- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It’s the world’s greatest war game, but that doesn’t mean that generals and admirals are natural stars at chess.

The day after Memorial Day, we take a moment to consider the mixed record military men have compiled at chess. Some of those who served have certainly left their mark on the game.

Alexandre Deschapelles, the Frenchman considered unofficial world champion in the early 19th century, lost an arm while fighting in some of the fiercest battles under Napoleon (a so-so player himself). Scottish-born George Henry Mackenzie served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in India and fought for the Union Army in the Civil War before dominating American chess in the 1870s and 1880s. British champion C.H. O’D. Alexander and noted chess authors Stuart Milner-Barry and Harry Golombek were part of the Bletchley Park group recruited to crack German codes during World War II.

But some of the greatest players, from Paul Morphy and Emanuel Lasker to Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and reigning world champ Magnus Carlsen, never wore a uniform. What that says about chess, the military and how the two interact is an interesting question.

One of the best recent American players to serve in the military was IM Emory Tate, a familiar figure in Washington chess circles in the 1980s and 1990s and one of the country’s most brilliant tacticians. As a sergeant in the Air Force, Tate was a five-time U.S. Armed Forces champion and longtime first board on the U.S. team at the annual NATO championships. Tate collected some notable grandmaster scalps in his time, often beating top players with amazingly bold play.

One of his best games came against Oklahoma master Tom Braunlich at the 2001 U.S. Open, in which White offers a fairly standard sacrificial idea in the Fischer-Sozin Sicilian but finds a magnificent combinational follow-up to take the full point.

For an attacking player such as Tate, Black’s decision to delay castling for 12…Nc5?! is the equivalent of a red flag in front on an angry bull. The idea of a knight sacrifice on f5 in the Sozin is not new, but White unexpectedly follows up by trading off all his minor pieces to keep the Black king in the center of the board.

White’s queen and two rooks are enough to do the job is the remarkable finale: 18. exf5+ Be6 (a sad necessity, as the rook on a8 was hanging; but Black’s king is still not out of the woods) 19. fxe6 fxe6 20. Qb7+ Qd7? (Kf8 was the only chance, but 21. Rxe6 should win for White) 21. Rxe6+!!, forcing resignation as the Black queen is lost after 21…Kxe6 22. Re1+. A wonderfully conducted attack!

Savielly Tartakower, the witty Russian-born Polish-Austrian master who was one of the world’s top players in the first half of the 20th century, may have had one of the most remarkable military records of any chess great. He fought for the Austro-Hungarian army on the Russian front during World War I, with some accounts saying he was wounded in the stomach.

After two decades as a chess professional and writer after his service, Tartakower was competing in the Buenos Aires Olympiad in 1939 when war once again broke out in Europe. Instead of waiting out the war in Argentina, Tartakower returned to France, joined the Free French forces under Charles de Gaulle, serving under the pseudonym Lt. Georges Cartier.

Golombek tells an amusing story of how he was given leave from his artillery unit in Northern Ireland in 1941 to anchor a team match for England arranged against a group of players assembled from allied nations.

“I anticipated an easy victory,” he later wrote, “as my opponent was an unknown Lt. Cartier of the Free French Army. I had the delightful disappointment of discovering that le lieutenant Cartier was no less a person than my old friend Dr. Tartakower. Though by now approaching his middle 50s, he was as gallant and determined as ever in his fight for what he believed to be right.”

Still a strong player, Tartakower would defeat his old friend with a clever move at the end of a tough struggle. “Cartier” gives away the deception by adopting a line in the Torre Attack pioneered by Tartakower himself. Play is finely balanced, but Black is saddled with an inferior bishop that will be his downfall.

An appropriately clever tactical idea wins for the lieutenant: 40. Ke3 Rd6 (see diagram) 41. Nb3! (a nice trick, but also one that had to be exactly calculated) cxb3 (no better was 41…Ra6 42. Nc5 Ra7 [Rb6 43. Nd7+] 43. Rd7 and wins) 42. Rxd6+ Ke5 43. Rb6! bxa2 44. Rb5+, and Golombek resigned, later noting that Black can’t save himself with 44…Kd6 45. Rxa5 b3 46. c4!, and White wins after 46…Bc8 47. Kd4 Bg4 48. Ra6+ Kf7 48. Kc5, and the c-pawn will advance to glory while Black’s advanced pawns remain frozen.

Tate-Braunlich, 102nd U.S. Open, Framingham, Mass., August 2001

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 Be7 10. Qf3 Qc7 11. O-O-O Nbd7 12. Rhe1 Nc5 13. Nf5 Nxb3+ 14. axb3 exf5 15. Bxf6 gxf6 16. Nd5 Qd8 17. Nxe7 Kxe7 18. exf5+ Be6 19. fxe6 fxe6 20. Qb7+ Qd7 21. Rxe6+ Black resigns.

Tartakower-Golombek, British vs. Allied Forces, November 1941

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 Be7 4. Nbd2 d5 5. e3 c5 6. c3 Nbd7 7. Bd3 b6 8. O-O Bb7 9. Qc2 h6 10. Bh4 O-O 11. Ne5 Nxe5 12. dxe5 Nd7 13. Bg3 f6 14. exf6 Bxf6 15. e4 Bh4 16. Rae1 Bxg3 17. hxg3 c4 18. Be2 Nc5 19. exd5 exd5 20. Nf3 Qf6 21. Nd4 Rae8 22. Bh5 Rxe1 23. Rxe1 Ne4 24. Bf3 a6 25. Re2 b5 26. Bxe4 dxe4 27. Qd2 Rd8 28. Qe3 b4 29. Rd2 a5 30. Qe2 Qf7 31. Qg4 Kh8 32. Kh2 Rd5 33. Kg1 Rd8 34. Qf4 Qxf4 35. gxf4 Kg8 36. Kf1 Kf7 37. g3 Kf6 38. Ke2 g5 39. fxg5+ hxg5 40. Ke3 Rd6 41. Nb3 cxb3 42. Rxd6+ Ke5 43. Rb6 bxa2 44. Rb5+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]


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