- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

‘I never beat a healthy man.”

That wry old observation, attributed to the great British 19th-century master H.E. Bird, came to mind recently on the news that Chinese GM Ding Liren fractured his hip in a bicycle accident and had to withdraw midway through the strong Altibox Norway Chess tournament last month.

There’s no sign that Ding’s injury was fabricated, but we would wager than British master G.A. MacDonnell was not feeling so great himself when he got up from the board after today’s encounter with Bird, taken from a strong London tournament held in 1874.

It’s a wild one from the start in this Kieseritzky King’s Gambit line, which White appears to misplay after 8. Nd3 f3 9. g3?! (gxf3 Be7 [gxf3?! 10. Qxf3 Bg4 11. Qf2 Be6 12. d5 Bd7 13. Bg5 Be7 14. Qd4 gives White the attacking game he covets] 10. Be3 Bxh4+ 11. Kd2 Nc6 12. Nc3 looks equal) f5! 10. Nc3 fxe4 11. Nxe4 Nf5, and Black’s defensivechores are greatly lightened with the kingside locked up.

After 12. Kf2 Be7!? (worth a look was 12…d5!? 13. Bxd5 Bg7! [Qxd5?? 14. Nf6+] 14. Nf4 Bxd4+ 15. Kf1 Nc6, with a pleasant position for Black) 13. Nf4 Rh7!? 14. Ng6? (missing his best chance to keep the attack alive with 14. Qe1!, and now the threat of 15. Nf6+ is very hard to meet) d5! (disrupting the White attack just in time) 15. Nxe7 dxe4 16. Nd5 Be6 17. Bg5, Bird pulls off a speculative queen sacrifice strongly reminiscent of young Bobby Fischer’s masterpiece against Donald Byrne eight decades later.

Thus: 17…Bxd5!? (there’s still a game to be won, but Bird’s ingenious idea is far more adventuresome than 17…Qd6 18. Nf6+ Kf7 19. Nxe4! Qxd4+ 20. Qxd4 Nxd4 21. Bd3 Nbc6 22. Nd6+ Kg7 23. Bxh7 Kxh7 24. c3 cxd6 25. cxd4 Nb4, with roughly equal chances) 18. Bxd8 e3+ 19. Kg1 Bxc4 20. Bg5 f2+ 21. Kh2 e2 22. Qd2; Black has just two minor pieces and a pawn for the lost queen, but the fun has just begun.

Bird played 22…f1=N+! 23. Rhxf1 exf1=N+! (the consecutive knight underpromotions may be unique in the annals of top-flight chess) 24. Rxf1 Bxf1 25. Qe1+ Ne7 26. Qxf1 Nbc6, and Black now boasts two rooks and two knights against White’s lone queen and bishop.

In a difficult position, MacDonnell misses his best chances to hold on 25. Qe1+ Ne7 26. Qxf1? (very testing would have been 26. Qe4! Rf7 27. Bxe7 Rxe7 28. Qxb7, when Black’s best may be to take the perpetual with 28…Re2+ 29. Kg1 Re1 30. Qxa8 Bc4+ 31. Kf2 Re2+ 29. Kg1) Nbc6 27. d5?! (Bxe7 Kxe7 28. Qf4 was the last hope for meaningful counterplay) Rf7 28. Qc4 Ne5 29. Qxc7 Nf3+ 30. Kg2 Rc8, and the other rook joins the attack with devastating impact.

Black misses a mate in two along the way (32…Nh2+ 33. Kg1 Rf1 mate), but never loses his overwhelming edge. In the final position, White must surrender his queen to stop mate and MacDonnell resigned.

Genuine ill health has cost us more than a few promising talents, none more talented than the great but ill-starred Hungarian Romantic-era master Rudolf Charousek, who fashioned a string of masterpieces before tuberculosis claimed him in 1900 at the age of 26.

We pick up one classic Charousek attack from today’s diagram, an 1891 game where Black is trying to hold off a raging White attack. With his last move — 11…g6 — Black has put three White pieces en prise, but Charousek proves willing to throw even more fuel on the fire: 12. Nxg6! fxg5 13. Nxf8+! (better than taking the rook) Kxf8 14. Bxf4+!, and another White piece is sacrifice to open another attacking line.

The finale: 14…gxf4 (Qg6 15. Bxg5+ Kg7 16. Bh6+! Qxh6 17. Qf7 mate) 15. Rxf4+ Ke7 16. Re1+ (there’s no defense as the White major pieces circle in for the kill) Kd8 17. Qe5 Nc6 18. Qxh8+ Kd7 19. Qe8+, and Black resigned as after 19…Kd6 20. Rf6+ Be6, White could capture on d6 with either rook or the queen and still deliver mate.

MacDonnell-Bird, London, 1874

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. h4 g4 5. Ne5 h5 6. Bc4 Nh67. d4 d6 8. Nd3 f3 9. g3 f5 10. Nc3 fxe4 11. Nxe4 Nf5 12. Kf2 Be7 13. Nf4 Rh7 14. Ng6 d5 15. Nxe7 dxe4 16. Nd5 Be6 17. Bg5 Bxd5 18. Bxd8 e3+ 19. Kg1 Bxc4 20. Bg5 f2+ 21. Kh2 e2 22. Qd2 f1=N+ 23. Rhxf1 exf1=N+ 24. Rxf1 Bxf1 25. Qe1+ Ne7 26. Qxf1 Nbc6 27. d5 Rf7 28. Qc4 Ne5 29. Qxc7 Nf3+ 30. Kg2 Rc8 31. Qa5 Rxc2+ 32. Kf1 Nxg5+ 33. Ke1 Nf3+ 34. Kd1 Rd2+ 35. Kc1 Nxd5 36. a3 Rc7+ 37.Kb1 Nc3+ 38.bxc3 Re7 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide