CIPC #166: Young Sherlock Holmes

After almost a hundred blog posts, Sherlock Holmes once more turns in an appearance, but this time in a younger form. Young Sherlock Holmes is movie from 1985 pretending to be about the young years of the great detective, but, apart from the names Holmes and Watson, it has very little to do with Doyle’s works. In fact, it directly contradicts them.1 The plot is that a young Watson meets an equally young Holmes in a boys’ school. Soon, people start dying in apparent but not actual suicides.2 Obviously, Holmes is on the case, the game is afoot.

The guy on the left is not-yet-doctor Watson, the girl on the right is Elisabeth, Holmes’ love interest for the film.3 They are in her father’s apartment together with Holmes, who is somewhere to the left of the shot gathering clues.

But on to the game! Can a teenage Watson produce a decent bit of chess? Or rather, can the director of Rain man be bothered to pay attention to what’s happening on the board? Is there perhaps some retrograde analysis to be done as a reference to Smullyan’s The chess mysteries of Sherlock Holmes? Let’s see!4

Well, I don’t know about the retrograde analysis, but the other question can apparently be answered with ‘yes’! This looks like a plausible position, where white has given up his centre pawns in exchange for quick castling and king safety problems for his opponent. In fact, if it’s white’s move the game is basically over: Nxe5 would attack the bishop on g4 while threatening Nc6+ as well as b4, perhaps preceded by c4.

If it’s black’s move, things are not that bad but still quite bleak. Bxf3 is pretty much forced after which Qe5+ decastles black — and the b4 threat is still there.

So what do you answer if Watson asks you to gauge his chess-playing level? Elementary, dear Watson!5

Realism: 4/5 I don’t know of any game in which this position was actually reached, but it seems pretty realistic. All pieces are on logical pieces. Even the knight on a5 is not so strange: it was probably chasing the bishop from c4.

Probable winner: White. She has the better position and something like five years on her opponent.

1. [For example, Lestrade does something useful.]
2. [The mechanics are very, very similar to the rajaijah-poisonings from Hergé’s The blue lotus.]
3. [Although she is just a woman; not the woman.]
4. [Egads! A clue in our search for good diagrams!]
5. [Yes, yes, I know he doesn’t say it in the books, you don’t have to e-mail me. You can, though.]