Friday, April 23, 2010

Reverse Chess Imposters

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In one sense, all chess players are impostors: I am yet to meet a player, of whatever strength, who isn't convinced his "real" understanding of chess is such that he is grossly underrated.

Some chess authors, who shall remain nameless, are impostors in the sense of claiming to be "masters" or "leading masters" in their numerous books, when in reality they are at best mediocre -- which is why they are very careful to write only for beginners, who lack the ability to discern the author's lack of scholarship and skill.

More specifically, there have been cases of chess impostors, people who know nothing of the game pretending to be chess masters, although they are (naturally) easily exposed once they begin to play. The most famous -- and amusing -- case is a fictional one: that of Ostrap Bender, from the classic Russian novel The Twelve Chairs.

Bender, pretending to be the a great champion, is confident before his simultaneous exhibition, since 'he knows that the first move, 1. e4, will not present any problems'. Mikhail Tal, with characteristic humor, "explained" Fischer's preference for 1. e4 as White as his deference to 'O. Bender's recognized move'. (The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, commenting on Fischer-Tal, candidates' tournament, Bled 1959.)

A famous case of a "reverse" impostor, a genuine chess master playing chess under an assumed name, is that of Savielly Tarkatower playing chess, during WWII, as 'Second Lieutenant G. Cartier'. For his usual throughout analysis of the incident, see Edward Winter's Chess Notes no. 5140.

I wonder, however, if there ever was a case like that of Yoram Tamari. In an interview, he noted that, in 1955, as a schoolboy, he wanted to play in the second league chess team, Yoav-Ashkelon, in Israel, but for some reason did not want others to find out about it. So he entered the team under the assumed name of Shlomo Bogdansky -- his arts and crafts high school teacher, who had nothing to do with chess. The secret was revealed when he won all of his games, making a clean score of 7/7.

Perhaps he should have lost, or at least drawn, a game on purpose, to make sure.

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