Fun and Games

Product Review

The Amazing Chess Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by Amatzia Avni (Mongoose Press, $21.95)

There is more to chess books than self-improvement. Although we all want to become better players,  unless one is a professional, chess is, first and foremost, a leisure activity, something we do for entertainment and pleasure. Between 1999 and 2008, the Israeli author Amatzia Avni had a regular column in Chess magazine, involving fantasy stories concerning the chess adventures of Baron Munchausen. The Baron travelled the world, including the cosmos and undersea world, engaging in all manner of remarkable chess adventures, including playing against Hammerheads, little green men from outer space, the Cyclops, etc. He never had a dull game, every encounter featuring a remarkable piece of chessboard brilliance of some sort or another, be it a game, an endgame study, problem, etc. The column was highly popular throughout its run, finally ending with the 100th appearance in 2008. Now, in response to popular demand, Mongoose Press have produced this collection of the best of the Baron, selected and edited by Avni, and augmented by 16 new adventures.

The result is a wonderful collection of chessboard fun and games, of the sort that should delight every chessplayer. Take, for example, the following conclusion to an endgame study, which the Baron uses as a training exercise for troops, looking to recapture an escaped terrorist:

White kicks off with 1. Rh4+, after which Black turns out to have a choice of which corner he wishes to be mated in:

1…Kf5 2. Ne3+ Kg6 3. Rg4+ Kh7 4. Nf6+ Kh8 5. Rg8# *

1… Kd5 2. Ne3+ Kc6 3. Rh6+ Kb7 4. Rb6+ Ka8 5. Rb8#

1… Kd5 2.Ne3+ Kc6 3. Rh6+ Kb5 4. Rb6+ Ka4 5. Nc5+ Ka3 6. Nc4+ Ka2 7. Rb2+ Ka1 8. Nb3#

1… Kf3 2. Ne5+ Kg3 3. Rg4+ Kh2 4. Nf3+ Kh1 5. Nxf2#

(Conclusion of a study by S Varov and S Kasparyan, 1st-2nd HM, Birnov MT 1991).

In another adventure, the Baron shows how Black can lose a seemingly unlosable position, if he is cooperative enough:

Here, Black makes 19 consecutive moves, at the end of which White mates in one: 1…Bb3. 2…Ra2. 3…Qa1 4…Rab2 5…Ba2 6…Rb3 7…Qb2 8…Ka1 9…Bb1 10…a2 11…Qa3 12…Kb2 13…a1(N) 14…Qa2 15…Ka3 16…Rbb2 17…Nb3 18…Qa1 19…Ka2.

And now White plays 20.Rxa4 mate!

(This serieshelpmate in 19 is by L Ugren, 2nd prize, Mat 1976).

And for those who prefer the hard sweat of OTB play, there are also some remarkable games, such as the following:

Munchausen – Smith
1. d4 d5 2. b3 c5 3. dxc5 Qa5+ 4. Qd2 Qxc5 5. Ba3 Qc7 6. Nc3 Nf6 7. O-O-O Qa5 8. Kb2

Yes, the Baron has fianchettoed his king!

Be6 9. e4 dxe4 10. Bb4 Qc7 11. Nb5 Qc8 12. Ba5 b6 13. Qf4 Nd5 14. Qxe4 Na6

15. Rxd5! f5 16. Rxf5 Kd8 17. Re5 Bd7 18. Bc3 Nc5

19. Rxc5! 1-0

This remarkable little game was actually played in the Israeli Premier League in 2000. The white player was the veteran IM, Nathan Birnboim, a player who has victories to his credit over Korchnoi, Romanishin and others. As the book puts it, “Nowadays he plays for fun, inventing his opening schemes during a battle, which results in some fascinating battles…”.

All in all, this is a lovely book of fun chess, and a refreshing change from the grim reality of hundreds of pages of dense, computer-generated opening analysis, which fills up so many chess books nowadays. The book is a handsome hardback production, and can be strongly recommended to all those who still enjoy their chess, irrespective of results or ratings.

You can order the book here. 

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