The Gold Coins Game

The Gold Coins Game


Although the “gold coins game” occurred this month 105 years ago, I just recently learned about it. The finish of the game shows the dramatic power of a knight to checkmate an enemy king when a trap is set with other pieces.

The game was played in an area that today is Poland in 1912 between Frank Marshall, who won with black, and Stefen Levitsky. At the time, Marshall was the U.S. Chess Champion. Levitsky was a Russian chess master and national champion. The diagram below shows the board position after the 23rd move by white. The “shower of gold” move by black is next.

Levitsky had just moved his rook to c5 to attack the black queen. Levitsky discounted what appears to be an obvious move: gxh. However, white’s g2 pawn is preventing the black knight from forking the white king and queen. See if you can identify the next move by Marshall -- what chess experts consider one of the top three most brilliant moves in chess.

In Marshall’s winning move, he moves his queen in a sham sacrifice where it is attacked by not only the white queen but two pawns as well. Capture is required for white to avoid immediate checkmate. However, all three ways of capturing the black queen lose. Any capture of the queen would give Marshall a choice of three different forced mates:

  • If hxg, then Ne2#
  • If fxg, then Ne2+ forcing white king to h1; the black rook capture on f1 ends the game
  • If Qxg3, then Ne2+ forcing white king to h1; the black knight then captures the white queen placing the white king again in check and leading to checkmate

Similarly, other attempts by white to escape without capturing the black queen fail as well. According to legend, the magnificence of Marshall’s move inspired spectators to shower the board with gold pieces, thus giving this match the name of the “gold coins game.” In his book My Fifty Years of Chess published in 1942, Marshall wrote this comment about his game against Levitsky:

Perhaps you have heard about this game, which so excited the spectators that they “showered me with gold pieces!” I have often been asked whether this really happened. The answer is – yes, that is what happened, literally!

The “shower of gold” move is Qg3. After this move by black, white resigned. This move is so powerful and inspirational – I thoroughly enjoy looking at the board position and appreciating Marshall’s brilliance in finding this move.