Famous Chess Games

Famous Chess Games

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Chess is a game of planning. Strategies are long-range plans that can occur at the beginning, middle, or end of the game. Considered another way, tactics and strategies are ways of seeing patterns of movement on the chessboard. The more patterns you know, the better you can plan.

There is arguably no other game with the timeless staying power and global reach of chess. Unlike most of the other games and sports played today by millions around the world, chess has a history that spans millennia. The number of chess moves made in the history of the royal game is incalculable. Data taken from the study of the 2015 MegaBase (a database that contains over 4.5 million games) indicates that the average number of moves per game is roughly 38.

Yet there are many games that last for hours and hours and still many others which are finished within minutes. In this article we bring you 

  • Famous Chess Games
  • Longest Chess Games
  • Shortest Chess Games

Famous Chess Games

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most famous chess games from the romantic era of chess:

1. Kasparov vs Topalov, 1999 “Kasparov’s Immortal”

In 1999 Kasparov was one of fourteen players invited to compete in the Wijk aan Zee tournament in the Netherlands, now often known as Tata Steel chess. The tournament was super-strong with Anand, Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, Alexei Shirov, Vassily Ivanchuk and Rustam Kasimdzhanov also challenging. Ultimately, Garry Kasparov would win with a fantastic 10/13 score. But one game stood out and was soon being described as one of the greatest chess games ever played, Kasparov’s Immortal.

Kasparov vs Topalov took place in round 4 with the Bulgarian Super GM expected to give the chess world champion a tough test. The game started uneventfully, with Topalov meeting 1.e4 with …d6, the Pirc Defense. Even 15 moves in, there wasn’t much sign of what was to come. Both Garry Kasparov and Veselin Topalov had castled queenside, Kasparov’s queen was stuck away from the action on h6 and Black’s pawns on a6, b5, c6 and d6 were doing a great job of keeping White at bay.

But Garry Kasparov soon injected energy into the position with 18.Na5, 19.Bh3 and 20.Qf4+ all improving his piece activity. Topalov was unfazed and closed the position with 21…d4. A knight exchange followed then 23…Qd6 – Black offers the queen exchange and prepares to capture the d5 pawn, going ahead on material with a fantastic position. Was Kasparov lost?

Then came a move that caught the attention of the chess world: 24.Rxd4!! A stunning sacrifice of rook for pawn. Topalov took and the world expected Kasparov to recapture with the queen, giving a check. But Garry had other ideas: 25.Re7+!! a SECOND rook sacrifice!

Topalov sinks into deep thought, and sees the second rook sacrifice cannot be taken. Instead, he takes the knight, willingly placing himself in what looks like a tight mating net, yet he always has that one escape square or saving move. Was Kasparov’s brilliance flawed? No! An incredibly intricate series of quiet and “only” moves, sacrifices and counter-sacrifices result in Kasparov having a queen vs rook and the game ended on move 44.

From move 24, Kasparov’s Immortal sees him sacrifice EVERY piece apart from his queen – yet he still comes out ahead on material. Enjoy this Kasparov vs Topalov analysis, one of the finest chess games ever played!

2. Morphy vs Duke Karl / Count Isouard, 1858 “A Night at the Opera”

The chess game played in 1858 at an opera house in Paris between the American chess master Paul Morphy and two strong amateurs, the German noble Duke Karl of Brunswick and the French aristocrat Count Isouard, is among the most famous chess games. Duke Karl and Count Isouard consulted together, playing as partners against Morphy. The game is often used by chess instructors to teach the importance of rapid development of one’s pieces, the value of sacrifices in mating combinations, and other chess concepts. The game is sometimes called “The Opera Game” or “A Night at the Opera”.

On several occasions, the Duke invited Morphy to the Italian Opera House in Paris, Salle Le Peletier, where the former kept a private box which was, according to Morphy’s associate Frederick Edge, so close to the stage that one “might kiss the prima donna without any trouble”, and which always contained a chess set, the Duke being a keen player as well as an opera lover.

Morphy was extremely fond of music and opera and was eager to see Norma, which played on his first visit. Unfortunately, his host had seen Norma countless times, and Morphy found himself forced to play chess, even seated with his back to the stage.

As the game progressed, the two allies conferred loudly enough with each other, debating their moves against the American genius, that it attracted the attention of the opera performers. Madame Penco, who had the role of the Druidic priestess in Norma, kept looking into the Duke’s box, to see what all the fuss was about, even as she was performing the opera. Then the performers, who were the Druids, marched about, “chanting fire and bloodshed against the Roman host, who, they appeared to think, were in the Duke’s box”, Edge recounted.

It is doubtful if the distracted opera singers had a good enough view of what was going on. Comically, Morphy created this brilliant game while spending his time trying to overcome his blocked view of the opera, while the performers tried to catch glimpses of what was going on in the Duke’s box.

Norma was performed at the Italiens de Paris on 21 October 1858, with Rosina Penco in the title role, L. Graziani as Pollione and Cambardi as Adalgise. Some commentators would rather have the chess game taking place with The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, or else The Marriage of Figaro on stage.

The game opened with Philidor’s Defense, named after eighteenth-century chess master François-André Danican Philidor — who was also a noted opera composer.

3. Byrne vs. Fischer, New York 1956

The Game of the Century is a chess game that was won by the 13-year-old future world champion Bobby Fischer against Donald Byrne in the Rosenwald Memorial Tournament at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City on October 17, 1956. In Chess Review, Hans Kmoch dubbed it “The Game of the Century” and wrote: “The following game, a stunning masterpiece of combination play performed by a boy of 13 against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record in the history of chess prodigies.”

In this game, Fischer (playing Black) demonstrates noteworthy innovation and improvisation. Byrne (playing White), after a standard opening, makes a seemingly minor mistake on move 11, losing a tempo by moving the same piece twice. Fischer pounces with brilliant sacrificial play, culminating in a queen sacrifice on move 17. Byrne captures the queen, but Fischer gets copious material for it – a rook, two bishops, and a pawn. At the end, Fischer’s pieces coordinate to force checkmate, while Byrne’s queen sits useless on the other side of the board.

4. Ivanchuk vs. Yusupov, Brussels 1991

In 1991, Vasyl Ivanchuk was 22 and ranked 2nd in the world, an incredible achievement. The Candidates’ quarterfinal match in that year between Ivanchuk and Yusupov initially favored Ivanchuk who gained an early lead and needed only a draw in the final game to clinch victory in the match. Drawing on demand would never prove Ivanchuk’s forte though as Yusuppov defeated him brilliantly forcing the match into rapid tiebreaks.

In the first game of the tiebreaks, Ivanchuk had White and gained an objective advantage against the King’s Indian Defense (a new opening for Yusupov), but Yusupov committed himself fully to the kingside and soon worked up some incredible threats.

A misstep by Ivanchuk allowed Yusupov’s threats to materialize. Ivanchuk gave back almost all of his massive material advantage, but even that was insufficient to stave off checkmate.

This is probably Yusupov’s finest game (though he was personally unimpressed), but for Ivanchuk, it proved an early indication of a lack of consistency that would plague this brilliant “Chucky” throughout his career.

5. Anderssen vs Dufresne, 1852 “The Evergreen Partie”

The Evergreen Game is a famous chess game won by Adolf Anderssen against Jean Dufresne in 1852.

This was probably an informal game. At the time, there was no formal title of “World Champion”, but the German mathematics professor Anderssen was widely considered the best player in the world after winning the first major international chess tournament in London in 1851. Though not in the same class as Anderssen, Dufresne, a popular author of chess books, was also a strong player. It is usually assumed that the game was played in Berlin, where Dufresne lived and Anderssen often visited, but no details of the game’s circumstances were given in the original publication in the September and October 1852 issues of Deutsche Schachzeitung.

Beginning with Howard Staunton in 1853, the game has been extensively analyzed over the years, particularly the critical positions before and after White’s remarkable 19th move, Rad1. Although defensive resources for Black have since been found, Anderssen’s combination remains much admired.

After Anderssen’s death in 1879, Wilhelm Steinitz published a tribute in The Field in which he annotated Anderssen’s two most famous games, the Evergreen and the Immortal Game against Lionel Kieseritzky. Annotating 19.Rad1, Steinitz wrote, “An evergreen in the laurel crown of the departed chess hero”, thus giving this game its name.

Shortest Chess Games

If you think chess masters don’t make mistakes in their games, you should review these 10 shortest games. Many of them ended up with a checkmate, all under 12 moves. These are the  short games lost by the strong players.

1. Shortest Decisive Game

The fewest moves required to deliver a checkmate in chess is two, in what is known as Fool’s mate (1.g4 e5 2.f3?? Qh4# and variants thereof). 

This has been played between L. Darling–R. Wood, 1983, that was published on April Fool’s Day in Northwest Chess magazine (1.g4 e6 2.f4?? Qh4#). Bill Wall lists, in addition to Darling–Wood, three other games that ended with Black checkmating on the second move. 

In a tournament game at odds of pawn and move, White delivered checkmate on move 2: W. Cooke–”R____g”, Cape Town Chess Club handicap tournament 1908 (remove Black’s f-pawn) 1.e4 g5?? 2.Qh5#. The same game had previously been played in Leeky–Mason, Dublin 1867.

If one counts forfeited games as a loss in zero moves, then there have been many such forfeits, the most notable examples being Game 2 of the 1972 world championship match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, which Fischer defaulted, and Game 5 of the 2006 world championship match between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov, which Kramnik defaulted.

Under recently instituted FIDE rules, a player who is late for the beginning of a round loses the game, as does a player who has a forbidden electronic device (by default any device). The former rule was used at the 2009 Chinese Championship to forfeit Hou Yifan for arriving five seconds late for the beginning of a round. The latter rule was used to forfeit Aleksander Delchev against Stuart Conquest after the move 1.d4 in the 2009 European Team Championship.

The German grandmaster Robert Hübner also lost a game without playing any moves. In a World Student Team Championship game played in Graz in 1972, Hübner played one move and offered a draw to Kenneth Rogoff, who accepted. However, the arbiters insisted that some moves be played, so the players played the following ridiculous game: 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Ng1 Bg7 4.Qa4 0-0 5.Qxd7 Qxd7 6.g4 Qxd2+ 7.Kxd2 Nxg4 8.b4 a5 9.a4 Bxa1 10.Bb2 Nc6 11.Bh8 Bg7 12.h4 axb4 (draw agreed). 

The arbiters ruled that both players must apologize and play an actual game at 7 p.m. Rogoff appeared and apologized; Hübner did neither. Hübner’s clock was started, and after an hour Rogoff was declared the winner. Wang Chen and Lu Shanglei both lost a game in which they had played no moves. They agreed to a draw without play at the 2009 Zhejiang Lishui Xingqiu Cup International Open Chess Tournament held in Lishui, Zhejiang Province, China. The chief arbiter declared both players to have lost the game.

More rarely, a player might decide to protest by resigning a game rather than forfeiting. A game between Fischer and Oscar Panno, played at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal 1970, went: 1.c4 Black resigns. Panno refused to play to protest the organizers’ rescheduling of the game to accommodate Fischer’s desire not to play on his religion’s Sabbath. 

Panno was not present when the game was to begin. Fischer waited ten minutes before making his move and went to get Panno to convince him to play. Fifty-two minutes had elapsed on Panno’s clock before he came to the board and resigned. (At the time, an absence of sixty minutes resulted in a forfeit.)

The shortest decisive tournament game that was decided because of the position on the board (i.e. not because of a forfeit or protest) is Z. Đorđević–M. Kovačević, Bela Crkva 1984. It lasted only three moves (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c6 3.e3?? Qa5+ winning the bishop), and White resigned.

This was repeated in Vassallo–Gamundi, Salamanca 1998. (In a number of other games, White has played on after 3…Qa5+, occasionally drawing or even winning in this line.) The shortest game ever lost by a grandmaster because of the position on the board was by future world champion Viswanathan Anand, who resigned on move 6 against Alonso Zapata in 1988 (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Bf5?? 6.Qe2 winning a piece, since 6…Qe7 is answered by 7.Nd5 Qe6? 8.Nxc7+).

2. Shortest Draw

A game may be drawn by mutual agreement in any number of moves. Traditionally, it has been common for players to agree to a “grandmaster draw” after playing about 10–15 moves of known opening theory and making no serious effort to win. 

This is usually done to preserve energy in a tournament, after a devastating loss in the previous round of the tournament, or in the final round when no prize money is at stake. There has been some debate over the ethics of the practice, and recently there has been a trend away from such games, with many tournaments adopting measures to discourage short draws. 

If the tournament officials (unlike those at Graz and Lishui) do not object, a game may even be agreed to be drawn without a single move being played. According to ChessGames.com, in the 1968 Skopje–Ohrid tournament Dragoljub Janosevic and Efim Geller agreed to a draw without playing any moves. Tony Miles and Stewart Reuben did the same thing in the last round of the Luton 1975 tournament, “with the blessing of the controller”, in order to assure themselves of first and second places respectively.

3. Shortest World Championship Game

As mentioned above, Fischer (in 1972) and Kramnik (in 2006) each forfeited a world championship game without playing any moves. Other than those unplayed games, the shortest game in a world championship was the 21st match game in the World Chess Championship 1963 between Mikhail Botvinnik and Tigran Petrosian. 

The players agreed to a draw after the 10th move by White (Petrosian). The shortest decisive, non-forfeited world championship game occurred between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand in game 8 of the World Chess Championship 2012. Gelfand resigned after Anand’s 17th move, 17.Qf2.

4. Shortest Stalemate

The shortest known stalemate, composed by Sam Loyd, involves the sequence 1.e3 a5 2.Qh5 Ra6 3.Qxa5 h5 4.Qxc7 Rah6 5.h4 f6 6.Qxd7+ Kf7 7.Qxb7 Qd3 8.Qxb8 Qh7 9.Qxc8 Kg6 10.Qe6. 

The shortest stalemate with all of the pieces on the board, composed by Charles H Wheeler, occurs after 1.d4 d6 2.Qd2 e5 3.a4 e4 4.Qf4 f5 5.h3 Be7 6.Qh2 Be6 7.Ra3 c5 8.Rg3 Qa5+ 9.Nd2 Bh4 10.f3 Bb3 11.d5 e3 12.c4 f4 (minor variations are possible). 

These games are nonsensical from the point of view of chess strategy, but both have occasionally been played in tournaments as a joke, as part of a prearranged draw. 

The shortest known route to a position where both players are stalemated, discovered by Enzo Minerva and published in the Italian newspaper l’Unità on August 14, 2007, is 1.c4 d5 2.Qb3 Bh3 3.gxh3 f5 4.Qxb7 Kf7 5.Qxa7 Kg6 6.f3 c5 7.Qxe7 Rxa2 8.Kf2 Rxb2 9.Qxg7+ Kh5 10.Qxg8 Rxb1 11.Rxb1 Kh4 12.Qxh8 h5 13.Qh6 Bxh6 14.Rxb8 Be3+ 15.dxe3 Qxb8 16.Kg2 Qf4 17.exf4 d4 18.Be3 dxe3. 

The shortest genuine stalemate in a serious game was played in Ravenna 1982, when the Italian master Mario Sibilio forced a stalemate on move 27 against grandmaster Sergio Mariotti.

Longest Chess Games

Quick thoughtless moves lead to the weakening of your position and they lead to losing a drawn game or drawing a won game. Being impatient at the chessboard prevents you from playing the best move possible, since you are not giving the position the amount of thought it requires.

But sometimes sometimes patience could stretch a game too long. Here is the list of longest games ever played.

1. Ivan Nikolic vs. Goran Arsovic (269 moves)

The longest tournament chess game (in terms of moves) ever to be played was Nikolić–Arsović, Belgrade 1989, which lasted for 269 moves and took 20 hours and 15 minutes to complete a drawn game. At the time this game was played, FIDE had modified the fifty-move rule to allow 100 moves to be played without a piece being captured in a rook and bishop versus rook endgame, the situation in Nikolić versus Arsović. FIDE has since rescinded that modification to the rule.

The endgame of this game is the famous rook and bishop vs. rook, which is known to be extremely difficult.

2. Alexandre Danin vs. Sergei Azarov (239 moves)

Game two is the longest recorded and rated chess game where one of the players won. This game came with extra pressure as Danin had to win the game in order for his team to draw the match in the Czech league!

3. Laurent Fressinet vs. Alexandra Kosteniuk (237 moves)

Game three is the runner up for the longest game with victory. Like game one, this game ended with the famous rook and bishop vs. rook endgame! 116 of the moves involved this endgame. Fressinet could have claimed a draw under the 50-move rule, but neither player was writing down the moves.

4. Viktor Korchnoi vs. Anatoly Karpov (124 moves)

This game played between Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov is included in this list for being the longest game ever played in a world championship match.

Conclusion: Studying famous chess games move by move is definitely an essential aspect of chess improvement. All great players like Magnus Carlsen, Vishwanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik studied the games of classic chess players of the past. Why shouldn’t you follow in their footsteps to improve your strategies and timings?

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