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Richard Reti and the rocket propelled king

Richard Reti was one of the best chess players in the world in the early 1900s. He was brilliant overall – the kind of chap who would have gotten a ranking within 100 at the IITJEE without going to Kota based classes – and contributed to chess theory in the openings as well as endgames when he was not beating the pants off the best players in the world, including the mighty Capablanca, considered by many (including Capablanca himself) to be unbeatable.

Reti was a maverick for his time. One of the founders of hypermodernism in chess strategic thought, he enriched chess play immeasurably by freely sharing his findings. Hypermodernism, if you haven’t heard of it and are too busy to look up on the internet, is the school of thought that believes in achieving chess strategic objectives in indirect (and often puzzling, to the uninitiated)
ways.

For instance, we are taught that the control of the center is of paramount importance in chess, and are urged to either occupy the center directly or control it. Hypermodern thinkers, however, would recommend indirect control instead of the direct. Or we might develop our pieces as soon as possible a la the old gambiteers whereas a hypermodernist would think of encouraging you to overstretch and then attack a weakened king.

All these and more were concepts that originated from Reti’s brilliant mind, one which was tragically stilled when he died of scarlet fever at the age of forty. He opened so many new facets in the fascinating game that is chess that he changed almost completely the way attacks and defenses are conducted.

A lovely example of his maverick thinking comes from this study.

White to play and draw

The position actually arose in a game in Berlin between two fairly good players and when this position was reached, white resigned, convinced that he would never be able to queen his own pawn because the black king was too close and he couldn’t stop black’s pawn from queening because it was too far away.

Reti, who was pottering around, had a look at the position and wondered if there was some way of saving it.

“I say”, said Reti to the chap who had just resigned “sorry to butt in, but you needn’t have resigned.”

“You’ve been having a couple, Herr Reti,” said the chap haughtily. “The position is lost and even a hypermodernist lunatic such as yourself should be able to see it!”

The chap seemed to be taking it a tad personally.

“Oh, don’t be riled, dear fellow, I assure you I speak nothing but the truth.”

“Indeed?” retorted the chap. “Demonstrate it to me if you will, and if you’re right, I’ve spend the rest of my life without wearing trousers!”

“Very well then,” said Reti, smiling to himself “But don’t you forget your vow.”

“White to play would move 1. Kg7,” said Reti.

“Hmph!” retorted the chap “And pray tell me how you plan to answer 1…h4?”

Position after 1. Kg7 h4

“ Oh, I would just play 2. Kf6,” said Reti.

“If I push my pawn, you will move your king to e6, I suppose, and get close enough to escort your pawn to queening. Clever, but sorry, I have seen through your ruse. I will play 2…Kb6. Try that out on your pianola” said the chap, unable to conceal a supercilious smirk.

Position after 2. Kf6 Kb6

Reti put his head down and pretended to frown in concentration, all the while biting his lip trying hard not to laugh. Never wear a trouser again, it seems. Haha!

“Well, I suppose I might try 3. Ke5.”

The chap stood awhile in thought: “So that you could sidle up to your pawn with 4. Kd5 eh? You must think I was born yesterday. Here, I capture your pawn with Kxc6.”

Position after 3. Ke5 Kxc6

Reti could no longer keep his mirth bottled up. “Haha, Herr Trouserless! I play 4. Kf4 and now your pawn can’t escape my king! Drawn!”

Position after 4. Kf4

And the poor chap had to migrate to Scotland and wear a kilt for the rest of his life. I’m told he took up a job as a taster in a single malt distillery so his life wasn’t so bad after all. Reti later published this as a study which achieved immortality as the greatest endgame composition of all time (in my
books at least).

Position after the Teutonic chap kept his vow.

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