Fairest of them All


If a game was unfinished in the first four-hours, a player used to seal his next move in an envelope and hand it to an official for safekeeping until play resumed. In his book 'From Beginner to Expert in 40 Lessons', Alexander Kostyev cites an adjournment between Jose Capablanca and Milan Vidmar at London 1922:

     "Vidmar awaited his opponent with the intention of resigning.
     Time passed, but Capablanca didn't appear. Looking at the
     clock, Vidmar suddenly realized his opponent's flag was about
     to fall. Not hesitating for an instant, the Yugoslav
     grandmaster rushed up to the board and just had time to
     resign by tipping his king as the arbiter was about to
     declare him the winner on time. The British press dubbed
     Vidmar's action 'the most beautiful move ever played in a
     chess game.'"

Vidmar's position was hopeless but he showed up to continue the battle, not to resign. The real story is told in his memoirs:

     "When we parted I told Capablanca that I'd probably have to
     lay down my arms soon. We spoke in French, in which he was
     even less proficient than I. He nodded pleasantly and we
     went our separate ways.

     "When play resumed, the arbiter opened the sealed envelope,
     made my move on the board and then started White's clock.
     Later I felt someone touch my arm. 'Capablanca is still not
     here,' said the arbiter, who appeared anxious. 'He has lots
     of time left,' I replied, and watched other interesting
     games in progress, for how long I don't know. Suddenly I
     felt the arbiter's hand again. He was unmistakably very
     concerned. 'In a minute or at the most two, the world
     champion will overstep on time,' he said.

    "An oppressive feeling of anxiety overwhelmed me. What if,
    when we parted, I caused Capablanca to misunderstand me? What
    if he took my last words to mean I had written 'Resigns' on
    my scoresheet? If I eventually won first prize through this
    misunderstanding, it would be gained in an underhanded way.

    "With difficulty I pushed my way through the throng of
    spectators, arrived at my table and turned my king over
    without further thought. His flag fell. Capablanca came,
    saw my prostrate king, and smiled pleasantly at me.

    "We never spoke about the anguish I went through, or of
    the danger in which he had unwittingly placed himself. I
    must admit my game was not to be saved if it had followed
    its normal course on resumption.

     "I had long since forgotten this curious incident. But at
     Nottingham 1936, the president of the British Chess
     Federation introduced me as 'the man who played the FAIREST
     move ever seen in England.'"

How many players today, we wonder, would exhibit such sportsmanship?

Source: Evans on Chess - 1995 from Ches Connection



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