Two Shining Moments

by admin on April 5, 2016

This will be a mostly off-topic post, for which I apologize, but I’ll bring it back to chess at the end.

If you’re a college basketball fan in the U.S., you know what the title is about. Every year, at the end of the NCAA men’s basketball championship, the producers put together a montage of the most memorable moments from 63 games, spread over three weekends. The music to the montage is called “One Shining Moment.”

The beauty of the tournament is that you never know when that one shining moment is going to come. Often it doesn’t come in the championship game. A memorable case was the 1992 game of Duke against Kentucky, which took place in the round of eight, and is usually considered the greatest college basketball game ever played.

Still, it’s better when the “one shining moment” comes in the decisive game, and sometimes that happens. Lorenzo Charles’ dunk at the buzzer for N.C. State in 1983. Scotty Thurman’s 3-pointer for Arkansas that put a dagger in Duke’s hopes for a third championship in 1994. (I’m a Duke fan, so I’ll never forget that one.) Mario Chalmers’ three-pointer for Kansas against Memphis in 2008 that sent the game to overtime, an overtime that Kansas eventually won.

Well, yesterday’s game had not one but two “shining moments,” and that I think makes it unique among all the NCAA championship games ever. The first came with 4.7 seconds left, when North Carolina’s senior point guard Marcus Paige hit one of the most ridiculous 3-point heaves you’ve ever seen to tie the game up. What an incredible moment. Paige had been almost a non-factor for a lot of the game, but in the last six minutes he brought UNC back from a 10-point deficit, and he scored or assisted on every one of their last five baskets. His game-tying shot looked like complete desperation, but at the same time it is a picture of athletic grace. He was off balance to start with, and didn’t even make up his mind to shoot until he was in the air (in postgame interviews, he said he was thinking about passing). But even though his arms and legs were flying in the most awkward shooting motion you ever saw, his left hand — the shooting hand — was perfectly under control. You can see, in retrospect, that all the ungainliness was precisely what he had to do in order to keep his shooting hand steady. See this site, or a million others, if you want to look at the shot that, for 4.7 seconds, was arguably the greatest in college basketball history.

But then it was Villanova’s turn. And their final play worked to perfection: a pick by Daniel Ochefu, a drive by Ryan Arcidiacono and a pass to Kris Jenkins, who made the final 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded. Their play was exactly what Paige’s wasn’t: a team play, the senior passing up on a shot to give it to a teammate with an even better shot, and finally a shooting stroke that was as pure as Paige’s was improvised. Two shining moments, completely different, both showing the best in collegiate sports.

But only one winner.

Already the discussion is starting about whether this was the greatest game of all time. It does combine certain aspects of the games I already mentioned. The Duke-Kentucky 1992 game likewise had two “shining moments,” although that is largely forgotten now. Sean Woods’ crazy bank shot from the top of the key with 2.1 seconds left put Kentucky ahead, and it was almost the exact equal of Marcus Paige’s for the “you-can’t-be-serious” factor. And then Christian Laettner’s winning shot (after Grant Hill’s extraordinary ¾-court pass, the hardest part of the play) was a duplicate of Jenkins’ for the “ice-water-in-the-veins” factor.

I’d still go with the Duke-Kentucky game as being a tiny bit better than Villanova-UNC 2016, because the 44½ minutes that preceded the ending were also lights-out incredible basketball. (Start with both teams shooting over 60 percent. Last night Villanova shot 58 percent but UNC shot only 43 percent.) But I’m a Duke fan, so I’m a little biased.

Villanova-UNC 2016 also was reminiscent of that Kansas-Memphis 2008 game, because this was really Kansas-Memphis with 2.6 extra seconds added to the clock. Kansas came back from a 9-point deficit, making a three-point shot to tie the game with 2.1 seconds left. Memphis didn’t have time for an answer, and Kansas won in overtime. In this game UNC came back from a 10-point deficit, making a three-point shot to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left. Only trouble was that Villanova had 2.6 more seconds on the clock than Memphis had, and they used the extra time to perfection.

In the end, the “greatest of all time” debate is pretty meaningless. It was the greatest game of this year, for sure, and just proved for the umpteenth time that the NCAA basketball tournament is the one thing on the sports calendar that you shouldn’t miss.

And now, to make a really lame connection with chess… Does anybody have any favorite examples of chess games with “two shining moments”? I’m looking for a game where one player comes up with an all-time brilliant move or combination, and then his or her opponent trumps it with a move or combination that is equally brilliant or better.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Splane April 5, 2016 at 9:35 pm

My game against Marc Gagnon might qualify.


Roman Parparov April 6, 2016 at 7:34 am

Just off the hip:
Chigorin – Tarrash, match (g4) 1893.
Lasker – Napier, Cambridge-Springs 1904.
Fischer – Tal, Candidates (r4) 1959.


Mike Splane April 6, 2016 at 4:24 pm

I found a perfect game for your theme.
Splane vs Kaugars from 1993

Pick up the position after move 30. Out of nowhere Augnis sacs a knight and suddenly I look completely busted. I had to find an equally brilliant counter-combination to win the game.



Roman Parparov April 6, 2016 at 6:03 pm

Oh, and the recent game, Carlsen – Li Chao from Qatar may fit the bill.


admin April 7, 2016 at 9:56 am

Thanks to both of you for the awesome suggestions! I had fun playing over all of these games. I think that Carlsen-Li Chao comes very close. 24. d5!! and 24. … Nc4!! were two amazing moves in a row. I think the only thing that keeps it from getting a 10 out of 10 is that it was a little bit too obvious, to me, that Carlsen could get out of it by counter-sacrificing his queen.

So I think that Splane-Kaugars takes the prize for now. The two shining moments are 34. … Ne3!! and 36. c6!!, both of them highly non-obvious and absolutely the best winning tries.

Mike, have you ever gone over that game with a computer? Because there are some important things missing in your notes. First, the computer says that 26. Bf2? is a mistake and 26. … Bxd4! is just winning. The main point (and the reason 26. Bf2 was a mistake) is 27. Nxd4 Rxf2!

Second, you said, “He deliberately played the bad move 31. … Re2.” But that’s not true. It’s a great fighting move in a bad position. I once gave a ChessLecture on “How to Win Lost Games” (something you’re quite good at!) and one of the key pieces of advice is not to confuse the quality of the move with the quality of the position. You can say, “Oh, Move X is no good because my opponent can play Y.” But X may still be the move that improves your position the most, and therefore the move you should play. In this case, 31. … Re2 improves Black’s position the most. He should play it even if White does have ways to win.

Third, you said, “I missed the decisive 33. Rxc4.” Something must be wrong here, because that’s completely losing for you. Shredder has you at -7 pawns after either 33. … Rxb3 or 33. … Rxb8. It gives your winning line as 33. Rxf8+ (which you played) Kxf8 34. Qc3 (preventing the … Ne3 shocker). Probably you didn’t play this because you were worried about 34. … Rxa2, but after 35. c6 White’s mobile passed pawn and queen are just too much.

Finally, after 34. Qa4? Ne3!! 35. g3 Qe4 36. c6!! the computer still shows Black as winning(!) after the unbelievable quiet move 36. … Kf7!!!! He just steps out of the check before it happens. (Not only the Qa3 check but also any potential back-rank checks.) If you play 37. Qa3, then 37. … Re2 and you have to sac your queen to avoid Qxf3 and mate. After 38. Qxe3!! Rxe3 39. c7! he can’t stop the pawn, but after 39. … Qxf3 40. c8Q Re2! we’re back to even material … and he’s winning, because you have no defense to … Bxd4.

If something like that had happened, this would be a truly immortal game. Not two shining moments, but three (36. … Kf7) or four (38. Qe3) or five (40. … Re2). However, I notice that the game was played in 1993, Before Computers. In that era, nobody ever even dreamed about moves like 36. … Kf7. I notice that it didn’t come up at all in your analysis.

Jeez, maybe I should have made this a post instead of a comment. Anyway, thanks for the truly inspiring games.


Mike Splane April 7, 2016 at 6:55 pm

“you said, ‘I missed the decisive 33. Rxc4.’ Something must be wrong here, because that’s completely losing for you.”

You’re right, something is wrong. It’s a typo. It should say 32. Rxc4. If he recaptures then 33. Qc4+ wins the rook on e2.

I have never gone over this game with a computer. I don’t think it is particularly useful; every game has multiple flaws if you go over them with a computer and you can’t think like one, so I don’t hold my games up to that standard. It would just ruin my enjoyment of the chess-player’s art.


Roman Parparov April 7, 2016 at 10:23 am

Dana, you should see the comments on Lasker – Napier by either Reti or Weinstein (the latter ones in Russian at
True adventure story made out of the chess game.

The Weinstein’s book is the best chess biographical book I’ve ever read.


admin April 7, 2016 at 11:04 am

Roman, Thanks for the reference! I didn’t mention Lasker-Napier in my last comment because it was too hard for me to form an opinion about it on a first play-through. I think that one criterion for “Two Shining Moments” should be that after each player’s shining moment it should look to the casual observer as if that player is winning. I’m not sure whether there were two such moments in Lasker-Napier; it just looked incredibly complicated throughout.

There’s no question that Napier’s fighting spirit in that game was phenomenal and he should probably get more than 50 percent of the credit for its being such a masterpiece, even though he lost.


Roman Parparov April 7, 2016 at 2:24 pm

19. … gxh5 was called “Calculation at the brink of human capability” or similarly by Reti; the position after 24. … Bg4 looks very promising for Black.

Yet the abrupt return of the extra rook by Lasker – back to complete material balance – turned the tables around completely.


Mike Splane April 10, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I read somewhere that Lasker won the brilliancy prize, but then shared the money with Napier. He explained that Napier played all of the brilliant moves, his own moves were all forced.

I don’t know if the story is true.


Roman Parparov April 14, 2016 at 5:41 am

The story isn’t true. The prize was shared between Schlechter (vs. Lasker), Napier (vs. Barry), Janowski (vs. Chigorin) and Delmar (vs. Hodges).

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