Did Sherlock Holmes play chess? In the canonical novels and short stories there are references to chess in three of his adventures: “The Blanched Soldier”, “The Mazarin Stone” and “The Retired Colourman”.
Meanwhile, in many of the movie and stage adaptations, Holmes is standardly credited with fiendish chess skills, often pitted, of course, against his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty.
I have studied the Holmes originals and, like Dr Watson, know his methods. Indeed, I have parroted them, as related in two columns for TheArticle (‘The Great Chess Murder Mystery’ and ‘Where is the Body?’), especially from “The Dancing Men” and “The Blue Carbuncle”.
A full list of all Holmesian interactions with chess is to be found on this invaluable link provided by Bill Wall . I have now come to the realisation, in common with so many others, that Holmes really existed and that the exploits, cunningly dressed up as fictional stories, are genuine accounts of cases which actually did occur.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has adroitly disguised himself as an author, whereas he was in fact the archivist and publicist of Dr Watson ’ s true narratives. I do, though, feel some sympathy for those who continue to write to 221B Baker St, since it is unlikely that they will have received a substantive reply from either Holmes or Watson during the past hundred years.
The evidence is neatly encapsulated in Holmes ’ saga of several years of travelling incognito (“The Empty House”). There he returns from his confrontation with Prof Moriarty, in order to defeat the evil machinations of that old Shikari, Colonel Sebastian Moran, the latter being armed with the diabolical weapon of the air gun, constructed by Von Herder, the blind German mechanic.
Here Holmes (aka the Norwegian explorer Sigerson) gives the game away:
“ I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head Llama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend. I then passed through Persia, looked in at Mecca, and paid a short but interesting visit to the Khalifa at Khartoum, the results of which I have communicated to the Foreign Office. Returning to France I spent some months in a research into the coal-tar derivatives, which I conducted in a laboratory at Montpelier, in the South of France. Having concluded this to my satisfaction, and learning that only one of my enemies was now left in London, I was about to return when my movements were hastened by the news of this very remarkable Park Lane Mystery, which not only appealed to me by its own merits, but which seemed to offer some most peculiar personal opportunities. I came over at once to London, called in my own person at Baker Street, threw Mrs. Hudson into violent hysterics, and found that Mycroft had preserved my rooms and my papers exactly as they had always been. ”
Now I will go one step further. I reason that not only are Holmes and Sigerson one and the same person, but that Sigerson must undoubtedly be the direct lineal ancestor of our current Norwegian world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen. How else to explain the logic, the lucidity, the force of memory, calculation and fierce determination which characterises one of the most celebrated Norwegians of all time?
This week ’ s game is a win of my own, in Holmesian vein, in which the German Master Reichenbach falls into a strategic opening trap and allows his centre to be undermined from the wings. Keene v Reichenbach, Mannheim 1975 .
Raymond Keene ’ s latest book “ Fifty Shades of Ray: Chess in the year of the Coronavirus ” , containing some of his best pieces from TheArticle, is now available from Blackwell ’ s .
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