Greatest chess swindles

Mr burns

THE ART OF RESURRECTION

One of the most popular chess “eternal truths” states that the hardest thing in chess is winning a won game.

Every chess player that played more than 10 tournament games can probably relate to that saying. I have surely played at least a dozen of games where I have been playing excellently and crushing my opponent only to become overconfident and cocky and blow the game away in a flash.

One such instance was described in a previous post.

The good news is, that I have also been on the opposite side of the story even more often.

And although I could write here that I felt ashamed and sorry for my opponent i will not…Because to tell you the truth…turning the lost game around feels damn good..

I still remember games where I screwed up somewhere in the beginning and was left with a horrible position for the remainder of the game. Pretty often there was a long lasting surge of anxiety and depression associated with the piece movement and often I wondered whether it would be easier simply to resign to end the misery.

AND THAN IT HAPPENS.

A superficial move by the opponent that gives you a hidden opportunity. An opportunity, which once taken advantage of is followed by a huge adrenaline rush.

Because that’s what happens when you come back to life, right?

Okay, except if you are a Pink Floyd fan.

ressurection
This guy knows a thing or two about coming back to life

BLUNDER VERSUS SWINDLE?

Most chessplayers say that they have swindled their opponent when referring to the situation above.

There might be some confusion about the terminology. Isn’t a swindle just another way of saying that your opponent has blundered? And if that is the case, how is it appropriate to take any credit in that situation?

I will try to answer these questions by expressing my opinion. To a certain extent, there is no major difference between a swindle and a blunder; in order to swindle an opponent, it is necessary that he makes a mistake or two for you to exploit.

However, I think that there is major difference in the fact that swindle is usually much more hidden and much more unexpected. Whereas most of the players realize almost instantly that they have overlooked a full piece or mate in couple of moves, a swindle is usually carried out through a more complex tactical combination that often comes as a bolt from the blue for the stronger side.

Let us look at the definition of the world swindle, as written on wikipedia:

“In chess, a swindle is a ruse by which a player in a losing position tricks his opponent, and thereby achieves a win or draw instead of the expected lose. It may also refer more generally to obtaining a win or draw from a clearly losing position.” 

I think that the psychological aspect of the game comes to the fore here. Because a plain blunder is most often a result of the lack of concentration or serious time trouble. Whereas swindles happen very often in positions where the weaker side has defended tenaciously and where the stronger side has been annoyed by the fact that the game lasts so long. Typically, after a couple of hours, just before the jaws of the victory, a player relaxes prematurely and does something incautious and usually gets punished severely.

Probably everything I said above will be slightly more clear after we look at concrete examples from the tournament play. Hopefully, a difference with the biggest blunders will become apparent.

GREATEST CHESS SWINDLES

HIKARU NAKAMURA – MAGNUS CARLSEN, ZÜRICH, 2014

Probably one of the most famous tournament games from the third millenium. Prior to this game, Carlsen was leading 7-0 in their head to head clashes and Naka was thirsty of victory. He managed to outplay Magnus completely and was clearly winning. However, Magnus was defending tenaciously and just wouldn’t go away. However, Naka was tightening the screw and reached completely winning position:

Black is totally tied up here. However, Nakamura played the howler:

37 d6??

To which Carlsen replied with the piece sacrifice:

37… Nxd6 38 Nxd6 Rd8

And suddenly, White has to be careful. He isn’t bound to lose yet, but Naka was unable to control the situation afterwards and went on to lose.

After this catastrophe, he would have to wait for two more years to score his first win against Carlsen.

ANATOLY KARPOV – ISTVAN CSOM, BAD LAUTEBERG 1977

Anatoly Karpov isn’t regarded as one of the tricking greats in the history of chess. I think it might have to do something with the fact that back in the day he was crushing the opposition and winning the tournaments one after another.

However, to every great rule there is an exception. In the following game against Istvan Csom, he suffered against the hedgehog and was left with a position where he was a piece down:

Black has a choice between f8 and g5 squares as a possible knight location. Unfortunately for him, he chose the former:

49.. Nf8????

Probably thinking that it is better to gain a tempo on the rook in the process. 49… Ng5! would have probably won.

We can only imagine the reactions of both players after Karpov unleashed the devilishly tricky:

50 Nf5!!

When white is threatening Rh7+ – Qg7 or Qh2+-Qg3+-Qg7  with mate.

You could say that Karpov was quite lucky here, but then again, a good player is always lucky.

PIERRE CHARLES FOURNIER DE SAINT AMANT – HOWARD STAUNTON, MATCH, 1844

A game from one of those historic 19th century matches where there was no time control, and games lasted forever (I think this one lasted 8 hours, out of which White spent 6).

And also a textbook example that could be used as a definition of the word swindle.

In the following position:

White is completely losing, but he tried to play

32 b5?!

And amazingly, Staunton believed him (he could have most probably just taken the queen).

32… Qh5? 33 g4! Rxd4 34 exd4

And suddenly White is winning

JOHANNES ZUKERTORT – WILHELM STEINITZ, LONDON 1883.

Another one from the 19th century, this time with even more famous players involved. Zukertort has managed to outplay his formidable opponent and reach a position where the evaluation should be somewhere between “White is better” and “White is winning”

The White queen on a8 is also sign of times. Black’s last move was 29.. Rxe4, laying a very subtle trap. White should probably play 30 Rg1, and hope to convert the extra exchange. Instead, Zukertort fell for the trap:

30 Rxe4??? Qxe4 31 Qxa7 b6!

And suddenly there is nothing White can do about his back rank. Therefore, he resigned.

LARRY MELVYN EVANS – SAMUEL RESHEVSKY, US CHAMPIONSHIP, 1964.

Probably the most famous swindle game on this list. It has been christened as The immortal swindle game. But judge for yourself:

Reshevsky was probably pretty annoyed by the fact that White hasn’t resigned yet. Therefore, I imagine he played the following move without much thinking:

48… Qxg3??

Probably the only thing Black shouldn’t play here.

I also imagine that there followed the thunderous:

49 Qg8+!! Kxg8 50 Rxg7+!!

And an amazing case of a stalemate is on the board:

FRANK JAMES MARSHALL – GEORG MARCO, MONTE CARLO 1904.

Frank James Marshall was a player famous for his chess traps. And whereas those traps mostly didn’t work against the strong likes of Alekhine, Lasker or Capablanca, they worked against weaker oppositions, providing us with some of the gems of the chess history.

In the game from the title, Marshall managed to extricate himself from the terrible endgame:

Black was winning in the endgame, but Marshall managed to extricate himself brilliantly. Here is the culmination:

50 Rd8 c6 51 Ra8+ Kb6 52 Rxa2 b1Q

And what now?

53 b8Q! Bxb8 54 Rb2+!! Qxb2 55 Na4+

And now White has a winning endgame.

ALEXANDER BELIAVSKY – LARRY MARK CHRISTIANSEN, REGGIO EMILIA 1987.

A very similar theme to the Evans- Reshevsky game mentioned above, but probably executed even more subtly.

Here, Black played the last trick:

37… Qxf6

If White now plays the calm 38 Rh7+! followed by 39 Qxf6 he is completely winning. But he chose the immediate capture:

38 Qxf6 

And had to satisfy himself with only a draw:

38… Rh2+!!

A stalemate is unavoidable.

JIRI FICHTL – FRANTISEK BLATNY, 1956

A game of the two relatively unknowns players witnessed a fabulous swindle:

White played the “obvious”

49 d6

You can imagine his reaction when the bishop landed with a bang on c6:

49… Bc6+

After queen takes, there is Rg1+ and most uncommon instance of stalemate arises on the board.

WILLIAM FULLER – LEONID BASIN, MICHIGAN OPEN, 1992

Another one from the depths of the www.chessgames.com,   and one that a tournament player can more easily relate to.

White offered a queen exchange on the last move. Black simply took the bait:

37… Qxf2?? 38 Rh8+!!

Tadaaaaa!! Stalemate on the board.

NICK DE FIRMIAN – KARMAN SHIRAZI, US CHAMPIONSHIP, 1987.

A grave mistake from a very experienced grandmaster Nick de Firmian proves that sometimes it is better not to be too smart. For your own good.

Nick got impatient, and took the b-pawn:

28 Rxb5?? 

allowing 28… Rxf2.

He thought that the way out is the following sequence:

29 Qa8+ Rf8 30 Rg5

But there is a spectacular resource that wins for Black:

30… Qe4!!!

Whooops.

FREDERICK RHINE – SEAN NAGLE, CHICAGO OPEN 1997

We will end with a very nice swindle that occurred on the master level.

Here, wishing to end matter quickly, Black played his rook to the 2nd rank:

27… Ra2.

Overlooking a brilliant tactical combination:

28 d6+ Kh8 29 Qxa2!! Qxa2 30 d7

30… Qc2 31 Ra1

And White wins.

This concludes our overview of some of the most picturesque chess swindles that I am aware of. If you have an example of even better swindle, or want to share one from your own games, you are welcomed to do so, either via email, or in the comment section below.

Happy swindlin’ 🙂

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