10 March - 30 May 2001

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120. 30 May: Mutual Discovered Perpetual

In item 96 of this diary, I showed a game where a series of 6 mutual consecutive checks could have happened. Using the new ChessBase 8 option of looking for checking moves, I discovered this would have been a record. On my records page, there were already two games with a series of 5 - the game in the diagram on the left should be added.
Sahovic - Skembris, Vrnjacka Banja 1989
40...b3+ 41.Rxb3+ cxb3+ 42.Qxb3+ Qxb3+ 43.cxb3 Kb7
and Black won easily.

The question often arises what the longest possible series would be. For that, I refer to the article Check!, elsewhere on my site.
    With certain Fairy pieces, longer series can be constructed, and even a mutual perpetual discovered check is possible. T.R. Dawson, the inventor of the Nightrider (and much else in Fairy Chess), showed such a position in 1938, but the diagram on the left is a simpler example by Joost de Heer, 2001.
    The pieces on b1 and e1 are again Nightriders; line-knights. The Nb1 covers a3, d2, f3, h4 and c3 and would also cover d5, if it were not blocked by the Kc3. The Ne1 likewise covers 9 squares. White is in check. There could follow: 1.Kd3+ Kc5+ 2.Kc3+ Kd5+ 3.Kd3+ Kc5+ etc.

PS 24 October 2004: Michael McDowell informs me that this position was anticipated (with all pieces shifted one square to the right) by A.J.Roycroft (after T.R. Dawson) in The Problemist, July 1976.

119. 24 May: Che and the Catalan

In his preface to Korchnoi's new book (My Best Games, Vol. 1), Sosonko tells the following story.
    1963, tournament in Havana. Some participants, including Tal and Korchnoi, give simuls. Among Korchnoi's opponents there is Che Guevara. An official approaches Korchnoi, telling him: "Che Guevara loves chess passionately, but he is a rather weak player. He would be extremely happy to draw his game against you." Korchnoi nods understandingly. Later in the hotel, Tal asks him how it went. "I won them all." - "Against Che Guevara, too?" - "Yes, he doesn't have the faintest idea what to do against the Catalan."

118. 22 May: Elementary, my dear Alexes

In the second round of the Astana tournament, there was a remarkable case of double chess blindness. In the position on the left, from Shirov - Morozevich, White played 55.Kb2? (Kc2!) and now 55...Kb4?? 55...Rxh5 was perfectly possible: 56.Ra5+ Kb4 57.Rxh5 stalemate. Now, White won after 56.Rb6+ Kc5 57.Rxh6 Kb4 58.Kc2 Rc3+ 59.Kd2 Rh3 60.Rh8 Kc5 61.Kc2 Kb5 62.Kd2 Kc6 63.h6 Kb7 64.b4 Ka7 65.Ke2 Rh4 66.Kf3 Rxb4 67.Rg8 Rh4 68.Rg6 Kb7 69.Kg3 Rh1 70.Kf4 Kc7 71.Kf5 Kd7 72.Kf6 Ke8 73.Kg7 and Black resigned.

Even stranger is that this elementary stalemate trap had already occurred in top level chess. In the position on the left, from Bernstein - Smyslov, Groningen 1946, Smyslov played 59...b2?? There followed: 60.Rxb2 Kg4 (60...Rh2+ 61.Kf3 Rxb2 stalemate) 61.Kf1 draw. The tournament books adds that a few days before, Bernstein had shown Smyslov a similar stalemating manoeuver.

117. 21 May: Chess, like banana peels, like flower pots falling from windows, has the power to make men laugh

This position, with Black to move, arose in the game Caoili (2097) - Epishin (2667), Malaga Open 2000. The grandmaster had not achieved a great deal against his humble opponent, when he finally saw his chance to win a pawn: 37...Qxd4 Because after 38.Qxd4, there follows the family check Ne2+ However, 38.Nf5+, and Black resigned.

White to move, Ojanen - Ridala, Helsinki 1959
I found this in a column by Gert Ligterink. Everybody knows how to win this: 1.Rh8, because after 1...Rxa7, there follows 2.Rh7+ and Rxa7. However: 1...Rh2+ and White resigned.
    Every time I come across this diagram, it's the same with me as it was with Ligterink: I can't help laughing.

116. 14 May: The bridge and the square

Some time ago, to the disbelief of some readers, I mentioned that in Amsterdam, you can cross the Hein Donner bridge to reach the Max Euwe square. (See item 84 in this Diary.) It's something these two, who were for a long time Holland's only two grandmasters, could not have imagined when they first met in a family hotel in a provincial town in the East of the Netherlands, in 1943.
    In 1977, Donner wrote in Schaakbulletin: "Just having turned sixteen, I had been sent to the countryside to feed up a little. There was this girl, too. At our first acquaintance, she lifted her skirt and asked if she had beautiful legs. A future great artist would have reacted differently - Goethe, Wagner, Mulisch (a Dutch writer and a friend of Donner's - TK), but I was paralysed with fright. I did in fact become a chess player, just having mastered the art at that point. That weekend, she turned out to be God's daughter, as well. In unfathomable goodness he granted me a game. A Slav opening, he won the endgame."
    Being a true chess player, Donner was probably more excited about the fact that the girl's father was the former World Chess Champion Max Euwe, and the dream of perhaps being able to play Him a game, than about her legs. In those years, it was unimaginable for a schoolboy to challenge a grown-up, but when Euwe arrived, the prominence of Donner's father (a former Minister of Justice and a member of the High Court) assured that the families would have tea together, and when the ever obliging Euwe was told of the boy's chess love, he suggested playing a game after dinner.
Donner - Euwe, Winterswijk 1943
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.Bg5 c5 9.dxc5 Qxd1+ 10.Rxd1 Nd5 11.e4 f6 12.exd5 exd5 13.Rxd5 fxg5 (see diagram)
14.Bxc4 Black's opening has gone wrong; with 14.Nxc4 White would have obtained good chances. Now he was gradually put on the defensive. 14...Be6 15.Rd1 Bxc4 16.Nxc4 O-O 17.O-O Bxc5+ 18.Kh1 Nc6 19.Ne4 Be7 20.Rd7 Rab8 21.Na5 Nxa5 22.Rxe7 g4 23.Rd1 Rbd8 24.Rdd7 Rxd7 25.Rxd7 Rc8 26.Kg1 gxf3 27.gxf3 Rc1+ 28.Kg2 Rc2+ 29.Rd2 Rxd2+ 30.Nxd2 Kf7 31.Kf2 Ke6 32.Ke3 Kd5 33.Kd3 Nc6 34.b3 Nd4 35.h4 Nf5 36.h5 Ng3 37.h6 gxh6 38.f4 h5 39.Ke3 Nf5+ 40.Kf3 Kd4 and White resigned. The game, played without a clock, had lasted an hour.
    A very good game for a boy who had just been playing for two years, and Euwe praised his talent. In a novel about two chessplayers, this would be a decisive moment in the lives of both: the schoolboy suddenly realising his calling in life, the great man feeling guilty about the boy's social downfall, because Hein Donner had been cut out for something different than the bohemian and, in those years, destitute life of a professional chessplayer. (In the fifties, Donner was the only member on the Dutch teams who wasn't paid. The others, holding jobs, were compensated for their loss of income - he had nothing to be compensated for.)
    Reality did somehow resemble this scenario.
1954: Euwe congratulates Donner on dethroning him as champion of the Netherlands.
In 1954, Donner dethroned Euwe as a national champion, and some time later as the best player in the country, but compared to him, he was never more than a bridge to a square. And Euwe always helped him. He got him the only regular job he ever had (as a programmer with IBM), made him a contributor to books and magazines, and a FIDE-representative for the Netherlands. Shortly before Euwe's death, they made a propaganda trip together to the Arabic world.
    Donner, who was at his best as a writer when he insulted, and who did that to everyone and everything in the Dutch chess world, always spared Euwe. He addressed him as Grandmaître, and in writing called him: "Thou great and good one." He never won a game against him. Almost all other prominent players of his generation managed to win a game against Euwe, but Donner never did. His last chance came in 1977, when God was 76, and the schoolboy 50.

Donner - Euwe, Amsterdam 1977
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 a6 4.e3 Nf6 5.Bxc4 e6 6.O-O c5 7.a4 Nc6 8.Qe2 Be7 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.e4 e5 (see diagram) 11.h3 "11.Bxf7+ would of course have won immediately," Donner wrote. It isn't that of course - there follows Kxf7 12.Qc4+ Ke8 13.Qxc5 Nxe4 and Black is OK. Instead, 11.Ng5! wins a pawn: Be6 (0-0 12.Nxf7 etc.) 12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.Nxe6 Donner: "He did all he could to oblige me, but apparently, I just couldn't do it anymore." 11...O-O 12.Nc3 Nd4 13.Nxd4 exd4 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.Nxd5 Be6 16.Bxe6 fxe6 17.Qd3 Ba7 18.Bd2 Rc8 19.Rfc1 Qd7 20.b3 h6 21.Rxc8 Rxc8 22.Rc1 Rxc1+ 23.Bxc1 b5 24.axb5 axb5 25.Bd2 e5 draw. "Things should be left at that," Donner wrote. Euwe died in 1981, Donner in 1988.

115. 11 May: Shirov doesn't want to play Bh3 anymore

In New in Chess, I read that this year's Linares plaque featured Shirov's famous move 47...Bh3 against Topalov from the tournament of 1998. I'd like to add to that honor by showing a historical webcam shot of Topalov, pondering the effects of that move - courtesy John Fernandez. And by naming a remark of Shirov's "Chess Quote of the Year":

"The fact that the 7 hours control allows to play a great deep game is no longer of great importance for mass-media."
(Alexei Shirov, in an open letter to FIDE.)

114. 1 May: Computers can't play chess (ctd.)

In Cadaquès, Spain, there is a match going on between Deep Fritz and Deep Junior for the right to play Kramnik. In the fourth game of this match, Deep Junior - Deep Fritz, there was a strange case of chess blindness. In the diagrammed position, there followed: 70.Rc6+! White wants to get rid of his Rook, so he can read his tablebases, instead of think. 70...Kb5! Of course, Black doesn't want to let him; 'tablebase' is just as bad as 'mate'. 71.Rc5+?? Incredible - he misses a tablebase in two with 71.Rb3+ 71...Kb4! Setting a cunning trap. 72.Rb5+! Because after 72.Rb3+ Kxc5! there is no tablebase, hence: draw. 72...Kc4 73.Rd4+ Kc3 74.Rc5+ Kxd4? For some strange reason, Black suddenly acknowledges he's in a tablebasing net. He could have prolonged the struggle with Kb3. Now, there followed 75.Rf5 tablebase.
    Compare item 61 in this diary. It's like buying a can of beer, then taking the plane to Zimbabwe because you have a friend there who knows how to open them.

113. 29 April: A tear in g2

Genna Sosonko's recent book Russian Silhouettes (New in Chess, $ 19.95), will be a classic. Having spent half of his life in the Soviet Union (he was born there in 1943), half in the Netherlands, and all of it in chess, first as a Soviet trainer, then as a western top-level tournament player, he is an ideal observer of that lost Golden Age of Chess, the Soviet era. Of course, to be able to tell us about it, he had to be a good writer as well, and he is a wonderful writer.
    His portraits of the greats (Botvinnik, Tal, Geller, Polugaevski), the great trainers (Furman, Koblentz, Zak), the forgotten (Levenfish), the tragic (Vitolins and Grigoryan) and the magnificent (Princess Olga, Capablanca's Russian second wife) and of the world of Soviet chess, are sometimes bitter, often loving, always nostalgic and understanding. To anybody who wants to know and feel Soviet Chess, this book is indispensable.
    But I wasn't going to review it.
    I was struck by a detail in Sosonko's account of how he came to chess. As so many grandmasters, he was taught the game by his mother. "Sometimes in the evening, after supper, an old cardboard board would appear on [the table], and we would play draughts or chess. The board was torn in several places, particularly in the g2 square. Psychoanalysts will easily link this fact with my predilection for the fianchetto of my king's bishop throughout my professional career."
    I do believe in this kind of thing. How do players come to prefer closed positions over open ones, Knights over Bishops, why are there d4-players and e4-players? Sosonko might have become either: "My mother always began a game of chess by advancing both of her central pawns two squares." This belongs in my collection of strange rules players started their careers with. I played my first games with a boy who taught me that if your pawn reached the other side, it became a Queen, but if your King got there, you could choose five new pieces, as far as stocks went. I wonder if I got my liking for King's marches, and, generally, my wacky style from that. I would have preferred Sosonko's mother's 1.e4d4 opening; I might have been inspired to some more respect for the centre, as Sosonko was.
    There isn't a game or a diagram in the book, but there are several descriptions of games. It can be fun to find the games that go with these descriptions. Here is one: "I can picture well Lyova's [Polugaevsky's] face after he had won one of his best known games at the USSR Championship in Moscow in 1969 against Tal, when I was the second of the losing side. The variation that occurred in this game had been analysed by Misha and me earlier, during our preparation for his match with Korchnoi, and, as it seemed to us, quite thoroughly. We did not examine in particular detail the position that arose after Black's 20th move. In fact, Black was a piece up, White's rook and knight were attacked, and there did not appear to be any direct threats. Lyova however, had analysed deeper. He found a continuation of the attack and he won prettily. Geller later remembered that on the evening before this game he had dropped in at Polugaevski's room in the hotel and had seen some position set out on the board. That same position was reached the following day in Lyova's game against Tal on move 25!"

Polugaevsky - Tal, ch USSR, Moscow 1969
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.d4 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Bxd2+ 10.Qxd2 O-O 11.Bc4 Nc6 12.O-O b6 13.Rad1 Na5 14.Bd3 Bb7 15.Rfe1 Rc8 16.d5 exd5 17.e5 Nc4 18.Qf4 Nb2 19.Bxh7+ Kxh7 20.Ng5+ Kg6
(see diagram) 21.h4 Rc4 22.h5+ Kh6 23.Nxf7+ Kh7 24.Qf5+ Kg8 25.e6 Qf6 26.Qxf6 gxf6 27.Rd2 Rc6 28.Rxb2 Re8 29.Nh6+ Kh7 30.Nf5 Rcxe6 31.Rxe6 Rxe6 32.Rc2 Rc6 33.Re2 Bc8 34.Re7+ Kh8 35.Nh4 f5 36.Ng6+ Kg8 37.Rxa7 and Black resigned.

112. 27 April: Draughtsmen are the soul of draughts

Every chess player knows that Philidor (1726-1795), the author of the first chess book in which some strategic principles were explained, and the strongest player of his day, said that the pawns are the soul of chess, and that he was also a famous musical composer.
    Lesser known facts about him are that he was the child of a 73-year old father and a 20-year old mother, and that he was also among the best players at another game: draughts. He even has a draughts book to his name ("Sr. Philidor"), Traité sur le jeu de Dames a la Polonaise (Amsterdam, 1785) but, according to draughts historian Arie van der Stoep, this was a pirate edition of an earlier book by Manoury with almost the same title: Essai sur le jeu de Dames a la Polonaise. Doubtless, this was an attempt to cash in on Philidor's fame as a chess author, which he had acquired with his 1749 book, L'analyze du jeu des Échecs.
    There are no surviving complete draughts games by Philidor, but there are a few positions, of which I will give three. Of all the draughts and checkers variants played in the world, this is still the only truly international form, Polish Draughts. I won't explain the rules, but the notation runs from square 1 in the upper left corner to 50 in the bottom right one.

This position, with White to play, is from a game Philidor - Spencer ("the Dutchman"), played in Manoury's Paris coffee house. A date is not given. The piece on 48 is a Queen.
1.36-31 24x42 2.44-39 48x34 3.28-23 34x36 4.8-3 36x9 5. 3x3 and White wins
This position and the next one could be from games, but they could also be dressed-up practical combinations, or compositions outright. Anyway, they read: Philidor, White to play and win.
Here, the solution is: 1.28-23 19x37 2.42x22 25x23 3.39-34 17x28 4.34-29 23x34 5.24-20 15x24 6.44-40 35x44 7.50x6 and White wins.
Philidor, White to play and win
(There is a Queen on 8.)
1.29-24 30x28 2.21-17 12x21 3.26x17 8x48 4.20-14 6x17 5.39-33 48x9 6.33x4 and White wins.


111. 26 April: Code

Thanks to Eric Schiller for sending me this.

110. 25 April: The Queen's epaulettes

Re the long distance epaulette mate in Van Wely - Morozevich (item 88), Alastair Scott sent me a very unusual case of a Queen being epauletted, from a 3-minute blitz game he lost, late at night, against his computer.
Computer - Scott, London 2001
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.O-O Nc6 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nf6 8.Nc3 e6 9.Bg5 Be7 10.Ndb5 a6 11.Bxf6 gxf6 12.Nd4 O-O-O 13.Nxc6 Qxc6 14.Qh5 Qe8 15.Rfd1 Qg8 16.Rd4 Kb8 17.Ne2 Rf8
(see diagram) 18.e5, winning an important pawn. Black resigned.

PS 27 april: When Alastair Scott sent me this position, he said how embarrassed he really felt about it. His excuse was that it had happened in a totally unimportant blitz game against a computer, when he was tired. If he was embarrassed with a valid excuse, then how embarrassed should I be when in the middle of a bright day, full of vim and vigor, and perfectly lucid, I put this in my Diary without noticing, as reader Jos Sulistyo did ("Pardon me for being so incredibly naive") that after 18 ... Rd8 there are no epaulettes and no pawn wins? (19.exf6 Bxf6 20.Rf4 Qg7 21.Qf3 Be7 22.Rxf7 Qxb2). I guess everybody saw this, but nobody dared to tell me.
    What should I do? Turn to draughts?

109. 13 April: Unsoundstudyrepairman, where are you (was: Pawn sacrifices).

In the April 2001 issue of EG, this diagram caught my eye. It is a White to play and win study by David Gurgenidze, and it was the winner at the composers congress in St. Petersburg, 1998.
    The Bg1 guards against White's promotion. Therefore: 1.d5+ Kf5 2.e4+ Kg4 (Kxe4? 3.b8Q Bh2+ 4.d6+) 3.f3+ Kh5 (Kxf3? 4.b8Q Bh2+ 5.e5 Bxe5+ 6.d6+) 4.b8Q! Bh2+ 5.f4 Bxf4+ 6.e5 Bxe5+ 7.d6 Bxd6+ 8.Kd7 Bxb8 9.Bf3 mate Very funny. Three pawns in succession are refused by the King, but must be mopped up by the black Bishop, clearing the road to the mating square f3 for the white one.
    The set theme, a threefold successive pawn sacrifice, was shown doubly here.

PS 14 april: Watchdogs Frederic Friedel and Rik van der Heiden showed that after 8...Nxg5, Black wins the Bh6, and certainly doesn't lose. I can only add that 7...Nxg5 seems even stronger.

PS 16 april: It seems that Unsoundstudyrepairman did arrive in the person of Laurent Linnemer, a French reader. He changes the Nh3 into a Pawn (Roman Parparov had that idea, too), but he also adds a black pawn on a5 (see diagram), and now the solution works as intended.
    1.d5+ Without the Pa5, White would also win with 1.e4 Bh2+ 2.e5 Rg8 3.b8Q Rxb8 4.Kxb8 etc., but with that pawn, Black draws 1...Kf5 2.e4+ Kg4 3.f3+ Kh5 4.b8Q! Bh2+ 5.f4 Bxf4+ 6.e5 Bxe5+ 7.d6 and now: 7...Rxh6 8.Qb5 Re6 (Bxd6+ 9.Kd7 Rh8 10.Be4 and wins) 9.Qxe5 Rxe5 10.d7 and wins, or 7...Bxd6+ 8.Kd7 Rxh6 (Bxb8 9.Bf3 mate) 9.Qb5 as above; 9...Rh8 10.Be4 and wins.

108. 8 April: A forgotten chessplayer

In the April issue of SCHACH, there is a review of a book by Beat Rüegsegger, Persönlichkeiten und das Schachspiel (Celebrities and chess) in which it is mentioned that Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the later Lenin, played chess with each other in Vienna, in 1909. This is of course a well-known fact, but it should not have been left unmentioned that Elvis was there, too.
    Perhaps Hitler has played chess. Cor Jansen sent me this quote from a little known book, Schach ohne Partner für Könner by Herbert Grasemann (1982): "When [Hitler] had not yet decided to devote himself to politics, and, as a twenty-year old without any plans for the future, was a drifter in Vienna, he frequented the chess cafes of that city, sitting there for entire nights. The game fascinated him so much that he feared it could, as it had so many others, totally absorb him, and take over his life. Therefore, he decided to break with it overnight."
    A footnote then explains that Hitler told about this episode of his life to his legal adviser and intimate friend Hans Frank, ordering him to be absolutely silent about it, "because the image of a chess addict did not fit with the legend of one destined by providence to change the world." Frank, Generalgouverneur of Poland during the war, and hanged at Nuremberg in 1946, was a true chess lover, playing some ill-famed consultation games with Alekhine and Bogoljubow in Warsaw in 1941. He told the story of Hitler's chess love to the problemist Ado Kraemer, who in turn, told it to Grasemann.

107. 3 April: Euwe stamps

Today, at the Max Euwe Center, Max Euweplein Amsterdam, a sheet of two 80-cent postage stamps, commemorating Euwe's centennial (he was born 20 May 1901), was introduced. The position in the left stamp is from Euwe's most famous game, The Zandvoort Pearl, the 26th game of his 1935 match against Alekhine. Euwe won that game, a big step in becoming World Champion.
    Some other good news I heard there is that the Center can breathe with some relief; the owner of their quarters have been told by the City of Amsterdam that they should not, as they planned, raise the rent a prohibitive 250 %. (See item 84.)
    There was a thread recently in about the pronunciation of the name Euwe. I've seen many wrong solutions for English, and it is so simple: you pronounce we exactly as in jewel, and eu as in Peter Seller's immortal line as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther: "There's a beum in my reum."
    Anyone want to trade an Estonian 5 Kroon Keres banknote for an Euwe-sheet?

106. 1 April: Did you hear the one about the bishop and...

Regarding Bishop corner-to-corner moves (see item 105), Frederic Friedel sent me this problem, the winner in a composing contest where that move was the theme.

Mate in 24
John Nunn, 1991
1.Bh1 h3 2.Ba8 h2 3.Bh1 h4 4.Ba8 h1Q 5.Bxh1 h3 6.Ba8 h2 7.Bh1 h5 8.Ba8 h1Q 9.Bxh1 h4 10.Ba8 h3 11.Bh1 h2 12.Ba8 h1Q 13.Bxh1 h6 14.Ba8 h5 15.Bh1 h4 16.Ba8 h3 17.Bh1 h2 18.Ba8 Nb7 19.Bxb7 h1Q 20.Bxh1 Bg2 21.Bxg2 Ne4 22.Bb4 Nd2+ 23.Bxd2 e1Q 24.Bc6 mate

PS 6 April: Joost de Heer sent me the problem below. Count for yourself.
Selfmate in 28
Mark Kirtley
The Problemist, 1994

1.Bh8 h5 2.Ba1 a3 3.Bh8 a2 4.Ba1 a4 5.Bh8 a3 6.Ba1 a5 7.Bh8 a4 8.Ba1 a6 9.Bh8 a5 10.Ba1 h6 11.Bh8 a1=Q 12.Bxa1 a2 13.Bh8 a1Q 14.Bxa1 a3 15.Bh8 a2 16.Ba1 a4 17.Bh8 a3 18.Ba1 h4 19.Bh8 h5 20.Ba1 h3 21.Bh8 a1Q 22.Bxa1 a2 23.Bh8 a1Q 24.Bxa1 h2 25.Bh8 h4 26.Ba1 h3 27.Bh8 N(e)- 28.R, N or BxN Ng3 mate

105. 29 March: Never in a trillion

Playing over a few games from the Keres Memorial rapid-tournament, held in Tallinn (Estonia) in January, I noticed a move Bh8-a1, played by Svidler, with Black, in the game he lost against the tournament winner, Jan Timman.
    This Bishop move from corner to corner is a very special one. Together with Rook's pawn moves, it is the only one that only guards one new square and it is also, sharing this shame with King moves along the sides of the board, and from the corner, the only move that cannot be mate. I also thought that Bh8-a1 and its mirrors would be among the least played moves and they are, but in my 1,4 million game database, I still found over 200 examples, and even a few games where this move happened more than once.
    This raised three questions: how many different chess moves are there; how many moves have been played since the beginning of modern chess, and: which moves are perhaps still waiting to be played for the first time?
    After a little counting and calculating, I arrived at the number of 43732 (see PS2) different chess moves. I took the moves absolutely; that is, wNg1-f3 is not the same as wNb1-c3 or wNg8-f6, or bNg1-f3. It is also different from Ng1xf3, which again, depending on who captures what, can be ten different moves, from wNg1xPf3 to wNg1xRf3 to bNg1xBf3. I did not consider the effects of moves - check, double check, mate, stalemate.
    The total number of moves played since chess got its modern rules, towards the end of the 15th century, must be around 1,000,000,000,000; one trillion. Here is how I arrived at this number.
    There are 6 billion people on earth. If 1 in a 1000 plays chess, there are 6 million chess players. To be on the safe side, I divide by 6; 1 million chess players. At one game a day, they play 500,000 games daily, and as the year has 400 days, that is 200,000,000 games per year, or 20,000,000,000 (twenty billion) games during the last century. As an average game lasts 30 moves, we multiply by 60, arriving at a total of 1,200,000,000,000 moves; 1,2 trillion. Again, in order not to overestimate (there weren't always 6 billion people during the last century, and a year is not 400 days), we forget about the other centuries, do not count analyzing, playing over and composing, and tip the conservatives two hundred billion moves - leaving, as said, one trillion moves.
    The question of whether this trillion contains all the 43732 possible moves, can be answered immediately; no, promotions to Rook or Bishop are too rare for that. Only some 50 cases are known, while there are 256 possible promotions to Rook or Bishop; from f7xBg8R to d2xNc1B. There must also be Knight promotions that have never yet occurred: of all the possible capturing Knight promotions on corner squares, for instance, I just found one g2xRh1N, leaving fifteen of those promotions unplayed.
    But the regular moves? I discovered that there has never been a backward corner-to-corner Bishop move capturing a Rook (but see PS4), and Kings that capture centre pawns from the back rank are also very rare. Here are eleven (PS4 again) candidates for the Least Played Move ever - I did not find them in my database.
wBa8xRh1 - wBh8xRa1 - bBa1xRh8 - bBh1xRa8 - bBa8xNh1 - bBa1xNh8 - wBa8xBh1 - wKc8xPd7 - bKd1xPd2 - bKe1xPd2 - bKf1xPe2

My candidate for Most Played Move Ever is wNg1-f3.

PS1 (1 April): ICC admin Brian Karen tells me that on ICC, 124,000 games are played daily. That would mean that one ICC-year takes care of over a quarter of a percent of all the moves/games ever played. This seems much, and suggests my estimate was too low.

PS2 (2 April): Originally, I had 43660 different chess moves. Reader Rick Shepherd however, having duplicated my calculation, demanded a recount. He had arrived at 43732 moves and recalculating again, I discovered he was right. The difference was caused partly by a simple adding mistake, but also by the fact that I had neglected special cases like wKc6xPb7 and bKb2xBa1, which are not possible.

PS3 (2 April): I thought some more about those 124,000 games played daily at ICC (PS1) - a quarter of my estimate of all the chess games in the world. That seems much, but then again: if the world had 100 cities with 10 chess cafes where 10 games were always going on, that would not be so much more than my half a million.

PS4 (2 April, 27 May): As I had expected, several readers sent me games with moves that I had not found in my own database, leaving just four Unplayed Moves: wBa8xRh1 - bBa1xRh8 - wKc8xPd7 - bKd1xPd2

PS5 (14 May 2007): Reader Thomas Binder informs me that searching his database, he found that all four remaining Unplayed Moves of PS4 have in the meantime been played. So all 43732 possible moves have now been played - except, of course, some 200 underpromotions; see above.

104. 26 March: Stalemate trap

For a book he's writing, a friend asked me for stalemates from games. That made me think of a good trap I once managed. I'm not 100 % sure of the position (it is from a blitz game TK - M., Amsterdam 1976), but it worked like this. Being totally lost, I tried 1.Bg1 And he took the bait: 1...Bg2+ 2.Kf2 Qxe5 3.a6+ and stalemate next move.
    This is, in fact, the Kling theme, a problem and endgame study theme. The Bc5 crosses the critical square f2, where it is then shut off by the King.

103. 22 March: Nabokov as a feminist

The movie Luzhin's Defence by Marleen Gorris tells the following story.
    Luzhin, a totally chaotic and unworldly chess grandmaster, plays in a tournament for the world championship, in a resort at an Italian lake, in 1929. A beautiful young Russian lady, Natalia, feels attracted to him. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him; she introduces him to sex. Luzhin's former chess mentor and manager Valentinov is at the resort too; he works for Luzhin's great rival Turati now, and with all sorts of tricks, he tries to harm Luzhin. In the tournament, both Luzhin and Turati win their preliminaries, and now they meet each other in the world championship match, which consists of one game. When this game is adjourned in a seemingly lost position for Luzhin, Valentinov has him kidnapped. During this kidnap, Luzhin suddenly sees how he can win with a brilliant Rook move. He is left behind in the wild, and suffers a nervous breakdown. After being saved, he is brought to a clinic, where it is found that he can only be cured if he gives up chess. He obeys, and the marriage with Natalia is announced. While she is already waiting in the church, Luzhin, on his way to the altar, is again kidnapped by Valentinov, now to finish that world championship game; Turati is sure he will win easily. Luzhin escapes, and commits suicide by jumping from the window of his hotel room. Between his belongings, a scrap of paper is found with the winning Rook move. Natalia convinces Turati, who is still around, to let her finish the game. She wins, he acknowledges his defeat.

The book The Defence by Vladimir Nabokov tells this story.
    Luzhin, a rather unworldly and chaotic chess grandmaster, is staying in a German spa where he prepares for the Candidates Tournament for the world championship, which will be played later in Berlin. A Russian "nice but not very interesting girl" feels attracted to him, and he to her; he asks her to marry him. Later, when the tournament takes place in Berlin (where the girl is living), the game between Luzhin and his great rival Turati will be decisive. During this game, Luzhin suffers a nervous breakdown, and when the game is adjourned in an unclear position, he collapses in the street. He is brought to a clinic, where it is found that he can only be cured if he gives up chess. He obeys, and the girl (who remains nameless) and he marry. A few months pass, without chess, and without much else. Chess sometimes seeps into Luzhin's existence (columns in papers, a chess scene in a movie) and the madness starts again. When Luzhin's former chess mentor and manager Valentinov asks him to be an extra in a chess scene in a movie (Turati will take part, too) Luzhin realizes he will never be able to conquer the chess demons, and he commits suicide by jumping from the window in his house.

The film looks marvelous and would, stripped of its narrative elements, be an asset to any historical TV-channel. The infantile plot makes you wonder whether the disrespect is greater towards the book or towards chess. It takes a sad sort of guts to turn a novel about the tragic enchantment of chess into a feminist pamphlet; man is too weak, woman must finish his work for him.
    There was a chess consultant, Jon (John in the credits) Speelman, but he has not been able to prevent this movie-Luzhin from out-caricaturing all the weirdos the chess world has ever known. Or the grandmasters from blowing cigar smoke in each other's faces, with expressions saying: "Didn't see that, eh, mac". Or the players from battering away at the clocks like furious postal workers who have decided that today, finally, they will gorgeously stamp all fragile items to smithereens.
    Based upon an endgame study by Knothe, Speelman constructed the game's finish. (See diagram.)
    In this position, Luzhin (with Black, and in time trouble) plays the brilliant 1...Nxf4 which, however, is nonsense without the Rook move he sees only later. 2.exf4 Here, the game is adjourned; in the papers of the dead Luzhin, Natalia finds the following win: 2...Re3+ 3.Kg4 f5+ 4.Kg5 Kg7 5.Nd5 Rh3! The brilliant Rook move Luzhin saw during his kidnap. 5.gxh3 h6+ 6.Kh4 Bf2 mate
    It is strange that after the adjournment, Turati and Valentinov insist on finishing the game - apparently, in all the days that must have passed between Luzhin's breakdown and his marriage, they haven't seen that move Rh3. It is a brilliant move, but it would be found by any reasonable chess player who looked at the position for longer than a quarter of an hour. Beside that, we may assume that an adjourned position deciding a world championship would have been in the papers all over the world - thousands of chessplayers would have looked at it for hours, for days. And nobody, nobody has seen Rh3, or has cared to send a telegram. And even when Natalia plays Rh3, Turati still doesn't see it coming.
    But who cares, in a movie where a man is supposed to play a game for the world championship on the way to his wedding.

102. 17 March: Twins for me

Mate in 5
Twins: a) Diagram b) Pa7 to g7
Gerard Bouma, 2001
Dedicated to Tim Krabbé
Proudly presenting: a problem, dedicated to me, by the prominent Dutch composer Gerard Bouma, who has already often been very helpful when I wanted to illustrate the problem art in these pages.
    Trying to solve these elegant miniature twins gave me a pleasure that I invite the reader to share. I did solve them (found the ways to mate Black in time), but I confess that I missed the wittiest point of the whole thing.
    In a), 1.Qg7 (Kd8 2.Bd6 etc.) is defeated by O-O-O! Therefore: 1.Qc5 Kd7 2.Qd6+ Kc8 3.Qc6+ Kd8 4.Kf7 and 5.Be7 mate
    In b), this doesn't work because Black has 4...Ra7+ Now, however, White can play 1.Qxg7 There follows 1...Kd8 2.Bd6 Ra7 3.Qxa7 and mate in two more moves. But can't Black castle here? That is what this problem is really about. He can't. If he could, his last move should have been with the Pf6. If it was f7-f6, then the white King, in its march to g8, would necessitate the black King to have been away from e8 temporarily. If the Pf6 captured to f6 in its last move (this is what I forgot), then the Bf8 must be a promoted Pf7 - also proving the black King must at some time have moved. No castling.
    Thanks to those readers who sent me solutions - most of them entirely correct.

101. 10 March:    

Wow! Made it to the KC Hotlist. So why not invite my readers to click away from here and go to the sites you can click to from there.

© Tim Krabbé, 2000, 2001

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