.

I think the answer to these questions might be provided by taking a closer look at Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira. We know that he was a reasonable chessplayer, that he signed the death certificate of Alekhine and so was at the Parque Hotel on the 24th. But you would be surprised at what you would learn if you took a closer look at him…

A man of many secrets. Dr.Antonio Jacinto Ferreira

Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira was born in 1906 and graduated in 1925 from the Escola Superior de Medicina Veterinária in Lisbon. He was a veterinarian !   This can be verified at the following sites (in portuguese):

DRAPC.MIN-AGRICULTURA    

MALTEZ.INFO

To be fair, however, Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira was a very good vet, because he held a post of professor at the Escola de Medicina Veterinaria da Universidade Tecnica in Lisbon. But a veterinarian all the same!

I suppose that might explain why he only assisted in the autopsy of Alekhine on the 27th, and might also explain his lack of attention to detail as shown in his letter to Alekhine’s son.

The second website above gives some bio of his active political life in Portugal. Dr. Ferreira was a very influential person in the political life of Portugal at that time. That web reference on his bio does not mention the most important thing, however: that Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira was directly involved with PIDE (the Portuguese Intelligence Service): LINK (since removed–editor)

You will find Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira’s name about half way down that list. Should we be surprised that you will also find Luis Lupi’s name on that very same list, some 17 names below Ferreira’s!!

That particular blog appears to be dedicated to making public the names of some of individuals who held powerful positions during Salazar’s repressive regime, and is just one of hundreds of such blogs that exist today that try to come to terms with the abuses of power and of the pervasive repression that existed before the revolution in 1974, when Portugal began its transformation to a democracy.

Certainly all of the names listed on this blog were either PIDE officers or directly working on their behalf; and were individuals who were to be feared.

Getting back to the autopsy on the 27th, we have to ask if Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira’s mere presence have could have influenced Dr. Asdrubal d’Aguiar findings so that they agreed with Luis Lupi’s statement on the 24th ? (That Alekhine had died quickly while eating)

To answer that question, it might be helpful to understand how much influence and power PIDE exercised in universities during Salazar’s dictatorship: every aspect of university life was carefully watched if not directly controlled by PIDE.

Essentially, you could not be hired by a university without the approval of PIDE, who would check out the candidate for any political leanings that might not be considered pro-government. Students were not allowed to become involved in reform movements.

Even associating with the wrong people could have had very negative consequences. It was not uncommon in those days for armed PIDE inspectors just to show up and arbitrarily arrest students or professors.

As a concrete example, at the Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa in 1947, PIDE showed up in force and invaded the classrooms, offices and labs. Hundreds of students were beat up and arrested, along with dozens of professors, including the dean. As a consequence, 26 professors were disciplined or fired. And there are numerous other instances of such brutality during Salazar’s dictatorship at virtually every university in the country.

So to answer the question, could Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira’s mere presence at the autopsy of Alekhine have intimidated Dr. Asdrubal d’Aguiar, the answer is: very likely.

Which leaves the cynic just one more question: why even do an autopsy? And the answer to this question is considerably less complicated: it was the law to do an autopsy in cases such as Alekhine’s.

It appears to me that Alekhine’s autopsy might have had more to do with complying with the law than with actual science.

 

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This is now a good time for us to re-visit Artur Portela’s April 15 article published on the first page of the Diario de Lisboa entitled ‘O segredo do Quarto 43; A morte misteriosa de Alexandre Alekhine”. I believe that this article should be the real starting point for any further investigation into the death of the champion.

In this article Portela essentially challenges some aspects of the official version of Alekhine’s death, and raises the possibility that the Kremlin could have had a hand in his death.

Portela also insinuated that it was not surprising that the autopsy did not reveal anything that was not already known(!).

The article offers some other additional information, but without quoting any sources or witnesses. For example, Portela mentions that there was a very valuable Sevres vase in the hotel room that had been broken and was in pieces, part of which fell on the commode. Definitely nothing of this is mentioned in Lupi’s letter to England nor any trace of it in his famous photos.


Alekhine received from Czar Nicholas II (in St. Petersburg ,1909) a beautiful Sevres vase. It was a prize for having won a national youth championship. It was Alekhine’s most prized possession, and when he decided to leave Russia for good, in 1921, the vase was the only thing that he took with him. He had it with him in his hotel room the night he died.

I quote from Alekhine (September 3, 1941) himself talking of this prized Sevres :

I could tell you so many (anecdotes-ed.)! But the most recent one will be the best. At a tournament in St Petersburg when I was 16 I won first prize, which was donated by the Tsar. It was a most beautiful Sèvres vase decorated with the Imperial Russian shield. I always kept it with great care. I took it everywhere with me in case I lost it. But, at the time of France’s debacle I left it in my wife’s keeping in Paris, in a small chest. From then until this last winter it was my nightmare that the wonderful vase should be mislaid. In Paris I looked for it and, not without effort, we found the chest, in a lamentable condition. In what state would the contents be when the container looked so calamitous? But, miraculously, the vase was only slightly damaged, and I had it repaired in Lisbon. What a weight was lifted from my mind!”

Artur Portela added that Alekhine had told a friend that he intended to award the Sevres to the person who beats him in a world title match.


And especially curious is Portela mentioning that Alekhine had lost his overcoat the night before in Lisbon and returned to his hotel without it! In the photos of Luis Lupi we can see Alekhine sitting with an overcoat… is it the same one ? More embarrassing questions!

Portela mentions that after the 24th of March the hotel management immediately removed all of the furniture from room 43 (where Alekhine stayed) and even changed the room number to a different number. All physical evidence disappeared!

But perhaps the most interesting bit of information given in Portela’s article refers to Alekhine’s night out in Lisbon on the evening of the Friday 22nd of March (the night he forgot his overcoat). We already know from Francisco Lupi’s personal account that was published in October 1946 in Chess World that he and Alekhine went out to some bar late Friday evening for a few of hour, but we are given the impression that the two of them went out alone.

 

Portela says that a certain chessplayer , Jose da Costa Moreira, also went out with them, so that there were infact two people with Alekhine, not just Francisco.

 

I think this might be important because Jose da Cost Moreira’s name can also be found on the same list of PIDE people where we have already found Luis Lupi and Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira’s names! Jose da Costa Moreira was PIDE. What was he doing there?

 

???

As pointed out earlier , Artur Portela’s article was quickly discredited as mere journalistic sensationalism and more fiction than fact and still is to this day considered as such by a good number of respected Alekhine experts.

Rui Nascimento (photo on the right) in his introduction to Markl’s Xeque-Mate no Estoril severly criticizes Portela’s article and points out that Portela does not cite a single person in the entire article. He even goes on and speculates that if Jose da Costa Moreira was a source for some of this information, then it could hardly be taken serious!

END OF PART I

(To read Part 2 go HERE)

 

Today’s chess(?!) video

silhouettefilms

 

THE CHESS MIND

I had not before seen this 1986 video produced by the BBC (William Hartston) for the occasion of the Karpov-Kasparov match (London/St.Petersburg 1986).  It was first put on YouTube in October, 2013, and has since accumulated more than 54k views. I recommend the reader to take a look at it, especially because of some rare Fischer-footage. Remember that Fischer was born 73 years ago yesterday. ENJOY!

Happy Birthday, Boris!

 

spassky

 

Boris Vasilievich Spassky  was born January 30, 1937 in Leningrad  Boris was the tenth World Chess Champion, holding the title from 1969 to 1972. Today he celebrates his 79th birthday! 

Spassky won the Soviet Chess Championship twice outright (1961, 1973), and twice more lost in playoffs (1956, 1963), after tying for first during the event proper. He was a World Chess Championship candidate on seven occasions (1956, 1965, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1985).

The above information  is what you would find on WIKI, but what it does not tell you is that Boris Spassky is the most famous chess player alive, the most respected and  certainly the best ambassador that chess could ever want.  Now long retired from active competition, Boris is a most welcome guest where ever he goes.  The millions of friends and fans that he has made in his life all feel honoured to have him in their presence.

It is hard for me to pick which one of his games is my favourite–he has played so many brilliant and unforgettable games–but undoubtedly his victory over David Bronstein in the Soviet Championship in 1960 has a very special place.  When Fischer saw this game he was blown away.  Left speachless!  In his very next interview he said that Spassky was one of the 10 best players in history!

Spassky B. – Bronstein D.
Leningrad 1960.
1. e4 e5 2. f4!

A universal player, Boris was very fond of the romantic King’s Gambit, having won many games with it, including against the legendary Bobby Fischer.  Spassky has a special feeling for the initiative and was , next to Tal, the greatest attacker of his generation.

2… ef 3. Nf3 d5 4. ed Bd6 5. Nc3 Ne7 6. d4 O-O 7. Bd3 Nd7 8. O-O h6 9. Ne4 Nxd5 10. c4 Ne3 11. Bxe3 fe 12. c5 Be7
Black pieces are momentarily uncoordinated, and Spassky takes full advantage of this by immediately creating threats
13. Bc2! Re8 14. Qd3 e2
15. Nd6!!?!
One of the most remarkable moves in history!  Rather than just move the rook (a good move!) Boris strikes immediately, creating head-spinning complications almost impossible to work out over the board!  To add to the spectators’ amazement, Bronstein does not immediately take the rook, even though it is check(!!).
15… Nf8!!?!

White gets a strong attack no matter how Black defends:  15… Bxd6 16. Qh7 Kf8 17. cd efQ 18. Rxf1 cd 19. Qh8 Ke7 20. Re1 Ne5 21. Qxg7 Rg8 22. Qxh6 Qb6 23. Kh1 Be6 24. de;  or if 15… efQ 16. Rxf1 will most likely transpose into the previous note.

16. Nxf7!

 

Pirate chess!!  Now Bronstein can not refuse Spassky’s gifts…

16… efQ 17. Rxf1 Bf5 18. Qxf5 Qd7
For the exchange White has a dangerous initiative.
19. Qf4 (Also good is 19. Qd3) 19… Bf6 20. N3e5
White is attacking with his entire army!
20… Qe7 21. Bb3  ouch!
21… Bxe5   There is nothing better
22. Nxe5 Kh7 23. Qe4!  ouch!
Bronstein resigns.  A likely finish is 23… g6 24. Rxf8! Rxf8 25. Qxg6 Kh8 26. Qxh6 Qh7 27. Ng6#

The chess game between “Kronsteen” and “McAdams” in the early part of the James Bond movie From Russia With Love is based on this same game!!  Here we can see ”Kronstein” capturing the Bishop with his Knight (move 22)

from-russia-with-love5

Several years ago I wrote a blog entry (Spassky according to Spassky) , and for the occasion of Boris’ 79th birthday I reproduce it here.

 

”The place of chess in society is closely related to the attitude of young people towards our game. Nowadays young people have great choice of occupations, hobbies, etc, so chess is experiencing difficulties because of the high competition… so our profession does not attract young people.”

 ”I later told Botvinnik that the best example of the Soviet School of Chess was…Bobby Fischer… He was not amused…”

”… I gave a simultaneous chess display at the Officers’ House in Minsk. I was eleven at the time. In game I checkmated one officer. He asked to take back his move. After two moves I was checkmated. I began to cry bitterly and the game was stopped for 15 minutes… since that time I never allow taking back moves. It was a very sad experience.”

1958 Soviet Championship; the decisive game

”The game was adjourned, and I had a good position; but I was very tired from analyzing and went to resume next morning unshaven.

 

Before I played important games I usually tried to bathe, to put on a good shirt and suit, and to look comme il faut. But on this occasion I had analyzed incessantly and came to the board looking very disheveled and fatigued.
Then I was a like a stubborn mule. I remembered that Tal offered me a draw, but I refused. Then I felt my strength ebb away, and I lost the thread of the game. My position deteriorated, I proposed a draw, but Tal refused.
 
When I resigned there was a thunder of applause, but I was in a daze and hardly understood what was happening.
I was certain the world went down; I felt that there was something terribly wrong. After this game I went on the street and cried like a child.
I remembered that in 1951 when I lost to Smyslov in his clock simultaneous was the last time I cried, and I promised myself then never to cry again, but after losing to Tal I couldn’t keep my word.”


”When I am in form, my style is a little bit stubborn, almost brutal. Sometimes I feel a great spirit of fight which drives me on”

On Bronstein in the 1956 Candidates Tournament

It was a revelation to me how seriously and nervously the other candidates took their tournament work. I remember especially Bronstein one evening wanted to reassure himself about his prospects. He took three dice and threw them three times. Each time three fives came up, and Bronstein decided this was a lucky omen. Next round he had to play against Smyslov and he lost, completely killed. I tried to understand this situation; I was very young and I saw that the other candidates were very nervous and excited. I felt quite calm, and I understood that I was a very weak player in this company but had to fight-attack.”

 

After Spassky lost a highly publicized game to the American William Lombardy on first board in the 1960 Student Olympiad he was left off the 1961 team and was eventually suspended from foreign travel three times…a typical Sports Committee humiliation… ”My nervous energy was completely destroyed for three years.” Spassky said of this period.

Spassky on his first GM trainer

”It was then that I met Tolush, and it seemed natural that we should work together. He continued as my trainer from 1952 to 1960. It became hard for me, because I didn’t find a good personal contact with Tolush. He was a rather brutal man and he liked very much to give advice to me…it was terrible! Eight years is a very long time, you know. I had nobody to turn to at that time except my mother.
I didn’t have contact with my brother and sister and was alone. That man…I still had respect for him, of course….Also I made the mistake of leaving Tolush at the time of my divorce, when I was in a very nervous state. I should have had a special meeting with him to explain what I was doing, but instead I refused to speak to him.”

Spassky then met GM Bondarevsky in 1961:

Bondarevsky did a lot not only for my chess knowledge and understanding of positions, but also for my character. I admired him less as a grandmaster than I did Tolush. Bondarevsky used to be a combination player, but then he decided to become like Capablanca and now his chess is rather dull. But when I first got to know him well, I was drawn to him, felt a great respect and saw that this man was a very interesting man.”

”When we played a Candidate’s match with Larsen in Malmo in 1968, the total prize fund was something like $250! I protested to the FIDE President Rogard then. But he reasonably replied that it was according to the wishes of the Soviet Chess Federation, to which he had to listen. The Soviet Chess Federation, of course, did not care about the players, for the communists chess was only an instrument.”

On fighting to become World Champion:

 ”I don’t believe that I ever considered the possibility. I used to play from tournament to tournament and from game to game. My outlook only changed much later, in 1964, when I was a main referee of the match Russian Republic vs Budapest. I decided to make a joke and told Bondarevsky ”I shall be world champion.” Then I saw that my joke was coming rather good, and that I had a strong position. That was the first time I thought seriously about the title.”

”In chess we must fight…”


”Ocasionally I looked at my games which I played at age of 30, 40, 45 and looked my present games when I was 60 or 62 and I said: ‘Ohhh, I’m crazy…to play such a bad chess after showing such beautiful quality.’So I think I stopped playing very late.”

”I believe that the Marshall is good enough for a draw, which was of course all I aimed for with Black. After this match (with Tal,1965) Bondarevsky and I thought we should erect a statue to Frank Marshall; a very sympathetic player!”

Spassky on Karpov:

Leningrad 1974

Leningrad 1974

”He  was eating me like crocodile eating small animal.”

Spassky’s heroes :

“My heroes were all tragic!”.

When I play chess probablyI seem rather unruffled,but this is not really so. It is like a clown’s face which is put on specially for the occasion; when I appear particularly calm I am really feeling specially nervous.”

 

‘Chigorin was probably the first ‘computer-like’ Grandmaster. He always gave lots of concrete variations and looked at positions without pre-justice.”

” I don’t want ever to be champion again.”

”In my country, at that time, being a champion of chess was like being a King. At that time I was a King – and when you are King you feel a lot of responsibility, but there is nobody there to help you. ”


On Spassky’s technique for encouraging players to resign in the simul: “… his rival is two pawns down in an endgame (king and six pawns v king and four) … Spassky would approach the board, look at it with a frown for 30 seconds as if it was the hardest position he’d ever seen, then look up at his opponent and say in that lovely, lilting Russian voice:‘But where is your army?’   Worked every time. I think he scored 15 wins and 5 draws in the simul.”
”The talent of coach is a special one. You can be an excellent chess player, but at the same time an absolutely untalented coach…I said recently to Garry: ‘Garry if you come back to chess, I’m ready to be your coach. Gratis [for free]’

”Sometimes I play through games with computer. From time to time computer comes up with very interesting moves…But I think that modern players should learn how to control computer, as otherwise it would be bad for the game. ”

 

”When I played Bobby Fischer, my opponent fought against organizations – the television producers and the match organizers. But he never fought against me personally. I lost to Bobby before the match because he was already stronger than I. He won normally.”

On Spassky’s preparation against Petrosian:

”Together with Bondarevsky and Krogius, I came to the conclusion that the World Champion, for all his great positional mastery, was not a player of a strict, classical profile. His style, directed towards limiting the opponent’s possibilities, is unique and, particularly in match play, extraordinarily effective.

It is not accidental that Petrosian is a phenomenal match player. All the same, his unsurpassed skill at manoeuvring and tacking is sometimes dictated not only by the requirements of the position but rather by prophylactic tasks.

On the whole, our idea justified itself: in the Tarrasch Defence, for example, Petrosian was not able even once in five attempts to seize the isolated queen’s pawn.”

 


”Nowadays the dynamic element is more important in chess – players more often sacrifice material to obtain dynamic compensation. Of course, such players were in my generation too and they existed before (for example, Alekhine) but then fewer people played like that than now. When I spoke with Alexander Nikitin (former coach of Garry Kasparov – A.B.), he said that players of my generation had very good understanding of chess, but the game was slower then. Nowadays there is more dynamism in chess, modern players like to take the initiative. Usually they are poor defenders though.”


” I was always fond of the history of chess, and it was very interesting to learn more about the chess world, the first World Champion, the conditions which existed at that time. And what do we have now: if your phone rings you lose the game. I wish I had lived in the 19th century.”
“Now I’m preparing myself to die very peacefully.”

“Do you think the spot next to him is available?”
—————————–

Boris on Korchnoi:


I remember fondly one conversation I had a few years back with Boris Spassky. We were discussing Victor Korchnoi (‘Victor the Terrible’). Boris and Victor had been bitter adversaries for more than 40 years at the time of this conversation, and they had played more than 60 times in official competitions..(including 2 candidates finals)… only Karpov can boast to have played Victor more times. 

 
Boris, at one point, came up with the incredible statement that Korchnoi had every quality necessary to become world champion BUT lacked ONE very essential quality…and it was precisely this quality that prevented him from attaining chess’ highest title. I coaxed Boris on…  
He began to list Korchnoi’s many qualities:
…Killer Instinct (nobody can even compare with Victor’s ‘gift’)
…Phenomenal capacity to work (both on the board and off the board)
…Iron nerves (even with seconds left on the clock)
…Ability to Calculate (maybe only Fischer was better in this department)
…Tenacity and perseverance in Defense (unmatched by anyone)
…The ability to counterattack (unrivaled in chess history)
…Impeccable Technique (Flawless, even better than Capa’s)
…Capacity to concentrate (unreal)
…Impervious to distractions during the game
…Brilliant understanding of strategy
…Superb tactian (only a few in history an compare with Victor)
…Possessing the most profound opening preparation of any GM of his generation
…Subtle Psychologist
…Super-human will to win (matched only by Fischer)
…Deep knowledge of all of his adversaries
…Enormous energy and self-discipline
Then Boris stopped, and just looked at me, begging for me to ask the question that needed to be asked….I asked: ‘But, Boris, what does Victor lack to become world champion? Boris’ answer floored me: ”He has no chess talent !”   
And then Spassky roared with laughter…Ofcourse, Spassky had tremendous respect for Korchnoi’s skill, that one must never forget.  But life-long rivalries create such curiosities.

Searching for Gloria Guzman

The woman who checkmated Capablanca?

capakdkd

(Photo of Capablanca, Moscow 1925. Link)

Today’s blog entry is just a ‘work in progress’ of a as yet un-finished research project that I started about ten years ago after I first went to Buenos Aires (2005) to participate in the Continental Chess Championship. I fell in love with the energy of the city (and the people) but especially I was injected with a passionate curiosity about the 1927 World Championship match between the Cuban Capablanca and the Russian Alekhine that had taken place almost 80 years before in the same city.

LA UNICAFOTODE LOSJUGADORESYELARBITROADJUNTOCARLOSQUERENCIO

Probably the most inspiring encounter in chess history before the Fischer vs Spassky encounter in Iceland in 1972, the match was held at the Argentine Chess Club located at 449 Pellegrini Street, some 100 metres from my hotel in the centre of Buenos Aires, almost at the foot of what is today the famous Obelisk. I used to walk by this exact location every day. (In 2005 the location was shared by a pharmacy and a cyber-cafe, the Chess Club having long since moved to another location.)

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VISTA DE LA MESAPIEZASYSILLONES

The original equipment from the 1927 encounter is today kept at the Argentine Chess Club museum.

—————————–

capablanca

Anyway, cutting to the chase, I have always been fascinated with the question of how a relatively young man (Capablanca was not yet 39) who was at the peak of his career (he had crushed the world’s leading players–including Alekhine– some months before in New York International) could lose to a player who was (in my humble opinion) not yet nearly as good as he was.

ny1927

capa

Capablanca, with his family, immediately upon his return to Cuba after his brilliant victory at the New York tournament.  His wife, Gloria Simoni Betancourt, sone Jose Jr, and daughter Gloria de los Angeles. (Photo taken from Miguel A.Sanchez ‘J.R.Capablanca: A Chess Biography’ LINK)

————————–

Infact, it seems  INCREDIBLE to me that the challenger was only able to win ONCE with the White pieces in the first 31 games! Capablanca’s defensive technique danced circles around Alekhine’s opening initiative and Alekhine was only able to win with the Black pieces–almost always when Capablanca blundered in good positions!

match

Alekhine-2

After having spent half a lifetime studying the match games, there is no doubt in my mind that Capablanca was the clearly superior player in 1927. How, then, did Alekhine manage to win this match and become World Champion? This mystery–if i may call it such–has become the starting point for my little research project that I mentioned earlier…and I think I have a good clue!  It has more to do with WHY Capablanca lost the match, and not HOW Alekhine won… 

ENTER GLORIA GUZMAN!

gloria

This 25 year old Basque-born (Vitoria, 1902) beauty had moved to Buenos Aires some three years earlier. Gloria Guzman was then a struggling show-girl with aspirations to make it big in the active world of Buenos Aires theatre. She would later get her big break in cinema the early 1930’s, but in 1927 was just a debutante, trying to make a living as best she could, sometimes acting, sometimes dancing, sometimes as an escort. She and Capablanca would meet by chance one evening at a local night club and she fell madly in love with him.

cover

According to Miguel A. Sanchez’ book mentioned above , Guzman had told a local newspaper that Capablanca had ”replaced Rodolfo Valentino in her heart”.  All indications seem to indicate that Capablanca was also smitten.  There are stories of Capablanca-who had a well established reputation around the world as a lady’s man-showing up for a number of games without getting any sleep– coming directly from a night club–and sometimes accompanied by Guzman herself. Capablanca seemed to be much more interested in having a good time in Buenos Aires than in the match with Alekhine.  No doubt, in my mind, that he simply did not take Alekhine very seriously!

——————————-

An excerpt of an early 1930’s film with the young Guzman  playing a frolicking, energetic nymph.  Then imagine 5 years younger (when Capablanca was in Buenos Aires), and how much energy she would have demanded from Capablanca just to keep up to her!

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bookcover

In 2008 the Buenos Aires born Carlos Koster wrote a biography of the life of Gloria Guzman, who had gone on to become a cult figure in Buenos Aires’ cinema and theatre life. This later became the nucleus of a theatrical play produced in the Basque country, you can find it as a ten-part YouTube series. Curiously, Capablanca does not figure in the book…

—————————–

The Sanchez biography (an enlargement of an earlier two volume work entitled Capablanca,leyenda y realidade (1978) ) dismisses the Guzman link as ‘gossip‘. It is possible  that political corrrectness dictated this decision (Sanchez is Cuban born and spent most of his life in Cuba). Capablanca was–and still is– a national hero.

Sanchez argues that Capablanca did not visit the theatre where Guzman would sometimes work–implying that Capablanca was not very interested–but that hardly rules out a secret romance!  Besides, being a married man and the match with Alekhine attracting more world wide attention than anticipated, Capablanca would quickly need to limit his public indiscretions. (After the match, Capablanca waited more than a month before returning to Cuba–no doubt he needed to build up courage before confronting his wife!)

1910 Buick tony's

Sanchez also mentions that there was another woman who would occasionally appear with Capablanca at the theatre–a certain Consuelo Velazquez–who drove a bright red Rambler sports car. Described as a local star, an actress and singer, I can find no traces of her on the ‘net or in my research. Or in any of the published testimonials of those who attended and later wrote on the match.

To be fair, a person with the same name is connected with Buenos Aires theatre at about the same time as Guzman, but she was not a singer. However, it is entirely possible that the author is confusing things with the famous Mexican singer Consuelo Velazquez; but in 1927 she would have only been 11 years old! Besides, the term ‘sports car’ was only first used in 1928…and Rambler changed its brand name in 1914 to Jeffrey (only to change back to Rambler in the 1950’s)

—————————-

gloriaguzman2

Ofcourse, my work is unfinished.  When I started back in 2005, there was almost no information on the ‘net about Guzman other than a wiki entry.  The Koster book had not even been written! But gradually, more and more is appearing on the net and I hope that in coming years new information will emerge on the romance between Gloria Guzman and Capablanca.

Guzman went on and became quite popular on television. She kept her good looks even into her seventies. Gloria kept working almost up until her death on September 18, 1979. Infact, one or two films she had acted in towards the end were only released after her death!

ww

Bobby Fischer: 8 years and counting!

THE GREAT ONE

 

Today, January 17, we mark the 8th  anniversary of the death of the greatest chess player that has ever walked the earth. (What follows was originally published on my blog on January 17, 2009. I feel that it is worth re-publishing even today) That is high praise, and only a truly worthy champion can be put ahead of such magnificent giants the chess world has produced: Philidor, Staunton, Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Rubinstein, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Keres, Karpov and Kasparov. Exalted company.

 

Bobby Fischer was also the most photographed player of modern times. On the internet literally thousands of photos have been archived. A google search reveals millions of hits. He was the most exciting player the game has seen since Morphy. People who have met him often use the word ‘electrifying’ to describe his presence when he walked into a room.

His games , ever since a young lad, attracted multitudes of spectators and admirers. Superstar magnetism.

Fischer ,barely a teen, already showing superstar greatness

 

No chessplayer that I have ever heard of has received mail from hundreds of female fans , many with marriage proposals! Bobby Fischer was idolized around the world ever since he burst on to the scene at the age of 13.

A mega star almost all of his life

Fischer, just a boy, arriving for his first European tournament

Fischer became the youngest US champion at the age of 14. At 15 he was already an elite grandmaster and candidate for the highest title in the chess world. But he had to deal with reality: the cold war was raging and the Soviet political leaders especially refused to allow an American (no matter how talented) threaten their national game. Much talk of collusion between Fischer’s Soviet opponents to try to stop him , of the KGB stalking Fischer all of his career and of a FIDE world championship structure deliberately designed to thwart any threat to the Soviets coloured Fischer’s long march to become the 11th World Champion. Much has been proven to be true since secret documents have been made public recently.

 

Fischer’s genius apart, Bobby was a normal American like any other. A decent person. Likeable and charitable. Even the Soviet superstars found his boyish charm disarming. (photo, below)

Fischer visiting Tal in the hospital in 1962


Fischer, Tal, Polugaevsky and Spassky analyzing in Havana 1966. He was respected and admired by all

Fischer playing the Serbian legend S.Gligoric. Curiously, Gligoric had a very good score against Bobby before 1965.

Fischer playing the reigning World Champion, Botvinnik, in 1962. Botvinnik managed to draw a lost game, but came away immensely impressed by the talented American

When the Soviet authorities caught a glimpse of Botvinnik’s positive comments about the talented American, they understood that there was an ideological contradiction in the works. So soon afterwards, Botvinnik was more careful in his remarks, and rarely let any Fischer success go unpunished: either his opponents were ‘sick’ or Bobby ‘lucky’, or Fischer won only because of his fabulous memory and once he turned 30 he would go downhill quickly ! Botvinnik knew that there was no point in fighting the politicians…

When Fischer briefly withdrew from competition because of ‘Soviet cheating’ in the early 60’s, he toured the US and Canada , giving simuls and lectures. I remember when he came to Montreal : I was not playing chess at the time, but Fischer appeared on TV playing a blitz game with Lazlo Witt. (Witt won!)

 

From a discussion I had with Zvonko Vranesic (who attended a Fischer lecture in Toronto), Bobby’s lectures were filled with profound thoughts and ideas. One of them was that the Queen’s real prowess could only be realized by drawing upon her the firepower of the enemy, and just when it seems she is about to be captured…she uses her power to jump to the other side of the board!

Ofcourse Bobby could be a difficult person. Fischer developed an ego to go along with his superstar status. He demanded the best conditions from organizers. He walked out if something was not perfect. He represented something that was the beginning of the professionalization of chess.

 

In 1967 , the US chess federation received an invitation from the Prince of Monaco for three American chess players to play in the Monaco Internation Chess Tournament….but with the condition that one of those three player must be Fischer. Fischer participated and won the tournament, but proved to be a bit difficult. The following year, the US chess federation received another invitation from the Prince for 3 players to participate in the tournament, but with the condition that NONE of the players be Fischer!

Fischer disappeared from international competition for about 18 months in the late 60’s, making a comeback in the spring of 1970. Shortly before this, he authored a best selling book of his games. I remember this period very well since I had just recently started getting involved in school tournaments in Montreal and the excitement that Fischer generated in the chess community was palpable! I have never seen anything like it since: he was a god to chess amateurs! The living legend had descended from the clouds to settle business with the Soviets…

Spassky vs Fischer, Siegen Olympiad 1970

 

Bobby won everything he played in in 1970, and he played a lot! His games were amazing. If Mozart was a chessplayer, then he surely would be Fischer. Bobby was quickly nearing his peak. It was especially for this reason that there was unparalleled interest when he met Fischer at the Siegen Olympiad. (Spassky won!)

Then in 1971 began Fischer’s run up to Mount Olympus. 6-0 scores against both Tajmanov and Larsen. Nobody could believe it! The American media started to take notice. The Soviets’ attempts at thwarting the American genius were doomed: Fischer had pressured FIDE to put in place a qualification structure where collusion and cheating were next to impossible.

 

Larsen complained of high blood pressure during his match, and had to be hospitalized for a brief time. But his defeat was deserved! I think it was the great S.Tartakower who said that in all of his life he had never beaten a truly healthy opponent!

When Fischer met the Armenian grandmaster and former World Champion Tigran Petrosian in Buenos Aires in late 1971, thousands of spectators showed up every game. There was pandomonium in the streets! Hundreds of journalists from all over the world flew into the Argentine capital to watch history unfold.

If you are attentive, then you will have noticed that Fischer at the board always leaned forward. And what a great match it was ! Fischer won the first game. Petrosian the second. After 5 games, the match stood even. But then Fischer won 4 games in a row!! Petrosian had never lost 4 games in a row in his whole life…he also called the doctors! But what could medicine do against historical destiny?

Fischer in the final game of the match. He had just played his king pawn forward,and Petrosian was on the move. He looked worried. Undoubtedly he was more concerned about how the Soviet authorities would react when he returned home than on trying to win the game. He was a defeated man. Fischer had earned the right to play for the World Championship!!

When I was in Buenos Aires in August/September 2005, I made a point to visit the theatre where the Fischer – Petrosian match was held. It had little changed since then! I was reminded of the photos published in magazines showing thousands of spectators crowding the street infront of the theatre…curiously the theatre is only 5 minutes walk from the location of the famous Capablanca vs Alekhine match of 1927!

And we all know how history turned out. Spassky saved his honour, but could not stop what had been destined by the gods.

It is known that in the run up to the 1972 negotiations for the Fischer-Spassky match there were grave obstacles that had to be overcome. Fischer wanted more prize money. The Soviets refused to give an inch in the negotiations. Fischer more than once backed away. But the world in 1972 was still at the height of the Cold War, ‘detente’ was being constructed, and it was important for both the Americans and the Soviets that the match be held. In the end, high level politicians saved the day: Henry Kissinger had to phone Bobby to convince the American genius to go to Iceland. Fischer was a patriot.

In 1975 the much anticipated Karpov vs Fischer match never took place, even though a 5 million dollar prize fund was fully guaranteed, and Fischer never played again until 1992 (and then just as quickly disappeared). I suppose any good story of the life of a rebel genius must end in tragedy! The gods need reasons to cry. I believe that it was for political reasons that the 1972 match was saved by the White House, and that by the time 1975 came around the world was already a very different place. Nixon had been forced out of the White House the previous summer. Helinski was already done, the Viet Nam war was over and chess/Fischer was simply no longer a priority. Fischer was already a lving legend, and had nothing to gain. He had won the World Championship, chess was popular and booming, and we should not let escape that the chess politicians in FIDE saw little to be gained by having Fischer risk losing his title to a Russian… today it is every chessplayer who is nostalgic of those times and all wish they could turn back the clock and re-write the fateful decisions made.

Sitting by the original board from the historic 1972 match

Fischer has found peace in Iceland

 

What does Bobby Fischer mean to me personally? I never met him, but as a chessplayer he represents something that is bigger than the game itself. Chess , the game, can never have a very big appeal (compared to poker or tennis or soccer) by itself. It is , after all, a very difficult game that requires hard work and dedication. It requires an unusual combination of passion and craziness to be a chess fan.

Undoubtedly, in my lifetime, Bobby Fischer will have been the only individual to have made chess universally appealing. And probably will be the only one to do so in all of human history.

What was it that made Fischer great? What was it that made him a living legend, and now that he is dead…will he become the ‘Elvis Presley’ of the chess culture? I am not sure, but I think that we must remember that Fischer was only too human. He had to deal with the pressures of superstardom alone. He had no real family, and few friends. He was a fragile human being.

Even after his death, Bobby generates controversy and intrigue.  His estate is being fought over by his american family, as well as by his wife and a woman claiming to have his child!

 

And like every true genius, there must some element of tragedy, something that makes us feel sad within when the story is complete. Is the tragedy of Bobby Fischer that he never played again after winning the World Championship, or is the tragedy about his final years in disgrace (before finding a friendly haven in Iceland)? I don’t know, and your answer is as good as mine.

In all of my years as a chessplayer (fan), I have to say that I have never seen anything like the fever that Bobby Fischer created. Chess is supposed to be dull! Bobby generated excitement and controversy. The champions that came later (Kasparov, Karpov, Kramnik , Anand, etc) had the misfortune to have to measure themselves against Fischer. And since Fischer had disappeared, he was untouchable. Unbeatable. Try as they may (especially Kasparov), there will only be one Bobby Fischer in the history books long after they are gone.

 

I am truely thankful to bear witness to Fischer’s great achievements. Thankyou, Bobby!

Fischer TRIVIA!

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This is what legends are made of.  The 2nd Piatgorsky Cup goes down in history for witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in our sport.

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Bobby Fischer at Santa Monica 1966. At half time , Bobby was a mere half-point out of last place, having lost 3 games in a row.

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But then Fischer pulled everything together and started to win game after game!  In the 16th round Fischer managed to catch up with Boris Spassky, but this latter was able to pull ahead half a point in the last round when Bobby could only draw with the world champion, Tigran Petrosian!

1966 Boris Spassky _ Mr and Mrs Gregor Piatigorsky _ Bobby Fischer

Free French forces invade Syria!

I came across this old film from WW2.  AP has done a GREAT service in making available hundreds of thousands of news items from history. About this film: ‘General Wavell has appointed Sir Henry Wilson to command the Allied advance into Syria. Free French Forces were soon reported to have penetrated deep into Syria, together with their British comrades’