I got Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle in my chrimbo stocking: one of those funny DVDs that they have now. It seems a long time ago, but it’s Santa who gave me the inspiration for the rather eclectic mix that makes up this post.
Today, I’m going to get a big pot, chuck in a legendary chesser, a dead comedian and some wazzock off the internet (no, not me on this occasion) before finally getting around to answering that age-old question, how is Akiba Rubinstein like Bill Hicks?
The Youtube clip that leads us off this morning comes from the final episode (‘Comedy’). What comes immediately afterwards is the not-at-all-disguised Bill Hicks spoof that we featured at the weekend. What’s interesting about that clip – other than Eddie Murphy/Cracker Sauceribs’ chess set – is what Lee has to say on the commentary track.
Stewart Lee: I was getting a bit fed up of this kind of eulogising of Bill Hicks
Some Bloke: But you knew Bill Hicks didn’t you? Did you not rate him?
SL: Yeah I did. I do. I do, yeah. But that doesn’t stop you having a comic awareness of the fact that … he’s the sort of person who people who don’t know anything about stand-up say he’s brilliant and there’s no one else like him, but they’ve never really seen anything else anyway.
Which brings us back to Anand - McShane from last year’s London Chess Classic. Specifically, their mutual slip-up in a rook plus f&h pawn ending. At the time it generated quite a bit of heat on this internet of ours. Some of it at least had the benefit of being well-argued and thoroughly researched. Other comments, I’m thinking of one on chessgames in particular, were easy to mock for as Stewart Lee would say, they were of no value.
Rubinstein would have known how to play that, went the call. He is the master of rook endings and the muppetry that is modern chess is no match for his genius. We all know that, don’t we? Even me (Random Rook Endings III; The Rubinstein Method).
Still, as it happens, Rubinstein actually missed a win in a rook plus f and h pawn ending himself. In circumstances that were curiously similar to Anand-Mcshane too.
When Rubinstein and Frank Marshall reached this position
at San Sebastian in 1911 it was indeed drawn eventually, but on move 58 Black could have obtained a winning advantage.
The problem, just as with Anand and McShane, is the defending rook coming back to its own back rank. With White’s rook on h8, Black still doesn’t have anything. On h1, though, White is lost … but Rubinstein played … a3+ and missed his chance.
Now, in no way am I trying to say that Rubinstein was over-rated. Nor, for that matter, am I trying to put his mistake on a level with Anand’s or McShane’s. Ruby, after all, could hardly be expected to be aware of the theoretical analysis on this particular endgame that wouldn’t be published for another quarter of a century.
What I am saying is that, while we enjoy the rook endings that Rubinstein left us, it's probably worth remembering that just because there are people - myself included - who will say he was brilliant and there’s no one else like him, it doesn't necessarily mean that those who say it are necessarily people who've really seen anything else anyway.
Rook and pawn Index