Thursday, July 14, 2011

Chess on the Mississippi

The Chess Monthly: an American chess serial: Volume 3 - Page 137

(Story below from the May 1859 edition: abridged)

In the year 1844 I found myself on board the good steamer Mound City, bound for that great Western metropolis. Our boat was named from St. Louis. The captain was an ardent chess player, and having so strong a bond in common, we soon became intimate. Yet the gallant skipper made but a poor score . . . If a floating log struck the boat, if some dispute, likely to end in a quarrel, was heard in that Pandemonium, the lower deck; or the pilot's voice rung aloft, answered by " 4 feet 6 " from the bows, the skipper was on the hurricane deck in twenty seconds and poor . . . (Chess) forgotten for the time.

Little disturbed the monotony of that most monotonous of rivers, or the careless, easy life on a Western steamboat, until at Memphis we took on board a young gentleman who seemed to have just stepped out of Broadway, sent, I suppose, by some New York house to accomplish the easy task of getting new orders, and the somewhat more difficult duty of obtaining returns for old ones. Among a certain class of New Yorkers (as one of the Manhattanese, I may say it) there is an intolerable assumption of superiority, a vulgar pretension, that I have never seen equaled, except by that quintessence of snobbishness, the London cockney. This one was a rare specimen. His elaborate toilet (he seemed to have just left Christodoro's) contrasted with the careless apparel of the gentlemen aboard, as much as his supercilious air differed from that of the quiet gentlemanly planter, or the frank, manly homeliness of the western farmer. Seeing me engaged in play, he stepped up to the table and began to make his comments in a tone of great self confidence. He soon informed us that he belonged to the New York Chess Club, had played with Mead and Thompson, and that Stanley was not able to give him much odds. But what the odds were, he did not volunteer to tell us. Stanley was then in his prime, and the acknowledged champion (about the time he conquered Rousseau). I then recognized the gentleman as one of the habitues of the Carlton, where my uncle used to give him a piece and then make him feel the weight of that terrible Evans attack, which no one forgets who has ever played the defense against it.

I invited him to take my seat, (and play against the Captain). . . (He begins play) . . and as the Captain, unwisely, accepted the gambit, he was checkmated in a dozen moves. Several other gentlemen encountered him during the next two days, but with very little success, for I soon saw he had Walker's Treatise (the Handbook was not then out) at his fingers' end, and no one on board, but he and I had ever looked into a chess book, or seen any real chess play. I declined playing, under pretense of a headache, until I had studied the gentleman's play. I saw he was a chess parrot, (verb usage) for if he did not obtain an easy winning position in the opening, or else get a Pawn ending, to play mechanically, he usually lost the game. But it was seldom that the game was not decided in the opening. Like Mercutio, his adversary was killed "by the book of arithmetic." Then he began to give odds; but that made little difference, for he generally won before they could use their superior force. It was raw militia against regular, drilled troops, and Walker's tactics were as good as Scott's.

Feeling sure of my man, I approached him as he sat, solitary and alone, at the chess table, with his arms over the back of the chair, smoking his regalia, and, no doubt, thinking himself a second Philidor. No one seemed inclined to encounter him, and he had the field to himself. The truth was, that though they were surprised at his apparent skill, and most of them anxious to learn from him, his intolerable, patronizing manner, and ill concealed contempt for their play, had driven every one from the table.

Determined to take advantage of my boyish appearance and putting an extra dash of hesitation into my address, I timidly stated that I should like to try a game, as I was anxious to play with a scientific player, who understood book play.

"Very well," said he "sit down, and I will give you a Rook."

"Nay, Sir, if you will play me one game, only one, even, I shall be much obliged; after you beat me I will take odds; games at odds are so irregular that I cannot learn the opening from them. Will you be kind enough to oblige me."

"Oh certainly," said he, with an air that I vowed I would pay him for, before I was done with him. We set the men, and he looked round at the company, gathered at the table, with a smile that said plainly: "Come, gentlemen, see me demolish this greenhorn." We drew for the move; it fell to me. He seemed disappointed, but brightened up when I (having White) played:

1. P. to K. fourth

. . . P. to K. fourth

2. P. to K. B. fourth

2. . . P. takes P.

3. K. Kt. to B. third

3. . . P. to K. Kt. fourth

4. P. to K. R. fourth

4. . . P. to K. Kt. fifth
                                                                                                                                                         forming the Allgaier Gambit, an opening he plumed himself on playing. Yet he soon looked anxious when he found my next moves were according to book.

5. K. Kt. to K. fifth

5. . . P. to K. R. fourth

6. K. B. to Q. B. fourth

6. . . K. Kt. to K. R. third

7. P. to Q. fourth

7. . . P. to Q. third

8. Q. B. takes P.  "Wrong," said he, "I thought you knew the opening. You should have retreated the Knight."

I knew that as well as he did, but was determined to get him where Walker's Treatise would not help him.

"I take Knight of course." 8. . . P. takes Kt.

9. B. takes K. P.  This was played with the idea that he would adhere to the general rule laid down by Walker, of not playing K. B. P. one square. I was not deceived.

9. . . R. to K. Kt. square

10. Castles

"What, give up your best Pawn for nothing. I'll take it without fail."

And he played 10. . .  Q. takes R. P.

11. B. to K. B. sixth
"So, you are after the Queen, are you?" said my adversary, "but you won't get her and you had better not drive her into your game."

11. . . Q. to Kt. sixth

12. Q. Kt. to Q. B. third

Now, thought I, if he checks with his Queen, and then advances Pawn, as I presume he will, as he has won so many games, lately, by an advanced Pawn which his opponents did not know how to stop, he is beaten.

Sure enough he played 12. . . Q. to K. sixth (check)

13. K. to R. square

13. . . P. to K. Kt. sixth

14. Kt. to Q. fifth

He said, "How unfortunate! What a confounded oversight! There is luck in chess, after all. I had a dead won game; now I must get the most I can for the Queen and make a draw."

And he played 14. . . Kt. to K. Kt. fifth

"Suppose I did not take your Queen. Could you win the game?" "How silly," said he, don't you see my Q. Kt. and P. must win against everything?" "If I pass your Queen the next two moves, and you are beaten after that, will you pay forfeit Western fashion?" "Oh!" said he, "If I lose I'll treat the crowd with all my heart. If my Queen were out of the reach of your Knight, I could beat Stanley with my game."

"Very well," I answered. 15. Kt. takes Q. B. P. (check) 

15. . . K. to Q. second

16. Kt. to Q. fifth

 "Now," said he, with a smile, "I've got you" and he played 16. . . Kt. to K. B. seventh (check)

17. R. takes Kt.

17. . . Q. takes R. "What will you do now?" added he, tapping the table, triumphantly.

 18. Q. takes R. P. "That don't amount to much."

 But he looked a little uneasy, and after some hesitation played 18. . . R. to Kt. third

White to move: Checkmate in 5

When, amidst a perfect storm of applause, I announced mate in five moves, and proved it. To do him justice he owned his defeat and shook me heartily by the hand, saying : "Why your play puts me in mind of Thompson." "He taught me," was the laconic answer, as, in the South-western fashion, we all adjourned to the bar and smiled at the young gentleman's expense, in more senses than one.

(Answer:  19. Qh3+ Rg4 20. Qxg4+ Qf5 21. Qf5+ Kc6 22. Qxc8+ Kd6 23. e5 #)

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