The Greatest Amateur Game of all Time

The Greatest Amateur Game of all Time

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Even before my 3 part series on How to Study Master Games, I had gotten various letters asking about the ultimate value of non-master games. Also, many people have asked me how to improve their attacking skills. I addressed the “do non-master games have value” topic in Part Three of the above series, but since it’s a subject that so many seem curious about, and since it also addresses the “how to attack” questions I’ve gotten, I decided to cull an example from my new book and share it here.

Though I originally told one version (you’ll be getting a completely new version here) of this tale more than three decades ago in Chess Life Magazine, it never seems to get old. The following game is not only highly instructive, it’s not only extremely entertaining, but it also offers hope to the millions of amateur players who hold onto a dream that someday, somehow, they too will play an “eternal” game that will be enjoyed, talked about, and revered until chess is no longer played or the human race vanishes from the face of the Earth.

Before continuing, here are some highlights of the upcoming game that will allow you to test yourself and see if you can find what Black, a 1500 player, found! I suspect that even site masters will have trouble keeping up! Keep in mind that there's nothing to be ashamed of if you fail to solve most of these - it is, after all, the greatest amateur game of all time!



































































The Catig vs. Mills game shows the proper mentality one needs when faced with a central enemy King. Here are some of the instructive “how to attack” lessons you should be looking for:

* If you are castled and your opponent’s King is still in the middle, get excited and see if there’s any way to punish it! Keep in mind that he will likely castle soon, so if you want to take advantage of the situation, you need to act fast and play with enormous energy.

* Note how Black strives to crack open the center so he can reach his royal target. In this game, Black will offers pawns and even Rooks to create roads to the enemy King!

* Note how Black makes use of a “mating net” – this is an important attacking device.

* Note how Black lowers the boom by making use of overworked enemy pieces.

* Finally, note how Black (incredibly!) never calculated more than 3 moves ahead! Understanding and using the above attacking concepts alone enabled him to create a work of art.

This remarkable story is about Micky Mills, a class “C” player (1500) who, way back in 1974, had a very poor grasp of attacking fundamentals. I was his teacher and, seeing this flaw, recommended that he read a classic book by Vukovic titled, The Art of Attack. He evidently took this recommendation to heart!

Some months after he read The Art of Attack, Mills was playing in an open tour­nament (players of every rating were mixed together) that happened to have a brilliancy prize. There were quite a few strong players, including the U.S. Champion John Grefe and many time U.S. Champion Walter Browne, so ev­eryone expected one of the “big guns” to pick up that cash bonus.

Mills was not doing particularly well in the event, and was paired with another “C” player. Nobody paid much attention to the game, but after I got home (with Mills, two Senior Masters [2400], and John Grefe in tow) Micky squealed, “Look at my game! Look at my game! I’ve played a brilliancy!”

I’m not proud of this, but I have to admit that we all burst into laughter. “Okay,” we said in our most sarcastic tone, “show it to us!”

R. Catig (1500) - M. Mills (1500), San Francisco 1974

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 0–0 8.Qd2 d5!

So far we were all silent. Black has played the opening well and has no problems.


The continuation 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxd5 Nxd4! is very nice for Black: 11.Nxe7+? (11.Bc4 keeps black’s edge to a minimum, while 11.Bxd4? Qxd5 12.Bxg7 Qxg2! has led to many Black victories) 11...Qxe7 12.Bxd4 Bxd4 13.Qxd4 Re8 and white’s King is trapped in the center. 


This is our first example of a King being trapped in the center!

White’s best is to offer a Queen trade by 14.Qe3, but Black (who is after the enemy King) won’t accept it: 14…Qb4+ 15.c3 Qa4 16.Qd2 (better is 16.Qd4, though 16…Qa6 17.c4 Bf5 is also miserable for White) 16…Bg4 17.f3 Rad8 and white’s position is horrible. A possible continuation: 18.Qg5 Bf5! 19.0-0 h6 20.Qf6 Rd2 21.Bd1 Qf4 22.Bb3 (22.Kh1 Re6 traps white’s Queen) 22…Rxg2+! 23.Kxg2 Bh3+ 24.Kxh3 Qxf6 and Black wins.


When attacking, you usually want to retain the Queens since they are the “fist” of the attack!

9…bxc6 10.e5 Ng4

A good response. Also possible is 10...Nd7 11.f4 e6 when the following trap has claimed many victims: 12.Na4? (placing the Knight on an undefended square) 12…Nxe5! 13.fxe5 Qh4+ 14.Bf2 Qxa4. I’ve actually reached this position is a couple of tournament games!


Undefended pieces often lead to tactical punishment!

11.Bxg4 Bxg4 12.h3

Black’s also doing well after 12.f4 f6 13.h3 Bc8 14.exf6 Bxf6 15.0–0–0 Qd6.

12...Bf5 13.g4?

Desperate to find something to criticize, we all became hysterical. “You fool!” we howled, “Why did you allow him to attack your Bishop with gain of time?”

“Well,” Michael replied coolly, “I was trying to egg him on.” This was too much for us. We fell on the floor and laughed uncontrollably. Undaunted, Mi­chael ploughed ahead and simply ignored us.


The e5-pawn is weak and if that pawn vanishes, then the g7-Bishop will rule the a1-h8 diagonal. However, the other problem is the reason this example is being presented here: white’s King is still in the center!


We were too busy making fun of Michael to notice 13...Bxe5! 14.Bh6 (14.gxf5 d4) 14...d4! 15.Qe2 (15.Bxf8 dxc3 is grim for White, but 15.Na4 keeps the game going) 15…Bf6 16.Bxf8 dxc3 17.b3 Qd2+ 18.Qxd2 cxd2+ 19.Kxd2 Kxf8 20.gxf5 Rd8+ 21.Ke2 Bxa1 22.Rxa1 gxf5 and Black is a pawn up in the endgame.


The idea of this move (other than the fact that it defends e5) is to post the Queen on c5—not a bad concept, but it walks into various tactical problems. Far better was 14.f4.


A good move that tries to rip open the center and get at the uncastled King, but interesting alternatives existed. For example, 14...Qb8 creates a double attack against b2 and e5.


Ripping open the center so you can reach the vulnerable enemy King


Very poor. White should play 15.exf6 when 15…Bxf6 leaves Black better, but it’s still a fight.


We ribbed Mills for not playing 15...fxe5 16.fxe5 Qc7, which nets a free pawn since 17.Bf4 c5 is crushing. However, the text move also leaves White in a bad way, and might even prove stronger than 15…fxe5.

16.exf6 Bxf6 17.Qc5 Bh4+

More straightforward is 17...d4 18.Bxd4 Qxf4 19.Bxf6 Rxf6 with a winning attack. The path Mills chose is far deeper and far more elegant.


Other moves:

* 18.Kd1 d4! 19.Nb5 Qa5 20.Qxc6 dxe3 21.Qxe6+ Kg7 22.Nc3 Rxf4 wins for Black.

* 18.Bf2 Bxf2+ 19.Qxf2 Rxf4 20.Qe3 Bf7 21.0-0-0 e5 has to be winning for Black.

* 18.Kd2 d4 wins on the spot (for example, 19.Bxd4 Qxf4+ 20.Be3 Rad8+ 21.Kc1 Qf1+ and mates).


This super-grandmaster level move, which is beyond the powers of the present crop of computers [I hadn't checked this for a few years, but now I'm told that modern chess engines get it in several seconds. Depressing!], sets up …Ba6+ possibilities and also frees the e-pawn, which can now advance to e5 and nuke the center (going after that central enemy King). Michael’s earlier moves had not made much of an impression on us, but when we saw this move our pompous smiles began to fade.


Very tempting and very greedy, but there really isn’t a fully acceptable defense. Other tries:

* 19.Kd2 Ba6 (intending both ...d4 and ...Rxf4) 20.Rad1 (20.Kc1!?) and now 20...Rxf4 leads to fascinating tactics, but 20…e5 is simple and probably best: 21.fxe5 d4 22.Bxd4 Rfd8 23.Kc1 Be7 and Black wins a piece.

* 19.b4 e5 20.fxe5 Qxe5 looks grim.

* 19.Rag1 Ba6+ 20.Kd1 e5 and all I can say is that I wouldn’t want to be White.

* 19.Kf3 and now both 19…Bb7 (20.Nxd5 Qe5 21.Nc3 Rxf4+) and 19...Ba6 are strong.

19...Ba6+ 20.c4

Black has many possibilities after 20.Kf3, the simplest of which is 20...Qe5 when White has to jettison a piece by 21.Nxe7+ (21.Qxc6 Rac8 is game over) 21...Qxe7 22.Qxe7 Bxe7.

20...Qb7! 21.Nb4 e5!

White’s holding on as best he can, but Mills (who appears to be channeling Alekhine) won’t stop playing great moves!

At this point we were no longer saying anything. Instead we silently watched the game unfold as Mills made comments like, “His King in the center and I have to get it!” and “I’m busting open the center so that my pieces can penetrate!”


Pay close attention to the two Mills’ comments above!


Other moves were a bit better but still depressing from white’s point of view. For example, 22.f5 Be7 23.Qxc6 Bxb4 is an extra piece for Black, 22.a3 exf4 is fun for only one side, and 22.fxe5 Be7 23.Qxc6 Qxb4 gives Black an extra piece and an attack.


Black learned that he’s supposed to open lines in this kind of position and he’s making sure he does it! Unfortunately, more direct measures were called for: 22...Qxb2+ 23.Bd2 (23.Kf3 e4+ is horrific) 23…Rxf4! and White is dead lost.


Worse is 23.Bd2 f3+ 24.Kd1 Qxb2 25.Rc1 Rad8


The most natural move in the world, but it turns out to be inaccurate. Instead, 23...f3+ is quite strong: 24.Kd3 Rad8 25.Nb4 Be7 (the immediate 25...Rxd4+ is also good) 26.Qe5 Rxd4+ 27.Qxd4 Qxb4 28.Qc3 Qc5 29.Kc2 Rf4 30.b4 Qf2+ 31.Kb3 Bf6 32.Raf1 Qe2 33.Qc2 Qe3+ 34.Ka4 f2 gives Black a winning advantage.


Kindly allowing a stunning finish. White had to play 24.Kd3 when 24...Qxa6 25.Qxa7 Qxa7 26.Bxa7 f3 27.Bc5 Rf7 28.Rad1 Rd7+ 29.Kc2 Re2+ still leaves White in serious trouble due to the power of the passed f-pawn and the vulner­ability of the white King.

After this final mistake by White, Mills really does turn into Alekhine!


Still clearing lines like a maniac! At this point all of us were exhibiting signs of shock, jaws hanging to the floor.


A line clearing sacrifice so that black’s army can stream into the enemy position.


After 25.Bxe3 fxe3+ 26.Ke4, Black would be able to choose from a multitude of winning ideas, with 26...Re8+ 27.Kd3 Rd8+ 28.Ke4 Qxb2 being my personal favorite.

25...f3+ 26.Kf1

26.Kg1 Rfe8 27.Bc3 (27.Nb4 Re1+ mates) 27...Rxc3 28.bxc3 (28.Rh2 lasts longer, but the result isn’t in doubt after 28…Rce3) 28…Qb2 mates.


Black now threatens to mate with ...Re1+. Of course, White cannot play 27.Bxe3 due to ...Qxb2.

27.Kg1 Bg3!

Tightening the net around white’s King. The Rook is still immune to cap­ture—an incredible situation. Of course, 27...Re1+ also won easily.


Note how Black took a moment to build a mating net. Now the White King has nowhere to run.

28.Rf1 Re1 29.Bc3

29.Be5 Qxb2! creates a geometric oddity 


Now Mills makes use of the overworked piece theme – the c3-Bishop defends both e1 and b2 and Black takes devastating advantage of that fact.

29...Qxb2!! Now, since 30.Bxb2 Rxf1+ 31.Kxf1 Re1 is mate, White resigned.

“Who was that masked grandmaster?” Larry Christiansen asked when I showed him the game some months later.

What’s of particular interest to me is that Mills didn’t offer any variations at all as he was playing through the game (nor was he able to defend his moves with actual variations). Instead, he would explain everything he did by naming a pattern that he learned from the aforementioned Vukovic book. Thus we were pelted by verbal nutshells of wisdom like, “Central King, kill it!” and “Ripping open the center!” and “Maximizing the activity of my pieces!” and “Sacrific­ing to open lines to his King!” and “It’s a double attack!” and “I’m building a mating net!”

Of course, Mills won the brilliancy prize, and none of us could do anything but applaud him. Few players (of any rating) ever create an evergreen such as this, so he can consider himself blessed. It’s truly a fantastic creative effort and, perhaps, the greatest game by a non-master of all time!

After my original article came out in 1974, this game had a couple of curious ramifications. The first “oddity” occurred when Mills was accused of purposely losing games (to qualify for large class prizes at bigger events) in his chess club’s one game a week tournaments. The club officials said he was clearly of master strength, and their proof was ... a certain article in Chess Life Magazine titled MASKED GRANDMASTER! When these fools asked me to testify at their monkey trial, I pointed out that Mills was barely “B” strength and that he lost all those evening games because he had narcolepsy, a disease that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep (It also made Mills the perfect chess student: he would demand a 5 hour "intensive" chess lesson. I would lecture for 30 minutes and he would fall into a deep sleep. I would wake him up 2 hours later and he'd say, “Okay, tell me that again.” I would repeat the same information, he would fall asleep, and round and round we’d go until the 5 hours was up.).

In the end, the club morons (who ignored everything I said since it didn’t fit in with their false/insane/misinformed view of reality) banned him for a significant period of time.

The second oddity hit me in the face when I was in Eastern Europe acting as head coach of the American junior team. These events always featured Russians selling books outside for next to nothing, and this led to me buying (for $2.00) a very nice 441 page book by Belov, Shakarov, Tsaturian, and Vilensky (with a foreword by Kasparov) called ANTOLOGY OF CHESS BEAUTY (Yes, they misspelled the word Anthology, but such things are common when hasty translations of Russian to English are made). This is a fine anthology of 1,640 games (ALL with notes!) that have won official brilliancy prizes from 1876 to 1995. Looking through it, I saw games by one chess legend after another. And then I happened upon a certain game by M. Mills! That’s right, the Mills masterpiece, now immortalized, proudly stood side by side with history’s greatest chess names!

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