The 5 Strangest Underpromotions In Chess

The 5 Strangest Underpromotions In Chess

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Last week we analyzed the situations where promoting a pawn into a rook, bishop or knight was a logical way to achieve a goal (whether to win or draw the game). Today we'll see the games where underpromotion didn't make much sense and wasn't the best move.

So why are pointless underpromotions are made by strong chess players?


1. Weird sense of humor

In most cases, the underpromotions that make no sense happen in situations where the result of the game is predetermined, so it doesn't really matter what a player turns a pawn into.

In the following game, when a chess engine refuses to resign, Nakamura cannot resist sweet revenge for the whole of humanity. Did the chess engine feel humiliated? I doubt it!

One year later Hikaru performs the same ritual with another silicon beast:

In the following game GM Milan Vidmar gets an endgame with three extra pawns, then for the next 85 moves he is trying to convert them into a win. When it becomes absolutely clear that the position is a draw, the famous engineer and philosopher allows a little joke and promotes his pawns into bishops:

2. Looking for practical chances

When chess players find themselves in completely lost positions, they look for any possible trick to confuse the opponent. One such tricks is a pawn underpromotion. Since the pawn is going to be captured anyway, it doesn't really matter if you promote it into a queen or a bishop. To tell you the truth, I never seen such a ploy really work, so I assume people do it just to have some fun before resigning the game.  

In the next game we see such a case of a double underpromotion into bishops:

3. Just weird

I am not sure what happened in the next game. I hope Hikaru will share his thoughts on the following underpromotion.

Since simple moves 77...f1=Q or 77...Rxh5 would lead to an instant draw, I don't understand why Nakamura decided to promote a pawn into a knight.  


There were reports that being short on time, Hikaru promoted a pawn into a piece that was closest to his hand. But the video of this episode suggests otherwise. It seems to me that other pieces were actually closer to Nakamura's hand and the knight was the furthest! My only guess is Nakamura wanted to meet 78.Rg5+ with counter-check 78....Ng3+ and start playing for a win!

[Editor's note: In fact Nakamura wanted to make a little joke and promote to a bishop. He couldn't find one quickly, so he put a knight instead—see our news report.]

The most interesting part of the video begins at 1:45:

4. Illegal promotion

The following video tells the story. Strictly speaking, it is not promotion or underpromotion since the move is simply illegal. Notice how Black skillfully promotes his c2 pawn into Qd1, avoiding the trade of queens!

What was the most bizarre pawn promotion you have ever seen? 

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