“Two matters puzzle me, Watson,” he said on the way. “First, by what means did the poison enter Tennyson? There was no sign he had anything to eat or drink except brandy. That brings me to the second question – how good of a chess player is Churchill?”
“He is one of the principle patrons of the game and an avid fan,” I explained. “He took several lessons from Wilhelm Steinitz in the 80’s before the world champion retired. But as a player, even the waiters at Simpson’s could give Lord Randolph a rook.”
“Well then, it doesn’t look good for our friend Lasker then does it, Watson?” Holmes stated firmly. “Why?” I inquired.
“Because we know two things about Tennyson, and his final chess game. First he kept the white men on his side of the table indicating he was playing the black pieces. Second, we may assume he was losing since there are far more white pieces on that slip of paper Lestrade gave me than black ones. That leaves us two possibilities.”
“I see Holmes. The first is that Tennyson’s opponent was a superior player, such as Herr Lasker, and not Churchill. But what is the other possibility?”
Holmes said, “Obviously the position is a clue.”
“Yes, Watson. Put yourself in Lord Tennyson’s place. He is in a closed room playing chess when he suddenly realizes he has been poisoned almost certainly by his opponent. He cannot cry out. Therefore, he decides to leave a clue. But it must be something that the murderer will not recognize as a clue, such as a chess position. And since you are the chess player in the house, I am leaving the chess part of the puzzle to you.” And with that, Holmes took his leave.
I quickly saw that there was no mystery as to who was winning. Clearly, Tennyson meant us to see something else, as this game should have been resigned long ago. I soon found it with some regret as I explained to Holmes over coffee and eggs the next morning.
Part VI later