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Dying With Your Boots On Print E-mail
By IM Jeremy Silman   
October 27, 2009
IM Jeremy Silman
To me, dying in battle is eminently preferable to a helpless demise in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and waiting for the inevitable. Ancient warriors relished a noble death with a sword in one hand and a song (or battle cry) on one's lips. And in old Japan, a conscious death was of great importance, which led many to create a "death poem" and recite it as one's final moments ticked away.

A great example of the death poem was seen when Ota Dokan (1432-86), a scholar of military arts and a poet, was fatally stabbed while bathing. Most modern day men would scream piteously and perish in a state of fear and hysteria. Dokan-san reacted differently. He stood up, clutched the murder weapon while it was still sheathed in his body, and quietly said:

Had I not known
that I was dead already
I would have mourned
my loss of life.

And then he died.

I've always entertained the romantic notion that chess players are also warriors. We wage war on a battlefield of 64 squares and (especially if we lose!) suffer through serious physical and emotional trauma. Wouldn't it be appropriate then, that chessboard warriors also meet their end while in chess combat?

There are many instances of this happening. I remember (at 30 years of age) playing a tournament in Seattle and looking at a gentleman of 70 that appeared to be in far better physical condition than I was. I thought, "I wish I was in shape like that guy is."

Imagine my surprise when, two hours later, I spotted this poor man on the floor surrounded by paramedics. He had suffered through a massive heart attack while in the middle of a tournament game.

The most stirring story of a chess player dying with his boots on concerned world-class postal player and renowned chess teacher Cecil Purdy. He was playing in an over the board chess event and was up an Exchange in his game. It was clear that he was eventually going to win, but his well-wishers' smiles soon turned to horror when he fell off his chair and collapsed in a heap on the ground. His brother (who was also playing at the event) rushed to his side and Cecil whispered something into his ear. Then he died. His final words? One might imagine something like, "Tell my wife I love her." Or  "The gold is hidden under the bedroom floorboard." But no, this is a chess player and so his last thoughts were about chess. His dying message to his brother:  "I have a win, but it will take time!"

My friend Dave and I often talked about death, but he wasn't enthused with the notion at all. In fact, he was, at 55 years of age, a bit of a hypochondriac. On the morning of August 3, 2007 Dave went to his doctor for a checkup and was told that his health was excellent. He called his wife and told her that all was well, and she told him she would be back from work a bit later than usual.

That evening, Dave did what he often did to unwind: he logged onto the Internet Chess Club (his handle was Bandog) and played chess. This is his game:

Bandog vs.Vague1

ICC 8-03-2007
Time Control: 3-minutes each and 12-second increment per move.

1.d4 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.f4 c6 5.Nf3 h6 6.Bc4 Nf6 7.0–0 Qb6 8.Kh1 Ng4 9.h3 h5 10.f5 gxf5 11.exf5 Bxf5 12.Bxf7+ Kxf7 13.Ng5+ Kg6 14.Rxf5
Dave is easily winning.
This leads to a quick death.

15.Qf3+ mates one move sooner.
15...Kg6 and here Black waited for the axe to fall.
Final Position-White to Move

It doesn't take a genius to see 16.Qf7+ Kh6 17.Ne6+ followed by 18.Qxg7 mate. White had 1 minute and 33 seconds left on his clock (ample time to wipe his opponent out) but he never moved again and -- I'm sure to Black's considerable surprise -- White's time ran out and he forfeited the game.

Two hours later Dave's wife got home and found him dead on the floor, the diagrammed position on his computer screen. Evidently, he passed away before his hand could reach out and make the final mating sequence. His opponent couldn't have imagined what was transpiring as he waited for white's move. Dave's time, metaphorically and literally, ran out. Dying with his boots on, Dave, like Purdy, had a win, but he didn't have anymore time.

This article originally appeared on Jeremy Silman's website.


October - Chess Life Online 2009

Josh Friedel on a Stylish Win but a Mediocre Result Jerry Hanken Games Wanted Lenderman and Robson Climbing at the World Junior Kaufman on the Early Rounds of the World Senior GM Joel on Steinitz's 4th Rule USCF News: USCF Fees for FIDE ChangeWorld Team Championship Squad Set Dying With Your Boots On9Queens Presents the Best Games at the U.S. Women's Khachiyan Tops Western States A Defending Champ on Arriving in Italy Championship Secrets: Sudoku & No Computer Shabalov Wins Cleveland Open Two GMs Lead While Upsets Reign in Reno Week 8 US Chess League Recap Help America's Most Wanted Find Robert Snyder Ray Robson on His Road to GM Robson and Lenderman off to World Junior in Argentina Jennifer on Women's TitlesUS Titles Approved at FIDE CongressThree Share Honors at Midwest Class World Championship Set for Sofia, April 2010US Chess League Nears Playoffs Enkhbat and Barnett Top Maryland Open Chess Without Borders Finalist for 2009 Chicago Innovation Award Glamour and Big Bucks Close the U.S. Women's Anna Zatonskih Wins US Women's: Video Recap Anna Zatonskih Clinches Decisive Championship Memorial Service for Jerry HankenRay Robson Earns Final GM Norm! Zatonskih Climbs to 5.5/6: Video RecapZatonskih Increases Lead at the US Women's Irina vs. Iryna in Round Five of the Women's Letter to USCF Life Members Zatonskih Topples Krush Krush-Zatonskih Battle Nears Six Medals for USA in MexicoFour Decisive Games in Round 1 of the US Women's U.S. Women's Opens With Jazz, Hooping and Blindfold Americans Hunt for Medals in Mexico Jerry Hanken Passes Away at 74Interview with a Hall of Famer: GM John Fedorowicz