Fascinating chess prodigies
With Errol Tiwari
May 13, 2007
The most important gift that a great chess player must have, is, in my opinion, a fertile imagination. - Dr Reuben Fine, grandmaster, psychologist and author
We are fascinated by chess prodigies, and marvel at their intellectual capabilities. Quickly, we realize, they think differently from others. They rattle us with their tactics and their strategies, in games that can result in gigantic conceptions.
They have this ability to synthesize and come up with an unexpected, unflawed sequence that separates them from others. Even though they are children, they can be beaten only by persons who are great chess players themselves.
Prodigies can see certain inherent positions in a situation that less gifted intellects cannot begin to envisage. All of a sudden comes the unexpected thrust, the flash of vision, and it is a moment of intellectual and aesthetic beauty.
A chess prodigy or a chess genius is allied to a genius in any art form. He aims for beauty; he takes a situation that is composed of materials available to everybody and by sheer imagination creates something unique and perfect, something that nobody could duplicate.
Psychologists have been unable to explain such strokes of genius, but there it is-that combination of logic plus technique, plus intuition leading to a "coup de theatre" that stands in unflawed perfection.
Experts say the four greatest prodigies in chess history have been Paul Morphy, Jose Raul Capablanca, Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer. But many others are in, or almost in that class. Henry Mecking for example, was champion of Brazil at 13, and at 14, he was the best player in South America.
Morphy learnt chess at eight. At five, Capablanca was already a strong player. He defeated the Cuban chess champion at 12. Reshevsky began playing at four by watching his father play. At eight, he was already at Master strength. Fischer's sister taught him the moves of chess when he was six years old. Their mother bought a chess set and they puzzled out from the directions where to put what where.
In his time Fischer became the youngest grandmaster ever at 15 years, six months and one day old. But over the years, because of new technology, with computers making it possible to learn and train faster, and being able to play strong foreign players over the internet, the records for youngest grandmasters have been shattered.
Judit Polgar, among others, broke Fischer's record by becoming a grandmaster at 15 years, four months and 28 days old. Bu Xiangzhi from China became a grandmaster at 13 years, ten months. and Parimarjan Negi from India at 13 years, four months. The record is now held by Sergey Karjakin (Ukraine) at 12 years, seven months.
Born in 1926, Elaine Saunders was a celebrated prodigy in the 1930s, and her exploits were well documented in British chess periodicals of the time. World champion Dr Alexander Alekhine played her in a simultaneous exhibition when she was 12, among 30 of Kent's strongest players. He called her a genius. After four and a half hours he had won all but three of the games. Saunders, at the time British girl champion, held to the very end, succumbing in a Rook and Pawn endgame in the very last game to finish. An onlooker in the crowd screamed: "Give the child a draw". But Alekhine said he knew what he was doing and continued playing for the win.
All important players have an aptitude that shows up early. If a player these days has not made a reputation by the time he is 20, he will never do so; for chess is a young man's game, and the peak years are from 25 to 35.
At home, in an effort to pursue local talent, the Guyana Chess Association in collaboration with the YMCA would be hosting a three-week chess camp for children and teenagers in July-August. The idea is to involve as many schools as possible in the Georgetown area. The association is hoping to attract about 60 participants from about one dozen schools.
Each school's representatives would be requested to carry the game back to their respective schools so it could be popularized. At the same time, tutors would be on the alert for special talent.
Thereafter, similar experiments would be carried out for schools in the rural areas.
Rudolph Speilmann was one of the strongest players in the world in the 1920s and 1930s. This game is taken from a simultaneous exhibition that he gave. The British 12-year-old chess genius Elaine Saunders takes him apart in a Sicilian Defence.
Rudolf Spielmann - Elaine Saunders
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 d6 5 c4 Nf6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Be2 Bg7 8 Be3 O-O 9 Nxc6 bxc6 10 h4 Qa5 11 Qd2 Ng4
12 h5 Nxe3 13 Qxe3 Qb4 14 Qd2 Be6 15 hxg6 fxg6 16 a3 Qc5 17 O-O-O Rxf2 18 b4 Qe5 19 White resigns.