Chess Humour

Chess can be funny–truly.

I know most of us here take it very seriously, most of the time, but we’ve all met funny people in the chess world. An example: At my old club there was one guy who was a pretty good player, rated around 1900 US, but he was a perpetual loser in life. He actually occupied a shed on the grounds of the home of a  successful business owner who had known him since they were both avid teen chess maniacs. His hair was unkempt, his overall hygiene…questionable. One night I saw him in a postmortem crowing about a victory over a 1400-rated older fellow, with trash-talking and various put-downs of his opponent thrown in. The opponent took it all with a smile, offering the occasional suggested move, then happily headed home while the winner hung around the club until the last possible minute before being forced to head home to the shack.

The 1400-rated fellow happened to be a very successful medical doctor, who arrived at the club in a $100,000 Porsche, and after the game went home to his very, very attractive younger wife (she came to the club a few times and sat reading a book; the blunder rate immediately trebled). At some point in this scene it suddenly struck me that Bad Hair Guy was trying to convince himself of his superiority over Dr Porsche, and I had to run out the back door and laughed myself almost to exhaustion.

The funniest chess book ever is not Wm. Hartston’s How to Cheat at Chess, though that’s a very fine book, indeed. The funniest chess book ever, by 1.6 kilometres, is The Soviet School of Chess, written, appropriately, by two well-schooled Soviets. It’s full of great games to enjoy, but that’s not the funny part. What is funny is that Mikhail Chigorin supposedly founded the “Soviet School of Chess” even though he died in 1908, almost a decade before the murderous Marxists took over the Russian Empire. In retrospect, he’s probably glad he didn’t live that long. Even funnier are the authors’ attempts to tie the success of the “School” to “dialectical materialism” and the all ’round wonderfulness of the government that murdered, starved and imprisoned at least 20 million people.

The fact is, Stalin’s greatest achievement in chess was making a deal with Hitler and seizing the tiny Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Players like Tal, Keres and a host of others provided a good portion of the Soviet Olympic Teams and Championship entries for the next 50 years. Nice move, Joe.

There are actually a good many humourous chess games, though it takes real discernment to find the hilarity in the 23rd and 24th games of the 1951 World Championship match Botvinnik-Bronstein. However, when GM Tony Miles whipped The Greatest Soviet of them all with black after 1. e4 a6, that was something everyone could laugh about, except Karpov, who spent a whole chapter in a book saying what a bad game it was. It is indeed funny, how when I was a lower-rated player and won, the other guy usually said he played badly. Almost without exception, when someone who expects to win doesn’t, the higher-rated player played badly, in his or her own mind. The other player is often seen as a canvas for us to paint our masterpieces upon; that too, is funny.

The funniest game ever, though, happens to have been played by me. It’s really quite a nice game until move 9. What I’m sure you’ll find especially fun is that I spent almost 15 minutes at that point calculating which winning move was best. If you can find anything funnier than this, please submit for publication in a future column.

In the tradition of naming exceptional games (Evergreen, Immortal, Game of the Century), I dub thee the “Amaurosis scacchistica game”: