In taxing times, a tip of the eyeshade to accountant chess stars

April 16, 2019

On this, their Super Bowl Week, let’s hear it for the accountants.

Before the rise of the modern professional player, even the greatest masters had to find other ways to make ends meet. Some were diplomats, professors, lawyers, soldiers or clerics; others paid the bills through bicycle messaging or (ahem) journalism.

Accountants are often derided as bean counters, but remember that it was cuneiform inventories of barley shipments that gave the world writing, and it was double-entry bookkeeping that led to the Renaissance, modern capitalism and Donald Trump. And while no CPA ever won the world chess title, some came very close.

The 19th-century star Henry Edward Bird was one, and the Englishman might have gone further if his day job didn’t keep intervening. (He had to break off a tight match with future world champion Wilhelm Steinitz in 1866 when his employer called him back to the office.)

Bird defied the green-eyeshade stereotype, pioneering one of the game’s offbeat openings (1. f4) and holding his own with Romantic-era swashbucklers such as German world champion Adolf Anderssen, as can be seen in their wild 1851 game in London.

Anderssen was, after Paul Morphy, the greatest attacker of his age, and it’s impressive to see Bird taking the fight to Black with moves like 13. Qxa7!? (Nxe4 was the safer choice) Nxc3 14. bxc3 c6? 15. Be3? (missing the powerful 15. Rb1! b5 16. Bf3, when Black may not have a defense; e.g. 16...Bd7 17. Rxb5! cxb5 18. Qb7 mate) Be4 16. Qa8+ Kd7 17. Qxb7+ Ke8 18. f3 Bxg3! 19. Rf2! (hxg3 Qxg3+ 20. Kh1 Qh3+ is a draw) Bxf2+ 20. Bxf2 Bd5 21. c4! and White seizes the initiative.

Remarkably, Black’s king finds sanctuary on h7 and White is forced to win the game all over again. Bird again misses a winning shot (34. Bxf5! Qxf5 35. Qxf5 gxf5 36. Rxg7+ Rxg7 37. Bxg7 Kxg7 38. a4 is an easy endgame win), but finally puts away his tenacious opponent with 42. Qxg3 Re8 43. Qf2+ Kg8?? (Anderssen finally cracks 43...Ke6 44. Qb6+ Kd7 45. c8=Q+ Rxc8 46. Qd4+ is a draw as Black has no shelter from the queen checks) 44. Qf5!, and Black resigns as 44...Kg7 45. c8=Q Rxc8 46. Bd4+! (Qxc8?? Qf3 mate) Kg8 47. Qxc8+ wins for White.


There is no telling how much further American immortal Sammy Reshevsky might have gone if his day job as an accountant hadn’t intruded. Reshevsky, a child prodigy who was still beating top competition into his late 70s, had to schedule his play including eight U.S. titles and a third-place finish in the fabled 1948 world championship tournament on his annual vacations.

A sample of Reshevsky’s skill comes from today’s diagram, at a 1922 New York tournament where a 10-year-old Sammy holds off Polish-French star David Janowski, who just 12 years earlier played a match for the world title.

Janowski has his young opponent on the ropes, but the tenacious Reshevsky turns the tables with a remarkable idea: 39. h5? (White misses his chance very strong was the immediate 39. Ng5+! hxg5 40. Rxg5 Qd7 41. Qf3 Qg7 42. Rh5+ Qh6 43. Rgg5) Nh8 40. Ng5+hxg5 41. fxg5 Ng6!!, blocking the way forward for White’s formidable pawns and turning the tide of the game.

There followed: 42. Rg3 Kg7! 43. Rh3 Rh8 44. hxg6?! (a frustrated White now just hands the board’s only open file to his opponent) Rxh3+ 45. Kxh3 (Qxh3?? Rh8) Rh8+ 46. Kg3 Qxa4 47. Qf3 f4+! 48. Kg4 (Qxf4 [Kxf4 Rf8+] Qb3+ 49. Kg2 [Qf3 Rh3+!] Qh3+ 50. Kf2 Rf8) Qc2 49. Qxf4 Qe2+ 50. Kg3 Qd3+ 51. Kg2 Qe2+ 52. Kg3 Qh2+ 53. Kf3 Rf8, and Black went on to win in 65 moves.

Bird-Anderssen, London, 1851

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d4 Nxd4 5. Nxd4 exd4 6. e5 Ne4 7. O-O Qh4 8. g3 Qh3 9. Be2 d5 10. exd6 Bxd6 11. Qxd4 Bf5 12. Nc3 O-O-O 13. Qxa7 Nxc3 14. bxc3 c6 15. Be3 Be4 16. Qa8+ Kd7 17. Qxb7+ Ke8 18. f3 Bxg3 19. Rf2 Bxf2+ 20. Bxf2 Bd5 21. c4 Be6 22. Qxc6+ Ke7 23. Bc5+ Kf6 24. Qc7 Kg6 25. Kh1 h6 26. Rg1+ Kh7 27. Rg3 Qh5 28. Bd3+ Bf5 29. Qe5 g6 30. Qf6 Rhg8 31. Qxf7+ Rg7 32. Qf6 Rdd7 33. Bd4 Rde7 34. c5 Bxd3 35. cxd3 g5 36. c6 Re1+ 37. Bg1 Rf7 38. Qd8 Rxf3 39. c7 Rxg3 40. Qd7+ Kg6 41. Qd6+ Kf7 42. Qxg3 Re8 43. Qf2+ Kg8 44. Qf5 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.