The Joke’s on Me

by admin on November 22, 2015

“Hey, I just saw this great game by some kid from Brooklyn, Bobby what’s-his-name … you won’t believe it, he sacrificed his queen and won, like, 15 moves later. Here, let me show you!”

Among all the possible conversational gaffes that a chess player could make, this is probably the only one that would be worse than what I did this afternoon. But let me back up. In my last post I wrote about a game between my friend, Austen Green, and his teacher, Keaton Kiewra, that began as follows:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Be2 Qc7 6. Nc3 a6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Be3 d6 9. f4 Be7 (diagram)

wei austenPosition after 9. … Be7. White to move.

FEN: r1b1k2r/1pq1bppp/p1nppn2/8/3NPP2/2N1B3/PPP1B1PP/R2Q1RK1 w kq – 0 10

Here Austen played 10. Bf3, but I was curious what the theory is in this position, so I got into ChessBase and looked it up. The position has occurred in hundreds of games, and usually White plays 10. Kh1 and 11. Qe1, in some order. One of the top games listed in this line (which means one of the most recent games played by super-GM’s) was Wei Yi versus Lazaro Bruzon Batista. So I thought okay, I’ll play over that game and see how Wei handled it.

I did not know that I was about to see the #1 brilliancy of 2015.

The fireworks began on move 21, in this position:

wei 1Position after 20. … hg. White to move.

FEN: 3qr1k1/1b1rbp2/p2p1np1/1p2p3/4P3/P1NBB2Q/1PP3PP/4RR1K w – – 0 21

Interestingly enough, this position has occurred in master play before, but Wei was the first person to find the best continuation:

21. Nd5! Nxd5?

Here Bruzon could have perhaps minimized the damage with 21. … Bxd5. But a move like this is positional capitulation, so it is no surprise that Bruzon played the much more natural capture. However, he leaves the door open for an unbelievable combination. Do you see it? Of course you see it, because this is the most talked-about game of 2015. But I didn’t know that, so I was stunned when I saw Wei’s next move.

wei 2Position after 21. … Nxd5. White to move.

FEN: 3qr1k1/1b1rbp2/p2p2p1/1p1np3/4P3/P2BB2Q/1PP3PP/4RR1K w – – 0 22

Here Wei played the shot heard round the world: 22. Rxf7!! The idea is clear enough: White is ripping away the defenses around Black’s king and forcing him to wander out into the center of the board. There is no declining the sacrifice with 22. … Nf6 because of 23. Qe6! Kh8 24. Bg5. So Black had to play 22. … Kxf7 23. Qh7+ Ke6. (Not 23. … Kf8? 24. Bh6 mate and not 23. … Kf6? 24. ed!)

By the way, this last variation is emblematic of the whole sacrifice. Over and over Wei had to keep finding ingenious moves that were not checks. That’s one of the things that made the combination so spectacular. I’ll just show you one more example: after 24. ed+ Kxd5 (If 24. … Bxd5 what is White’s best move? Hint: It’s not a check!) 25. Be4+!! Kxe4 what would you play?

wei 3Position after 25. … Kxe4. White to move.

FEN: 3qr3/1b1rb2Q/p2p2p1/1p2p3/4k3/P3B3/1PP3PP/4R2K w – – 0 26

Okay, admit it. If you’re an ordinary human, not a computer, you would play a check here. You’d play 26. Bb6+, winning Black’s queen. Or you’d play 26. Qxg6+. But neither of these moves is winning, because White has already sacrificed so much material. Instead, Wei found the sensational quiet move 26. Qf7!!, which threatens mate on f3 and also takes away Black’s main flight squares, d5 and f5.

In king hunt situations, it is usually more efficient to take away flight squares than to keep pursuing the king with checks.

By the way, many self-proclaimed experts on the Internet are very pleased with themselves for noticing that their computers give 26. c4!! as a faster win. To me, this matters not one whit. Wei’s move is beautiful, and it wins. What more could one want?

Ordinarily I would keep going and show you the rest of the game, which lasted 10 more moves and contained at least three more moves that are just as incredible as 26. Qf7. But the thing is, you can find this game analyzed in a hundred places on the Internet, in YouTube videos and on and on and everywhere else. If, like me, you hadn’t seen it before, do yourself a favor and go look up how the rest of it went.

Silly me, I didn’t do that. I thought that I had just discovered a little-known masterpiece. So when I got together with Eric Fingal, Mike Splane, and Gjon Feinstein for a miniature chess party this afternoon, I was so psyched. “I have a great game to show you!!” I said.

That’s when I got my rude awakening. “You mean the game that they’re calling the Immortal Game of the 21st Century?” Gjon said. “You mean the game that’s all over the Internet?” Mike said. “No, it can’t be!” I said. “This game was just played a few months ago, like in July. It hasn’t had time to become an Immortal Game yet.”

Then they started calling out the moves, and I had to admit it was the same game. (Okay, I exaggerate — they weren’t calling out the moves, but they were nodding their heads and saying yep, I’ve seen that.)

So… Yes, the joke’s on me. I looked like a complete doofus. On the other hand, I feel lucky that I discovered the game the way I did — not knowing anything about it, not knowing that it was this great and famous brilliancy, so that everything in the game came as a complete surprise to me. I also did my own analysis of the whole combination instead of reading everybody else’s computer-aided analysis, which also helped me appreciate it more.

By the way, there’s one thing that Mike said which surprised me, and I wonder if anyone else can either confirm it or refute it. He said that the whole thing was home preparation, or at least, he didn’t know how much was prep and how much was over-the-board inspiration, and for that reason he didn’t find it all that impressive.

Does anyone know if Wei prepared 22. Rxf7!! at home? It’s definitely true, as I said, that the position on move 20 had occurred before, and up to move 15 or 16 or so the players were following a main line. But I haven’t seen any commentaries on the Internet that say definitely that he prepared it. The great majority of the commentaries are filled with praise for this move, and only a few say that there is a possibility it was home preparation.

I think it’s important. If Wei found 22. Rxf7!! over the board, this is one of the greatest king hunts in history. It’s way better than Lasker-Thomas, which some people have compared it to, because every move of Lasker-Thomas was a check. What makes this king hunt so fabulous is that it has four non-checks.

On the other hand, if Wei got to this position on his computer and saw that White had a +4-pawn advantage, then I agree with Mike that it takes some of the luster off the combination. Wei still had to find some fabulous moves, but it’s easier to find a fabulous move if you know that you’re supposed to be winning.

For now, I will assume the best, and join the chorus of people cheering this game as a fantastic brilliancy and an honorable sequel to the game played by that kid from Brooklyn. You know, Bobby what’s-his-name…


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman Parparov November 23, 2015 at 8:50 am

I showed this game at Kolty’s club several weeks ago. There are right now two contenders for the “Game of the Year” – this one and the KID steamroll by Nakamura over Wesley So in the recent Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis.

I tend to agree with GM Alexey Kuz’min who stated on ChessPro that Wei found this over the board, first because the computer doesn’t like the rook sacrifice for quite a while, and second because 26. c4 would be found at home.


admin November 23, 2015 at 10:21 am

To me this game takes the prize over So versus Nakamura. That game was standard King’s Indian stuff… Nakamura has won this sort of game before and will again. In fact, So’s ingenious defensive moves impressed me more, in some ways, than Nakamura’s attack. But Nakamura had so many pieces around So’s king that nothing could stop the inevitable.

Wei’s combination, on the other hand, is a real bolt from the blue. Wei had fewer pieces to work with than Nakamura — just three in the final stages, his queen, bishop and rook — and he had to checkmate a king on an open board. The way he pulled this off, and with all those quiet moves, is just fantastic artistry.

By the way, in both games the defenders should get some credit for putting up really tough defense.


chessperado November 26, 2015 at 9:54 am

The level of opening preparation at this level is amazing.
Best example could be the game Navara – Wojtaszek from the Biel Chess Festival.

Now… has computer preparation ruined chess?


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