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A chess life in a library, a biography on a bookshelf

March 5, 2019

Like the rings on a fallen oak or the scars on an athlete’s knee, one could almost tell a person’s life story from the books in their chess library.

Consider: There are the Reinfelds and Chernevs of one’s chess infancy; the “My System” and “Think Like a Grandmaster” that got you through those awkward Class C years; the paperback “My 60 Memorable Games” that first Special Someone got you that Christmas; the odd flirtations and poor life choices (“Did I actually think Nielsen and Hansen’s ‘The Accelerated Sicilian Dragon’ was a good idea?”); the old favorites (“Epic Battles of the Chessboard,” “Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces,” “The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal”) handled so often the bindings are falling apart; the all-too-numerous endgame manuals still uncracked.

Each volume evokes a memory, each recalls an earlier version of one’s chess-playing self.

I never knew Joe Garafola, an electrical engineer from Alexandria, Virginia, who died in 2014. He was evidently a chess hobbyist and lover of the game, though the U.S. Chess Federation has no record of a formal rating.

Still, I felt an instant connection to the man when his daughter, Susan Stamm, recently bequeathed to me Joe’s small but select chess library.

There were the familiar Reinfeld and Horowitzes, the old standbys (what self-respecting player doesn’t own Bovinnik’s “100 Selected Games”?), and some real gems that I’m still a little too intimidated to handle: a 1905 hardcover edition of Mason’s “The Art of Chess”; a first-edition English-language translation of Edward Lasker’s “Chess Strategy”; and an 1859 copy of “Science and Art of Chess” by the mysterious “J. Monroe, B.C.L.” and dedicated, for some reason, to Mexican War hero Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, “himself skilled in the play of chess.”

Today’s diagram is a mate-in-four taken from Monroe’s volume “I cannot recall the name of its composer,” the author cheerfully admits with the solution at the end of today’s column.

One of the remarkable finds in Joe’s collection was an even older volume: an 1858 edition of “Frere’s Chess Handbook,” one of the first American chess books ever written. Thomas Frere was a founder of the Manhattan Chess Club and a prime mover behind the historic 1st American Chess Congress that introduced a young Paul Morphy to the broader chess world in 1857. The handbook is a delightful catch-all from a breezier age, squeezing into barely 100 pages the history and rules of the game, some chess maxims, a compendium of instructive endings, a smattering of problems and 50 “select” games.

Among Frere’s gems is a correspondence game played two decades before between the chess clubs of New York City and Norfolk, Virginia, won by the “Gothamites.” The opening play may be slightly fusty though the Bishop’s Opening still does surprisingly well in modern praxis but the middle game play from the New Yorkers deserves high praise.

White misses a chance to equalize 12. Nxh5 Bxh5 13. a4 a5 offers better hopes for counterplay and Black seizes the opening to remove White’s key defender with an exchange sacrifice: 14. Nd2 Nf6 15. Qc2 Rxd2! (without his knight, White will find it impossible to defend the kingside’s weak dark squares) 16. Qxd2 (Bxd2 Bf3 17. g3 Qh5 18. h4 Qg4 19. Kh2 Nxe4, and White’s game is collapsing) Nxe4 17. Qc1 (critical here may be 17. Bd3!?, though Black is still on top after 17...Nxd2 18. Bxg6 Nxf1 19. Bf5+ Kb8 20. Rxf1 Bxe3 21. fxe3 Be2 22. Rf2 Bc4, with a clear pawn to the good) Bf3 18. g3 h5!, and the Black attack practically plays itself.

A classic pawn storm breaks down the last defenses, as White’s pieces watch helplessly: 23. Rfb1 e4 24. Qe1 (Kf1 hxg3 25. Ke1 Rxh2 26. Kd2 Rxf2+) f5 25. Rb2 f4 26. Rab1, and Black, in the custom of the day, announced mate in four: 26...Qh3 27. Qf1 Qxh2+! 28. Kxh2 hxg3+ 29. Kg1 Rh1 mate.

Puzzle solution: 1. Rxb4+! cxb4 (Kxb4 2. Bd2+ Ka4 3. Nxc5 mate) 2. Bf4! (the only to get to both c1 and c7) a2 3. Nc5+ Ka3 (or 3. ...Ka5 4. Bc7 mate) 4. Bc1 mate.

Thanks, Joe. It was an honor to get to know you.

Norfolk Chess Club-New York Chess Club, Correspondence match, 1840-1842

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Bc5 3. c3 Qg5 4. Qf3 Qg6 5. Ne2 d6 6. d4 Bb6 7. O-O Nf6 8. dxe5 dxe5 9. Ng3 Bg4 10. Qd3 Nbd7 11. b4 Nh5 12. Be3 O-O-O 13. Nxh5 Bxh5 14. Nd2 Nf6 15. Qc2 Rxd2 16. Qxd2 Nxe4 17. Qc1 Bf3 18. g3 h5 19. Bd5 h4 20. Bxe4 Qxe4 21. Bxb6 Qg4 22. Qe3 axb6 23. Rfb1 e4 24. Qe1 f5 25. Rb2 f4 26. Rab1 Qh3 White resigns.

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