The Illegal Move That Wrecked A Chess Career

The Illegal Move That Wrecked A Chess Career

| 81 | Fun & Trivia

The summer of 1992 was the most memorable time of my chess career. Our team just took silver medal at the 30th Chess Olympiad in Manila and I felt like I was on the top of the world.

That Olympiad deserves a separate article, since I am absolutely sure that the shocking result of our team will never be repeated again by any other team who has just one grandmaster on its roster. Just imagine that a team from a not so well-known country of Uzbekistan came second after the mighty Russia (led by Kasparov!) even though we had just one grandmaster in our team, who had a dismal tournament and scored just 4 points out of 13.

But three young IMs had the tournament of their lives and all were awarded the GM title by the end of the Olympiad. I scored 8.5 out of 13 on the second board, Alexander Nenashev (who later immigrated to Germany and changed his last name to Graf) got 9.5 out of 12 and the gold medal on the third board, and Sergey Zagrebelny's final score was 8.5 out of 11 on the fourth board.

Later both me and Nenashev entered the world's top-50 players, but unfortunately for GM Zagrebelny, the Manila Olympiad remained the biggest success of his chess career.  What happened to him?  I am pretty sure that I know the exact day and time when his chess career was ruined. 

A couple of months after the Olympiad we had the Uzbekistan Championship that was also a qualification tournament for the zonal tournament. The task didn't look too difficult since the four top finishers of that 12-player round-robin tournament would earn their places in the zonal tournament.

But look what happened in one of Zagrebelny's games at the very beginning of the tournament.

Well, a loss at the beginning of a tournament is always unpleasant, but usually it is not such a disaster. Except this is not exactly what happened in this game. Yes, the score above is given by all the chess databases as the Zagrebelny-Kayumov game.  But here is what really happened in this game:

And here in a horrible mutual time trouble Black played 31...Re1?!? and after 32Rxe1?? Qxf6 White's flag fell and a very upset Zagrebelny signed the score sheet.

It is always painful to lose on time, but at least the final position was absolutely hopeless for White.  That's what Sergey Zagrebel'ny thought as he slowly walked home.  Suddenly, his heart almost stopped as he realized that Black's "winning combination" starting with 31...Re1 was illegal since his own king was checked!

Zagrebelny ran to the chess club and thankfully the tournament director was still there. A quick check of the opponent's score sheets proved Zagrebelny correct: in the mutual time trouble both opponents indeed missed the illegal move. But what should be done in such a situation?

Zagrebelny wrote an appeal and the group of arbiters started deliberation.  Unable to come to a conclusion, they called Moscow Chess Club for help from the Russian Chess federation and they promised to find the solution.  The matter took almost a week and Zagrebelny couldn't play the tournament while waiting for the verdict.

The final decision was that the result stays -- Black wins. I think if Zagrebelny just lost the game, he would be able to recover and still qualify for the zonal tournament, but he was mentally exhausted and the whole tournament was ruined. After that his chess career slowly went downhill.

If you still cannot believe that two grandmasters missed that Black king was under a check, let me show you the finish of a game that I witnessed personally.

Immediately after my success at the Olympiad I was invited to play in the famous tournament in Tilburg. It was a knockout tournament similar to the World Cup now. Karpov was playing very convincingly there and in the absence of Kasparov I was sure that he was on the way to win the tournament.

Here is the game vs. GM Chernin, where Karpov was demonstrating his trademark "constrictor" style:

Since both opponents were in time trouble (it was a tie break game with a time control 30 minutes per game + 10 seconds increment), Chernin didn't resign and Karpov played 54. Qe6+ and everyone gasped.  I was just a couple of meters from the board and could see very well what was going on.

The game was stopped since Karpov's move was illegal. When the game continued, Karpov obviously had to move his queen due to the touch move rule. Try to find the best move in this unique situation:

Of course, under normal circumstances, it would take Karpov no more than five seconds to find the correct solution, but in that particular situation, where a completely winning position was turned upside down, the game ended very quickly:

In this case the illegal move didn't ruin Karpov's chess career of course, but nevertheless he was knocked out from the tournament!

In the conclusion, I wish you my dear readers to always play beautiful, strong and above all legal moves!


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