Luke McShane

Have they spotted it?

Have they spotted it?
Text settings

Returning to the board, Mamedyarov looks at Anand’s outstretched hand with bemusement. It can’t be a draw offer – that would be a rude way to do it, and besides, the tournament rules prohibit an early peace treaty. No, Anand is resigning! He looks crestfallen, like a child whose ice cream has fallen to the ground. Mamedyarov pauses before taking his hand, and now Anand looks puzzled by his opponent’s hesitation. Here is the position:

Vishy Anand-Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Norway Chess, June 2022

(See left diagram)

Anand had just played 22 Qd3-b5, which pressures e8 and b7. No sooner had he played it than he spotted the flaw – Black can win on the spot with the brilliant 22…Qxf3+!, since 23 Kxf3 Nh4 is mate. White resigns

It was a cruel twist in an otherwise excellent tournament for the former world champion, who was in contention for first place throughout much of the event in Stavanger earlier this month. (Magnus Carlsen won the event, aided by a Houdini act in his classical game against Anand).

The next day, Anand admitted it was premature to resign without waiting for the axe to fall. Mamedyarov explained that he hadn’t spotted it, although he reckoned that he would have in a couple of minutes. That is probably true, particularly since Anand would have struggled to keep his composure. It is far better to remain oblivious to one’s own blunders.

Alexander Nikitin, renowned trainer of Garry Kasparov, died earlier this month. Nikitin’s detailed account of a similar moment of extreme tension for the 16-year-old Kasparov appears in Kasparov’s autobiography.

Garry Kasparov-Viktor Kupreichik

USSR Championship, Minsk, 1979

(See right diagram)

Kasparov’s last move was 13 Nxf8, capturing a bishop. Nikitin, spectating, feared a well-hidden desperado sacrifice, 13…Qxd4! For example, 14 Qxh8 Qxc3+ 15 Kd1 O-O-O+ is catastrophic for White. Or in case of 14 cxd4 Rxh5 15 Nxe6 fxe6 restores material parity, but White is in huge trouble, with nothing to counteract Black’s three connected passed pawns on the queenside. The least of the evils might be 14 Qf3 Qxe5+ 15 Be2 Kxf8, when White is ‘only’ two pawns down.

Nikitin wrote, ‘However, when he saw this, Garry unexpectedly quickly composed himself and took the psychologically correct decision. He did not jump up and walk around the stage, as he would have often done before, but with an imperturbable and perhaps even self-confident appearance he remained seated, demonstrating his readiness to continue the “blitz”’.

Kupreichik sank into long thought, but finally played 13…Rxh5. After 14 Nxd7 Kxd7 15 Rb1 a6 16 Bxc4 Na5 Bf1 Kasparov won on move 45

Written byLuke McShane

Luke McShane is chess columnist for The Spectator.

Topics in this articleSociety