Odd but true: Some of the most brilliant and most anthologized games in the history of chess were distinct mismatches, the equivalent of Stephen Strasburg pitching a no-hitter against a Double-A minor league team.
Perhaps Paul Morphy’s most famous combination was pulled off against a pair of dilettante noblemen during a performance in Paris of “Norma,” a level of competition once aptly described as “the two bozos in the opera box.”
World champion Emanuel Lasker first uncorked his signature two-bishop attacking sacrifice against Johann Bauer, a decent but distinctly second-tier Austrian master. Frank Marshall famously thrust his queen into a “nest of pawns” controlled by Stepan Levitzky, who was the 1911 Russian champion but was not nearly the player Marshall was. The victim of the great Miguel Najdorf’s 1929 “Polish Immortal,” which many consider the greatest sacrificial attacking game ever, was one “Glucksberg” — or some believe “Glinksberg” — about whom nothing else is known.
In a way, it’s not surprising — the very best players typically don’t allow their peers to pull off queen sacrifices or one-sided mating attack. (Often the most brilliant moves are found only in the annotations.) World title matches traditionally do not offer the most scintillating chess, precisely because both players are so good. Add a little imbalance to the equation and that’s when the fireworks can ignite.
A little taste of what we’re talking about can be seen at the 11th American Continental Chess Championships, that wrapped up Sunday in San Salvador, El Salvador. In the Swiss-system pairing, Argentine GM Diego Flores took on local Class A player Juan Duarte in the first round. The result was predictable, but the execution was entertaining.
Black’s first mistake may have been his first move, 1…f5?!, leading to an unusual sideline of the Dutch Defense; from my own painful experience, grandmasters are even stronger in offbeat lines than they are in the more conventional opening choices. Flores’ aggressive 4. h4!? Bg7 5. h5!? may not be 100 percent sound, but already Black is forced to deal with new and unpleasant complications.
White develops rapidly while Black wastes time with preventive pawn moves, and already by 9. hxg6 hxg6 10. Rxh8+ Bxh8 11. Qe2!, White is already eyeing a piece sacrifice for the attack: 11…fxe4 12. Qxe4! d5 13. Qxg6 dxc4 14. Bg5 Qd6 16. Ne5, when pawn-grubbing by Black would be fatal — 16…Qb4+?? 17. c3 Qxb2 18. Qg8+ Kd7 19. Qxf7 mate.
But Black is in all likelihood strategically lost after the game’s 16…Bxe5 (to thwart the threat of 17. Nd6+! Qxd6 18. Qxf7 mate, but now the d-file comes open for the White rook) 17. dxe5 Kd7 18. 0-0-0+, but the finale has some of the charm of Morphy’s demolition of the aristocratic bozos.
Thus: 18…Kc7 (see diagram) 19. Qxf7+! Nd7 (Qxf7 20. Bd8 is a pleasing geometric mate) 20. Qxf8 Nxf8 21. Bd8+ Kb8 22. Be7!, and Black must give up the knight to defend the threat of 23. Bd6 mate; Duarte resigned.
Flores-Duarte, 11th American Continental Championship, San Salvador, May 2016
1. Nf3 f5 2. d3 g6 3. e4 d6 4. h4 Bg7 5. h5 Nh6 6. Nc3 c6 7. d4 Nf7 8. Bc4 e6 9.hxg6 hxg6 10. Rxh8+ Bxh8 11. Qe2 fxe4 12. Qxe4 d5 13. Qxg6 dxc4 14. Bg5Qd6 15. Ne4 Qf8 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. dxe5 Kd7 18. O-O-O+ Kc7 19. Qxf7+ Nd720. Qxf8 Nxf8 21. Bd8+ Kb8 22. Be7 Black resigns.
Breaking … Russian-born Swiss GM Viktor Korchnoi, a world-class player for six decades who contested two epic world title battles with Anatoly Karpov in 1978 and 1981, passed away Monday after a short illness at the age of 85. We’ll have a full appreciation next week.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at email@example.com.