In the game of chess, when your King’s life is at stake, the often maligned practice of obtaining something by trickery (snatching a win or a draw in the face of of an apparently certain loss) is well within the rules of the game. Not only within the rules, but an actual imperative! Steinitz taught us that if we held the advantage then we must go over to the attack, or risk losing our advantage. By similar reasoning, I say that if you have the opportunity to swindle, then you must swindle! Yes, it’s well within the rules …

Frank Marshall

The most famous “swindler” in the history of chess was Frank J. Marshall, U.S. Champion from 1909-1936. He even wrote a book published in 1914 entitled Marshall’s Chess “Swindles,” with 125 of his annotated games. But if you got this book expecting to find 125 examples of miraculous rescues of lost games, you’d be … swindled!  Actually, Marshall puts everything in perspective in the book’s Introduction:

“It may not be obvious to all why I have employed the title of ‘Marshall’s Chess Swindles.’ The title of ‘swindle’ is one of derision, which has been applied to my victories over certain disappointed gentlemen, who did not enjoy seeing their fond pre-conceived notions demolished over the open board. When their theories went to smash in actual play with a man not tied to book chess, the explanation was, that the unexpected move was a ‘Marshall swindle.’ So I have made a collection of ‘Marshall swindles’ …

… “I may therefore be pardoned by the reader if I ask him when he plays over these games to judge fairly as to this point, namely: Is the successful move, combination or line of play, as the case may be, initiated by me, rightly to be called a ‘swindle,’ or rather, on the other hand, is the respective move, combination or line of play demolished by me, entitled to be called ‘a busted conceit’.” – Frank J. Marshall

Whoa, don’t tug on Superman’s cape!! Upon reading his book it at once becomes clear, Marshall was not at all happy with being called a swindler, and it would appear that some “historians” simply have the story wrong when stating “Marshall was proud of his reputation for swindles, and even wrote a book entitled Marshall’s Chess “Swindles” (1914).”

I think that we should give credit to true swindles for just what they are. If a pro sports team wins in the final seconds of a game, do we call that a swindle? Certainly not! We call it a “come from behind victory!” Or even an “heroic come from behind victory.” Imagine the headlines: “The New York Knicks, down eight points with just fourteen seconds to play, their backs to the wall, nearly checkmated by their heavily favored opponents, staged the greatest comeback in NBA history to win the NBA Finals Championship. Their opponents immediately filed a petition with NBA Commissioner David Stern, charging that the game was ‘Swindled.’ When Stern was reached for comment he responded “These sniveling crybabies lost fair and square and now deserve to be the universal subject of ridicule, scorn and mockery.” He then fined them $50,000.”

Here are two of Marshall’s so-called swindles which, by the way, are also given in “Frank J. Marshall’s Best Games of Chess,” (formerly: “My Fifty Years of Chess” 1942).