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Chess: a passion of 75 years ... memorable moments and "bittersweet" games

Salomon Family: Roberto jr, Roberto senior,  Ana Maria, Maria del Carmen, Juanita and Eugenio in 1941. © E. Salomon

(Author: Eugene Salomon - © History of Spanish chess )

          It was the year 1941, in my home town, Gijón. At that time all good things were from "before the war", all people had been "right or left", red or blue. My father not only taught me how to play, but he also inspired a lifelong passion in my heart with the story of his experiences.Some of his anecdotes are written in his memoirs "Walking and Wondering":

          "Teaching languages  and giving chess lessons I earned a living ... and playing chess at dusk at Café de la Plaza, the best way to reach nirvana, which is also achieved with good music".

          It was the year 1942 when my "Uncle Casi" (Dr. Casimiro Rugarcía -painter, poet and chess player, besides Alekhine's doctor-) introduced me to his chess club "The Casino de la Union de los Gremios", on the famous Corrida Street, and at the same time helped me to appreciate, with his games and his poetry, the poetic dimension of chess:

          "It is unparalleled chess - faithful image of life - desperate departure - against time and chance - ... full of illusion begins - like life this game .-- Just as love is fire --and as art, beauty .-- How many times your greatness - humbles and your ardor is shattered! - Because this game or combat - also has its agony - in short or slow stubbornness - that ends in checkmate".

          It was the year 1944 when during a simultaneous exhibition timed with  clocks against ten of the best players in Gijón I received a 
masterful lesson from my idol, Alekhine, the reigning World Champion.
 Perhaps without realizing it, I learned the value of coordinating the Queen and the Knight in attacking games....It was move number 45. Alekhine and I were playing hand to hand because the other 9 players had already lost. With the inexperience of only a year participating in tournaments, I played 45 ... Qd3 + (to simplify, I thought ... and to lose, it turned out). If I had played 45 ... Nd3 !, the attacking "team"  Queen-Knight would have resulted in a draw. View game.

          From my first serious tournaments in Madrid 1946 and Gijón 1947, to the last ones in 1998 (Open Anibal -- Linares and World Open -- Philadelphia), the theme of combinations with queen and knight has appeared in many of my games, several of them selected for the book "40 Years of Friendship - 100 Games of Chess" that I wrote with my friends and teammates Steve Pozarek and Wayne Conover.

With my uncle Casimiro (my second teacher) and my uncle Eugenio © E. Salomón

          A year ago, when I discovered the group "History of Spanish Chess" through Facebook, and Javier Cordero proposed to translate my section of the book to share it on the Internet through his website, I felt honored. A great translation with accurate comments, complemented with a selection of 4 attack games (two of them, by the way, with combinations of Queen and Knight!). You can find the translated book, plus its selection of games, by going to his web site "Ajedrez de Ataque" or to the  "the attic section" of the "History of Spanish Chess" webpage.

          It is pure coincidence that each of the four games that Javier selected have their own life or history:

* The game against GM Sargisian was recognized in the Informator # 71, page 356, as one of the 25 best combinations of the quarter October 1997 to January 1998 ... an honor for someone who, like me, was never and never pretended to be a professional chess player.  View game.

* The game against the strong master Eugene Shapiro, an impressive theoretician in the openings, has a curious story: not wanting to play a Sicilian or a King's Indian, for the first time in my life I chose to open with 1.f4. I did not know the Bird opening , but having successfully used the Dutch defense with black in my youth, I had a good strategic concept of this type of approach. I thought that this would allow me to play as an equal in the opening. I won with a nice Queen sacrifice. View game.

* Two years later I had to play against Master Shapiro again, what to do? There was no doubt that Shapiro would have studied and improved his approach to the previous game, but anyway I wanted to avoid playing openings in which he was a recognized expert... solution: play again 1. f4, but with a small change:  Instead of developing the bishop to b5, I placed it on e2. Again I won with a combination that included a Queen’s sacrifice (or pseudo-sacrifice). View game.

* The game against the Russian master Lenar Murzin (Philadelphia 1998, perhaps created some chess poetry at age 70…) and my game against Mitchell Klug, reflects a frequently repeated leitmotif : the value of cooperation between the Queen and the Knight! (See also my game against IM Rogelio Ortega (Havana 1952) or against the strong master Adam Leif, played in 1986).

Bittersweet games

          Months ago, commenting on "History of Spanish Chess" the details of the International de Gijón of 1947 (always present in my heart), someone published my game against Antonio Rico (thanks, I did not have it!). That game was the first in a long string of "bittersweet games" in my life as a chess player. I remember saying that one day I would write about it ... and here I am!

          I call bittersweet games  those that combine, in a certain way, opposite sensations that can go from joy to agony or ecstasy. Like some Chinese dishes, they have a sweet flavor and a sour aftertaste. I am sure, dear reader, that as you see my examples you will remember some of your games, as it is a disease that afflicts all tournament players (even, though rarely, the Grand Masters).

          In my game with the friend Antonio Rico (champion of Asturias), played in my native Gijón in July 1947, the joy of a nice combination (started with a bishop sacrifice to continue with Nf6 +) was clouded by the regret of having to accept his offer of a draw in winning position because the flag of my watch was falling. View game.

          After tasting this bittersweet dish, I was able to taste similar ones throughout my career on the board:

* HAVANA 1952:

          After not having played tournaments for 4 years, I faced I.M Eldis Cobo (champion of Cuba and, like Medina, winner of a US Open). The joy of the success of "getting him out of the book" with a rather unknown variant of the Dutch, gave way to the anguish (or the shame) of seeing, but not executing, the simple winning move. T5d3 !. The fight ended in a Draw. View game.

          In spite of everything, I had the enormous satisfaction of finishing  sixth of 14, earning a place in the Cuban team that would attend the Olympics in Helsinki ... although by avatars of fate, I finally declined to be part of the Cuban team.


          After being away from chess for 16 years (due to my professional life, and a new emigration, this time from Cuba to the United States, where I created a family), I returned to the board at the New Jersey Open. Things were going surprisingly well: I was leading, unbeaten and I was facing one of the best New Jersey players, George Kramer. The happiness of being playing a good game and having it "won" disappeared by the agony of throwing everything away with a simple bad move. The game ended in a draw. View game.

          Finally I could not achieve the victory in the tournament, but it was sensational to see that I could still play against "the best" after so many years: I managed to be among the 10 best of Gijón (1944) and the 10 best of Madrid (1946), and years after being among the 10 best of Cuba (1952) I was among the 10 best in New Jersey (1968).

Gene playing a game with his son Henry with the same pieces that Alekhine used in the international tournament of Gijón 1944

* CONNECTICUT, April-1991:

          As one of many strong fans who can give a scare to any Grandmaster some times, I had a nice experience in Connecticut. I played in two successive games against two famous Grand Masters: Arthur Bisguier and Robert Byrne. Result: one won and one draw.

          My game against Bisguier reminds me  of what I experienced against  Rico 44 years earlier. A nice combination, which resulted in a winning position, was truncated by having to offer a draw due to the pressure of the clock. View game.

          Could I have won my games against the two Grandmasters? ... NO! As I mentioned before, even the Grandmasters go through moments in which they experience the sour taste: my game against GM Robert Byrne was a gift, even in the end Byrne could have got a draw playing 60 ... Ke5 instead of Kc5. View game.

* LAS VEGAS - National Open 1995

          At 67 years old, retired and with my own consulting business already organized, I found myself freed from the enormous pressure typical of  business executives and also having free time...a new experience!... That is to say, I was finally able to dedicate myself to playing chess seriously, which was reflected in a considerable increase in my "rating" (up to 2289) and also had an impact on the quality of my games in the creative aspect.

          With the maturity of age I begin to put more emphasis on "creating art", with the result of the game taking a second seat. In this tournament I played against a G.M (Bisguier), an I.M (Saidy), a F.M (Pupols), an IWM. (Belavskokaya) and a Master from Brazil. I defeated Pupols and drew the rest of games.

          This time the bittersweet game was for a second time against Bisguier, but this time it was bittersweet for him! When I played 46. e6 !!, Bisguier looked at me with astonished eyes and offered me a draw. In the post-mortem analysis he confessed to me that he was sure he would win, it seems that he had previously won several endings with this same type of position.  View game.

My best attack game and my best combination ... bittersweet

In the "Invitational Tournament" of Westfield (1976) I played an original attack game against Scott Massey. For years I felt proud of this victory, which was really exciting. When I selected it to publish it in our book ... the damn program Fritz transformed it, going from being "brilliant" to being "bittersweet". Sweet for its emotional content during the fight and for its originality, but also bitter because according to Fritz, I should have lost it !. For that reason, we did not publish it in the book, but I do think it is worth mentioning, at least as a "bittersweet game".  View game.

* Finally, the most frustrating game I ever played, the most bitter among my "bittersweet" ... and yet still sweet:

          It was the US Open, in New York 1986, and I played against the young Brazilian Regina Ribeiro. During the game I conceived what is perhaps the most original combination of my life. It was just 6-7 moves deep, but the combination would end in checkmate when my pawn crowned by taking the king's white bishop on f1 and choosing a Knight instead of a queen !! However, inconceivably I got confused in the order of the moves and I lost everything! (See item # 24 in my book. - Play 34 ... e2 ?? was a fatal transposition!). View game.

          Finally, I want to end this section of games with “sweet and sour” flavor with a note as sweet as sugar (of so much meaning in my life), I suggest the reader to play my game against I.M. John Watson in the World Open 1996, a sweet game -sweet because I think I played it well from start to finish and I had the pleasure of finding a simple but beautiful combination in the ending with 30.Rc4 !!:  View game.

A sweet farewell

           My beginnings in the world of chess took place in the country where I was born: Spain. I remember with special fondness the games won against J.M. Fuentes in 1946 and against F.J. Pérez and the victory against Antonio Medina both in 1947, all of them good attacking games, tactical productions of wich one always feels satisfied.

          When I decided to retire from Chess,  50+  years later, I wanted to do it playing a tournament in my native Spain; What better way to close the circle than remembering my beginnings. My old friend Mauricio Perea had told me several times: "You have to come and play in  Linares" ... and there I went, in 1998, to play some of  my last games. In Linares I had the pleasure of seeing that the fire of combination and attack games was still burning:  Munk Moretensen - Salomon and Ríos del Moral - Salomon.

Eugene Salomon

(January 8, 2018)



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