Traps, Tricks & Mistakes: Absurd Game
Chess is a battle of ideas between two players. In a battle, two sides fight for victory and before the combat, generals exhort their soldiers to show bravery against the enemy.
A chess player is a general, the pieces are his/her army and the curse of the battle depends on the general’s bravery. But that bravery directly depends on his/her preparation, concentration and mood.
The mood is a factor that can completely modify our process of decision making. For example, if we feel afraid, then we will tend to choose defensive moves despite objectively the position demands an active reply. Tiredness also affects the curse of a chess game in unexpected ways.
All those influential elements can determine what happens in the combat and be responsible for great masterpieces or horrible games.
A previous post showed the embarrassing defeat of Tigran Petrosian against David Bronstein because he inadvertently played his knight without looking at the actual position on the board. And Chinese GM Hou Yifan consciously lost her game in Gibraltar-2017 as a protest against what she considered unfair pairings throughout the tournament.
Today’s horrible game has similarities with Hou’s case. It happened in the World Students Team Championship which took place in Graz (Austria), 1972.
The strong German GM Robert Hubner played against the young untitled American Kenneth Rogoff. The ironic comments accompanying the game correspond to famous Serbian (formerly Yugoslav) chess journalist Dimitrije Bjelica.
Kenneth Rogoff (1953) was soon recognized as a chess prodigy. At the age of 14, he was New York State Open Champion, obtained the USCF master title and shortly thereafter became a senior master, the highest US national title. At 16, he dropped out of high school and concentrated on chess spending several years living and playing in tournaments in Europe. And at 18, he made the decision to go to college and pursue a career in economics rather than becoming a professional player.
In 2018 ChessBase interviewed Rogoff, by then an internationally renowned economist, and he explained the story behind today’s absurd game.
Below are Rogoff’s answers:
CB: Your game with Robert Huebner, the World Students Team Championship in 1972 in Graz. What is the story?
KR: “…the real story was that Huebner had played a really important game against Karpov the round before and lost. It was a fantastic game by Karpov. He was white and just squeezed Huebner. Huebner was emotionally exhausted because that was a very important game. He told his team captain, ‘I don’t want to play’ and the team captain said, ‘well that’s silly, you’re white you can play first board, shift everybody else a board down and that helps us a lot. If you’re too tired, just make a draw.’
Huebner, playing white against a much lower-rated player, felt insulted to be making a draw. He wanted it to be very clear that he was just doing it for the team, and so he played one move and offered a draw. And I should have refused it but I went to my team captain and I said, what do I do?. Our captain said, ‘you got to be kidding, take a draw’ and so I did. But the arbiters disallowed a one move draw and they made us play something.
Then he started playing suicide moves. I played suicide moves back. By this time everyone was standing at every table watching the game instead of playing their own games. I think I had more pieces at the end, but we agreed to a draw again. This time the tournament director said ‘we’re going to forfeit both of you’, we were both wrong. I didn’t know how to react when he was doing that, I had a lot of respect for him, and just didn’t handle it well. The third time I think I apologised and he didn’t and I won by forfeit in the end. And probably the correct decision was to forfeit both of us”
CB: So in the game, the suicide moves that you were playing — it’s not like you’d agreed on this before?
KR: “Oh no no, I was following what he was doing. I had no idea — he was leading the way. He was this incredible player, playing white, and I just hadn’t confronted this kind of situation before, and like I said, it was a team tournament — but of course, I should have just played. That’s very clear to me now — played and lost, it would have been fine. That was a wrong decision but once I sort of started down this path I didn’t seem to find a way out.
So I’d agreed to a draw the first time, and then the second time we started doing that. I didn’t want to win that way. This was insulting to the tournament and to everyone, it was just wrong. It was obviously wrong on his part, but it was equally wrong on my part to play along with that. I should have just said, ‘ok beat me,’ which he would have probably because he’d have been so mad. He’d have been very focused. But it would have been good for my chess.”
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