Return to The most beautiful chess move ever played (thing)

The scene is Breslau, Germany, the sixth round of the German Open Chess Championships, in a quiet tournament hall surrounded by a gallery of spectators, and the year is 1912. A strong player, Stephan Lewitzky, who at this point was one of Russia's most promising young masters, is playing the legendary American player Frank Marshall. Frank was the US champion from 1906 to 1936, and was one of the strongest players in the world, a feared tactician famous for his vicious and complicated attacks.

Lewitzky, playing White, has not been playing his best, and has been on the defensive for most of the game, and now he is in dire straits. Marshall has just captured his knight on h3, and he can't capture back because he will lose his queen to a knight fork on f3, so in desperation he has moved his rook to c5, attacking Marshall's queen. He hopes to hang on for a few more moves, and possibly to get counterplay against White's king, but Marshall's next move ends the game abruptly.

The entire score of the game is given in the notes below.

+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    |    |    | r  | k  |    |
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+ 
| p  | p  |    |    |    |    | p  | p  |
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    |    | p  |    |    |    | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    | R  |    |    |    | Q  |    | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    | n  |    |    |    |    | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    | q--|----|----|----|->  | r  | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
| P  |    | P  |    |    | P  | P  | P  | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+ 
|    |    |    |    |    | R  | K  |    |
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+

Marshall played 23...Qg3!!, one of the strangest and most spectacular moves ever played in a game of tournament chess. His queen can be captured on this square in 3 different ways, all of which lead to a lost position or checkmate:

  • 24.hxg3 Ne2++ (checkmate from the knight, with the rook on h3 covering the king's escape squares)
  • 24.fxg3 Ne2+ 25.Kh1 Rxf1++
  • 24.Qxg3 Ne2+ 25.Kh1 Nxg3+ 26.Kg1 (the knight cannot be captured - 26.hxg3 is impossible because the h-pawn is pinned to the king, and 26.fxg3 Rxf1++ is checkmate) 26...Ne2+ 27.Kh1 Rc3 - Black is a clear piece up, and with the queens off the board the position is an easy win.

All other moves lose quickly due to the double threat of checkmate on h2 with the queen, and the capture of White's queen on g5. Lewitzky therefore did the honourable thing, and resigned.

Marshall described this as "The most elegant move I have ever played." This concept of elegance or beauty in chess is something that is almost impossible to explain to a non-chess player, because the beauty resides in factors which are very specific to the rules of the game - the harmonious interaction of the pieces involved, the unexpectedness of the move in a relatively simple position, the thrill of sacrificing one's most powerful piece to force a win. If chess players did not universally share this sensation of beauty in certain moves, then it would not be possible to explain the lasting and seemingly timeless attraction of the game, or how more books have come to be written on chess than all other games and sports combined. Like the chilling vibrato at the height of a virtuoso violinist's cadenza, it is possible for a chess move to electrify both the players and the audience.

In this case, the spectators in the gallery were said to be so astounded by Marshall's move that they showered the board with gold roubles after the game, and Marshall himself confirmed this story, though many sources say that the coins were in fact payments made by angry gamblers who had been betting on the outcome.

The move has ensured both Marshall and Lewitzky's immortality in the world history of chess, and is universally praised by chess critics and analysts. The only reason that the full game itself does not appear on most peoples' lists of the best chess games ever played is that, up to that point, and mainly due to Lewitzky's poor form, the quality of play had not been very high. One brilliant move can't make a brilliant game, but it can make you famous.


The full game: 1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.exd5 exd5 6.Be2 Nf6 7.0-0 Be7 8.Bg5 0-0 9.dxc5 Be6 10.Nd4 Bxc5 11.Nxe6 fxe6 12.Bg4 Qd6 13.Bh3 Rae8 14.Qd2 Bb4 15.Bxf6 Rxf6 16.Rad1 Qc5 17.Qe2 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Qxc3 19.Rxd5 Nd4 20.Qh5 Ref8 21.Rde5 Rfh6 22.Qg5 Rxh3 23.Rc5 Qg3 0-1

+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    |    |    | r  | k  |    |
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+ 
| p  | p  |    |    |    |    | p  | p  |
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    |    | p  |    |    |    | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    | R  |    |    |    | Q  |    | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    | n  |    |    |    |    | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
|    |    |    |    |    |    | q  | r  | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+
| P  |    | P  |    |    | P  | P  | P  | 
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+ 
|    |    |    |    |    | R  | K  |    |
+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+----+

Annotation and commentary (Warning - the annotation and analysis is done by an amateur player, and is NOT very accurate in places): http://www.angelfire.com/games3/AJs01Downloads/html_stuff/gcm_lev-mar_1g0.html
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