Suicidal Knights

Recently the Uzbek-American grandmaster Grigory Serper, who is one of my favorite chess columnists, published an article on the site titled The Trickiest Knight Moves. What a coincidence. I was already in the mood to read about tricky knight moves.

That was because a week before I had played a role in the festivities in honor of the 30-year jubilee of the chess society Het paard van Ree. Paard is Dutch for horse and also for the chess piece knight. The weekly meeting of the club, or society as they want to call it, is at the café De Zon, a chess heaven in Wijk aan Zee well known to all visitors of the Hoogoven tournament and its successors Corus and Tata tournament.

The club was insolently named after my knight which, in Ree-Westerinen, Hoogoven tournament 1970, had been stranded on the awful square a1 and had to stay there idle while Heikki Westerinen mopped me up.

I was rather piqued when I found out about the name of that club. They should have asked me for permission at least, and surely I would not have given it. I think that later they even had the chutzpah to offer me a honorary membership. Were they mad?

But time heals many wounds and so it could be that on Saturday June 18, I took part in a kind of re-enactment with Heikki of our 1970 encounter, as part of the festivities for the jubilee of the club. We played in a garden of the home of a club member in Santpoort-North, a small town close to Wijk aan Zee.

We played two rapid games. The score was 1-1. I think that our meeting was arranged not so much for the games but for the post-game conversation. And in fact it was nice to talk to Heikki again. He had come a long way, from a little town in Finland from where the bus to Helsinki airport took almost as long as the second part of his journey, from Helsinki to Santpoort-North. 

Heikki and I spoke about the good old days. For instance about the night before the final rest day of the Olympiad in Buenos Aires in 1978, when Heikki had organized a party in his hotel room. There I had sat on a hotel bed with Gisela Fischdick of the German women’s team and Franz Hölzl of the Austrian team.

At a certain point I had said “Franz, let’s fight a duel for this woman.” I stepped gracefully from the bed in sword-fighting posture and broke my right leg in two places.

It took some time for the crowd to ascertain that I was not only drunk, but really hurt, but then the help of Helmut Pfleger of the German team, a medical doctor, was invoked and after his verdict my team captain Frans Kuijpers was called out of bed, and when he came in to the room, at about 3 a.m., still half-sleeping, Heikki said: “It’s of course terrible what happened, but Frans, what do you want to drink?” Ah, the good old days.

But to come back to Gregory Serper’s article about the tricky knight moves, many amazing moves were featured there, but the most beautiful, at least at first sight, I saw in a game which was contributed by a reader, in which two knights were sacrificed on the same square, just to make way without loss of time for a rook to take part in the mating attack. And at the end there is a nice minor promotion to a knight, as if to make good on the earlier knight sacrifices.

Beautiful, but was it true? I think this game, that has been celebrated in many chess publications, has never been played. When you play it over with an engine running you see that it is a bad game, full of blunders. Such a bad game and such beauty at the end, that is either a miracle or an invented game.

And there is another reason to think the game is fake. Stanishevsky-Nikonov, Moscow 1981. No first names and even no initials. This was completely against Soviet practice. They always used initials, even when we wouldn’t. “This was a difficult task for M. Botvinnik and B. Spassky...” I think I have never seen a game in a Soviet publication without the initials of the players.

Click on the game to play through:

Stanishevsky-Nikonov, Moscow 1981

Ree-Westerinen, Hoogovens 1970