Chess and Television

Edward Winter


A position to ponder:

columbo

Three posers:

a) White to move and win. b) Where has this position been widely seen? c) Where has it been printed before?

(1497)

a) The winning combination is easy enough: 1 Qxb4 axb4 2 Rxa8+ Be8 3 Bxd5.

b) The position was played out in an episode of the NBC television series Columbo in which the world chess champion murdered his closest rival.

c) It is given, for instance, on pages 168-169 of Winning Chess by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld (New York, 1948).

(1577)

Congratulations to Jack O’Keefe (Ann Arbor, MI, USA), who has discovered that the position did come from a real game:

W.J. Wolthuis – Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander
Maastricht, 1946
Nimzo-Indian Defence

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Qc2 Nc6 5 Nf3 d6 6 a3 Bxc3 7 Qxc3 O-O 8 g3 Ne4 9 Qc2 f5 10 Bg2 Qf6 11 e3 Bd7 12 b4 a5 13 b5 Ne7 14 Bb2 c6 15 a4 Rfc8 16 bxc6 Nxc6 17 O-O Nb4 18 Qb3 d5 19 cxd5 exd5 20 Rfc1 Rxc1+ 21 Rxc1 b5 22 axb5 Bxb5 23 Ne5 Qe6 24 Ra1 Nd2 25 Qxb4 Resigns.

The poser position was also used in a ‘Chess Quiz’ on page 21 of the June 1948 issue of Chess Review.

(1666)

René Olthof (Rosmalen, the Netherlands) sends us a copy of an article on pages 144-145 of the 7/1988 issue of the Danish magazine Skakbladet, an article by Bent Kølvig on chess positions which have appeared in films or television programmes. The one given in C.N. 1497 (see above) is included, though without reference to the Wolthuis v Alexander game.

(1726)

A picture of Peter Falk with Yasser Seirawan (as well as Larry Christiansen) appeared on the front cover of the December 1983 Chess Life:

falk seirawan

(6347)

The cover also had a smaller photograph of Falk in conversation with Korchnoi:

korchnoi falk columbo

That issue of the magazine (page 33) had a further photograph, whose caption stated that the actor was ‘a frequent spectator in Pasadena’:

falk columbo

Page 71 of the February 1973 Chess Life & Review had a shot of Falk with an unidentified player at the Eighth American Open, Santa Monica, 1972:

columbo

(6848)

John Donaldson (Berkeley, CA, USA) and Charles Sullivan (Davis, CA, USA) inform us that the player with Peter Falk who was left unidentified by Chess Life & Review is Dennis Waterman. Our correspondents note that he is now a well-known poker player, and Mr Donaldson adds:

‘Waterman gave Peter Falk lessons in the early 1970s. He played in the first Lone Pine tournaments but gave up chess in the early 1980s.’

(6855)

See too our comments about Columbo in Chess and Hollywood.

Also regarding the Columbo chess episode, The Most Dangerous Match, C.N. 1577 reported:

‘The plot of the television programme is slated by Sylvain Zinser on page 56 of the March 1988 Europe Echecs.’



From CHESS, July 1972, page 299:

‘A chess programme in colour of 30 minutes’ duration has been recorded for television cassettes on a co-production basis between the Crown Television Group London and East End Productions in New York. It is based on Harry Golombek’s Penguin book The Game of Chess.’

(2787)



In the half-hour television programme Chess in Pieces (BBC Four, 7 July 2003) an assortment of unprepossessing chessists and actressy artists waffled on inconsequentially within an over-blown, under-researched narrative. ‘Lenin declared that chess was the gymnasium of the mind’, intoned the voice-over, although that well-known phrase dates back to 1803 (Studies of Chess). The viewing hundreds were also informed that chess ‘began in Persia around 7 AD’ and were left to conclude that the game’s history ceased in 1972, after a Spassky-Fischer match which ‘lasted three months’. The existence of Karpov and Kasparov was left undisclosed. Capablanca and other notables were visible for a few seconds, without the courtesy of identification. There was, however, a caption for the programme’s advisor, Gareth Williams, who was also billed for his big day as ‘a leading author and chess historian’.

(2987)



On 7 February 2005 the UK television programme Mind Games (BBC Four) had William Hartston as a guest contestant. He was in fine form in the face of a thorny set of braintwisters. For instance, cuboid is a three-dimensional shape with six faces but also a word with six letters, and the teams were required to name another three-dimensional shape with the same number of faces as letters. It was Hartston who supplied the answer: dodecahedron (12 faces, 12 letters).

When he last did chess on television we do not know, but he is certainly the best presenter of the game we have seen.

(3593)



fischer1

Readers are invited to identify the person with whom Fischer is, to borrow a mouldy expression favoured by captionists, ‘sharing a joke’.

(5065)

fischer hope

Bobby Fischer is at the board with Bob Hope (1903-2003) in a photograph on page 291 of a book on the 1972 Spassky v Fischer match, Campeonato del mundo (San Sebastián, 1972). An advertisement for the television programme appeared, inter alia, on pages 78-79 of CHESS, December 1972:

fischer

A recording of Fischer’s performance is commercially available.

(5072)

From Fischer’s guest appearance in autumn 1972 on The Bob Hope Special television show, which also starred Mark Spitz, we have made three stills:

hope fischer

hope fischer

hope fischer

In the early part of the programme Bob Hope (‘Hopeski’) was shown enduring a lonely wait at the board. The world champion’s eventual arrival led into some rather wooden banter (naturally covering such topics as unpunctuality, cameras, noise and money), whereafter the comedian played 1 c4 and won a top-speed game during which he muddled chess and checkers and elicited the loudest possible racket from a bag of nuts.

Although the cue-cards were successfully kept off-camera, the production and editing were choppy, with, even, Hopeski’s king and queen switching places between two shots at the start of the game. The sketch lasted six minutes. Fischer received a very warm reception, although not the standing ovation accorded to Mark Spitz.

(5094)




tutin swift

This photograph features Dorothy Tutin and Clive Swift in Willow Cabins, a play written by Alan Plater, directed by David Cunliffe, produced by Yorkshire Television and broadcast on 1 December 1975. We culled the picture from page 11 of TV Times, 29 November-5 December 1975, where it accompanied an article, ‘Chessbored’, by Paul Jennings.

(5236)



Larry Crawford (Milford, CT, USA) draws attention to a webpage presenting the chess set of Robert E. Lee.

C.N. 3043 (see page 101 of Chess Facts and Fables) mentioned that in his 1970s television series America (the episode entitled ‘A Firebell in the Night’) Alistair Cooke visited the Curtis-Lee Mansion, Arlington and showed the travel set.

(5508)



The US actress Beatrice Arthur, who died on 25 April 2009, starred in NBC’s The Golden Girls (1985-1992), one of the most successful of all situation comedies. Two episodes had scenes featuring a game of chess: ‘There Goes the Bride’ (part one) and ‘Henny Penny – Straight, No Chaser’.

(6095)



Concerning Isaac Kashdan’s appearance on the television show You Bet Your Life, presented by Groucho Marx, Gene Gnandt (Houston, TX, USA) points out that the segment can be viewed on YouTube. It is also available on a ‘14 Classic Episodes’ DVD.

[Addition on 6 May 2011: the YouTube link no longer works, but in C.N. 7072 Mr Gnandt gave a replacement link, to the Internet Archive.]

kashdan

Isaac Kashdan

(6180)



Chess is frequently visible in television drama but seldom becomes a central theme. An exception is the episode ‘Hartsfield’s Landing’ in season three of the US series The West Wing, which even contained extensive discussion of the history of the game.

west wing

In the above freeze-frame President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is in the Oval Office with one of the chess sets which he has brought back from India. During the episode he plays games against two staff members, Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) and Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), defeating both.

sheen lowe1

Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe

(6192)

Martin Sheen has stated: ‘I don’t play chess.’ Source: page 47 of The West Wing created by Aaron Sorkin (London, 2002).



From pages 70-71 of Play All by Clive James (New Haven and London, 2016):

‘In The West Wing the purity of language is unreal: network rules prevail and we never hear a dirty word. Nor does anyone, not even a writer, ever really talk that well. But there is realism about the way reasoned conclusions are reached.

In that regard, the most advanced stroke of realism in the show is the way that not even the brilliant Bartlet can function without hearing other voices. Those of us who hanker for a father figure should remember that if he existed then he would need a father figure too. Though Bartlet is a mighty chess player, The West Wing is a pretty good shot at fighting off the romanticism by which the central guru can understand the whole board at a glance. In I, Claudius Augustus sometimes didn’t know what was really going on, but he didn’t know that he didn’t know. Bartlet incarnates Camus’s definition of democracy as the system built and maintained by those who know that they don’t know everything.’

See too Clive James and Chess.

Below from our collection is a photograph signed by cast members of The West Wing in 2002:

west wing

Left to right: Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Dulé Hill and Bradley Whitford.

(10168)



Miss Fatima was interviewed about Sultan Khan in the Bandung Limited television production The Sultan of Chess broadcast by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 19 September 1990. She mentioned that she had given some chess instruction to Queen Mary, the wife of George V.

(6201)



Serin Marshall (Brooklyn, NY, USA) asks whether any recordings have survived of Shelby Lyman’s television programmes on the 1972 world championship match.

spassky fischer

(6464)




quest

Few animated series have featured chess, but the above shot, showing Hadji and Jonny Quest, comes from ‘Dragons of Ashida’, an episode in the US production Jonny Quest (first broadcast in 1964-65).

At the start of another episode, ‘Attack of the Tree People’, Dr Benton Quest was playing chess with Race Bannon, while Jonny Quest and Hadji played checkers.

(6746)



wallace

The Man from the Pru (BBC, 1989)

See Chess and the Wallace Murder Case.




nixon

David Nixon

The above photograph appeared in the article ‘Not magic, just a small case of cheating’ by Alix Coleman on pages 21-22 of TV Times, 29 March-4 April 1975. The article marked the imminent start of the television series Playing Chess. Details of the 13 programmes, together with a photograph of David Nixon and Bob Wade in the studio, were given on pages 129-131 of the April 1975 BCM.




karloff

This screen-shot has been provided by Alan O’Brien (Mitcham, England) from the 1956 television programme Colonel March of Scotland Yard: The New Invisible Man. The episode can be viewed on-line, and the shot of Boris Karloff holding a chess book (which, our correspondent notes, appears to be My Best Games of Chess with the standard dust-jacket of Bell chess books), occurs at about 14’40”.

(10055)



Latest update: 8 November 2016.

To the Chess Notes main page.

To the Archives for other feature articles.



Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.