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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Never Assume Anything...Check It Out

     Sometimes you come across a name of someone and wonder who they were and if they were a good chess player, why weren't they better known? 
     According to Chessmetrics, in 1909 Frank Marshall was ranked number 10 in the world with an assigned rating of 2597. It was also in that year that he played a match with a young Cuban player named Capablanca and to most people's surprise, lost eight games, drew fourteen and won only one. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Marshall was in top form in 1909 and in November he defeated Jackson W. Showalter in a match to became the U.S. Champion. 
     Earlier in 1909 Marshall lost an informal three game match by a score of 2-1 against Edward P. Elliott (1893 – 1955) of Minnesota. Elliott had won the Western Chess Association (forerunner of the U.S. Open) championship in 1908 and was to win it again in 1912. So, who was this relatively obscure Edward P. Elliott that was good enough to vanquish the legendary Frank Marshall? 

     There is not a lot known about Elliott besides his winning the Western Open a couple of times. A long time prominent figure in Midwest chess, one source says he was a resident of St. Paul and another says Minneapolis. After his defeat of Marshall, Chess Weekly, a magazine edited by William E. Napier, Magnus Smith and Charles Nugent, said that his play, which was described a “clever”, indicated that he “would be a valuable addition the American Cable Team.”
     Presumably by American Cable Team they were referring to the yearly Anglo-American cable match series between teams from Great Britain and the United States that were conducted over transatlantic cable from 1896 to 1911, except for the three-year gap of 1904 to 1906 when no matches were held. The series ended when Great Britain won their third consecutive match, thereby earning permanent custody of the silver cup provided by Sir George Newnes.
     Prominent British players included Joseph Blackburne, Amos Burn, Henry Bird, Henry Atkins, Horatio Caro, James Mason, Frederick Yates, Sir George Thomas, and Thomas Lawrence. 
     For the U.S.: Harry Pillsbury, Jackson Showalter, Frank Marshall, Albert Hodges, Eugene Delmar and John Barry. The 1909 cable match against Great Britain was played in March and Elliott wasn't on the team which consisted of Frank Marshall, John Barry, Albert Hodges, Hermann Voigt, James Howell, Herman Helms, George J. Schwietzer, Samuel L. Stadelman, Stash Mlotkowski ans William A. Ruth. Great Britain won 6-4. 
     I discovered a clipping from the Santa Ana (California) Daily Register dated December 5, 1932 in which Elliott's name appeared. According to the article, local players would be interested in an upcoming evening of chess at the YMCA in which arrangements had been made to have Edward P. Elliott, Orange County Chess Champion, give a simultaneous exhibition. 
     In the following game from the match, at move 14 Elliott plays a risky attacking move offering up a B which Marshall unwisely accepted. Then, on his next move it was Marshall's turn to take a risk. Instead of trading down into a murky, but favorable ending, he blundered by trying to keep pieces on the board. 
     One can't know what Marshall was thinking, but the continuation indicates that at move 17 he made what Andrew Soltis has called an assumption error. It's quite possible he assumed white would make the recapture 17.Bxe4. Instead he played 14.Bc4+ and Marshall had no choice but to give up his Q for two Bs, but had no compensation and resignation a couple of moves later was in order. 
     Assumptions errors are quite common. As Soltis observed, it's impossible to calculate without making assumptions, but we have to make sure that must-make moves really are musts and not most likelies. 
     False assumptions are most likely to happen with recaptures. As Eduard Gufeld once explained, he forgot chess is not checkers and recaptures are not obligatory. 
     Checks are another common source of false assumptions. It's common to assume a check is the most forceful move in the position, but it may be that some other move is stronger. 
     There's also the psychological side. Once we realize we have assumed something to be true then realize it's not, it's easy to start second guessing yourself. 
     Dr. Martha Sirota, writing about assumptions we all make in life wrote, “It’s also no big deal for us to decide, arbitrarily, why an event has taken place. We don’t base this decision on observable evidence or factual knowledge; we just make the decision and believe it, as if it were fact.” 
    “The problem with making these types of assumptions, and we all do it, myself included, is that more often than not, we’re wrong. We assume that a person has a specific motivation for their actions or that an event took place for a specific reason. Then we start to see these incorrect assumptions as the truth. A lot of damage can be done by confusing our assumptions with the truth.” 
     Dr. Sirota wasn't speaking about chess players, but she could have been. 

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