Chess-2-bar

While in New York Carlsen and Karyakin are playing their final games, I am going to present three (alleged) secret codes related to chess.

There are many interesting contact points between chess and steganography. For instance, two weeks ago I reported on an alleged chess problem that was made by a female spy in World War 1 to transport a secret message. I don’t know if this story is true, but it’s at least very nice.

 

A world champion gets arrested

Another story about chess and steganography was brought to my attention by blog reader Etez. It is told in the book Positional Play by Charles Bright, a biography of the first chess world champion Wilhelm Steinitz.

Steinitz

When in 1892 Steinitz, who stayed in New York, played a correspondence chess game via telegraph with his Russian opponent Mikhail Chigorin, the following happened (as reported by Steinitz, who was Jewish): “A Jew-hating postmaster, your Jew-hating police authorities, and the Governer himself believed that the coded messages of our match were secret codes for an impending invasion on American soil by a hostile revolutionary force. A terrorist attack.”

When Steinitz added the sentence “the mouse is in the trap” (referring to Chigorin’s king) to one of his moves, he even was arrested. It took a while, until the authorities realised that all the strange telegraphs referred to harmless chess moves.

 

Did an MI5 mole use chess steganography?

Another man, who was suspected to have used chess notation for steganographic purposes, was British intelligence officer Graham Mitchell (1905 – 1984). Mitchell worked for MI5, the British Security Service, between 1939 and 1963. In 1963 the MI5 director authorised the secret investigation of Mitchell following suspicions that he was a Soviet agent. This investigation proved negative.

Mitchell also was an International Master of correspondence chess. According to a BBC blog post, there is one game he played in 1950 against Austrian Leopold Watzl that is suspected of containing a hidden code. Here it is:

Chess-game-Mitchel-Watzl

According to the blog post, the code has never been found. Can a reader find it? Honestly, I don’t believe this code exists. Mitchell’s correspondence game was followed by his chess fellows and stored in chess archives – Mitchell certainly knew that it was a bad idea to communicate with a contact person in this way. In addition, other means of secret communication were easily available.

 

Tony Gaffney’s chess cipher

Tony Gaffney, a reader of this blog, is an excellent chess player. Tony lives in London, so he had the chance to watch the 1986 World Chess Championship between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov, the first half of which took place in the Park Lane Hotel next to the Green Park in London. The following painting is based on a photo of Tony giving a simultaneous exhibition in Green Park during this event:

Gaffney-chess-cipher
Tony included a cipher in the picture. In an email to me he wrote: “If you wish to post it, I wonder how quickly your readers will solve it.” Can you find the solution?

Thanks to Tony Gaffney for this nice puzzle.

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Further reading: New Agatha Christie stamps deliver hidden messages

Kommentare (48)

  1. #1 Ellie Velinska
    30. November 2016

    Is the answer – America?

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    30. November 2016

    >Ellie Velinska
    How did you find this solution?

  3. #3 Ellie Velinska
    30. November 2016

    Is it encoded with the tree trunks?

  4. #4 Ellie Velinska
    30. November 2016

    I turned the tree trunks into Morse code

  5. #5 Ellie Velinska
    30. November 2016

    That doesn’t look right – never mind

  6. #6 Ellie Velinska
    1. Dezember 2016

    OK – here is another try. The slim trees are dots the fat trees are dashes – so we have — -..- .– .. -.-. … – MXWICS – match tie in world international chess series – In 1986 Kasparov i Karpov drew a tie

  7. #7 Marc
    1. Dezember 2016

    perhaps morse code -.. -…. . -…. for D6 E6 ?

  8. #8 Ellie Velinska
    1. Dezember 2016

    Is the first word – GT – grand tournament?

  9. #9 Thomas
    1. Dezember 2016

    Not only morse code (e.g. white piece: dot, black piece: dash) but also binary codes must be considered. For example Chestega (chess steganography) is a good method for hiding messages in chess positions and other chess related documents (article can be expanded): https://www.researchgate.net/publication/220205323_Chestega_Chess_steganography_methodology)

  10. #10 TWO
    1. Dezember 2016

    count the captured pieces…..

  11. #11 HF(de)
    1. Dezember 2016

    Ich tippe auf bird. Hat zumindest der Herr unten links in seinem Haar.

  12. #12 Ellie Velinska
    1. Dezember 2016

    So he picks the red queen and puts it in the dark corner – check mate. The black pieces are actually the light pieces and the red pieces are the dark ones. Is the answer A1?

  13. #13 Tony
    1. Dezember 2016

    Ellie – it’s not a guessing game – and you’ve a whole sentence to find.

  14. #14 Bernhard Gruber
    2. Dezember 2016

    I tried to map the four chessboards and the positions of the chessmen on the boards into some kind of binary numbers (I hope this is the right english expression). Tried to build the binaries from left to right and right to the left, up/down, and so on. Transformed them afterwards into decimal numbers, took these numbers modulo 26 and afterwards I got alphabetic characters (e.g. 5=E). I am sure that I am on a good way, but I cannot recognize useful words yet 😉
    Bernhard

  15. #15 Thomas
    2. Dezember 2016

    I tried to use the binary encoding table provided as a part of the “cipher chess” method(https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f561/35a2423d9bf4c1d90083bffa18d67d37d8b0.pdf, p.7) (per row: piece = 1; void = 0) but didn´t succeed in getting text.

  16. #16 tomtoo
    2. Dezember 2016

    Beim ersten Spieler, der mit der Pfeife. Was ist das sieht man einen Teil des Kopfs und der Haare ? Aber das kann nicht sein weil die Haare hinter dem Kraken der davor stehen Person sein müssten. Ein Hinweis (absichtlicher Fehler) schau aufs erste Brett ?

  17. #17 tomtoo
    3. Dezember 2016

    Oh sry i did it again, not looking on the language.
    Dont know it just happens sometimes.
    The person on the first board with the pipe in the hand. What can you see? Parts of the head and hairs ? But that would be wrong, if you look at the person in front, couse the hairs should be drawn behind.
    Maybe a hint ? Look at the first board ?

  18. #18 Norbert
    3. Dezember 2016

    Since I have never attended a simultaneous exhibition (and have not been playing chess for decades): Which is the etiquette? Does the player at the front desk not move until Tony turns towards him? So it’s currently black to move? The position here seems “possible” to me, but somewhat strange. Black to move: Qb3 0-1, white to move: 1. Qd6+ Kc8 2. Ra8 1-0. But in both cases I cannot quite imagine what happened straight before.

    I mean to say that probably the positions are arbitrary, which supports the assumption that the secret message is hidden there.

  19. #19 Norbert
    3. Dezember 2016

    I just realised that on the board in the front, a white bishop resides at h3 and not a pawn, wich means (white to move) 1.Qd6 already checkmates. Well, maybe a bit OT 😉

  20. #20 tomtoo
    4. Dezember 2016

    @Norbert
    Thx ! I thought its a pawn.

  21. #21 tomtoo
    4. Dezember 2016

    @Norbert
    Both can do a mate in one. Without a forced move.
    So someone made big a mistake before.
    Again a mistake ?
    Lets see :)

  22. #22 Tony
    4. Dezember 2016

    Ellie guessed correctly Morse code
    Thomas pointed out a method – one colour piece a dot the other a dash
    So why haven’t we got the answer!?
    It’s mate in one for either player on each board – I was just trying to give a semblance of chess given the limitations due to the system – so in the picture (as the player moves as you approach the board) I’m losing on all boards except the one in play!

  23. #23 tomtoo
    4. Dezember 2016

    One lesson i have learned. Dont mess with the audiance from Klaus.
    They will get you 😉

  24. #24 HF(de)
    5. Dezember 2016

    Tony tricked me. I thought the positions are too realistic. (And I don’t understand tomtoo’s comment.)

  25. #25 Marc
    5. Dezember 2016

    Ich verstehe den Kommentar von Tony #22 nicht so ganz, kann mir das jemand erklären ? Ich stehe auf dem Schlauch.

  26. #26 Thomas
    5. Dezember 2016

    Ich verstehe es so: Die Figuren einer Farbe entsprechen den Punkten, die der anderen denStrichen (Morse). Dann muss man – evt. reihenweise von 1 bis 8 oder spaltenweise von a bis h – sehen, was rauskommt.

  27. #27 Norbert
    5. Dezember 2016

    If the hidden message has to do with Christmas 2016, we’ll have to hurry up a little bit 😉
    Actually, I have difficulties determing the correct positions. Here’s a try, please feel free to correct it:


    * 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    a . ☺ . . . . . .
    b . ☺ . . . . . .
    c . . ☺ ☻ . . ☻ .
    d . . . . ☻ . ☺ .
    e . . . ☻ ☻ ☻ . .
    f . . . . . . ☻ ☻
    g . ☻ ☺ ☺ . . . .
    h . . . . . . ☻ ☻
    +++++++++++++++++
    a . . . . ☻ ☻ . .
    b ☺ . ☺ . . . ☻ .
    c . ☺ . . . . . .
    d ☺ . ☻ ☺ ☺ . . .
    e . ☻ . . . ☻ ☻ .
    f . . . . ☻ . ☻ ☻
    g ☻ . . . . . . ☻
    h ☺ ☺ . . . ☻ ☺ .
    +++++++++++++++++
    a . . . . ☻ . ☻ ☻
    b ☺ . ☺ . . . . .
    c ☺ . . . . . ☻ .
    d . ☻ ☺ ☺ ☺ . . .
    e . . . ☺ . . . .
    f . . . . . ☻ . .
    g . . . . . . ☻ .
    h . ☺ . . . . . .
    +++++++++++++++++
    a . . ☺ ☻ ☺ . . .
    b . . . ☻ . . ☻ ☻
    c . ☻ . . ☺ . . .
    d . . . ☺ . . . .
    e . . . . . . . .
    f . . ☺ . . . . .
    g . . . . . . . .
    h ☺ ☻ ☺ . . ☺ . .

  28. #28 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    I think there is a black pawn on c2 behind the black queen on the board that is third if you count from top to bottom in your chart. I could be wrong

  29. #29 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    Also I think there is a black pawn on a7 on the board that is second if you count from top to bottom in your chart. Again I could be wrong

  30. #30 Norbert
    5. Dezember 2016

    @Ellie #28: Thank you, very good eyes! But on c2 the pawn gives check, which seems contradictory to Tony’s explanations – maybe it’s on b2?

    @Ellie #29: Again, very good eyes :-)

  31. #31 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    I think you are right about b2

  32. #32 tomtoo
    5. Dezember 2016

    @Norbert
    I like the signs you use. Looks like a funny “Lochkarte”. :)

  33. #33 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    Is it in French? If we consider the black square under the first tree to be a clue and take only the pieces on black fields I get ‘et mate’ from the last board.

  34. #34 Thomas
    5. Dezember 2016

    In Norbert’s diagram # 27 the rows d – h (3. board) and a (4. board) yield the word “better”, if bright = dot and dark = dash

  35. #35 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    Message for Tony

  36. #36 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    #27 On second board (top to bottom) there seems to be red pawn and red bishop on b3 and c3?

  37. #37 Norbert
    5. Dezember 2016

    @Thomas: That’s what I get, too. More precisely, starting from h, 2rd board, I get “for a better O’Neel”. I’m afraid this is not very close 😉

  38. #38 Thomas
    5. Dezember 2016

    “When you see a good move, look for a better one” (Emanuel Lasker)- only a guess!

  39. #39 Norbert
    5. Dezember 2016

    @Thomas: Congrats!!
    Then I was close:
    “… for a better one. E. L.”

  40. #40 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    Nice! It was fun

  41. #41 Thomas
    5. Dezember 2016

    We should not praise the day before Tony….
    Something doesn’t fit, maybe a change of encryption, maybe a reversal?

  42. #42 Norbert
    5. Dezember 2016

    Thomas, you definitely found the solution. My diagram is just inaccurate in a couple of lines. I got (before “for”):
    eewnomdmoueloom
    Correct is:
    eeagoodmovelook
    The accordance is good enough to be convinced of your solution (also compare the morse code of the differing letters, it’s always a very small deviation, caused by one missing or supernumerous chess piece). The board in the background will certainly hold the first eight letters (“whenyous”).

  43. #43 Ellie Velinska
    5. Dezember 2016

    Mapping of the distant boards is difficult. I have the second one like this -OV LOOKF

    +++++++++++++++++
    a . . . . ☻ ☻ ☻ .
    b ☺ ☺ ☺ . . . ☻ .
    c . . . . . . . .
    d ☺ . ☻ ☺ ☺ . . .
    e . ☻ . . . ☻ ☻ .
    f . . . . ☻ . ☻ ☻
    g ☻ ☺ . . . . . ☻
    h ☺ ☺ . . . ☻ ☺ .
    +++++++++++++++++

  44. #44 Thomas
    5. Dezember 2016

    The first board on the left must be like this:

    wbb
    wwww
    w
    bw
    bwbb
    bbb
    wwb
    www

  45. #45 Thomas
    5. Dezember 2016

    Without an aerial view the pieces are extremely difficult to make out!

  46. #46 Tony
    6. Dezember 2016

    Well done –
    I’ll send Klaus another to keep you busy over Xmas
    & thank you for the message Ellie

  47. #47 Thomas
    6. Dezember 2016

    Good teamwork, was fun!

  48. #48 Klaus Schmeh
    7. Dezember 2016

    @All
    Thanks to all, it was great teamwork indeed!