A fabulous chess book

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My son bought me a chess book this morning! It was one that I’ve always wanted. It’s by the wonderful David Bronstein, who was an early photo-type for Tal. He was also a very entertaining writer. It’s called 200 Open games. Sounds a bit dry: far from it. Here’s an extract from it (courtesy of Chess.com):


White: B. S. Queenabber – Kiev 1938, Friendly Game

An editor always has a part to play in the creation of a book: his task is to ensure harmony, order and fine proportions, as well as to review the manuscript with a critical eye.

When I had submitted the manuscript of the book my editor condemned me for lack of self-criticism (‘there were too few lost games’) and incompleteness (‘there was no Alapin’s opening’). Moreover, I had promised 200 games, and there were only 199. But the most serious failing was that there was no metion of grandmaster B. S. Queenabber. ‘Although,’ he added, ‘I am absolutely convinced that this personage is fictitious – on one has ever seen him fact to face.’

‘That’s an excellent idea!’ I exclaimed. ‘But I must disappoint you: not only have I heard of Queenabber, I have even played against hi.’

And I told the editor of how, in the spring of 1938 in Kiev, when I was only 14, I came across my chess teacher, A. M. Konstantinopolsky, talking to a tall gentleman outside the conservatory where the next round of the semi-finals of the national championship was due to be played.

‘I have to go now and play’, said Konstantinopolsky to the stranger, ‘but you have a game with this little chappy here,’ and he pointed to me.

My opponent took White, removed his a1-rook from the board and put his a-pawn on a3.

‘I never play young fellows without giving odds,’ he said.

1.e4 e5 2.Ne2

‘What’s this?’ I asked. ‘I wanted to get into a Ruy Lopez.’

‘You’ll have your wish some time, but not now,’ the stranger answered. ‘Anyone who wants to nab the other person’s queen (here he was, Queenabber himself, talking about ‘nabbing queens’!) mustn’t move his queen before the middle of the game; so I am playing Alapin’s opening.’

2…Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.Ng3 Nxg3 5.hxg3 Nc6

Having been brought up in the strict positional-logical style, I was perfectly content with my game. I had one piece developed, my opponent had none.

6.Nc3 exd4 7.Nd5 Be7

‘In such positions Alapin used to shout “Allora!” – which means “Forward!”, said my opponent and played 8. Qg4!

A terrible thought flashed through my mind. If Alapin used to bring his queen out in the middle of the game, then how many moves would the whole game last.

So before moving again, I asked:

‘Did you, er, know Alapin?’

‘I even knew B. Lapin. He wrote stylized oriental verse: ‘Where now is the glory of Darya, Rustam? Who remembers the name of Steinitz Wilhelm?’

‘I remember the name of Steinitz Wilhelm,’ I replied.

8…g6 9.Bc4 f5 10.Rxh7 fxg4

‘Queenabber!’ I shouted. I wanted the mysterious stranger to realize that his secret was well known to me.

11.Nxc7+ Qxc7 12.Bf7+ Kd8 13.Rxh8+ Bf8 14.Bg5+ Ne7 15.Rxf8 mate

‘In the present circumstances, it is not Queenabber but Kingnabber,’ said the stranger…

‘This incident took place more than thirty years ago in Kiev, I said to the editor as I cam to the end of my story. ‘Since that time Queenabber and I have become friends. Could I put this tale about him in the book?’

‘Oh, okay,’ muttered the editor with a sigh, though thinking to himself that it was all sheer hyperbole.

But having thought a little more, he added:

‘Now the book has 200 games, there is a solid dose of losses, we have Alapin’s opening, and we have B. S. Queenabber.’

Here’s the game that they’re talking about:

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