Monday 16 November 1998
There are also other delights on his page of "Chess Curiosities", including an account of what must be the most famous of all studies - the Saavedra position - which I amplified by consulting John Roycroft's excellent Test Tube Chess (Faber & Faber, 1972). I also looked in Jeremy Gaige's splendid Chess Personalia - a Bibliography (McFarland, 1987) for their full names. (Both are out of print, though you may be able to get them from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com, or http://www.amazon.co.uk).
Not only can chess columns report and, with luck, entertain; but they can even sometimes bear fruit. For the Saavedra position was conceived through a mixture of skill and serendipity in the French expatriate Georges Emile Barbier's column in the Glasgow Weekly Citizen over five weeks in 1895.
The story begins with the death in March of that year of the well known London player William Norwood Potter. On Saturday 27 April 1895, Barbier published an obituary of Potter, including a reference to the end of his fourth match game with the splendidly named Richard Henry Falkland Fenton in 1875.
In fact the black king was on h3 but Barbier mistakenly relocated it on h6 (and, for what it matters, he placed the pawn already on c7, with Black to move).
He explained that a draw had been agreed but that Potter had subsequently demonstrated the win; and then left it as an exercise.
The next week, Barbier published the solution - but then mistakenly added that if the king were on a1 it would be a draw; an opinion he supported with the solution on 11 May:
1 c7 Rd6+2 Kb5
The king must go back, since if 2 Kd7 Rd7! draws.
2... Rd5+ 3 Kb4 Rd4+ 4 Kb3 Rd3+ 5 Kc2!
It looks all over, but Black continues.
5... Rd4! 6.c8Q Rc4+! 7.Qxc4 stalemate.
However, resident in Glasgow at that time was the eponymous hero Father Fernando Saavedra, a Spanish monk who had been born in Seville but who served in many countries, including Australia.
He it was who spotted the flaw. On 18 May Barbier reported this and on 25 May he finally published the corrected solution, which still causes a frisson today.
Everything is correct up to the point when White played 6 c8=Q?
Instead he should underpromote to a rook: 6 c8R!!. Then 6... Ra4 is the only defence against mate and 7 Kb3! is decisive.
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