When Alexi Shirov and Richard Rapport, two of the world’s most interesting and entertaining players, faced each other at the Chess Olympiad, it was inevitable that sparks would fly.

One of the great things about the Chess Olympiad is that there are so many intriguing matchups. Round 5 of the recent Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, produced one of the best of them as two of the most uncompromising players from two generations — Alexei Shirov of Latvia, 44 and Richard Rapport of Hungary, 20 — squared off. 

Shirov, A. vs. Rapport, R.
42nd Olympiad 2016 | Baku AZE | Round 5.11 | 06 Sep 2016 | ECO: C75 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nge7 5. c3 d6 6. d4 Bd7 So far the game has followed a fairly routine path and looks like a standard Steinitz Variation of the Ruy Lopez. But watch what happens...
7. h4!? Somewhat outlandish but it has a clear point. Black's bishop on f8 is shut in and can only come to life by g6 and Bg7 or Ng6 and Be7. White's move is excellent prophylaxis against both ideas.
7... h6
7... Ng6 8. h5  )
7... g6 8. h5  )
8. h5 It looks like Black will have a very hard time developing his dark-squared bishop, but Rapport finds a clever solution:
8... Ng8! Instead, h6 would be more a more common move for Black in this type of opening. Essentially Black is losing two moves by playing Ng8-f6. But, White is spending those two tempi on h4-h5. This is probably in Black's favor
9. d5 Nce7 10. c4 b5 11. Bc2 f5?!
11... c6 Looks like a more natural way to attack the center.  )
12. Nh4 f4 13. g3!?
13. Nd2 I would be content with a simpler plan, but Shirov had other ideas.  )
13... fxg3 14. f4 The position is already completely crazy! Nonetheless, I think both sides have played reasonably well. Black is under some pressure as White's pieces are poised to attack.
14... Nf6 15. fxe5! Bg4 16. Qd3 Nxh5
16... dxe5 17. Qxg3 Bxh5 18. Nc3 Would not be much of an improvement. White still looks better.  )
17. e6 Ng6?? A terrible blunder. Mistakes such as these tend to happen more often in irrational positions, even among very strong players
17... c6 White looks better to me, but the game would continue.  )
18. Nxg6 Qf6 19. Qf1! The refutation. Black cannot take the knight on g6.
19... Bf3
19... Qxg6 20. e5! The undefended bishop on c2 does not matter because Black is about to be checkmated.
20... Qxc2 21. Qf7+ Kd8 22. Qd7#  )
20. Rg1 Be7 21. Nxh8 Qd4 22. Rg2 And Black had seen enough. A very original game!


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.