I loved your prompts, and was especially intrigued by trying to reconcile the musical with RL chess history.


November 8, 1979
Mexico City

I'm grateful to Switzerland for a lot of things. Including cheese. Okay, considering the contents of my refrigerator, especially cheese. Also the wonderful games of Edwin Bhend-stay tuned to the second half of this column for an interesting puzzle based on one of his 1959 games.

However, after an anticlimactic and hastily-decreed world championship drew to a close, I'm beginning to sour on the Swiss System of running tournaments. The final round, in which Frederick Trumper of the United States defeated his listless German counterpart, seemed a mere formality, and we were denied a showdown between Trumper and any of the dazzling Soviet contenders. True, the fact that Leonid Viigand upset Anatoly Sergievsky in the second round, effectively if not mathematically eliminating Sergievsky from consideration, probably played into that, considering Viigand's ensuing mediocrity. All the same, one could wish for a tenser tournament in terms of over-the-board play.

There are, of course, two enormous caveats. I can't say I'm disappointed in the absence of hypnotists or chair X-rays, which may have enthused the casual fan during last year's championship but didn't seem to promote healthy competition. And of course, this shouldn't even have been the championship-crowner; the original intent of this tournament was for the right to face Anatoly Karpov in two years' time.

But Karpov's untimely demise in a contaminated-salt-related tragedy last July necessitated quick action, at least in the minds of the FIDE higher-ups. I can't blame them for wanting to avoid a repeat of the 1940s interregnum, but the result was a somber occasion unenlivened by worthy games.

All the same, Trumper's slightly off-book openings are worth further study. More on that next week; for now, here's Bhend.

September 15, 1980
New York City

I recently saw a television advertisement for a new and expensive pair of sneakers. What was noteworthy about this was not their price, their purported attractiveness, or the questionable circumstances under which they are probably produced, but rather their sponsor. Instead of a basketball or football star touting his footwear's reflected glory, viewers in the brief clip were instead treated to chess champion Frederick "Freddie" Trumper.

To the best of my knowledge, his preferred brand of shoe does not confer him any benefits during competitive play. Although considering some of the stunts that have been pulled, I wouldn't be surprised if Soviet authorities were to demand they be x-rayed just in case. What's striking about the ad is that it reminds me just how pervasive Trumper's image has become. Yes, much like Bobby Fischer a few years ago, he can be surly and prickly between games. Yet in stark contrast to Fischer, becoming world champion has not diminished his drive to play-or reap the financial benefits that come from being number one.

Perhaps this has to do with the unexpected circumstances in which he took the title, but certainly nobody disputes that he is a legitimate champion, least of all him. He relishes the spotlight, crushing celebrities and upcoming prodigies alike at the simultaneous exhibition in New York last month. And, in anticipation of the upcoming championship match, he's appeared in clips for these shoes. No doubt razors and sports cars will be next up.

At the risk of playing armchair psychologist, I would venture a guess that cold cash is the allure for Trumper in these spots. After all, he didn't get to negotiate for a big cut at the last championship. (Fischer, as the challenger in Reykjavik, had a better bargaining position.) But is he conscious of the wave of inspired kids hoping to follow in his wake? That seems a leap.

Perhaps this will be another flash in the pan like Fischer eight years ago, and only us tiresome diehards will keep the following. I'm not sure. But for now, I'm happy to celebrate a champion who still enjoys playing for its own sake.

In the meantime, this endgame study arose in a game by Donald Byrne, and I think the triangulation result is very neat...

November 21, 1981
Rome

It's always dangerous to deal in stereotypes, especially about a place where you have not stayed very long, so I will avoid speculation about this city's historical architecture, art, modern crime rates, or long-term interest in chess in the wake of the recently-concluded World Championship in Merano. I will note, however, that I did not expect it to have a large contingent of Russian-language interpreters.

Those employed in the city center have had an unusual responsibility this week, as newly-crowned champion Anatoly Sergievsky stunned onlookers by seeking asylum in the UK shortly before his planned return home. In many ways, this was a more unexpected result than the match itself; despite his tremendous skill, Frederick Trumper seemed rattled early and quickly unraveled. He wasn't even there to witness the formal adjournment, having delivered his resignation to the arbiter via envelope.

Sergievsky has not gone in-depth into his motivations, though so far he has displayed no desire to seek lucrative sponsorship deals like Trumper has. Nor does he seem intrigued in fame for its own sake. In this day and age, it may be unfashionable to speak of ideals of liberty as sufficient reason to abandon one's entire life, yet that seems as good a guess as any.

As of last year, Sergievsky was married; his wife, Svetlana, did not attend the tournament, and there has been no public comment on her status.

No puzzle this week, I think we're all still dissecting this news. I hope to have a longer column next week going into some of the positional intricacies of Game 3.

March 30, 1984
Sochi

Congratulations to Irina Levitina of the Soviet Union for winning the women's Candidates Tournament. She will face Maia Chiburdanidze, also of the Soviet Union, this fall in Volgograd for the world championship. I'll have an analysis of one of Levitina's recent games at the end of this column.

One of the questions I'm often asked by readers (besides "how does the en passant rule work again?") is why women have a separate championship. Unlike most sports, where there are some obvious physical discrepancies that make it difficult for women and men to compete as equals, chess is a battle of intellects. Glib dismissals of "women don't have the testosterone to have killer instincts" are fairly unsatisfying; there are a host of cultural factors at play (in the West as well in the East) that contribute to greater and lesser extents, but a full analysis is probably beyond the scope of this column.

It seems timely, however, to point out that Florence Vassy has officially confirmed she will be serving as Anatoly Sergievsky's second at the championship in Bangkok this fall. Vassy is uniquely-positioned, having assisted Frederick Trumper in the years leading to his world championship.

I can confirm from following Trumper for many years that Vassy prefers to avoid the limelight as an assistant; beyond the tireless work of helping him prepare for upcoming games, her main responsibility was damage control in the media. With Sergievsky, she has taken on a more public role as a de facto translator and guide to the UK. Vassy was a refugee during the Hungarian Revolution, and the significance of her aiding a public, high-profile defector from the Soviet Union is surely clear to both of them. But speculation that they are romantically involved seems groundless if not insulting. Would anyone be questioning Sergievsky's off-board liaisons if he'd secured the advice of Tony Miles?

October 23, 1984
Bangkok

Despite a nearly-insurmountable collapse, Anatoly Sergievsky edged out Leonid Viigand in a beautifully attacking game to defend his World Championship. The match had barely concluded when he announced that he would be returning to the Soviet Union, after defecting to the United Kingdom after the tournament three years ago. Whether the Soviet government will allow him to continue to play competitively is an open question. There are no shortage of talented young challengers coming through the USSR ranks, and Sergievsky thoroughly embarrassed the establishment by leaving, to say nothing of seeing off their docile challenger this time.

That a decisive game would be necessary seemed implausible a week ago, when Sergievsky led five games to one and his form seemed undiminished. But whether it was the arrival of his wife as a spectator, the aftermath of a frustrating interview with onetime rival Frederick Trumper, or the sultry Thai weather, his composure was shaken, and Viigand's tireless defense allowed him to capitalize. Sergievsky's resolve seemed to have returned by the finale, however, and I can only fathom that it was the confidence of knowing he would be returning to the USSR, win or lose, that settled him.

Some of my more sensationalist colleagues have speculated that Sergievsky was under pressure from his former employers to throw the match. I find this hard to believe; the Soviet government has more than enough on its plate these days without trying to salvage his "traitorous" reputation. Then again, it doesn't seem as if his wife's presence reignited their relationship after the protracted absence.

His reasons for returning may remain just as inscrutable, if not quite as principled, as his mindset in defecting in the first place. Ask anyone who's played with a clock; in the end, chess is a game of falling flags.