Frank James Marshall
On page 138 of My Fifty Years of Chess (New York, 1942) Frank J. Marshall wrote the following introductory note to his game against Levitzky (or Levitsky) at Breslau, 1912:
‘Perhaps you have heard about this game, which so excited the spectators that they “showered me with gold pieces!”. I have often been asked whether this really happened. The answer is – yes, that is what happened, literally!’
Black played 25...Qg3, and White resigned.
There are, though, varying accounts of this incident, and several Chess Notes items have discussed it (see, in particular, pages 303-305 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves). For example, C.N. 670 quoted from a letter dated 13 October 1975 in which Irving Chernev informed us:
‘Let’s put the quietus on this, once and for all! Frank J. Marshall himself (in person, not a moving-picture) told me himself that it was true. The spectators, he said, threw gold pieces on his board at the conclusion of his brilliant win over Levitzky. While Marshall’s memory was sometimes faulty (he remembered very few of his great games) this was an incident one could hardly forget.’
In C.N. 2148 Owen Hindle (Cromer, England) quoted from page 62 of Marshall’s Chess “Swindles” (New York, 1914), which gave the Levitzky v Marshall game with notes by Hermann Helms taken from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. At the end Helms wrote:
‘After the game a number of enthusiastic spectators presented Mr Marshall with a handful of gold pieces, saying the game had given them great pleasure.’
That sounds decidedly less colourful than ‘showering’. On the other hand, Al Horowitz’s All About Chess (New York, 1971) gave the game twice (on pages 63 and 150), each time with a denial, based on a statement by Marshall’s widow, that any gold had been given (‘... Caroline Marshall, who ought to know, disclaims knowledge of even a shower of pennies’).
Discussing the matter on pages 98-99 of his book America’s Chess Heritage (New York, 1978) Walter Korn wrote:
‘Eyewitness reports, as circulated in Europe in the 1920s, come close to corroborating Marshall’s story. Two of the Czech participants at Breslau, Oldrich Duras, who had shared 1st prize with A. Rubinstein, and K. Treybal, both senior master members of the Dobrusky Chess Club in Prague, often took pleasure in recounting this and other episodes to the junior members, including myself. As corroborated by their compatriots Dobiáš, Hromádka, Pokorný, Thelen, and other Czechs who had also been to Breslau, what really happened was the paying of a bet. As the story was told, the Leningrad master Levitsky was accompanied by another Russian, P.P. Saburov, a well-to-do patron of the game. Another visitor was Alexander Alekhine, a dapper, prosperous aristocrat who was on his way from Stockholm (where he had won 1st prize) to a tournament in Vilna. Saburov, Alekhine, and a few other Russian guests made it their duty to place a wager on Levitsky’s win over the “played-out American”. However, Marshall upset their patriotic predictions and the bettors tossed over their pledges. Rubles, marks, Austrian crowns, and similar coinage of the period were minted partly or fully in gold. As related by Zidlicky, even the silver Maria Theresa thalers came in the “shower”, something not mentioned in the respectable accounts of the tournament book.’
On page 204 of Frank J. Marshall, United States Chess Champion (Jefferson, 1994) A. Soltis asserted that this was ‘the best explanation of what actually happened’. He also reported that Marshall’s original handwritten notes to the game merely commented, ‘A purse was presented to me after this game’. We wonder whether a reader can discover more details in the local press. The tournament book states that the game was played on 20 July 1912.
On page 107 of his book Chess Lists (Jefferson, 2002) Soltis wrote similarly about Marshall’s notes.
In the New Scientist, 4 September 1993, page 27, Raymond Keene claimed that Marshall ‘forced checkmate ... by hurling his queen into a forest of opposing pawns ...’
There was no forced mate.
On page 27 of the February 1935 Chess Review Arnold Denker wrote regarding the conclusion of the Marshall game:
‘This is by far the finest and most artistic queen sacrifice that I have ever seen.’
Olimpiu G. Urcan (Singapore) writes:
‘As Owen Hindle observed in C.N. 2148, pages 61-62 of Marshall’s Chess “Swindles” stated that the book’s notes to the Levitzky v Marshall game were reprinted from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (without any date being given). Marshall’s readers were left to assume that the key words at the end (“After the game a number of enthusiastic spectators presented Mr Marshall with a handful of gold pieces, saying the game had given them great pleasure”) had been written by Hermann Helms, the chess editor of the Eagle.
Pages 61 and 62 of Marshall’s Chess “Swindles” (New York, 1914)
In fact, the game – with the same annotations as in the Marshall book – had appeared on page 3 of the 8 August 1912 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, with the notable exception that Helms made no mention of gold pieces:
Thus, the comment about gold on page 62 of Marshall’s Chess “Swindles” seems to be an addition by Marshall himself.
The game was also published in the New York Sun, 18 August 1912, page 8, with annotations but no gold coins story. The score appeared too in the New York Evening Post of 21 August 1912 with Emanuel Lasker’s annotations, in a report from Berlin dated 9 August. Lasker made no mention of gold.
Page 8 of the 25 August 1912 issue of the New York Sun had the following about Levitzky:
“The Liverpool veteran Amos Burn in speaking about the Breslau international tournament gives the following information about the Russian player Levitzky:
‘One of the most interesting players of the lesser-known masters at the tournament is Levitzky, who lives on the borders of Siberia. Far from civilization, he has scarcely any opportunities for practice, or he would take a very high place among the world’s chess masters. He is undoubtedly a player of great natural talent. He has played a few games with Alekhine,who competed at Carlsbad last year, and who recently won the tournament at Stockholm. Alekhine had a majority of one in his games with Levitzky, but, of course, has much better opportunity for practice. Levitzky is 35 [sic] years old, tall, with yellow hair and beard. Knowing only a few words of German, he talks very little at Breslau, but in any case he is a silent man and of a particularly retiring disposition.’”
When the Levitzky v Marshall game was published on page 16 of the 25 May 1942 issue of the New York Post (H.R. Bigelow’s column) it was prefaced as follows:
“Here is the Levitzky-Marshall game which so pleased the spectators in the 1912 International Tourney at Breslau that they made a collection of gold (yes, we said ‘gold’) pieces for our Frank right after its conclusion.”
Finally, with regard to Al Horowitz’s statements in All About Chess that Caroline Marshall denied knowledge of the existence of any “gold coin shower”, the photograph and caption on page 68 of the March 1959 Chess Review may be noted:’
The mystery of the Marshall ‘gold coins’ game is still proving impossible to unravel, but, more generally, below is a novel suggestion from page 79 of Play Chess by William Hartston and Jeremy James (London, 1980):
‘In the old Viennese coffee-houses where chess was played many years ago, the spectators used to admire brilliant sacrifices so much that they would shower the board with gold coins for the winner.’
Below is the first paragraph of an article (‘Shower of Gold’) by C.J.S. Purdy on pages 110-111 of Chess World, July-August 1967:
‘Most players know about the game Levitzky-Marshall, Breslau, 1912, when a move by Marshall inspired the German onlookers to shower the board with gold pieces. We disbelieved this story until we asked somebody to ask Marshall personally if it were true. Marshall said yes.’
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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.