Dr. T and Me

It was Xmas of 1946 and anyone who has ever been to Hastings & St. Leonard’s knows how the cold and damp air of that part of England can gnaw at your bones.  At nights I tried playing in my beaver lined trench coat only to end up watching the curtains being propelled back and forth by a cruel wind that pushed clear through the glass.  Under these conditions you can easily understand why tea-time was the most popular event of the day.  Steaming hot tea with all kinds of breads and jams were served in a large room with a crackling fireplace.  It was under these conditions that I had the good fortune to meet the late GM Savielly Tartakower.

After collecting his tea and crumpets, he was in the habit of placing his rear end in front of the fireplace usually letting out soft squeals of delight.  On most occasions his fly would be open, and when informed of this irregularity he would put down his cup, say, “J’adoube” while turning to face the fireplace and then making the necessary adjustments.  This happened so frequently that after a while no one bothered to pay attention.

During the Second World War Tartakower was supposed to have been Mr. X who worked for the Secret Service of the Free French.  If so, he never mentioned any of his exploits. He had a way of telling stories with a sense of humor during which his puckish-like nose and rosy cheeks and eyes would shine with delight while waiting for your reaction.

One evening he told a story about a chess tournament just before the start of WW I where all the players were imprisoned.  There was nothing to do so for diversion the men played chess created with pieces made out of bread.  As the war went on rations became scarce and scarcer.  Eventually they ate the pieces, and he claimed that was the origin of the expression, “I’ll make you eat the pieces.”  As a chess player, he can best describe play by a true story.  I played Dr. T in Hastings 1945/46.

My first and only tournament encounter with Dr. T was in Hastings.  He was White.  I played a Sicilian Defense.  He playing the opening incorrectly and after about 15 moves, I was a pawn up with no problems.  He offered a draw.  Naturally, I refused cockily thinking, “If this old man plays the rest of this game just as he played the opening, he won’t be around very long.  Oh, how mistaken I was.  We reached an ending with two Rooks and pawns on each side.  I played quickly and confidently.  Soon I was in a terrible bind.  I would have liked to offer a draw, but I was ashamed.  Every move he made was another nail in my coffin.  I was totally humiliated.  It was one of the best endgame lessons I ever got, but more than that it taught me respect.