- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It’s a story that — like so many tales told about the great masters of the past — turns out to be totally bogus. When longtime U.S. champion Frank Marshall played one of the most famous moves in the history of the game, thrusting his queen into a “nest of pawns” to defeat Russian master Stefan Lewitzky in a 1912 game in Breslau, Poland, spectators reportedly were so enthralled that they showered the board with gold coins. Marshall was justly proud of the game but later claimed never to have seen a single one of the gold pieces supposedly left in tribute.

Still, if the payoff proved apocryphal, there’s reward enough in playing that one spectacular move, the flashy sacrifice or the unexpected pawn thrust that sends an electric thrill through the tournament hall and draws a crowd to one’s board.

Greek GM Athanasios Mastrovasilis clearly was channeling the great American at the end of his game against Belgian FM Andy Marechal at the recent Capelle-la-Grande Open in France, one of the continent’s strongest Swiss events. In truth, White was no doubt hoping for much of the game that no one would stop by to kibitz, as the grandmaster is outplayed by his lower-rated opponent in this Botvinnik English.

Black’s 16. Rfb2 b5! 17. cxb5 cxb5 18. Ne2 Nh7 (White threatened 19. g5 Nh7 20. gxh6 g6 21. d4 Ne6 22. Qd3 with a clear edge) 19. Be3 Qh4 20. Bf4 Qe7 arrives just in time, giving him good queenside counterplay. By 25. Nd4 Qc5 26. Qg3?! Nxc3, it’s clear White’s attack has been treading water, and Mastrovasilis decides to take a leap off the high dive: 27. Kh2 Bd5 28. Nf5?! Bxg2 29. Bxg7?! Bxf1!, when White’s mating drive stalls on 30. Nxh6+? Kxg7 31. Rxf7+ Kg6! (and not 31…Kxh6?? 32. Qh4+ Kg6 33. Qxh7+ Kg5 34. Qh5 mate).

By 32. Rxf1 Nd5, White is down a rook with his attack on life support. But no game was ever won by resigning, and the grandmaster’s persistence earns a spectacular payoff.

Mastrovasilis-Marechal after 34...Ne7.
Mastrovasilis-Marechal after 34…Ne7. more >

Thus: 33. Qh5 Rf8?! (thwarting 34. Nxh6+ Rxh6 35. Qxf7 mate, but 33…Qc7+ 34. Kg1 Nf4! 35. Nxh6+ Rxh6 36. Qxh6 Ne2+ 37. Kh1 Nxd4 was a cleaner kill) 34. Rf2 Ne7?? (see diagram; the only plausible move that loses on the spot, but give White credit for finding the key) 35. Qg6+!! - a concept worthy of Marshall, as the g6-square is covered by a Black rook, knight and pawn, with the queen in reserve. But 35…Rxg6 allows 36. Nxe7 mate, while both 35…Nxg6 and the game’s 35…fxg6 block the rook’s defense of h6 and allow 36. Nxh6 mate. A truly remarkable move.

A recent British Chess magazine poll rated Marshall’s Breslau sally the third most amazing move of all time. (We’ll save the top two for another slow news week.) Clocking in at No. 12 was a remarkable concept from Franco-American GM Nicolas Rossolimo from a 1961 game in New York City. White’s 18th move not only offers up a queen sacrifice, but lets Black capture a knight - with check - before snatching the queen.

In a sharp Scandinavian, Black severely neglects his kingside development to pursue an early kingside attack. But Rossolimo turns the tables with a ferocious counterattack of his own: 14. Nd5!? 0-0-0 (14…cxb5?? 15. Nc7 mate is obviously out, but Black could have grabbed a draw now with 14…Nxd5 15. Qxd5 Qg4+) 15. Ba6+ Kb8 16. Bf4!? (not optimal, as 16. c4! [threat: 17. Qb3+] Qg4+ 17. Qxg4 Nfxg4 18. Bf4 cxd5 19. Nxf7 is winning, but then we would have been deprived of the astonishing follow-up) Rxd5 17. Bxe5+ Ka8 (Rxe5?? 18. Qd8 mate) 18. c4!! a move that looks at first like a typographical error.

White’s basic insight is that the Black back rank is so weak that it’s worth giving up a knight and queen just for the chance to exploit it. There followed 18…Qxg5+ 19. Bg3 Rxd1 20. Raxd1, and the rest of the game features White’s relentless efforts to open a file - any file - to get a rook down the board to deliver checkmate.

After 22. b4! c4 (bxc4 23. Rc1) 23. Rd4 e5 (Qf6! was tougher, but Black is still hogtied after 24. Bb5! a6 25. Rxc4 axb5 26. Rc8+ Kb7 27. Rfc1) 24. dxe6 Bxb4 (fxe6 25. Rd7 e5 26. Re1 Bd6 27. Rxd6 and wins) 25. Rd7 Rb8 26. Rfd1, Black 26…Be7 blocks the threatened 27. Bb7+! Rxb7 28. Rd8+, with mate to come. But White finds another way in.

It’s over on 27. exf7 c3 28. f8=Q!, and Black resigns facing 28…Bxf8 (Rxf8 29. Bb7 mate) 29. Bb7+ Rxb7 30. Rd8+ Rb8 31. Rxb8 mate.

Mastrovasilis-Marechal
Capelle-la-Grande, February 2011

1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 h6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. e4 Bxc3 6. bxc3 O-O 7. Ne2 d6 8. O-O Be6 9. d3 c6 10. Rb1 b6 11. f4 Na6 12. h3 Nc5 13. g4 exf4 14. Nxf4 Bd7 15. Rb2 Rc8 16. Rbf2 b5 17. cxb5 cxb5 18. Ne2 Nh7 19. Be3 Qh4 20. Bf4 Qe7 21. Qd2 Na4 22. Qe3 Be6 23. e5 dxe5 24. Bxe5 Rfe8 25. Nd4 Qc5 26. Qg3 Nxc3 27. Kh2 Bd5 28. Nf5 Bxg2 29. Bxg7 Bxf1 30. Bd4 Qc6 31. Qh4 Re6 32. Rxf1 Nd5 33. Qh5 Rf8 34. Rf2 Ne7 35. Qg6+ fxg6 36. Nxh6 mate.

Rossolimo-Livingstone
New York 1961

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. h3 Qh5 7. Be2 Nc6 8. O-O Bxh3 9. gxh3 Qxh3 10. Ng5 Qh4 11. d5 Ne5 12. Bb5+ c6 13. dxc6 bxc6 14. Nd5 O-O-O 15. Ba6+ Kb8 16. Bf4 Rxd5 17. Bxe5+ Ka8 18. c4 Qxg5+ 19. Bg3 Rxd1 20. Raxd1 Nd5 21. cxd5 c5 22. b4 c4 23. Rd4 e5 24. dxe6 Bxb4 25. Rd7 Rb8 26. Rfd1 Be7 27. exf7 c3 28. f8=Q 1-0.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washingtontimes.com.