A Chess Mess

Edward Winter

From page 41 of The Middle Game in Chess by E. Znosko-Borovsky (London, 1938):


The same diagram and information were on page 47 of The Basis of Combination in Chess by J. du Mont (London, 1938). Do readers know of earlier appearances of this game, including details about the players, occasion and full score?

The present item examines how the position has been handled by the uncaring. For example, on page 13 of The Times Winning Moves (London, 1991) Raymond Keene omitted the white bishop on b5 and had Travin as Black:


Travin was also given as Black on pages 280-281 of Encyclopedia of Chess Wisdom by Eric Schiller (New York, 1999):



The phrase ‘from a game played in the Soviet Union sometime before World War II’ is not a hallmark of scholarship. The faulty diagram (with the rook on b4 instead of b2) and the ‘Malteses [sic] Cross’ heading were mentioned in A Sorry Case. Note too how a move by Black ‘forced Black’s resignation’.

Another sighting of Travin as Black is on page 20 of Chess Techniques by A.R.B. Thomas (London, 1975), but there was a particular reason:


Thomas set out his strange practice in the Introduction (page ix):

‘One feature of the book needs explanation. The diagrams are given from White’s point of view and White is remarkably successful. This is due to the fact that the colours have been reversed, together with the players’ names, whenever Black has won. In all such cases the number of the diagram is in bold type.’

So far, nothing has been found which disproves the basic historical information about the game from Znosko-Borovsky and du Mont in 1938. For reasons unknown, on page 15 of Chess Life, October 2009 A. Soltis stated that the position had arisen between Lev Travin and Ilya Zek in Leningrad in 1938 [sic].

He then put forward an analytical correction: after 1...Qd1 2 Rxb2 Qxd8 3 Rf2 ‘Black can’t win’.

A more diligent writer than A. Soltis would have avoided giving any impression that the drawing line was his own discovery. For instance, Black’s inability to win after 3 Rf2 had been mentioned by Jude Acers on page 60 of the May 1983 Chess Life, in the ‘Larry Evans on Chess’ column (an item which began with an incorrect title for Znosko-Borovsky’s book):


A more diligent writer than L. Evans (whose reference to uncritical copying suggests a stark lack of self-awareness) would have mentioned that the information from Acers was nothing new. Thirty years previously Evans himself had been corrected on the identical point, i.e. for overlooking the draw on pages 37 and 40 of a book which he co-authored with Tom Wiswell, Championship Chess and Checkers for All (New York, 1953). The correction was made by Norman T. Whitaker on page 192 of CHESS, July 1953:


Loath to provide sources or admit uncertainty, copy-and-bungle writers baldly present their version of the ‘facts’ as ironclad, never informing the reader that something else can be found somewhere else. Since 1953, it seems, only confusion has been added to the ‘Travin v Zeck’ matter.


Dan Scoones (Coquitlam, BC, Canada) draws attention to the crosstable for a national tournament in Leningrad in 1933 which recorded a victory by Travin over Zek.


Readers’ games are not usually shown in C.N., but an exception is made for a contribution from Dan Scoones. On 1 January 2015, not long after C.N.s 8977 and 8993 appeared, he had the following position as White against Hans Lassnig in a casual game (full score not recorded) at the West Vancouver Chess Club:


White to move

The continuation was 1 Rxa6 Bxa1 2 Ra7+ Rc7


3 Qc6 Resigns. (‘Although resistance was still possible after 3...Rxa7 4 Qxc8 Bc3, the shock proved too much for my opponent, and he immediately resigned.’)


Latest update: 12 February 2023.

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