The Greatest Chess Upsets, Part 1
The Chess Olympiad is one of my favorite events. In the words of the Romanian GM Mihail Marin, "the champions themselves do not mind rubbing shoulders with mere mortals, even though this may look risky for their ratings."
Most lopsided matchups, whether they occur in the Olympiad or in a different tournament, end in a predictable victory for the stronger player. However, the term upset exists for a reason!
Rating and reputation never tell the whole story, and even the strongest grandmasters occasionally fall prey to an intrepid amateur.
In the next two articles, I would like to deviate from convention and examine some of the most improbable, jaw-dropping upsets in chess history. To ensure quality, I deliberately avoided games of dubious origin, rapid or blitz matches, and games with major blunders.
To me, the most impressive upsets are those in which the weaker player gradually outplays his opponent, rather than benefitting from a fortuitous oversight.
In the following brilliant upset, an expert-level player proves his positional and tactical superiority over one of America's strongest grandmasters.
To be fair, Erenburg was not in great form, but Paulina's fearless play and total composure in critical moments is nothing short of incredible. Furthermore, this game was played in round one of a large open tournament, so fatigue or apathy (known to afflict grandmasters when they are no longer in contention for a prize) was out of the question.
At the aforementioned 2014 Olympiad, 21-year-old Norwegian IM Frode Urkedal produced an early sensation by blowing legendary GM Vassily Ivanchuk off the board in a complex positional battle. Should this game be considered a historic upset? You decide!
Note that Urkedal's victory allowed Norway's second team (host countries are allowed more than one team) to neutralize a fearsome Ukrainian lineup. I have never seen one of the world's top grandmasters positively obliterated by a player who was probably facing the first super GM of his career.
A similar story occurred in the 1995 Euwe Memorial, in which Garry Kasparov (rated 2805 at the time -- and this is before adjusting for rating inflation) was head and shoulders above the other three participants (Lautier, Topalov, and Piket).
Kasparov crushed Piket and Topalov in rounds two and three, and the entire chess world had no doubt that he would run away with the tournament. Until...
To crush the greatest chess player of all time with Black in 31 moves (from a very dangerous position) is no easy matter! Indeed, a stunned Kasparov lost the final game as well, and Lautier stole the laurel wreath from his clutches.
Finally, this article would be incomplete without my friend Christian Tanaka's tour de force at the 2007 World Open.
In round four, Christian -- 14 years old and rated 2116 -- faced the strong Georgian GM Merab Gagunashvili, one of the pre-tournament favorites at 2625.
"So how did he crush you?" Christian's friends must have asked after he left the tournament hall less than two hours after the game began...
Hopefully, you found these games entertaining, instructive, and above all inspiring. In the second part, we will examine upsets that took place before the invention of ratings. Peace out!
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Check out GM Daniel Naroditsky's previous article: Rooks on the Seventh, Revisited.
- Watch GM Melikset Khachiyan video about an amazing upset: David and Goliath: Samuel Sevian vs. GM Flores.
- Take on Kasparov as you play with Deep Blue in the Chess Mentor.
- Most upsets feature a key tactical shot. Learn your tactics in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.