World Chess’s columnist looks at some of the shortest games by some of the best players.

The Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival finished last week with an impressive, come-from-behind victory by Hikaru Nakamura. But his achievement was a bit overshadowed by a peculiar protest by Hou Yifan, the Women’s World Champion: She intentionally lost in the last round to Babu Lalith, an Indian grandmaster, in five moves.

Last year, she said that she would not defend her women’s title (in a dispute over the format) and also that she wanted to focus on playing in non-women’s-only events to develop her ability and her career. At Gibraltar, she was dismayed to be paired seven times against women in the first nine rounds, but only made her protest in the last round when she was paired with Lalith, who is a man. She showed up half an hour late and then played the following absurd game: 1.g4? d5 2.f3? e5 3.d3 Qh4+ 4.Kd2 h5 5.h3 hxg4 and resigned.

(An aside: I’ve seen this described as the shortest loss ever by a grandmaster, but it wasn’t. Oscar Panno, the Argentinian grandmaster, lost in one move to Bobby Fischer in the last round of the 1970 Interzonal: 1.c4 1-0. It was not a forfeit. Panno, who was actually persuaded to show up at the board by Fischer, resigned 52 minutes into the round, like Hou, in protest.)

Much has been said about her decision, but my interest was piqued by the brevity of the game. While her loss was deliberate, have there been other cases of elite-level grandmasters losing nearly as speedily? A search for games by players rated 2600 or higher (Hou’s pre-tournament rating was 2650) who lost in 15 moves or less yielded an avalanche of results. Eliminating forfeits, blitz and rapid games, and incomplete game scores pared the results considerably, but there are still plenty of games where very strong grandmasters had to throw in the towel with startling rapidity. Here are 10 such games, followed by a couple of (dis?)honorable mentions featuring World Champions. Seeing that even the world’s best can blunder like the rest of us can be amusing, affirming, and encouraging – and instructive, too.

The games are in reverse chronological order. The first is a 10-move loss featuring another Chinese grandmaster.

Ma, Qun vs. Raznikov, Danny
Groningen op 52nd | Groningen | Round 6 | 27 Dec 2014 | ECO: A33 | 0-1
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 e6 6. a3 Be7 7. g3 Qb6 8. Nb3?!
8. Nf3 and  )
8. Ndb5 are standard.  )
8... Ne5 9. e4?
9. c5 was best, aiming for counterplay on the dark squares in return for the pawn after
9... Bxc5 10. Nxc5 Qxc5 11. Bf4  )
9... Nfg4 10. c5? Maybe White thought this would be similar to 9.c5, but there's a crucial difference.
10... Qxb3!!
10... Qxb3 It's easy to work out the details, the trick is noticing the move, and even a 2600 managed to overlook it.
11. Qxb3 Nf3+ 12. Kd1 Nxf2+ and whichever way the king goes, 13...Nd4+ and 14...Nxb3 will ensue.  )

The next game is a tactical battle between two of the Netherlands’ top grandmasters, with Loek van Wely getting the last laugh.

Van Wely, Loek vs. L'Ami, Erwin
NED-ch | Amsterdam | Round 6 | 12 Jul 2014 | ECO: C40 | 1-0
1. Nf3 f5 The Dutch is a perfectly respectable opening, but it is the sort of opening that lends itself to accidents.
2. d3 Nc6 3. e4 e5 4. g3
4. Nc3 is usual, while  )
4. d4 transposes exactly to a Vienna, with colors reversed (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5). Oddly, White has a fairly serious minor score here, but when Black reaches this position in the Vienna he scores more than 49%.  )
4... Nf6 5. Bg2 fxe4 6. dxe4 Bc5 7. Nc3 O-O 8. O-O a6?!
8... d6 was better, even though it allows White to swap off Black's strong bishop with
9. Na4  )
9. Nd5! Nxe4?
9... Kh8 10. c3 Be7 isn't especially appealing (note that White can take the bishop now if he so desires), but it was better than what happens in the game.  )
10. Qe2 Nxf2?
10... Bxf2+? is even worse after
11. Kh1!  )
10... Nd6 had to be played, though Black is still in plenty of trouble after
11. Bg5 Nd4 12. Nxd4 Qxg5 13. Nf3 Qd8 14. Qxe5  )
11. Qc4!
11. Be3! Bxe3 12. Qxe3 Ng4 13. Qb3 was also winning, e.g.
13... Kh8 or
...  14. Ng5!  )
11... Ba7
11... d6 12. Bg5 Ng4+ 13. Nd4!! Bxd4+ 14. Kh1! Black is up a knight and two pawns, but White has too many threats.  )
12. Bg5 b5 13. Ne7+! Kh8 14. Ng6+! The last tactical point. White will safe his queen, but Black can't do the same.
14. Ng6+ hxg6 15. Qh4+ Kg8 16. Bxd8  )

The first two games were decided by nice tactical points, but this one was more of a blackout by the player with White. It happens to everyone.

Zhao, Jun vs. Yu, Yangyi
Danzhou 5th | Danzhou | Round 4 | 28 Jun 2014 | ECO: B30 | 0-1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 e6 4. Bxc6 bxc6 5. d3 Ne7 6. h4 d6 7. h5 e5 8. h6 Bg4 9. Na3 f5
9... d5 1/2-1/2 (40) Zhigalko,S (2683)-Shirov,A (2685) Rhodes 2013  )
10. Nc4 f4 11. Rh4 Bc8 12. hxg7 Bxg7 13. Ng5 Ng6 14. Qh5 Qf6 Everything has been perfectly reasonable so far, and after a normal move like 15.Rh1 or 15.b3 White would enjoy a slight advantage. He thought instead that he could successfully sharpen the game with an exchange sac...
15. Nxh7?? Rxh7! ...only to discover that he had blundered a piece.
15... Qxh4?? 16. Qxg6+ Kd8 17. Qxg7 Qxh7 18. Qf6+ Ke8 19. Nxd6+ Kd7 20. Nc4 is hopeless for Black.  )
15... Rxh7! , however, is hopeless for White:
16. Qxh7 Nxh4 leaves White not only a piece down but with a terrible position to boot.  )

The pin is a powerful tactical weapon, but pins, like records, were meant to be broken.

Mastrovasilis, Athanasios vs. Timofeev, Artyom
EU-ch 14th | Legnica | Round 11 | 16 May 2013 | ECO: A34 | 1-0
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nb4 6. Bb5+ Bd7 7. a3 N4c6 8. d4 cxd4 9. Nxd4 g6 10. Be3 Bg7 11. O-O O-O 12. Nb3 White has a slight edge thanks to his more harmonious development. Black is understandably eager to exchange pieces; unfortunately for him, more of his get exchanged than White's.
12... Na5? 13. Nxa5 Qxa5??
13... Bxc3 14. bxc3 Bxb5 15. Qxd8 Rxd8 16. Rfb1 results in an extra pawn for White, but a win is still a long ways off.  )
14. Bxd7 Bxc3 15. bxc3 Black presumably missed that after
15. bxc3 Rd8 White neutralizes the pin and saves his bishop with
16. Qa4  )

Another common tactical theme is the zwischenzug, and even very strong players miss these from time to time. Black seemed to have everything under control after 14…Bxf1, and he was right – except for one detail.

Yu, Yangyi vs. Ganguly, Surya Shekhar
Jakarta Indonesia op 2nd | Jakarta | Round 6 | 15 Oct 2012 | ECO: C45 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4 Ba6 9. Nd2 g6 10. Ne4
10. Nf3 is more common, but 10.Ne4 is no novelty.  )
10... Bg7 11. Bg5 Qb4+
11... Qxe5  )
11... Bxc4 12. Qxc4 Qxe5  )
12. Qd2 Qxd2+? 13. Kxd2 White is better, as the knight's retreat allows White to jump into f6. Black was of course aware of this, and had prepared a counterattack:
13... h6? This works swimmingly after bishop moves; unfortunately for Black, White can first play
14. cxd5! and only after
14... Bxf1 move the bishop:
14... hxg5 15. Bxa6  )
15. Bf6!
15. Raxf1? hxg5  )
15. Bf6! Bxg2 16. Bxg7 Bxh1 17. Rxh1! wins, as the poor Rh8 is lost to Nf6+ if it moves to g8 or h7.  )

Time for another blackout.

Stripunsky, Alexander vs. Onischuk, Alexander
USA-ch | Saint Louis | Round 1 | 08 May 2012 | ECO: B11 | 0-1
1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. g3 Nd7 7. Qe2 d4
7... dxe4 is usual here, but Onischuk's move is probably better.  )
8. Nb1 h5 9. h4 g5 10. hxg5 Qxg5 The position is equal for the moment. White is concerned about ...h4 and decides to gain a tempo attacking Black's queen. Just one problem, though...
11. d3??
11. d3 White realized what he done a moment too late, and decided to call it a day rather than wait for his opponent to play
11... Qxc1+  )

Combinational motifs against h7 (or h2) are routine even for club players, but sometimes the setup is sufficiently unusual that even a grandmaster’s vigilance can be dulled. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in have pointed out in their writings that human beings are often too quick to find patterns that aren’t there, but sometimes – maybe more often than the reverse – chess players are too quick to dismiss the presence of a pattern that was there all along.

Ni, Hua vs. Adly, Ahmed
Universiad Men 26th | Shenzhen | Round 7 | 19 Aug 2011 | ECO: E02 | 1-0
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. Qa4+ Nbd7 6. Qxc4 a6 7. Qc2 c5 8. d4 Be7 9. O-O O-O 10. Rd1 Qb6 11. Nc3 cxd4 12. Rxd4 Arguably worse than the usual move, though White's unlikely to complain about the result.
12. Nxd4 had been played in previous games, and White has an enormous plus score here.  )
12... Qc7
12... Qa7  )
13. Be3 Nd5 14. Ng5 Black would be safe, though worse, after 14...Bxg5 or even the retreat 15...N5f6. Instead, he played the most natural move, safe in the knowledge that White's knight on c3 is pinned.
14... N7f6?? 15. Nxd5! Turns out it wasn't really knoweldge after all.
15. Nxd5! Qxc2 keeps h7 covered, keeps Black's queen alive and gives him an extra queen for the moment. It turns out, however, that he is fatally weak on the back rank.
...  16. Nxe7+ Kh8 17. Nxf7+! Rxf7 18. Rd8+ and White's rook will take whatever pieces are tossed in its path, with mate in at most two more moves.  )

Occasionally, even grandmasters are wont to resign a little early out of disgust with a bad position, and that’s what seems to have happened here. Grandmasters are as a rule mentally tough, but everyone has their bad days.

Sokolov, Ivan vs. Smirin, Ilia
Chigorin Memorial 18th | St Petersburg | Round 6 | 02 Nov 2010 | ECO: D82 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bf4 Bg7 5. Rc1 Nh5 6. Be3 dxc4 7. Qa4+ Nc6 8. Nf3 Be6 9. Ng5 Bd7 10. Qxc4 O-O 11. g3 e5 12. d5 Nd4 13. Bg2 Nf5?!
13... Rc8  )
13... b5  )
14. Bd2 Nd6 15. Qb3 Nothing too bad has happened to Black so far. It doesn't look like anything in particular is happening here, but White has a significant threat, and Black misses it.
15... Rb8?
15... Qe7 is one of a number of perfectly good moves Black had at his disposal.  )
15... Rb8? 16. Ne6! fxe6 17. dxe6 gives White a nice advantage, the point being that the bishop can't run away because of 18.e7+. That said, it's not that bad for Black, so the resignation was premature.
17... Kh8 18. exd7 Qxd7  )

The next game offers a salutary reminder that to safeguard a piece it’s not always enough for the piece itself to be protected; sometimes the piece’s defense can be indirectly destroyed by attacking its defenders.

Sokolov, Ivan vs. Khenkin, Igor
BEL-chT 1011 | Belgium | Round 2.1 | 10 Oct 2010 | ECO: E48 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 d5 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Ne2 Re8 8. Bd2 Bd6 9. Rc1 a6 10. O-O b5
10... Nbd7 is usual, generally followed by some arrangement of the pawns on the queenside - b6 and c5, but sometimes c6 and b5.  )
11. Nf4 Bb7 12. Qf3 Ne4 13. Be1 Qg5 14. a4!?
14. Ncxd5?? Bxd5 15. Nxd5 Qxd5 leaves Black a piece ahead for essentially nothing.  )
14... b4?
14... c5! creates a very complicated position where the burden is on White to maintain equal chances.  )
15. Ncxd5!! This time, it works.
15. Ncxd5!! Bxd5 16. Nxd5 Qxd5 17. Bc4 This is the difference. When Black's pawn was on b5 this square was unavailable. Now it is, and there's no straightforward way to save the queen without allowing a catastrophe on f7. Black's best is
17... Bxh2+ 18. Kxh2 Qd7 , but after
19. Bxb4 White's mighty bishop pair and extra pawn give him an easily winning advantage.  )

And now a lesson from the information age. If your opponent has written a book on a particular opening, it might be a good idea to see what it says, lest you fall into a trap he has already published. (This seems especially wise if one is a chess professional.)

Wells, Peter K vs. Shirov, Alexei
Gibraltar Masters | Gibraltar | Round 6 | 29 Jan 2006 | ECO: A45 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 Wells, known to be a specialist on the Tromp, had written a book on this opening a couple of years earlier.
2... c5 3. Bxf6 gxf6 4. d5 Qb6 5. Qc1 f5 6. c4 Bh6 7. e3 f4 8. exf4 Bxf4 9. Qxf4 Qxb2 10. Ne2 Qxa1 11. Nc3 All covered by Wells (see p. 130), where he notes that 11...d6 should be played - and had been played in some earlier games.
11... Qb2? This had also been played in a couple of earlier games, and been brutally punished...again, as mentioned by Wells.
12. d6! Qc2
12... Nc6 was played in the earlier games, including Hodgson-Van der Wiel, covered by Wells. That game went as follows:
13. Bd3 exd6 14. O-O Ne5 15. Qf6 O-O 16. Nd5 Re8 17. Qg5+ Ng6 18. Nf6+ Kf8 19. Qh6+ Ke7 20. Nd5+ Kd8 21. Bxg6 hxg6 22. Nbc3 1-0 (22) Hodgson,J (2580)-Van der Wiel,J (2555) Amsterdam 1994  )
13. Qe3! After
13. Qe3! Nc6 14. Bd3 Qb2 15. O-O White's initiative is overwhelming, even if Black has some freedom in choosing the means of his demise.  )

On to a pair of honorable mentions. The first involves Viswanathan Anand of India, the ex-World Champion, who managed to lose in just six moves. He was already a grandmaster by this point, but not yet rated at or over 2600.

Zapata, Alonso vs. Anand, Viswanathan
Biel-B | Biel | Round 9 | 1988.??.?? | ECO: C42 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Nc3 Bf5?? The move is logical enough, but there's a big problem.
5... Nxc3 is normal, and  )
5... Nf6 is also playable if rather uninspiring.  )
6. Qe2!
6. Qe2! wins a piece. Defending the knight with ...d5 loses to 7.d3, while
6... Qe7 7. Nd5 forces Black to allow either Nxe7, Nxc7+ followed by Nxa8, or (in case of ...Qd7 or ...Qd8) d2-d3, picking up the pinned knight.  )

Finally, a loss by a sitting World Champion, Tigran Petrosian of the Soviet Union. He wasn’t a 2600 only because FIDE wasn’t using ratings at that point; had there been ratings at the time he would have been in the upper 2600s. In this game Petrosian makes a double blunder: First, there was a tactical error that cost him material, but this was compounded by his premature resignation. Thinking he was losing a piece, he resigned before noticing that he could have emerged only a pawn in arrears.

Liberzon, Vladimir M vs. Petrosian, Tigran V
Moscow Trade Unions-ch | Moscow | Round 4 | 05 Dec 1964 | ECO: C18 | 1-0
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Ne7 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. Qg4 Ng6 8. h4 h5 9. Qg3 Qa5 10. Bd2 Nc6 11. Bd3 Nce7 12. dxc5 Qxc5 13. Nf3 Bd7 14. O-O White stands better here, as his dark-squared bishop is likely to play a more significant role than the weakness of his c-pawns. Additionally, Black will have some worries about his king's safety. Black's next move is very logical, but has a tactical problem.
14... Bb5 Strategically, this is very desirable. Black wants to trade off his bad bishop, both for its own sake and to secure f5 for a knight. Unfortunately for the then-world champion, White has
15. Be3! What Petrosian missed, however, is that after
15. Be3 he can play
15... d4 , when White must choose which minor piece (if either) will get the d4 square. White's extra pawn is meaningful after
16. cxd4 Qd5 17. Bxb5+ Qxb5 18. Rfb1 or
...   )

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Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.