Is Chess Chivalry Dead?

Is Chess Chivalry Dead?

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The saying, "No good deed goes unpunished" is as old as time. In the early 14th century, Dante Alighieri used a very similar phrase in "The Divine Comedy." I don't know about you, but I totally hate it! In our early childhood, we learn from various stories that good always triumphs over evil only to learn later that those are just fairy tales and in reality life is unfair. 

Thanks to GM Garry Kasparov we know that life imitates chess, and therefore we have dozens of chess examples proving another depressing saying: "nice guys finish last."

The beginning of the 1972 world championship match was marred by a series of scandals that culminated in GM Bobby Fischer not showing up for the second game. FIDE president GM Max Euwe informed world champion, GM Boris Spassky, that he had all legal rights to leave the match and be declared the winner. Of course, the Soviet authorities strongly recommended Spassky to immediately return home and therefore win the match against a very dangerous opponent by default.

chess chivalry
Spassky could have claimed the match win after game two, but decided to play. Photo: Rob Croes/Dutch National Archives, CC.

Spassky preferred to stay and continue the match which earned him enormous respect in the whole chess world. Of course, as we all know, Spassky lost the match and his chess crown. Also upon return to the Soviet Union, he had to face the consequences of his brave decision. 

Fast forward to 1977. Spassky is playing Candidates quarterfinal vs. GM Vlastimil Hort. After 12 games the score was even when Spassky got hospitalized with appendicitis. FIDE president Euwe confirmed that according to the rules if Spassky wouldn't show up for the next game, Hort would win the match by forfeit.

At this point, Hort did what was later called "one of the most sportsmanlike acts in chess history"—he requested a match postponement. When about 10 days later the match resumed, Hort forgot about the clock and lost on time in a completely winning position and therefore Spassky won the match.

Another famous example of the "No good deed goes unpunished" rule happened in the following famous game. Black committed a horrible blunder on move 25:

Here is what GM Genna Sosonko writes in his book Smart Chip From St. Petersburg:

"[Vladimir] Malakhov recalled: Seeing that the rooks were still on the board, he said something like, 'Oh, first the exchange, of course,' put his bishop back, took my rook, and the game continued. I don't know what should have been done differently in this situation -- in Azmaiparashvili's place, some might have resigned immediately, and in my place, some would have demanded that he make a move with his bishop -- but I didn't want to ruin the logical development of the duel, so I didn't object when Zurab made a different move: the mistake was obviously nothing to do with chess!"

Here is how the amended game ended:

As a result, GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili won the tournament (the official European men's championship, no less!) and GM Vladamir Malakhov came in second.

I could give you more examples, but I am sure that you, my dear readers, already get the picture. These days the most common mistake chess players make are mouse slips. Here is the most recent example:

No doubt White was going to play 38. Rc7 achieving a completely winning position, but he dropped his rook on the wrong square. Can you blame Black for taking advantage of White's mistake? If he didn't, then he would have probably lost the game. This reminds me of a famous blunder that happened to a very strong grandmaster in the Soviet Championship:

After the game, GM Oleg Romanishin was asked if he felt sorry for his close friend's mishap. "What could I do?", Romanishin answered, "if I didn't win the queen, then I would suffer in the endgame!"

So, is chess chivalry completely dead, and those noble people who value moral principles always pay the high price for their brave acts? I am happy to report that the tide has probably turned. Here are two recent examples:

As you can see, White mouse slipped and played 43. Rg5?? instead of his intended move 43. Rg6. Black could just snatch the rook and claim the game. Instead, he went for a drawish rook endgame which he managed to win eventually. So his good deed went unpunished! And here is another similar  and recent example:

Imagine that you are playing a very important game versus one of the world's best players who is rated about 300 points higher. Due to an obvious mouse slip, he leaves his queen under attack. By simply capturing the queen you would win the match and proceed to the next round of the FIDE World Cup qualifier. What would you do?

The young Slovak grandmaster didn't want to win the game and the match this way, so he just offered a draw! Caissa, the goddess of chess, decided to reward GM Jergus Pechac, who won the Armageddon and advanced to the next round. While I am sorry for my old friend GM Boris Gelfand, I am extremely happy that chess chivalry is alive!

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