What Is The Greatest Brilliancy Ever?

What Is The Greatest Brilliancy Ever?

| 59 | Other

From time to time I put together various reader questions and comments (while ignoring the “Die Silman Die!” raves) and share them with the good folks on I try to give a good mix of subjects so that there will be a bit of something for everyone.

In this Q&A, we have a reasonable question (allowing us to repeat a really fine positional exchange sacrifice), a Fischer question, and a question about the greatest combinations of all time and whether judging them can be objective, or will it always be subjective?

Question 1:

In my article, Tactics or Positional Play? The Ladies Return, Puzzle 1, I gave the following very interesting position:

Black has some serious threats on the kingside since her kingside pawn cover is extended and the threat of ...Bd6 hits White’s f4-rook and x-rays through to h2. If the rook moves, it allows Black’s queen to eat the e3-pawn. White played 1.Be1, apparently failing to deal with any of those threats.

Rajlich via Wikipedia

My note read:

A great move that will solidify her kingside, defend e3, and place the dark-squared bishop on the very effective h2-b8 diagonal. member jpr1 wrote:

“In the first game, in the notes it says that Be1!! serves many purposes, including defending e3. How does it defend e3?”

Dear Mr. jpr1,

I think that’s a good question if you didn’t see the continuation. However, if you did see it then I would hope it would make perfect sense. Let’s look at the game continuation. For those that didn’t see what White did, it is well worth looking at!

As we saw, the bishop on e1 was moved to that square in anticipation of sacrificing the exchange on f4. Then the bishop would not only rule the h1-b8 diagonal, but also give solid defense to the e3-pawn.

Question 2: member taylor_chess85 asked:

“I was wondering how and what I should study to play like Bobby Fischer did. I have no delusions of being that good, but I would like to try and play the way he did. Could you help me in the right direction?”

Dear taylor_chess85,

Trying to play like some famous player isn’t possible if you don’t have his skill set, or at the very least enough strength to understand what that skill set is so you can emulate it as best as possible.

People that play gambits might say they are copying some of the old gambiteers in the 1800s, but all they are really doing is copying their openings and attacking like madmen. Nothing wrong with that, but Ignatz Kolisch is Ignatz Kolisch, and playing his openings won’t make you him.

Having said that, if you love a particular player’s style (in this case Fischer) you should play over all this games. I also recommend a book that I really like: Fischer His Approach to Chess by Elie Agur. It’s not new, but I’m sure you can find it in a used bookstore (or have used bookstores gone the way of the dinosaurs?) or on Amazon or eBay. This book illustrates Fischer’s timing, his use of pawn structure, material considerations, typical maneuvers, and much more.

But once again, loving his style is one thing, but copying it is quite another. The prime Fischer was the world’s top opening theorist, and he was also one of the finest endgame players of all time. So, you can copy his openings, study the endgame, and emulate the things the recommended Fischer book offers. And, at the worst, your openings will improve, your strategic understanding will blossom, and your endgames will terrify most of your opponents. So, why not?

Question 3: member arlemagne1 asked:

“There are lots of subjective accounts of the ‘greatest combination’ ever played in chess. But is there an objective way to determine what’s the greatest? I would think that the combination that required the calculation of the greatest number of variations, the greatest number of moves in its variations, the combination that taxed the ‘working memory’ the most might qualify as the greatest combination by an objective measure. What say you?”

Dear Mr. arlemagne1,

An interesting question. I don’t think a “what’s the greatest combination of all time?” question can be objective since a great combination is usually judged by the feeling it gives you. To me, a great combination is a work of art, and as we all know, art, beauty, and music are subjective (pop music makes my ears bleed, while certain ancient Japanese tones put me in a state of bliss -– to each his own).

Though I view the best combinations as art, others judge it by some of the factors you mentioned. How long was it? How far ahead did the winner see? Did he dance and sing as he played the moves? And on and on it goes.

The strength of the person judging the combination also is important. A low-rated player might adore a certain combination since he can, to a certain extent, understand what transpired. But that same game might be spurned by a grandmaster, who might feel it’s too simplistic. However, sometimes simplicity is an art of its own, and there are countless examples of “simple” combinations that still bring great pleasure to millions of chess fans.

Here are some examples of “best combination ever.”

I won’t give any notes (exclamation marks spice things up, but no notes –- I want you to play through them and see how they make you feel).

The Kasparov combination was extremely deep and long, and much of it was intuition. Many believe this is the greatest combination of all time. However, there’s something about it that doesn’t thrill me. I’m amazed by it, and incredibly impressed, but it doesn’t make me swoon.

This one is very cute, and is on many “best combo” lists. Marshall insisted that when he played 23...Qg3 the audience was so beside itself with passion and awe that he was showered with gold pieces.

Marshall via Wikipedia

Simple, a real classic, always fun to look at. But I wouldn’t call it the greatest combination of all time. Not even close. On the other hand, I smile when I see this one (the idea of the audience throwing gold pieces is delightful), but I don’t smile when I see Kasparov’s epic combination (which is far deeper than Marshall’s). Go figure.

The Alekhine combination still blows me away, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times. White has a nice positional advantage and then BOOM, the world falls off its axis! I still recall Alekhine’s comment about his 33rd move: “One of the important links of the combination.”

And when he made the final move, 42...Bd5, and said, “The final point” (hinting that he saw this move when he played 26...Re3) I started laughing like a delighted maniac, and I still laugh whenever I see 42...Bd5 played.

Kasparov himself had this to say: “I think there is reason to nominate this game the most beautiful ever played in the history of chess.”

I agree! But others will prefer the Marshall combo, or Kasparov’s incredible creation.

This one poses an interesting question: Does a brilliancy get extra marks if both players had low ratings? This game, which I feel is the greatest brilliancy ever played by a non-titled player (and one of the most beautiful ever), still amazes me to this day. The fact that it started out with the brilliant 18...Bc8!!, which is a move many grandmasters would miss, sets the scene, and afterwards Black never stopped punching with one wonderful tactical pattern after another.

So, true beauty -- be it art, looks, music, or a chess brilliancy -- will always be subjective.

More from IM Silman
The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

How To Build Winning Chess Positions

How To Build Winning Chess Positions