One of the Greatest Moves in History

FM jlandaw
Oct 4, 2012, 1:37 AM |

Knowing the basic chess principles is, of course, very important for any chess player to be successful. Develop early, control the center, protect your king, and, of course, do not lose or hang your pieces.

However, being a good chess player goes way beyond that. There are times where you have to simply forget about these basic general principles and make moves or plans that appear very counter-intuitive. And for me personally, it is these situations which make playing chess truly rewarding and beautiful.

To give a little taste for what I am talking about, here is an example of an endgame where making the "intuitive" move loses!

Black's king will without a doubt successfully run and catch White's pawn on h2. White's only hope for a draw is to bring his king close enough so that once Black's king captures the h2-pawn, the White king can reach the f2 (or f1), which is then a clear-cut draw.

So it is White to move, and you have only two possible moves: Kc8 or Ka8. Surely, Kc8 is the correct move, right? You are moving the king closer to the kingside where the pawns are, and this must be the correct first step (if it exists) for White to achieve the draw. However, look what happens:

So Kc8 does not work, and if you calculate this at the board you might think that all hope is lost. You shake your head, bang your head against the table, and maybe start crying a bit. 

However, you know where I am going with this, and in fact maybe this puzzle was not that difficult for you to have figured out from the beginning. But in fact, Ka8! actually draws! The reason is the following: Black will make it to the g2-square as fast possible, and the b6-c6-d5-e4-f3-g2 route is one of the few optimal routes. Thus, when White moves Kc8, Black goes ...Kc6, which follows the optimal route while at the same time putting White in opposition and the White king must stay back on the 8th rank. By moving Ka8 instead, ...Kc6 or ...Kc5 is not an opposition, and White can move the king to the 7th rank next move in such a way that White can successfully trap Black's king when Black captures the h2-pawn.

Perhaps that's a lot to take in using my words, so I'll show you here:

This is a very simple and perhaps not-too-difficult of a situation where one may move against their intuition. I will now jump the difficulty level just a teeny bit, and I want to show you a situation from an actual game where Black, who was Shirov, played a move so shocking that I feel most grandmasters even would not even consider (though maybe I am putting words in GMs mouths!).

Opposite-colored bishop endgames are notoriously known for being draws. Even in this case, Black is up two passed pawns, but a win appears very difficult. For example, if 47. ...Bd3, then 48. Kf2 Kf5 49. Ke3, and White successfully centralized the king, and the White bishop is successfully preventing Black's passed pawns from reaching their desired queening squares.

If you looked at the sample line I just gave, it would appear that if Black had just one extra move (i.e. one more tempo), then Black can get the king to e4 and begin pushing the d-pawn with ...d4, and have a much better chance of winning. Can Black do this? Just look at what Shirov does:

I personally love to witness (and maybe come up!) such creative and beautiful moves as ... Bh3. And I hope you do too!