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Fischer, Tal, and the most frequently forgotten chess rule

  • GM Gserper
  • | Apr 14, 2014
  • | 22493 views
  • | 59 comments

Let me start from the very end of this story.

Sousse Interzonal 1967 will always be remembered for Fischer's withdrawal after ten rounds. At that point he had seven wins and three draws. Even though the participants were supposed to play 22 games in that long round robin tournament, few people had any doubts about who was going to win it. But Fischer dropped out due to a conflict with the organizers.

Those are well-known facts. What you probably don't know is the story that took place during the free day while Fischer was still participating in the tournament. GM Eduard Gufeld vividly described it in his book.

A group of participants were relaxing on the beach, and GM Gufeld (who was a second of GM Geller), decided to play a prank on Fischer. He showed a certain position to a group of players and asked them for their help. Gufeld was going to show this position to Fischer and while he would think, everybody was supposed to say, "Oh, that's easy!" or "Ah, I see the solution, that's simple," etc.

Here is the position:

While Fischer was solving the puzzle, other participants were teasing him: "Bobby, do you want a hint?"

There was a look of horror on Fischer's face: the reputation of his chess genius was evaporating. But when he finally solved the puzzle, his smile was so broad and so genuine that Gufeld thought no actor in the entire world would be able to show the range of Fischer's emotions from horror to happiness - all in one minute!

Now let's jump from one extreme to another one. From a chess genius to a chess beginner. Let me ask you, my dear readers, a simple question. What's the most difficult rule for beginners to comprehend? What is the one rule they always forget about? If you've spent any time teaching beginners to play chess, then I'm sure you know the answer. Of course it is the en passant rule! But it turns out that this unusual rule sometimes is difficult to remember for strong grandmasters as well. Just look at the next position:

White's position was pretty bad already as he could barely move, but his last move 40.f4?? was a horrible blunder. After a simple en passant capture 40...exf3, White can resign. Instead Black played 40...gxf4?? and GM Adams managed to win this game and eventually qualify for the Candidates’ matches!

When I saw this game for the first time in one of the chess magazines, I thought that it was definitely some sort of a mistake since two strong GMs couldn't possibly overlook such a simple move. But it turns out that this is exactly what happened! Possible time trouble is not a valid excuse for me since a GM should see a move like this even in a bullet game. Most probably, both opponent's simply forgot about the en passant rule!

Robert James Fischer | Image Wikipedia

You may ask what does the en passant rule have to do with Fischer or Tal? Don't worry, we'll get there. While Gufeld didn't mention in his book where he got the position to torment Fischer, any avid fan of chess history will easily recognize the key features of the famous game that is our next puzzle:

Not done solving puzzles? Tactics Trainer is waiting!

This is an exquisite, yet typical, example of one of Tal's combinations! But you might have two questions.

  1. Why doesn't combination from the Gufeld's position work here? Good question! After the game it was suggested that 32.Qf6 (instead of 32. Qd7) with the threat of 33. Qg7!! and 34. Nf6 checkmate would win the game faster. But Black has a simple defense that ruins that beautiful combination: 32...Qf8!
  2. If Tal checkmated Black's king, why the result shown is a draw? Well, because the real game ended differently!

After the game ended, Tal showed everyone a very beautiful combination that didn't work. In his calculations after 31.Qf5+ g6 32.Qd7!! gxh5 33.Ng5+ Kg6 34.Qe6+! Kxg5 35.g3! h4 36.f4+ Kh5 he thought that after 37.g4+ Black could simply capture this dangerous pawn en passant - 37...hxg3. In his calculations he missed that the g2 pawn moves to g3 in the process of the combination and therefore the en passant rule is not valid anymore.

Mikhail Tal | Image Wikipedia

And that's how one of the most beautiful combinations in history was never actually played! It is funny that while GMs Adams and Dvoirys forgot about the en passant rule that existed, Tal saw the en passant rule when it was already gone!


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Comments


  • 6 weeks ago

    JOVINDSOUZA

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 6 months ago

    nitsujfortwo

    Cool! En Passant is especially awesome in closed pawn endgames

  • 7 months ago

    GM Gserper

    TALminator 

    Yes, you are right.  I thought it was so obvious that the combination DID work, but it wouldn't hurt to add  "Or so he thought" , as you suggested.

  • 7 months ago

    TALminator

    GM Serper wrote:

    "After the game ended, Tal showed everyone a very beautiful combination that didn't work."  This sentence confused me.  I asked myself, why is the writer saying that this combination doesn't work?

    Shouldn't you add, "Or so he thought" or something to that effect?  Because you've shown that the combination does indeed work. 

    Great article.

  • 7 months ago

    sisu

    @ Spektrowski : The threat is stronger than the execution Laughing.

  • 7 months ago

    DarkArmy

    @Spektrowski

    None of that is stated in the original post. Not sure how you came up with that.

    The original post says, "White moves first as always, but at any one time during the game, he is allowed to make two legal moves in a row"

    There is no confusion here. That does not mean he is attacking a square that is 4 ranks away.

    Basically, white is allowed to play three legal moves in a row because at any one time he may make 2 legal moves in a row. Therefore, he may move once, and then take the opportunity to make 2 legal moves on top of that.

  • 7 months ago

    Spektrowski

    @DarkArmy

    The "2 move in a row" thing is actually misleading. Try to look at this Knight (let's name it Chevalier, or something) like this:

    1. It makes one move.

    2. Once per game, it can go to any square that is either one Knight move away from the starting square or two Knight moves away from the starting square. It leads to

    3. This piece, once per game, simultaneously attacks any square which is one or two Knight moves away from the starting square.

  • 7 months ago

    DarkArmy

    A horrible puzzle.

    1st, the king capture rule is used as proof that your opponent has made an illegal move. (You don't just take someones king; it is actually against the rules to do so and is only tolerated in blitz.) What illegal move did black make in any of the variations you provide? He has made none; only legal moves. So, to make two moves in a row where on the 2nd move you capture the king, it actually equals one legal move and one illegal move.

    FIDE Chess Laws rule 1.2 "Leaving one’s own king under attack, exposing one’s own king to attack and also ’capturing’ the opponent’s king are not allowed."

    2nd, the use of the term "Checkmate" is not valid here. There is no checkmate....ever.

    What a silly puzzle. When I first saw it I thought that the king capture rule is the only way to do anything, but knew it was not valid. Then you guys started throwing in the term "check" from e4 and "checkmate" where there was none. 

    The only way I could find fairly legit mating threats for white is via the following position.

    http://www.chess.com/emboard?id=1992306

    From here, white mates no matter what black does.

  • 7 months ago

    varelse1

    I recently had two different opponents in a row, get surprised by that en passant thingy.

  • 7 months ago

    sisu

    Nope. 1...e5 loses to 2.Knight to d5 checkmate! Wink

  • 7 months ago

    Spektrowski

    @DarkArmy

    Ne4-f6(d6)xe8. Check is a threat to take the piece, and the King is indeed under threat because of the way the 2-move Knight moves - and has nowhere to go.

    The 2-move Knight on e4 simultaneously attacks c8, e8, g8, b7, d7, f7, h7, a6, e6, b5, d5, f5, h5, a4, c4, g4, b3, d3, f3, h3, a2, e2, b1, d1, f1 and h1 - basically, almost all white squares there are, in addition to d6, f6, c5, g5, c3, g3, d2 and f2, as a normal Knight.

    1... e5 seems to be the most resilient answer. 1. Nc3 e5 2. 2Ne4+ Ke7  3. Nge2! (3. Ngf3 h6!, which cuts off all possible checks on the next move) and, regardless of Black's move, 4. 2N2c3# or 4. 2N2g3# (2N means 2-move Knight). Black at least held for 4 moves!

  • 7 months ago

    DarkArmy

    @Spektrowski

    I don't think you understand the puzzle.

    For example...

    1.Nc3 c5

    2.Ne4 (And now that white has moved the knight to e4, he may then play two legal moves if he wants)

    From e4, what two legal moves end up checkmating the king?

  • 7 months ago

    Nick

    GMs forgetting en passant is pretty humbling

  • 7 months ago

    sisu

    Yes Ortvin Sarapuu told me. He had a few tales of his own also. Once he was in a teams event, and was crushing his opponent. He walked around after making a move, and found a team player, upon when he said "I should get the full point in this game, or else I will give up chess!".

    After a long battle, the opponent somehow managed to scrape a draw. Ortvin was disappointed, but said, "I guess it means that I only have to half give up chess now." Laughing

  • 7 months ago

    Spektrowski

    @DarkArmy

    Read the puzzle more carefully. It's stated that at any time, White can invoke the right to make two moves in a row. So when the White Knight gets to e4, it puts the King in check, invoking that 2-move right.

  • 7 months ago

    DarkArmy

    @ Sisu, 

    Can you please provide a link to a website with this supposed Bobby Fischer puzzle? I can't find it anywhere on the net.

    Also, none of the moves you suggest make any sense.

    "Ne4 checkmate!" What are you talking about? The king isnt even in check.

  • 7 months ago

    GM Gserper

    @ sisu 

    I got your point. I thought that after 2.Ne4 Black can play Qa5 check and disrupt White's plan, but 2.Ne4 is already a weird case of a check and therefore Black cannot do a countercheck (just like in a regular game you cannot leave your King under a check to do a countercheck).

    Great puzzle and story, thanks! I assume it was Ortwin Sarapu who told you the story...

  • 7 months ago

    sisu

    @GSerper: Aha, you see this is why Gufeld took the Black pieces, but after

    1. Knight to c3, he realised what was about to happen:

    If 1...c6 then Fischer plays 2. Knight to e4 checkmate!

    If 1...d5 then 2. Knight to b5 check King to d7 3. Knight to f3 checkmate! Similar for 1...e6 and 1...f6, etc.

    The power of having two moves ;)

    Well done to nagdingbrob who solved it below.

  • 7 months ago

    LJM123

    Did Michael Adams make his f4 move while his opponent was at the board? If not, Michael may have realised that this was his only chance. I personally can't believe his opponent would have overlooked the en passant if he was at the board, but could easily have overlooked it if he returned to find the position and made the assumption that Michael would not have made such a move if en passant were possible.

  • 7 months ago

    atomicaugust

     
    One other example : this game occurs in 2014 in Gibaltar and N. Pogonina said during the video analysis of her game that after 68... b5, N. Short said "checkmate" ! forgotting about the en passant rule (or may be was it a bluff).
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