How Lawrence Day beat himself

by David Cohen

Lawrence Day /photo by A.Gipslis, taken from When I mention a chess player beating himself, I probably conjure up an image of Geri, the lonely geriatric chess player in the park, from the Academy Award winning animated short film from Pixar, "Geri's Game". Geri ran around the board making the moves of both players. But no, this is the mystery of the Canadian Team at the 1974 Nice Olympiad.

My researches into Canadian chess history started simply enough. I wished to compile a listing of our Olympiad results, including individual scores. The 1974 Olympiad was the last before Canadian International Arbiter Phil Haley introduced the Swiss pairing system at the 1976 Haifa Olympiad. Back in 1974, a system of round robins was still in use. In the preliminary, Canada placed =3rd and was relegated to the Group 'B' finals with 15 other teams. Here my (chess history) troubles began.

When I totalled up the players' scores from the database of Canadian Olympiad games on Hugh Brodie's Montreal Chess web site, I was 0.5 points short. Chess Canada 1975.07-08, p.44, provided the explanation: Canada's result against the other team from its preliminary group, Denmark, was carried over. Canada scored 0.5 points against Denmark. So, Canada scored 30.5 points against the remaining 14 teams in the Group 'B' finals, for a total of 31 points and an 8th place finish (24th overall).

But now comes the real mystery. In his Toronto Star column of 2004.01.31, IM Lawrence Day stated that Day - Ásmundsson, Canada - Iceland, 1-0 is the correct colours. He expressed his frustration that databases around the world contained the game with the colours reversed, giving it as Ásmundsson - Day, 1-0. I consulted the Canadian DB, and, sure enough, the DB had the wrong colours. But when I reverse the colours, then Canada should score one more point! What happened?

I investigated the players' colours. With 14 teams to play, Canada would have had 7 Whites and 7 Blacks. Checking in the DB for the colours on Board 1 in each match revealed 7 Whites and 6 Blacks in the 13 other matches. So, Canada played Black against Iceland. This meant that Canada was Black on Board 1, and alternated colours on succeeding boards.

Board 1 was a draw (click on the moves to see the game):

Friðrik Ólafsson - Duncan Suttles
Iceland - Canada, Olympiad Finals Group B, Round 2, Nice 1974
1.d4 d6 2.e4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.h3 Nf6 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Bg5 c5 7.dxc5 Qa5 8.Bd3 Qxc5 9.0-0 Nc6 10.a3 Be6 11.Qd2 Rfc8 12.Rfe1 Qa5 13.Bh6 Ne5 14.Nxe5 Bxh6 15.Qxh6 Qxe5 1/2-1/2

The next two players in board order, Peter Biyiasas and D. Abraham Yanofsky, did not play this round.

Board 2 saw a game (published in Chess Canada 1975.07-08, p.45-7, with annotations by Kuprejanov) that was in the winner's words "extremely tense and nervous":

George Kuprejanov - Guðmundur Sigurjónsson
Canada - Iceland, Olympiad Finals Group B, Round 2, Nice 1974
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nc6 4.0-0 Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.c3 a6 7.Bxc6+ bxc6 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4 e6 10.Nc3 Be7 11.Qa4 Qd7 12.Nh2 d5 13.Be3 Bd8 14.e5 Ne7 15.Qa3 0-0 16.g4 Bg6 17.Na4 a5 18.Rfc1 Rb8 19.Qc3 h5 20.b3 Rb5 21.Nc5 Qa7 22.Rf1 Bb6 23.Na4 Bc7 24.Rac1 Rb4 25.Rfd1 Bb8 26.Nf3 hxg4 27.hxg4 Qc7 28.Ng5 Ba7 29.f3 Qc8 30.Nc5 Rb5 31.a4 Rb4 32.Nd3 Rb7 33.Nf4 Qb8 34.Nxg6 Nxg6 35.Rd3 Qd8 36.f4 Rb4 37.Kg2 c5 38.Qe1 cxd4 39.Qh1 Re8 40.Bd2 Rb7 41.Qh7+ Kf8 42.Rc6 Qb8 43.Nxe6+ Rxe6 44.Rxe6 Rxb3 45.Rxg6 fxg6 46.Qh8+ Kf7 47.e6+ Kxe6 48.Qxg7 Rb2 49.Qxg6+ Kd7 50.Qf7+ Kc6 51.Qe6+ Kc5 52.Qe7+ Kc4 53.Qe2 Kc5 54.g5 Qxf4 55.Bxf4 Rxe2+ 56.Kf3 Re8 57.Rd1 Kc4 58.Rc1+ Kd3 59.Rb1 Bc5 60.Rd1+ Kc3 61.Rc1+ Kb4 62.Bd2+ Kxa4 63.Rxc5 Kb3 64.Bxa5 1-0

In the normal course of events, Canada would play Black on Board 3. But Lawrence has the original scoresheet to prove that he played White! I believe Lawrence played the wrong colour on his board. Piasetski, sitting next to him, probably alternated his colour from Lawrence's, and thus played the wrong colour as well. Technically, this was possible if the players at Boards 3 and 4 were seated apart from the top two boards. (It was also possible if Canada's players on Boards 3 and 4 switched with each other.) However the switch happened, it was the responsibility of the two team captains.

My theory on how the switch happened must be placed into the context of the tournament. First, all reports I've read suggest that the organization of the tournament was chaotic. Round bulletins (and, I understand, the subsequent book based on them) were incomplete or full of errors. Second, Canada did not have a team captain!

Here is the Board 3 game, which followed Lawrence's home preparation:

Lawrence Day - Ingvar Ásmundsson
Canada - Iceland, Olympiad Finals Group B, Round 2, Nice 1974
1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 b6 5.Be2 Bb7 6.e5 Nfd7 7.0-0 Be7 8.Re1 Nc6 9.Bf1 g5 10.h3 h5 11.g4 hxg4 12.hxg4 Nf8 13.Bg2 Ng6 14.Nf1 Nf4 15.d4 Kd7 16.Bxf4 gxf4 17.Qd2 Bg5 18.c4 Na5 19.b3 Qg8 20.c5 Ba6 21.N1h2 Qg6 22.Rac1 Rac8 23.Qb4 Bd3 24.Qc3 Ba6 25.c6+ Ke7 26.b4 Rxh2 27.Kxh2 Rh8+ 28.Kg1 Nc4 29.b5 Bc8 30.Qc2 Qg7 31.Kf1 Bh4 32.Nxh4 Rxh4 33.Bf3 Rh3 34.Kg2 Rh4 35.Qe2 f6 36.exf6+ Qxf6 37.Rh1 Rxh1 38.Rxh1 Qxd4 39.Rd1 Qe5 40.Qxe5 Nxe5 41.Rh1 Ng6 42.g5 a6 43.Rh6 Nf8 44.a4 axb5 45.axb5 d4 46.Bg4 Kf7 47.Rf6+ Kg7 48.Bh5 e5 49.Rf7+ Kg8 50.Rxc7 Be6 51.Re7 Bd5+ 52.Bf3 Be6 53.Rxe6 Nxe6 54.Bd5 Kf7 55.c7 1-0

And now the real troubles started. Lawrence reported the results of the game as it was PLAYED - but the organizers must have recorded the result as it was ASSIGNED. So, Canada - supposed to be playing Black - lost the game on Board 3. Lawrence had beaten himself!

Board 4 was a draw:

Björgvin Víglundsson - Leon Piasetski
Iceland - Canada, Olympiad Finals Group B, Round 2, Nice 1974
1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 Nc6 5.g3 dxe4 6.dxe4 e5 7.Bg2 Bc5 8.0-0 0-0 9.c3 a5 10.Qa4 Bd7 11.Qc2 Re8 12.h3 b5 13.Kh2 a4 14.Rb1 Ra6 15.b4 axb3 16.axb3 Qa8 17.b4 Bb6 18.Qd3 Ra1 19.c4 1/2-1/2

Because the point was split, the colour switch had no effect here.

Now we can see how Lawrence's game came to enter the databases with the colours reversed. Going by board order, the assigned colours and game results, editors - without accurate round bulletins to refer to - concluded that Lawrence must have played Black on Board 3 and lost the game. Strangely enough, the database of games from France has Canada playing Black in three of the four games! Lawrence's game is reversed, in order to match the posted result, while Piasetski's game is recorded with him also playing Black. The Canadian database maintains the 2 Whites to 2 Blacks ratio by also reversing the colours on the Board 4 game, thereby showing Piasetski as playing White.

[As of 2015, based on opening analysis provided by Mr. Thomas Binder, Berlin, Germany, we believe the game was actually Piasetski-Víglundsson. Comparing to both players’ other games from the Olympiad Piasetski usually started with the King’s pawn, while Víglundsson usually opened with d2-d4. Actually Piasetski never in this tournament played the French after e2-e4, but Víglundsson did. - note by OlimpBase editor]

In conclusion, Canada should have scored one more point and finished =5th in Group 'B' (21st overall). Finally, I have also answered the question: if you beat yourself, is the game scored a win or a loss? In Lawrence's case, it was scored a loss, but he had other matters to attend to - he was on his honeymoon.

Lawrence Day, chess column in Toronto Star 2004.01.31 and personal correspondence
Chess Canada 1975.07-08, Volume 5 published by Vladimir Dobrich, edited by Robert Rubenstein
Hugh Brodie's Montreal Chess web site and Canadian games DataBase
Eric Delaire's DataBase of games from France

David Cohen is a graduate of Yale University School of Management. He is a chess teacher, as well as a FIDE International Arbiter and long-time chess organizer. He has written extensively about the game, including three volumes of chess teaching materials and many articles about the history of chess in Canada. You can contact him through his website on Canadian Chess:

Written and copyright 2004 by David Cohen. Originally published 2004.03.15 Scarboro Community Toronto Chess News & Views electronic newsletter. Reprinted by permission of the author.