Marathon sports contests

by admin on June 27, 2010

Last week I went with my wife to a quilting and crafts expo in Reno, which gave me a lot of time to kill, and so it happened that on Thursday I watched the end of the longest match in tennis history. For those of you who pay even less attention to tennis than I do, I’ll fill you in on the details: in a first-round match at Wimbledon, John Isner (rated #23 in the world) defeated Nicolas Mahut (rated #148 in the world) by the absurd-looking score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68. The ultra-long fifth game was necessitated by the rules of Wimbledon, which do not allow tiebreakers in the fifth set.

Of course I, along with about a zillion other sports fans, started wondering what were the longest marathon contests in other sports. Books have been consulted, lists have been compiled and posted on the Internet. Most of the lists (such as the one at this page) mention the following events:

  • Longest professional baseball game — Pawtucket Red Sox 3, Rochester Red Wings 2, 33 innings, 8 hours and 25 minutes, 1981.
  • Longest major league baseball game in innings — Boston Braves 1, Brooklyn Dodgers 1, 26 innings, 3 hours and 50 minutes, 1920. (Amazingly, even some regular 9-inning games take longer than that nowadays. They played fast back in the old days.)
  • Longest major league baseball game in time: Chicago White Sox 7, Milwaukee Brewers 6, 25 innings, 8 hours and 6 minutes, 1984.
  • Longest NHL hockey game — Detroit Red Wings 1, Montreal Maroons 0, 6 overtimes, 1936. (Because of tie-breaking procedures in the regular season, marathon games like this can only happen in the postseason.)
  • Longest NBA basketball game — Indianapolis Olympians 75, Rochester Royals 73, 6 overtimes, 1951.
  • Longest NCAA Division 1 basketball game — Cincinnati 75, Bradley 73, 7 overtimes, 1981. (Like the previous one, this was played without a shot clock. The possibility of stalling made multiple overtimes a little more likely, so perhaps one should give an honorable mention to the game Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117, 6 overtimes, 2009, which took place with a shot clock.)
  • Longest professional soccer game — In soccer you have only 30 minutes of overtime, and then a shootout. So the record is meaningless; there have been many 120 minute games. What wimps!
  • Longest college soccer game (U.S.) — Indiana 2, Duke 1, 8 overtimes, 2 hours and 39 minutes, 1982. After two 15-minute overtimes, the college teams continue playing 5-minute overtimes until a goal is scored. (At least they did in 1982.) After the sixth overtime, the coaches voluntarily agreed to start playing 10-minute overtime periods, to bring the game to a conclusion faster. Finally Indiana scored with 44 seconds left in the eighth overtime. (See account here.)
  • Longest American pro football game — Miami Dolphins 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24, 2 overtimes, 1 hour and 22 minutes, 1971. As marathon records go, this one is completely underwhelming. During the regular season, pro games are limited to one overtime. In the postseason they play until someone scores. Only four games have ever needed a second overtime, and this one took the longest.
  • Longest pro tennis match — Isner versus Mahut, of course. 183 games over 11 hours and 40 minutes.

Most of the articles I have seen online have overlooked the tremendous potential for marathon games in chess. (This CNN article is the only one I have seen on a “mainstream” sports website that mentions chess. It also mentions some great examples from table tennis and wrestling. Unfortunately, the article botches the chess example rather badly, so I’m not sure how much you can trust the other ones.)

So, to add to the above list, here are some mind-boggling stats, the first two coming from Tim Krabbé’s records page:

  • Longest chess game in moves: 269, Nikolic ½ — Arsovic ½, Belgrade 1989.
  • Longest chess game in hours: 24 hours and 30 minutes, Stepak 1 — Mashian 0, Israel ch. 1980.
  • Longest world championship match: 48 games, Karpov 5 — Kasparov 3 (match declared incomplete), 1984.

As Krabbé notes, the second record is safe for all eternity, now that sudden-death time controls are de rigeur in international chess. The first record may not be safe forever; it was threatened in 2007 by a 237-move game between Alexandra Kosteniuk and Laurent Fressinet. Both of these games went to the same problematic endgame: rook and bishop versus rook.

As for the third record, it would also seem to be safe forever, because the Karpov-Kasparov match sounded the death knell for the “first player to win six games wins the match” format. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, the CNN article gets the facts completely wrong, so let me correct it. Karpov jumped to an early 4-0 lead (after just 9 games!) and then seems to have been seduced by a foolish plan. He apparently wanted to win the match by a Fischer-like score of 6-0, and so he started to play conservatively, just waiting for Kasparov to make a mistake.

It almost worked: after 17 straight draws, Karpov did indeed win the 27th game, to go ahead 5-0. But then Kasparov won games 32, 47, and 48, and FIDE President Florencio Campomanes (widely seen as a crony of Karpov’s) decided to terminate the match in order not to jeopardize the “health” of the players.

Unlike many of the games and matches listed above, this one was truly historic, in the sense that it had repercussions that are still being felt. Kasparov’s resentment of Campomanes probably sowed the seeds for his decision to bolt FIDE and form the Professional Chessplayers Association in 1993. This created chaos in the traditional world championship cycle that has only recently resolved itself, and we still do not have anything like a well-run, predictable procedure for determining the world champion.

Anyway, returning to the original topic, it seems to me that we should have an “ultra-marathon” category for sporting events. I would say that a contest becomes an ultra-marathon when it is three times longer than the “normal” length for that sport. By this definition, the Isner-Mahut tennis match was an ultra-marathon. The 33-inning baseball game was an ultra-marathon in innings, though not in time. The hockey game fell just short of ultra-marathon status. The so-called marathon games in basketball, soccer, and football are not even close.

By contrast, the records for chess go way beyond ultra-marathon status. The 269-move chess game was more than 5 times as long as a “normal” game (taking that, somewhat arbitrarily, to be 50 moves). The 24-hour game was also roughly 4 to 5 times longer than “normal.” The Kasparov-Karpov chess match was only twice as long as “normal” for that era (defining “normal” to be 24 games). However, by contemporary standards, when a “normal” championship match has been redefined to 16 games or even 12 (as in Topalov-Anand), a 48-game chess match is starting to look like an ultra-marathon, too!

I personally have never played an ultra-marathon chess game. My longest game time-wise was an 8-hour, 106-move battle at the U.S. Amateur Team Championship in 1982 or 1983 against Herb Hickman. I lost a Q+RP versus Q endgame. To Herb, who was an International Master of correspondence chess, eight hours must have seemed like nothing! The game started at 8:00 pm and went until 4:00 in the morning. Again, because all tournaments these days use sudden-death time controls, I doubt that I will ever play an 8-hour game again.

My longest game in move count was 115, against Chris Mavraedis at the Peoples Open in 2002. He beat me in a K+B+N versus K endgame that I darned near managed to draw by the 50-move rule: I resigned (because of a mate in 2) on the 45th move. The longest game that I have ever won also came down to the same endgame. I beat Jacob Berger at the U.S. Championship Qualifier in 2008 in 104 moves, using up only 36 moves on the 50-move-rule “clock.”

As these examples show, ultra-long chess games tend to come in certain “notorious” endgames: K+R+B vs. K+R, K+Q+RP vs. K+Q, and K+B+N vs. K. However, I did once manage to play a 197-move draw against Fritz 7, the computer program, in a game where I had two bishops against Fritz’s two rooks, and both sides had all their pawns left. By move 50 I had completely blockaded the position. Of course, this is an anti-computer technique that Hikaru Nakamura perfected, but in this case I just stumbled into it. All I had to do was move my king back and forth for about 150 moves.

Fritz 7, however, did not understand blockades and fortresses. It twice ran the move count to nearly 50 before playing pawn moves (which reset the “clock,” but only made its position worse because it lost a pawn without unblocking the position). Finally, on the third time through the 50-move “clock” it realized it couldn’t pitch any more material without serious risk of losing the game, and so it allowed the draw.

Of course, human versus computer games do not count for world records or ultra-marathon status, because computers are so stupid. Any human would have agreed to a draw back at move 47! Actually, it would be more accurate to say that any good human player would not have allowed me to blockade the position in the first place.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Wall June 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

new Oklahoma record for longest tournament game ever.

1. d4 d6 2. Nf3 c6 3. e4 Qc7 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. e5 Nd5 6. O-O Bg4 7. exd6 Qxd6 8.
Qd3 Nd7 9. Ng5 e6 10. Re1 Be7 11. Bxd5 cxd5 12. Nc3 Bf5 13. Qf3 Nf6 14. Bf4 Qc6
15. Qe2 a6 16. Nd1 O-O 17. Ne3 Bg6 18. Nf3 Nh5 19. Be5 Rac8 20. g4 Nf6 21. h4
h5 22. Bxf6 gxf6 23. gxh5 Bxh5 24. Ne5 Bxe2 25. Nxc6 bxc6 26. Rxe2 Kh7 27. f3
f5 28. c3 Rg8+ 29. Kf1 Rg3 30. Rg2 Rxf3+ 31. Ke2 Rh3 32. Rag1 Bf6 33. Nc2 Rxh4
34. Ne1 Rh6 35. Nd3 Rg6 36. Rh2+ Kg8 37. Rgh1 Kf8 38. Nc5 a5 39. Kf3 Ke7 40.
Rh7 Rcg8 41. R1h2 Rg1 42. Nd3 R1g3+ 43. Ke2 Rg2+ 44. Kf1 Rxh2 45. Rxh2 Rg3 46.
Ke2 Kd6 47. Rh7 Rg7 48. Rh6 Rg2+ 49. Kf1 Rd2 50. Rxf6 Ke7 51. Rh6 Rxd3 52. Ke2
Rg3 53. Rh2 Kd6 54. Kf2 Rg6 55. Rh8 f6 56. Rd8+ Kc7 57. Re8 Kd7 58. Ra8 e5 59.
Rxa5 f4 60. c4 Ke6 61. cxd5+ cxd5 62. Ra6+ Kf5 63. dxe5 Kxe5 64. Ra8 Rh6 65.
Re8+ Kf5 66. Rd8 Rh2+ 67. Kf3 Rh3+ 68. Kg2 Rd3 69. a4 Ke4 70. a5 Rd2+ 71. Kh3
Rxb2 72. Re8+ Kf3 73. a6 Ra2 74. Rd8 Rxa6 75. Rxd5 f5 76. Kh4 Ke4 77. Rb5 f3
78. Rb4+ Ke3 79. Rb3+ Kf4 80. Rb4+ Ke5 81. Rb5+ Kf6 82. Kg3 Kg5 83. Rb3 f2 84.
Kxf2 Kg4 85. Rg3+ Kf4 86. Rf3+ Ke5 87. Re3+ Kf6 88. Kf3 Kg5 89. Rb3 Rh6 90. Kg2
f4 91. Rb8 Re6 92. Rb3 Kg4 93. Kf2 Ra6 94. Rb2 Ra3 95. Rc2 Rh3 96. Kg2 Rh7 97.
Rc4 Rd7 98. Rc2 Rd3 99. Ra2 Rg3+ 100. Kf1 Kh3 101. Ra4 Rf3+ 102. Ke2 Kg3 103.
Ra8 Rf2+ 104. Ke1 Rb2 105. Rg8+ Kf3 106. Rf8 Ra2 107. Rf7 Ra1+ 108. Kd2 Kg3
109. Ke2 Ra2+ 110. Kf1 Kf3 111. Ke1 Ra8 112. Rf6 Rh8 113. Rf7 Rh1+ 114. Kd2 Kg3
115. Ke2 Rh2+ 116. Kf1 Rf2+ 117. Ke1 Kg2 118. Rg7+ Kf3 119. Rf7 Re2+ 120. Kf1
Re5 121. Rb7 Re3 122. Rf7 Rb3 123. Ke1 Rb1+ 124. Kd2 Rg1 125. Rf8 Kg3 126. Ke2
Rg2+ 127. Kf1 Rh2 128. Rg8+ Kf3 129. Kg1 Rh3 130. Rf8 Rh6 131. Ra8 Rc6 132. Rf8
Rc1+ 133. Kh2 Rf1 134. Re8 Kf2 135. Ra8 Re1 136. Rf8 Re4 137. Ra8 Re2 138. Kh3
f3 139. Ra1 Rd2 140. Ra8 Ke1 141. Kg3


Critical game of the tournament. ChessVideos.TV video by Brian Wall
———— ——— ——— ——— ——— ——— –

Life Master Brian Wall (2200) – IM Michael Mulyar (2439) [C55]
2009 Colorado Closed 40/2 G/1 5scdel Tivoli Center, Denver, CO (4),

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.c3 Nf6 6.0-0 Nxe4 7.cxd4 d5 8.dxc5 dxc4
9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Rd1+ Bd7 11.Be3 Kc8 12.Na3 c3 13.b3 b6 14.Rdc1 Kb7 15.Nb5 Nb4
16.Nxc3 Nxc3 17.Rxc3 Rad8 18.cxb6 axb6 19.Rcc1 Bf5 20.Nh4 Be6 21.a3 Nd5 22.Bd2
Nf6 23.Bf4 Nd5 24.Bd2 Rhe8 25.b4 b5 26.Nf3 Nb6 27.Bf4 c6 28.h3 Bd5 29.Ne5 Na4
30.Re1 f6 31.Nd3 Bc4 32.Nc5+ Nxc5 33.bxc5 Ra8 34.Bd2 Bd5 35.Bb4 Kc7 36.f3 Kd7
37.Rxe8 Kxe8 38.Kf2 Kf7 39.Re1 Bb3 40.Re2 Rd8 41.Rd2 Bd5 42.h4 h5 43.Kg3 Re8
44.Kf2 Re7 45.Ba5 Ra7 46.Bb4 Ra8 47.Re2 Ra7 48.Rd2 Ke6 49.Rb2 Ra8 50.Rc2 Kd7
51.Rd2 g5 52.hxg5 fxg5 53.Rd3 Rg8 54.Rc3 h4 55.g4 Rh8 56.Kg2 Re8 57.Kf2 Rh8
58.Kg2 Rf8 59.Kf2 Rf4 60.Rd3 Rc4 61.Bd2 Rc2 62.Kg1 Ke6 63.Bxg5 h3 64.Bf4 Rg2+
65.Kh1 Rf2 66.Kg1 Rg2+ 67.Kh1 Rxg4 68.Rxd5 Rxf4 69.Rd6+ Ke5 70.Rxc6 Rxf3 71.Ra6
Kd5 72.Ra5 Kc6 73.Kg1 Rg3+ 74.Kh1 Rd3 75.Kg1 Rd2 76.Kh1 Rc2 77.Kg1 Ra2 78.Kh1
Kxc5 79.Kg1 Kb6 80.Ra8 Kc6 81.Ra5 Rd2 82.Ra8 Rg2+ 83.Kh1 Ra2 84.Ra5 Re2 85.Ra8
Kb7 86.Ra5 Kb6 87.Ra8 Ra2 88.Kg1 Kb7 89.Ra5 Kc6 90.Kh1 Rf2 91.Ra8 Rf4 92.Rh8
Rf3 93.Ra8 Kc5 94.Kh2 Kc4 95.Ra5 Rb3 96.Kg1 Rb2 97.Kh1 Kc3 98.Kg1 Rb3 99.Kh1
Kb2 100.Kh2 Ka2 101.Kg1 Rb2 102.Kh1 h2 103.Ra8 Kb3 104.Ra5 Kc4 105.Ra8 Rd2
106.Ra5 Ra2 107.Ra8 Re2 108.Rh8 Kb3 109.Ra8 Re4 110.Ra5 Kc4 111.Kxh2 Kc5
112.Kg2 Rf4 113.Kg3 Ra4 114.Rxa4 bxa4 115.Kf2 Kc4 116.Ke1 Kb3 117.Kd1 Kxa3
118.Kc1 Kb3 ½-½

———— ——— ——— ——— ——— —-
analyzed at
So I’ve played two games longer than your longest just last year!

I also set a world record in the Mahadnock marathon about 20 years ago but it was really just ajoke – even I don’t claim the record. This patzer was one of those guys whose parents wouldn’t let him resign – they are my treausures. He asked me if he should resign. ” Nobody likes a quitter. ” – I boxed his King into a corner for 350 moves, I promoted pawns to a second set of pieces on the 4th rank. Friend IM Joe Fang whispered to me what an asshole I was being. I finally euthanized him when I ran out of scoresheets. I got the idea from a Seinfeld episode ” He didn’t just capture my King, he tortured him. “


Brian Wall June 28, 2010 at 2:22 am

oops – 141 move draw – North American Open, May 30, 2010, Round 6
White – Pete Karagianis 2273
Black – Brian Wall 2223


Brian Wall June 28, 2010 at 2:24 am

PS see you in 2 days at the World Open –
under 2400 section. Good luck!


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