The story, as I remember it, was written by Bruce Hayden. The great American champion, Frank Marshall, was in England playing in a tournament. He was approached by some members of a local chess club. Seems that there was a Colonel Buller, the very epitome of the English bulldog type, who would come to the club and announce: “I will give rook-odds to anyone for a half-crown!.” Buller would then win the game, accept his half-crown, say “Thank you”, and leave. The conspirators wanted Frank to come to the club and play Buller. Of course, they wouldn’t tell Buller who Marshall was. Frank agreed and was sitting in the club when Buller came in with his usual challenge. “Here’s a gentleman from America, and he will play you for a half-crown.” The vultures gathered around the board and Buller, without his queen-rook, launched one of his fantastic attacks. Did Marshall perform as expected, and reduce the attack to rubbish? He did not! He lost! While the spectators watched in stunned silence, Frank paid his half-crown. Buller said “Thank you”, and left. The next day, when Buller came in, the club members rushed to him and exclaimed: “Do you know who you beat? You beat Frank Marshall, the American champion!” But Buller wouldn’t believe them. No matter how hard they tried to convince him, he wouldn’t believe he had defeated Marshall. “But, I can beat any of you chumps at rook-odds for a half-crown!”
That’s the end of Hayden’s story. What did he leave out? Marshall let Buller win. There’s no way that Marshall would lose to anyone in the world who gave him rook-odds, especially an amateur. Why did Marshall let Buller win? Because he admired and appreciated Buller and despised the persons who thought to humilate him. Frank sacrificed his own reputation in order to embellish the reputation of Buller.
That’s one of the reasons that Frank, as has been stated many times, was the most beloved master in the world – everywhere in the chess world.
Copyright Â© 2006 James Schroeder
A very fine bit of chess history from Master Schroeder! I read a similar story some 20 years ago regarding Capablanca. During his championship reign, the “chess machine” reportedly went 10 years without a single loss in a tournament game! However, there is a story–perhaps apocryphal–of Capablanca meeting a club Master in one of the New York chess clubs, and losing a game. Afterwards, Capa was asked by a spectator how many moves he could see ahead.
“12 moves!” was his answer. The club Master, when asked the same question, replied: “Just one move–the best move.” Interestingly, the New York master has remained anonymous, and I’ve never seen this game published.