SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
May 16, 1983
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May 16, 1983


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To the list of such classic chess maneuvers as the Queen's Gambit Declined, the English Opening and the Sicilian Defense, you may now add the Austrian Roulette Spin. This hitherto unknown move was used to determine the outcome of a World Chess Championship quarterfinal candidates' match last month, in the Austrian casino resort town of Velden, between former world champion Vasily Smyslov of the Soviet Union and West German grandmaster Robert Hübner. After 14 games Smyslov and Hübner were deadlocked, and in accordance with procedures mandated under such circumstances by FIDE, the international chess federation, officials called for the match to be decided by lot. The FIDE rules don't say how this is to work, but the most common practice has been to seal the lots in envelopes.

But not this time. Quick to see a promotional opportunity in the situation, the director of the Velden casino, Hermogen Sanderman, suggested it would be a good idea to "draw" the winning lot by means of a single spin of a roulette wheel. Tournament officials agreed, and a courier was dispatched from Vienna to bring in a gold ball ordinarily reserved for casino openings and other special occasions. In deference to the prominence of the colors in their respective national flags, Smyslov took red and Hübner black. The stage was thus set for a unique ending to a major chess match.

A crowd of chess enthusiasts looked on expectantly as the wheel was spun. The tension grew when the gold ball stopped neither on red nor black but on the green "zero," an inconclusive result that prompted murmurs to the effect that the match was simply meant to end in a draw. But on the second spin, the ball came to rest on 3, a red number. Smyslov appeared pleased, and his wife sobbed in relief at his good fortune in moving on to the semifinals. Hübner wasn't present, having returned to Cologne because of illness in the family, but a friend allowed that the hapless loser would have preferred "a decision on the chessboard" rather than one reached by the luck of the spin.

On May 26 Temple University will confer an honorary doctor of arts degree on Julius Erving. Then you'll have to refer to him as Dr. Dr. J.


The earthquake that devastated Coalinga, Calif. last week was only the latest of many blows inflicted on the baseball team of local West Hills Community College. The Falcons had lost 26 straight games and were trailing 7-4 in the seventh inning of a home game against Kings River C.C. of nearby Reedley when the quake hit. Umpire Larry De-Carlo gave the Los Angeles Times this account of what happened next:

"It was a real sharp jolt. You couldn't even walk. Our first concern was to get the players out of the dugouts and onto the field. But they couldn't even stand up at first. The backstop began to sway, and I thought for sure it was going to fall down. I looked over and saw the Kings River bus bouncing. It actually came off the ground."

To get away from backstops and other objects that could topple on them, the players and coaches gathered around second base, from which vantage point, said Kings River Coach Jack Hacker, they could see the mound bizarrely "disappear and reappear." After the tremors subsided, DeCarlo and fellow Ump Denny Pacini waited 15 minutes to satisfy themselves that the immediate danger had passed and then coolly ordered the game to resume. Given West Hills' all-losing record, it wasn't surprising that the earthquake was followed by a 15-run avalanche as Kings River romped 22-4.


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