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Thursday, November 3, 2016

An Announced Mate in 39 Moves...Was it a fraud?

     The August 9, 1900 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran an article in which they had received a letter from the president of the Ohio State Chess Association, Dr. F.B. Van Nuys, of Tiffin, Ohio. Dr. Van Nuys stated that chess was booming in Ohio and they had correspondence matches with Michigan and another against Indiana which was practically won. He added that the Association, which had over 50 members and expected to double within the year, had their own correspondence match going on with 40 players. 
     The article also contained a game between R.A. Hart (Michigan) and J.A. Ford (Ohio) in which Ford announced mate in 39 moves. The game was annotated by C.S. Howell of Brooklyn. 
     Clarence Howell (April 2, 1881 - October 27, 1936) won the Brooklyn Chess Club Championship in 1905 and in 1908, the New York State Championship. Howell didn't believe the announced mate was possible. Howell pointed out that this game was the second one he had examined with a mate in over thirty moves. He claimed that in the other game he demonstrated not only that the mate could not be accomplished, but the game could have been drawn. In the case of this game he did not even attempt to "cook the mate" because black could probably win in 39 moves. But, he wished to state that he did not believe the position could be analyzed to a mate within the time limit allowed unless the player went without sleep and food. Moreover, he considered the entire task a futile one. He opined that the object of a game is to win, not to make it a problem. "The composers give us enough trouble in that line. Did anyone ever hear of Morphy or Lasker or any of the really great masters announcing mate in 39 moves?" 
     Howell then mentioned that the association was offering a prize for the longest announced mate, which he felt was not conducive to good chess, and because of that, the Ohio State Chess Association was at fault; presumably the prize encouraged fraud. 
     I no longer have access to the 7-man Lomonosov tablebases, but after black's move 47 black wins in 40 moves, so Ford's pronouncement wasn't far off and analyzing the game out to a mate shouldn't be too hard for a strong analyst working at home. Back in the mid-1800's Mrs. Ellen Gilbert was famous for long announced mates, in 21 moves in one game and mate in 35 moves in another which at the time caused a sensation in the chess world. 
     Ford's analysis, with a couple of minor exceptions, was sound and there was no reason for Howell to denigrate his analysis or the Ohio State Chess Association for offering a prize for the longest announced mate. My guess is though that when they announced the prize, they probably had in mind a long tactical sequence, not a R and P ending.

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