British Draughts Federation

Week 003: April 6th 2001 by George Miller

The Sphinx by Bob Podoff

Sam Gonotsky This is one of my favorite Gonotsky games if not the absolute favorite. This game and the other one I sent you are arguably the greatest games that Sam ever played, and are two of the greatest games that anyone ever played! The game is famous for a couple of reasons, first, the manner in which Gonotsky beat Hanson and second, the fabulous finish that Gonotsky forced. After the game was over Jesse B. Hanson cried out piteously, "How could I ever lose a game like that!" He said this over and over many times, and he even said it years later to R. L. Fortman, who related the story to Al Lyman. The game was a simple GAYP opening, in this case a two move opening called the Dyke (not the Black Dyke as thought by Al Lyman).

The game was played in the 7th American Checker Tournament, called the "Rump".Held at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., March 11th to 19th, 1929. It was at this tournament that Hanson named Gonotsky "The Sphinx";, he said, "he was cool as a cucumber and sat there like a block of ice." I think it interesting here to point out that this was game 5 of the final round, Gonotsky needed a win here, or the next game, to win the heat and undisputed 1st prize. Hanson of course was in the same boat. Gonotsky of course won this game and then proceeded to draw game 6 of the round, to win the heat 2-1-3 and the U.S. Championship. Previously in round 4 Gonotsky defeated Hanson 1-0-5.

Black: Jesse B. Hanson v White: Samuel Gonotsky, Round 9 Game 5, Dyke Opening

11-16, 22-17, 16-19 (a), 24-15, 10-19, 23-16, 12-19, 25-22, 8-11, 27-23 (b), 4-8, 23-16, 11-20, 22-18, 9-14 (c), 18-9, 6-22, 26-17, 8-11, 29-25, 11-15, 25-22, 5-9 (d), 30-26 (e), 7-10, 26-23 (f), 9-14, 17-13, 2-7 (g), 22-17, 1-6? (h), 23-19, 15-24, 28-19, 14-18, 31-27, 18-22, 27-23, 20-24? (i), 19-16, 10-15, 23-18, 15-19, 18-15, 3-8, 17-14, 24-27, 32-23, 19-26, 16-12*, 7-11, 12-3, 11-18, 14-9, 6-10, 3-7, 10-15, 7-10, 15-19, 10-14*, 19-23, 14-17, 23-27, 17-14, 18-23, 14-18, 22-25, 18-22 white wins.

Notes by George Miller

(a)     Bob emailed me this game some time ago, I have edited his comments and expanded the notes.  Anyone wishing to play Dyke formations would be well advised to read Louis Ginsberg's "Principles of Strategy in the Game of Checkers" published by The American Checkerist in 1945.

(b)     The most popular line these days, although 30-25 used to be played about as often.  17-13 is playable, but only if you like to play the weaker side.

(c)     The text bypasses 8-11, 17-14, 11-15 with a good game for black, however white would play 32-27 instead of 17-14 and black is obliged to make the 9-14 exchange anyway.

(d)     To stop 17-14.

(e)     Generally played in positions of this type so as to follow up with 26-23, supporting the man on 17 (this man is still in the game as it has not been buried in square 13) for the attack on 18.

(f)      Or 17-13, 9-14, 26-23, 2-7, 22-17 is back into the trunk, old pp.

(g)     3-7 (James Wyllie) or 2-6 (Richard Jordan) are both playable here. The text is also published in Masterplay.

(h)     A poor move, but not a loser; better is 15-18, 13-9 (31-26 is another James Wyllie line), 18-27, 31-24, 20-27, 32-23, 10-15, 17-10, 7-14, 23-19, 15-24, 28-19, 14-18, 21-17, 18-23, 17-14, 23-27, 24-20, 27-31, 9-6 an old draw, Walker v James Lees.

(i)       Who can blame Jesse for making this move, it is a natural move made by a true crossboard player.  Jesse fully expected Sam to play 23-18 whereupon 7-11 makes the draw, the 19-16 riposte was obviously missed the key to a wonderful win.  However the text loses, the draw is by 22-25* then perhaps 23-18, 7-11, 19-16, 10-15, 16-7, 15-22, 7-2, 6-10, 2-6, 10-15 to safety.


During this U.S. National Ty. Gonotsky was a dying man - he was coughing and spitting up blood. The Ty. had to be stopped on 6 separate occasions due to his coughing spasms. Samuel Gonotsky died on April 5, 1929. Jesse Hanson was a great crossboard player. The great Alfred Jordan called Hanson the equal of any player in the world. Hanson was a member of the winning American team in the 2nd International Match of 1927, with a plus score. Hanson was The Pacific Coast Champion of the U.S. Hanson held his own with Ginsberg, Bradford, Ryan, A. Jordan and Kenneth Grover. Hanson was the coach of Mike Lieber in the famous match with Gonotsky in 1928 where they played all 40 draws. Lieber missed a win and should have won the match. To answer Hanson's crying question from the opening paragraph, he lost because he was playing arguably the greatest natural, crossboard checker player who ever lived. Samuel Gonotsky was perhaps the best checker player in the world from 1924 until the day he died in 1929.

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