Winning a lost game

Winning a lost game

Mar 7, 2009, 9:06 AM |

Only a couple of weeks after announcing my departure from the blogs, I'm back. My thanks go to Erik who solved my problems, and to the many people who offered support either in Dozy's Inferno or by PM. It was appreciated.

I thought this might be a good time to talk about some chess players who made a comeback in games or situations that were certainly lost.

In the euphoria that surrounded Bobby Fischer's great win at Reykjavik in 1972, and understanding also that he had been the strong favourite, it's easy to forget the circumstances that changed his status from overdog to underdog.

Before Reykjavik the two men had met five times, resulting in three wins to Spassky and two draws. Bobby had never beaten the man. Then when the World Championship Match started Spassky won the first game, making it four wins and two draws from six games.

Fischer must have been perplexed and, citing the TV cameras as the reason, he refused to play the second game, giving a 2-0 lead to this man who had, until now, been his nemesis. Since Spassky only needed to draw the match to retain his title, this meant that Fischer was, in effect, three points behind.

What happened after that was extraordinary. Fischer bounced back to win the third, draw the fourth, and win the fifth, levelling the match at 2½—2½. The hoodoo was broken and Fischer was on a roll.

The game that follows is that fifth game, and is one of my favourites from the match. Fischer's astonishing bishop sacrifice is logical, and easy enough to understand, but was an unexpected thunderbolt for Spassky and must have destroyed his confidence. This was the shortest game of the match.


One of the most famous revivals in the history of chess occurred in the 1910 World Championship Match between Emanuel Lasker and David Janowski. A QGD, the game had opened quietly enough but when Black castled queenside on his tenth move Lasker found his knight was pinned and under double attack. Euwe and Kramer described this as “one of the most famous 'won' positions in the story of chess”; Tarrasch said simply, “The white knight on d4 stands badly and this must be White's undoing.”

One of the greatest chess teachers of all time, Master Po, had this advice for playing won games: “When one eye is fixed on the destination, Grasshopper, you have only one eye to search for the way."  Translated into modern English that means, “It only takes one lapse of concentration to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

In this game from the 1985 USSR Championship Viktor Kuporosov had the white pieces against Leonid Yudasin. Kuporosov had a strong attack but Yudasin seemed to have all the squares covered and, with a pawn advantage, may already have been thinking about winning the endgame.

Then, like a Ninja swooping in from the darkness, Kuporosov played 26.Nc6+.

There were four ways Black could have captured that knight—and all of them lost to a discovered check.

For instance,

if 26...Nxc6 27.bxc6+ Kh8 28.c7+ Nc6 29.Qb8# or

if 26...Kh8 27.Nxe7 Qxe7 28.Rxc8 Rxc8 29.Rxc8#