Immortal Chess Blitz Game

05/02/2016 11:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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So versus Kasparov

Wesley So won a spectacular blitz game at the Ultimate Blitz Challenge in the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis last Friday. It was power chess with hard to see threats and surprising sacrifices. He was immediately compared to two of the nineteen century chess legends: the American Paul Morphy and the brilliant German attacker Adolf Anderssen. The game was showered with superlatives all around the globe.

The loser of the game was the former world champion Garry Kasparov, attempting another blitz chess comeback. He took the defeat in stride, praised his opponent and even donated his winnings to the U.S. Chess Olympiad team. But I would not be surprised if Kasparov will now be called the Kieseritzky of Blitz chess. Lionel Adalbert Bagration Felix Kieseritzky was known not only for his long name, but for his loss of the original Immortal Game as well. It was won by Anderssen in London in 1851. This friendly encounter later became the subject of many books.

So's victory, analyzed below, might have overshadowed other impressive performances in April and there were plenty. The world champion Magnus Carlsen won the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, the strongest event of this year.

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photo from Altibox Norway Chess by Joachim Steinbru

The finish was bumpy for Carlsen. Levon Aronian defeated him and caught him, but the Norwegian grandmaster was able to pull away with a last round victory. Two first places in two tough tournaments this year is not a bad start for the world champion.

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At the U.S. championships in Saint Louis, the top-rated Fabiano Caruana became the U.S. champion on his first try and Nazi Pakidze was best in the women's section.

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Caruana gained enough points to climb to the second place behind Magnus Carlsen on the May FIDE rating list. Caruana's style of play resembles the young Anatoly Karpov. He can turn into a boa constrictor at times, patiently squeezing his opponents.

Caruana,Fabiano (2795) - Shankland,Samuel (2656)
US Championship, Saint Louis 2016

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Black is tied in knots and can hardly move. Caruana takes his time to tighten the screws.
43.Nf4 Kh7 44.Ng2 Bg8 45.Ne3 Bf7 46.Nc2 Bg8 47.Na3 Bf7 48.Kf2 Bg8 49.Ke3 Bf7 50.Kd2 Bg8 51.Kc2 Bf7 52.Kc1 Kg8 53.Nb5
Finally creating a winning threat 54.Nc7 that cannot be parried.
53...Ne7 54.Na7!

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A final leap, winning a piece. The alternatives are less convincing: 54.Qxe7 Qxb5;
54.Bxe7 Rb8. Black resigned.

Caruana can also pounce on an unsuspecting opponent, winning tactically when the opportunity presents itself.

Caruana,Fabiano (2795) - Onischuk,Alexander (2664)
US Championship, Saint Louis 2016

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Caruana takes advantage of the weak last rank with a pretty interference:
25.Re5! Rxe3
After 25...Rxe5 26.fxe5 Be7 27.Rd7 Kf8 28.Ba7! preventing the black rook returning to the eight rank. White wins and promotes the c-pawn, for example: 28...Ke8 29.Rxc7 Rd2 30.Bd4 Kd8 31.Rb7 Ba3 32.Bb6+ Kc8 33.Ra7+-.
26.fxe3 Rb8 27.Ra5 Kf8 28.c4 Black resigned.

The defending champion Hikaru Nakamura lost to Caruana early and was unable to catch him. In the end, he shared the second place with Wesley So.

At the beginning of the championship, So played the most entertaining chess. He confessed he studied all games of Magnus Carlsen. Against Akopian he played like a 14-year-old Magnus.

So,Wesley (2773) - Akobian,Varuzhian (2615)
US Championship, Saint Louis 2016

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So finds two consecutive winning sacrifices to destroy the pawn cover.
20.Nxf7! Kxf7
After 20...Rxd3 comes 21.Nxh6+!
21.Rxg7+! Kxg7 22.Qxe6 Qxf2?
Speeds up the defeat. The computers provide the best defense with a bitter twist: 22...Re8 23.Rg1+ (23.c5 Qxc5 24.Rg1+ Kf8 25.Bxf6) 23...Kf8 24.Bxf6 Bg2! and Black survives.
But they also recommend two ways to get the advantage after 22...Re8
A. 23.c5! deflects the Queen from the sixth rank: 23...Qd8 (23...Qxc5 24.Rg1+ Kf8 25.Bxf6+-) 24.Bc2 Qxd1+ 25.Bxd1 Bd8 26.Qg4+ Kf8 27.Qf4 Kg7 28.Bc2+-
B. 23.Qf5 Kf8 24.Rg1 (24.Bxf6 Bd7! 25.Bxe7+ Kxe7 26.Qh7+ Kf8 [The triple-pin wins after 26...Kd8 27.Bf5+-] 27.Bg6 Qf6 28.Rxd7 Re1+ 29.Kc2 Qxf2+ 30.Rd2 Qf6±) 24...Bd5 (24...Qd8 25.Ka1+-) 25.cxd5 Rec8 26.Bd2+-
23.Qxe7+ Kg8 24.Bh7+
24.Bxf6 was quicker. It mates soon.
24.Bh7+ Kh8 (24...Nxh7 25.Qg7#) 25.Bxf6+ wins material.
Black resigned.

Meantime, Carlsen started in Norway. On his best day he would have finished off the Indian grandmaster Harikrishna with precision.

Carlsen,Magnus (2851) - Harikrishna,P (2763)
4th Norway Chess, Stavanger 2016

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Carlsen would surely prefer the winning deflection 38.Nd7+! Qxd7 39.Qc5+ Re7 40.Rxe7 and White mates.
Instead he found a different win: 38.Qf5 Re7 39.Bg6 Kg8 40.Nxf7 Rxf7 41.Bxf7+ Black resigned.

So is always well prepared in the opening and against the young Jeffrey Xiong, 16, he took it to the extreme. Wesley spent mere seconds on each move until move 30, when he thought for nearly two minutes. The players soon agreed to a draw. Give computers the credit. It is also sad to see actual play start that late in the game. It is part of today's chess.

There was some resemblance between So and Carlsen. Both placed their knights on the same squares (g3, h4) to jump decisively to the square f5. So did it against Gata Kamsky in a more spectacular way, generating a strong attack.

So,Wesley (2773) - Kamsky,Gata (2678)
US Championship, Saint Louis 2016

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21...Kh7
Allowing a dangerous knight sacrifice. In a similar position, Boris Spassky and Lajos Portisch liked the following maneuver: 21...Nh7 22.Nf3 A move So was going to play. [22.Nhf5!? the sacrifice does not bring much after 22...gxf5 23.Nxf5 Re6] 22...h5 with a playable game.
22.Nhf5! gxf5 23.Nxf5 Re6
The line 23...Ng8 24.Nxd6 Bc8 25.Nxf7 Qe7 26.Nxe5 Nxe5 27.dxe5 Bxe5 28.f4 favors White.
24.Bxh6 Ne8 25.Bg5! Bf6?
Exchanging the dark bishops gives White a powerful attack. White has a strong upper hand in other lines, for example:
A. 25...Qb6 26.d5 Rg6 27.dxc6 Bxc6 28.Bb3±;
B. 25...f6 26.Bh6 Kg8 27.Re3 Bxh6 28.Nxh6+ Kh7 29.Rg3+-.
26.Bxf6! Qxf6
Kamsky admitted he overlooked 28.g4, but his position was hardly defensible: 26...Ndxf6 27.Qh6+ Kg8 28.Qg5+ Kf8 29.Re3 with a decisive attack, for example: 29...Nc7 30.Rf3 Bc8 31.Qh6+ Ke8 32.Ng7++-;
or 26...Rxf6 27.Qg5 Qc7 28.Re3+-.
27.d5 Re7
[27...cxd5 28.exd5 Bxd5 29.Ne7++-] 28.g4!
Clinching the win. After 28...cxd5 29.g5 drops the rook.
Black resigned.

Carlsen used the square f5 to hinder Vladimir Kramnik's play. The result was a positional masterpiece against the former world champion, now ranked third in the world.

Carlsen,Magnus(2851) - Kramnik,Vladimir (2801)
4th Norway Chess, Stavanger 2016

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The knights of Carlsen and So seem to live in an identical world.
15.Ngf5!
Carlsen employs the famous Nimzowitsch blockade of the isolated pawn, correctly judging that Black cannot take the b-pawn. Little tactics going hand in hand with a positional aim. Carlsen has time to develop his bishop efficiently on d3.
15...Kd7
White has a clear edge after 15...Nxb2+ 16.Kc2 Nc4 17.Bxc4 dxc4 18.Rhb1 c5 19.a3 Ba5 20.Rxb7±.

16.Rb1 Ke6 17.Bd3
Just in time.
17...Rhc8 18.Ke2
Black has problems.
18...Bf8 19.g4
Paving the way for the knight on the edge to enter the game.
19...c5
Kramnik hopes that he can create some counterplay on the queenside. He should have regrouped: 19...Nb6 20.Ng2 Bd6 21.h4 Rh8 22.h5 Bxf5 23.Bxf5+ although White has the game firmly in his grasp.

20.Ng2 cxd4 21.exd4
Opening the e-file is in White's favor.
21...Bd6 22.h4 h5
Loses a pawn and de facto the game. After the passive 22...Rh8 23.h5 Bxf5 24.Bxf5+ Ke7 25.Ne3 Nb6 26.Kf3 Black can hardly move.
23.Ng7++- Ke7 24.gxh5 The outcome is not in doubt. Kramnik resisted till move 50 before he resigned.

Garry Kasparov turned 53 on April 13 and was the main draw of the Ultimate Blitz Challenge despite the fact that Caruana, Nakamura and So are now rated among the world's Top Ten.

Kasparov blundered three knights the first day. It could have been four, but against Nakamura he took his move back against the rules and sent his knight to a safer square. The fans exploded on social media, immediately bringing back Kasparov's game against Judit Polgar from Linares in 1994 when Garry used the same trick. "The main question that comes to mind is: why did I not say anything?" Polgar wrote later. Nakamura also let it go. But why is Kasparov tarnishing his own legacy?

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Eventually everything settled down. Nakamura showed again why he is the blitzing maestro. He faced the only challenge from Wesley So. So had the best results against Kasparov, Caruana was too slow.

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Kasparov got going at the end, defeating Nakamura and Caruana. But he will be remembered for the game against So, the ultimate blitz showpiece. I personally consider the Game 9 between Vasyl Ivanchuk and Artur Jusupov from the 1991 Candidates match in Brussels the most exciting non-classical game.

So,Wesley - Kasparov,Garry
Ultimate Blitz Challenge, Saint Louis 2016

1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Bg4 5.Be2 Nc6 6.Nbd2
A clever way to protect the central d-pawn.
6...e5 7.d5 Nce7 8.h3 Bd7 9.c5!
A promising pawn sacrifice. So is looking for a breakthrough, freeing the square c4 for the knight. Kasparov accepts the challenge.
9...dxc5?! [9...Nf6] 10.Nc4 f6 11.d6
11.Be3 b6 12.d6 was a more precise move order.
11...Nc8 12.Be3 b6
Kasparov could have chased the knight away with 12...b5!
13.0-0 Bc6
13...Nxd6! 14.Nxd6+ cxd6 15.Qxd6 Qe7 was a good way to equalize. 14.dxc7 Qxc7
After 14...Qxd1? 15.Rfxd1 Nce7 16.Nd6+ Kf8 17.Bc4 White wins.
15.b4!

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Wesley sees possible gains on the open c-file.
15...cxb4?
After 15...Bxe4 16.bxc5 bxc5 the computers suggest 17.Ncxe5! fxe5 18.Ng5 with a powerful attack, but 15...b5!? 16.Na5 c4 17.a4 a6 was possible.
16.Rc1
The pin on the c-file looms big. Black is already lost.
16...Nge7 17.Qb3! h6
Garry is alert and sees the threat of the knight sacrifice on e5 immediately. For example after 17...a5 18.Ncxe5! fxe5 19.Ng5 White wins: 19...Ng8 (19...Rf8 20.Ne6+-) 20.Rxc6 Qxc6 21.Qf7+ Kd8 22.Ne6++-.
18.Rfd1 b5
Kasparov forces White to play sharp. After 18...a5 19.Nxb6! Nxb6 20.Bb5 Rc8 21.Qe6 White wins.

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19.Ncxe5! fxe5 20.Bxb5!
A normal human move is the strongest. The computers maintain that White also wins with the quiet 20.Qe6!? and now:
A. 20...a6 21.Bxh6! Bxh6 [21...Rh7 22.Bxg7 Rxg7 23.Nxe5 Na7 24.Rd6+-; or 21...Rxh6 22.Ng5+-] 22.Nxe5+-.
B. 20...Bd7 21.Bxb5+-.
20...Rb8
20...Qb7 21.Ba4! Bxa4 22.Qxa4+ Kf7 23.Rd7 Qxe4 24.Qb3+ Ke8 25.Qe6+-]
21.Ba4!
A wonderful quiet continuation in a blitz game. Wesley maintains the pin and keeps the black pieces tied up. The computer brains work on a different level: 21.Bxh6!? Bxh6 [21...Rxb5 22.Bxg7 Rh7 23.Ng5 Rxg7 24.Ne6+-] 22.Rxc6 Nxc6 23.Qe6+ Kf8 24.Qf6+ Kg8 25.Bxc6 wins.
21...Qb7?
After 21...Rf8 22.Qe6 Rf6 23.Rxc6! wins.
22.Rxc6! Nxc6 23.Qe6+ N8e7
After 23...Qe7 24.Bxc6+ Kf8 25.Bc5 White mates soon.
24.Bc5!

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The wonderful world of pins! Another quiet move seals the victory. Garry has no defense.
24...Rc8
Other moves are also hopeless:
A. 24...Rh7 25.Bxc6+ Kf8 26.Bd5!+-;
B. 24...Bf6 25.Nxe5! (25.Qxf6 Rh7 26.Nxe5+-) 25...Bxe5 26.Bxc6+ Kf8 27.Bxb7+-;
C. 24...Kf8 25.Bb3 Nd8 26.Rxd8+ Rxd8 27.Qf7#;
D. 24...Rd8 25.Bxc6+ Qxc6 26.Qxe7#
25.Bxe7
After 25...Bf8 26.Bxc6+ Qxc6 27.Rd8+! Rxd8 28.Bd6+ Be7 29.Qxe7 mates.
Black resigned.

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Images from Saint Louis by Lennart Ootes