The latest Sherlock Holmes film, A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey jr and Jude Law, pays distinct homage to Conan Doyle’s one direct reference to chess in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Although in The Dying Detective Holmes and Watson repair for ‘something nutritious’ at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, then the traditional hub of London chess, the only actual mention of the game comes in The Retired Colourman, where Holmes asserts that chess expertise is the mark of a scheming mind — a quote that makes it into the film script.
A Game of Shadows revolves around a chess game between the two super-brains, Holmes and Professor Moriarty, that ultimate schemer. Interestingly, at the film’s dénouement, as the protagonists switch to playing without sight of the board (a further indication of their awesome mental powers), the game can be readily identified from the moves each speaks out. It is the conclusion of a famous win by Larsen against Petrosian, given below.
Larsen-Petrosian: Piatigorsky Cup, Santa Monica 1966
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 5 Be3 Bg7 6 c4 Nf6 7 Nc3 Ng4 8 Qxg4 Nxd4 9 Qd1 Ne6 10 Qd2 d6 11 Be2 Bd7 12 0-0 0-0 13 Rad1 Bc6 14 Nd5 Re8 15 f4 White begins an attack. 15 ... Nc7 16 f5 Na6 17 Bg4 Larsen later suggested 17 b4! which would have given an enormous advantage. 17 ... Nc5 18 fxg6 hxg6 19 Qf2 Rf8 It seems that Black has parried the first wave of the attack. 20 e5 After 20 Bxc5 dxc5 21 Nf6+ Bxf6 22 Rxd8 Raxd8 Black has fine compensation for the queen, while if 20 Qh4, then 20 ... Bxd5 21 exd5 e5 is good. 20 ... Bxe5 21 Qh4 Bxd5 22 Rxd5 Ne6 23 Rf3 Bf6 24 Qh6 Bg7 (see diagram 1) 25 Qxg6 A very pretty stroke, which concludes the battle. 25 ... Nf4 Or 25 ... fxg6 26 Bxe6+ Kh7 27 Rh3+ Bh6 28 Bxh6 Rf5 29 Rxf5 gxf5 30 Bf7 Qb6+ 31 Kh1 and wins, while if 25 ... Nc7, then White replies 26 Qxg7+! Kxg7 27 Rg5+ Kh6 28 Rh3 mate. 26 Rxf4 fxg6 (see diagram 2) This is the moment in the film where Holmes and Moriarty begin to speak out their moves in old descriptive notation, without either of them being able to see the board. I would suggest that The Game of Shadows now joins the Seventh Seal, From Russia with Love, the Chessplayers, the Luzhin Defence, The Thomas Crown Affair and Casablanca as including one of the iconic depictions of chess in film. 27 Be6+ Rf7 The film continues with the variation 27 ... Kh7 28 Rh4+ Bh6 29 Bxh6 Rf5 30 Rxf5 gxf5 31 Bf7 followed by Bf8 mate. 28 Rxf7 Kh8 29 Rg5 b5 30 Rg3 Black resigns