The Knight's Tour Affair

By Kerry Lawless

Everybody knows that Grandmaster George Koltanowski was World Blindfold Chess Champion and that he wrote a syndicated daily chess column. We on the west coast were also privileged to hear his entertaining chess lectures several times a year. Of course, the highlight of any Kolty lecture was his unique knight's tour. (The knight's tour is a continuous knight journey to all 64 squares on the chessboard. The rub is that the knight must only land on each square once!) Members of his audience would suggest names, numbers, and other bits of information for each of the 64 squares, which would dutifully be written on the 64 square blackboard by a designated teller. When all the squares were full, Kolty would look at the blackboard for a couple of minutes before it was covered. Then he would begin his knight's tour while naming the contents of each square as he landed. He apparently never forgot the contents of a square, even though each year the audience members suggested different sequences of random numbers and letters, proper and scientific names, or just plain nonsense syllables. Most people have trouble with more than just a few phone numbers or addresses, much less 64 of them. Koltanowski's memory feat can only be compared to Pillsbury's ability to give a simultaneous chess exhibition, play a hand of whist and recite lists of multi-syllabled words that the audience had previously given him, all at once.

One year at the Paul Masson Tournament, Kolty was half way through the tour when a heckler piped up and stage whispered that the Grandmaster must have memorized the squares contents in advance. As George firmly put the detractor in his place, someone innocently asked him if he might be able to remember the squares next year. "Of course, I could!" he said. After the exhibition was over and everyone had wandered off, Richard Shorman, his long-time chess disciple, carefully took a picture of the 64 squares of information.

A year later, at the next Paul Masson, Richard happened to be chosen as the designated teller. As usual, after a very successful lecture and knight's tour demonstration, there was a question and answer session. In what was supposed to be the last question, a gentleman rose and said, "Do you still remember last year's moves?"

Kolty was stunned into silence. The audience was uneasy as the seconds ticked away. Abruptly, he turned to Richard and said sharply, "Shorman, don't you ever do that again!" He then proceeded to rattle off all of last year's squares - so fast that Richard could not keep up with him. It was the audience's turn to be stunned! I think even Pillsbury would have applauded.

One more episode in the legend that was George Koltanowski, 'Dean of American Chess!'

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