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.
The next game is a tactical battle between two of the Netherlands’ top grandmasters, with Loek van Wely getting the last laugh.
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.
The pin is a powerful tactical weapon, but pins, like records, were meant to be broken.
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.
Time for another blackout.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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