Saturday, June 25, 2005

Chess-related deaths and murders

By Frank "Boy" Pestaño

CANUTE II of Denmark expanded his empire by conquering England in 1016 and Norway in 1028. He was the most powerful person in Europe during his time. Like all men in power, he was surrounded by people always praising him.

He is known in history as the king who ordered the tide not to come to the seashore. It is said that he did it in jest to show his men that he was not all powerful as they say he is.

Anyway he was a wise and able ruler. He was also a chess addict and it seemed that he took his chess too seriously.

One day, he was playing chess with an earl and they had some disagreement. By one account, the king made an illegal move that angered Earl Ulf, who knocked over the board and stormed off. This angered the king and he sent someone to kill him.

Another royal story, which is also true, happened in the court of King Pippin (714-768), son of Charles Martel. The anecdote states that the son of the prince of Bavaria was playing chess with one of Pippin’s son, who became so angry at always losing that he hit the former with one of the rooks and killed him on the spot.

Since Pippin had only two sons, Carloman and the great Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman emperor, it could be either of the two who was the killer. My guess is that it was Charlemagne, as he was an avid chess player. If my hunch is correct, they should rewrite the story of this great man.

KANTIYAW. In modern times, the legendary chess-writer Bill Wall collected the following trivia on chess-related deaths.

A Patrick Mckenna was sentenced to die for killing a cellmate over a chess game in 1991. Mckenna claimed that his opponent was always making kantiyaw at him every time he lost.

In New York in 1988, an undercover policeman disguised himself as a construction worker and lured Arkady Flom into a chess game with a marked $5 bill. He arrested Flom on a gambling charge and sent him to prison. Deprived of his medicines, he died after three days. His relatives sued the city for damages and the judge ruled that playing chess is not a game of chance but of skill. The city settled out of court and paid Flom’s heirs $100,000.

Grandmaster Vladimir Simagin died of a heart attack as befits a chess player in a chess tournament in Kislovodsk in 1968 at a young age of 49. Ed Edmonson, former president of the United States Chess Federation, died of a heart attack in Waikiki beach, Hawaii while playing chess.

Most of the chess pieces now are called Staunton after Howard Staunton, a chess master and newspaper columnist, who died of a heart attack while writing a chess book. By the way, the original designer of the Staunton set was Nathaniel Cook; it was Staunton who advertised and promoted it.

Johann Zukertort, who played with Wilhem Steinitz for the world championship in 1886, died of a stroke in a London coffeehouse while playing chess.

Bishop Antonio de Valdiviesco of Nicaragua was assassinated while playing chess in Leon.

ALEKHINE. But the most famous story about chess-related deaths is this story of Alexander Alekhine as narrated to an old friend in the book The Complete Chess Addict by Mike Fox and Richard James.

Alekhine was playing in the great St. Petersburg tournament in 1914 and at mid-tournament there was an incessant knock in his hotel room. An old Russian peasant demands entrance and says he has discovered a chess secret of great importance. As narrated in the book, Alekhine let him enter.

“I have found a way for white to checkmate in twelve from the starting position,” claims the old man. Alekhine starts to throw him out, but the peasant is insistent.

To end the matter, Alekhine sets up a chessboard. Twelve moves later, he is mated.

“Do that again,” he says. Again he is mated. And again. Aghast, he brings the old man to the room of Jose Raoul Capablanca and wakes up the great man. The same thing happens. No matter what opening they use, they get mated in 12 moves.

“Then, what did you do?” the friend asked. “Why, we killed him of course,” Alekhine replied.

If you believe this you believe anything.

CEPCA OPEN BLITZ. The Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association (Cepca) is sponsoring an open-blitz chess tournament this Sunday, 1 p.m. at the Stella Maris Seafarer Center at Pier 4.

Cash prizes amounting to P5,000 courtesy of club members are up for grabs in this seven-round Swiss competition. Interested parties may call Lingky Yap at 0917-640-4088 or Jun Olis at 0910-347-6907. Registration Fee is P50.

MORE ENGINEERS. In my article last week about chess-playing engineers, I overlooked Cepca members from Aboitizland who are all civil engineers: Mandy Baria ,Jacques Ontal and Jade Garson.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's interesting to see how facts get completely mixed up over time. Arkady Flom actually did NOT die after three days. The original news articles are still available online.
He was suffering from chest pains after his heart medication was confiscated. So he was taken to a hospital for treatment, and then returned to jail.
His relatives did not file the lawsuit; he did so himself. Because he was STILL ALIVE.