A Funny Side of Chess

Chess is a grueling mental battle. Anyone who plays in the official rated tournaments can attest to that. It is not that unlikely, that when one participates in a weekend Swiss (Friday - Sunday, 5 rounder), he or she can spend 25-30 hours total at the chessboard.

To play successfully, you also need to put a strong effort during your preparation. Professional chess players spend 6-8 hrs each day. Non-professionals struggle to find the time to study while balancing their work and family obligations.

So basically, as soon as you leave the school, chess stops being a pure fun and becomes a stressful hobby.

Everyone deals with the stress in their own way. I try my best to incorporate humor and fun in my personal training as well as in my sessions with my students. Even in my books (Chess Exam (2004) and Chess Exam: Tactics (2007)), I have special Take a Break sections, where readers can read some fun stuff.


Over the last several of weeks, I've gotten several rather funny e-mails from different people - my friend, my students, my business associate, and a reader of my book. I'd like to share them with you.


The first one concerns a curious endgame I played on ICC a couple of month ago. I shared it with a couple of my friends and students. Then came e-mail from IM John Donaldson: Dear Igor, I know you work as an accountant (actually it is actuary) and chess coach but didn't realize you moonlighted as a mortician! You put your opponent in a tomb! John


Now, John is an AOL user, and one of the AOL features is that, unless you make an effort, it doesn't preserve the prior e-mail history. It took me a couple of minutes searching through old e-mails to realize that John was referring to that curious endgame. I was laughing very hard. See for yourself:



White to Move

Lionheart - Lzikon (FM)
ICC, 24.03.2007 (G-3)

I am White in this 3 minute per game shootout. The Nd4 isn't pinned, so, in addition to simply winning the pawn on c6, White has other options. With clocks down to the last 30 seconds I found the following nice variation:

1.Nxe6 Rxd1+ 2.Bxd1 fxe6 3.h4 g5 4.h5 gxf4 5.exf4 Kf7 6.Bf3 c5 7.Bc6 (Diagram on the right.) Black's remaining pieces are permanently stuck in the 6-sqaure box f8-f7-h7-h8. The White K will win the battle on the Q-side. Black resigned a few moves later.

Black to Move




Another e-mail came from the reader of my book who shared with me his concern about the question from one of the Take a Break sections from my original Chess Exam and Training Guide (2004) (see below left).

My answer to this obviously humorous puzzle basically was - Note that  there is no requirement stated in the question that White wins, only that he promotes the pawn into the Queen. Then, of course, White can advance the P on a7 and, with the Black K on b7, could play Pa8Q+, fulfilling the requirement. While White would be losing the new Queen to Kxa8 with a Draw, he would be winning the bet.

Apparently, not that easy. Here is what the reader wrote.

Dear Mr. Khmelnitsky

I have recently worked through your book "Chess Exam and Training guide". I greatly enjoyed reading your book; it has a great selection of problems with very clear explanations of solutions.... 

Well, today I found out that one should bet that there is no way to queen the pawn. You propose the solution 1.a7 Ka8, 2. Ka5 Kb7?? 3. a8=Q+ and white wins the bet. 

However, there is a nice and elegant way to stop your plan in its tracks. As soon as you play any first move, I will RESIGN, and while you will win a drawn position, you will not be able to queen your
pawn as you promised. Or I can be evil and resign after your second move, with the same outcome. I have already lost a bet like that today, so please correct your solution in the new edition of your excellent book. Thank you very much for your terrific work.   L.V

I hope it was just a friendly wager and I thanked L.V. for letting me alert my readers. Be aware!



Soon thereafter, I got a good news from my student J. Scott Burris, who had a blast at the National Open in Las Vegas. He scored 5.5 / 6 in the Under 1600 section, got a Draw in a simul with US Champion Alex Shabalov and managed to meet in person the great Victor Korchnoi. 

Korchnoi, in the mean time, had a successful National Open too. He scored 5/6 tying for 2nd place behind Nakamura (5.5/6), had nice crowds at his books signing and ... managed to meet J. Scott Burris. 

Perhaps they had  a short conversation along these lines:

SB - Hello Mr. Korchnoi, I scored more points than your did!
VK - Hey... You don't look like Nakamura

Or maybe something like this:
SB - Hello Mr. Korchnoi. I purchased your book yesterday, thank you for signing my copy.
VK - Yes, of course. I remember you, and 500 other people who waited in line

What was your first reaction. If you can think of a funny line (but please no offensive stuff) please drop me a line. The best one may get some small prize.

Another student and friend attended  the National Open and brought me an autographed copy of Korchnoi's book My Best Games (Olms). Thank you, Joe!

Photo from J. Scott Burris (right)



A student and friend Nigel, was going on vacation with his family to the Dominican republic a couple of weeks before the World Open. He set for himself very high goals for this tournament and was training very hard. Nigel asked my advice on what chess books to take with him to the all-inclusive paradise. My recommendation was to lighten up his work before the World Open and just relax and come back fresh and ready to compete. 

I also said that one thing he should consider was to solve some tactical puzzles to keep his mind sharp. A natural choice was my new book Chess Exam and Training Guide Tactics.

Well, one week later, Nigel was back looking happy and energetic. He told me it was great. He had a very relaxing time in the paradise, except  when  he  read my book! He said - "It was challenging!"


Here is an example - I am relaxing on the beach, enjoying the sun and the ocean, reading your book and generally doing well with the puzzles. Pretty much all like you recommended. 

All of a sudden, when I feel good about my answer to one of your exam questions and expect full 5 points reward, I read  - "If you didn't consider 5...Nc3, you loose 3 points!"  I swear, I thought you were sitting next to me and we are having one of our training sessions. So I 'told' you - "This is not fair! I am on vacation!", put your book in my bag and went to the ocean.

Note that Nigel scored a solid (+) score at the World Open, however, below his ambitious personal goal. Perhaps, he bailed out of our 'paradise session' too soon.




Finally, last week I got a review copy of the new book with the appropriate title for chess humor - "Horse Laffs", written by Ralph J. Tykodi and the late Mr. Chess Humor himself - Eduard Guffeld (Thinkers' Press, Inc., Bob Long publisher)

I enjoyed this book. Some of the stories were familiar to me, some were new. My favorite section was 94 anecdotes from Gufeld's collection. Here are a couple that made me chuckle (perhaps these situations are not uncommon): 


A wife to her husband, a chess player: 

- If you won't take out the garbage at once, I'll steal the King from your chess set.


- Well, are you satisfied with your son-in-law (or use friend, father-in-law,...)?
- Actually, I am, but he can't play chess. 
- What's so bad about that?
- There is nothing bad about it, but the point is that he cannot play, yet he plays and plays.




In conclusion, I want to share with you a quote from Milunka Lazarevich's interview with Mikhail Tal in 1960, after winning the FIDE world championship (This interview was included in the "Horse Laffs")
Lazarevich: What was the secret of your training methods?
Tal: My trainer (Koblenz) told me a new joke before each game.

I wish you to find your own way to make chess a fun game it always meant to be! Enjoy the game and have a great success!





What do you think about this article? For comments send email or this form

More on chess training (serious and enlightening)

Chess Exam and Training Guide (2004)  $24.95 + shipping

Chess Exam and Training Guide: Tactics (2007)  $19.95 + shipping

CE + CE Tactics (Special) - $39.95 - insured shipping in US is included

Chess Training Services


Copyrighted @ 2007 Igor Khmelnitsky. None of the contents can be used without permission!

Clip-art images are from www.Clip-Art.com

For comments or permission to reprint please send inquires via email or this form