‘With Chances for Both Sides . . .’

James Plaskett

James PlaskettComplex games may demand intense scrutiny. Thirty-seven years after this one was played in the penultimate round of the world’s most prestigious Open, I offer my final verdict. Early in 2023, Shirov contacted me to say that analysis with Stockfish 15 had revealed to him some quite unexpected lines in our game from Reykyavik 1992 after the superior 17…Be6.

It was Stockfish 14 that I used to open my eyes.

    Plaskett – Miles

    Lugano 1986

    1 c4 e5 2 e3 d6 3 Nc3 g6 4 g3 Bg7 5 Bg2 Ne7 6 d4 0-0 7 Nge2 Nd7 8 0-0 f5 9 dxe5 dxe5 10 b3 c6 11 Ba3 Qe8 12 f4 e4 13 Qd6 Rf7 14 Rad1 Nf8 15 Rd2 Ne6 16 Bh3

plas-qThreatening 17 Nxe4.


17 Nxe4? now loses to 17…g4. If instead of 16…g5! he had played 16…Bf8? that would not have stopped the threat, viz 17 Nxe4 Nd5 18 cxd5 Bxd6 19 Nxd6 and White wins.

    17 fxg5!?

The fun begins. With 17 Rdd1 White would have kept it level. And safe. And dull.



17…Bf8 allows 18 Nxe4! Ng6 (18…fxe4 19 Bxe6) and now White only has 19 Bxf5!. But that takes us back into the game.

    18 Bxf5! Bf8

A critical point.

White has 19 Bxg6!? resulting in a mess after, say, 19…Rxf1+ 20 Kxf1 Qxg6 21 Qe5 Bxa3 22 Nxe4. The line 22…Be7 23 h4 Qg7 24 Nf6+ Kh8 25 Nf4 Nxf4 26 Rd8+! Bf8 27 Rxf8+! Qxf8 28 Nd7+ Qg7 29 Qe8+ Qg8 30 Qe5+ is perhaps representative.

On 19 Bxg6 Black also had 19…hxg6 when 20 Qe5 Bxa3 21 Nxe4 leaves White comfortably placed and with three healthy pawns for his minor piece.

A more challenging line would be 20…Rxf1+ 21 Kxf1 Qf7+ 22 Kg1 Bxa3 23 Nxe4.

Now 23…Be7 24 Nf6+ Bxf6 25 gxf6 Bd7 26 e4 is about equal and 23…Qf5 24 Nf6+ Kf7 25 Qxf5 gxf5 26 h4 Be7 27 Nd7 is too.

Stockfish 14 proposes 23…Qc7 and ascribes to Black maybe the slightest of pluses.

Instead, I preferred to make it a game featuring a speculative queen sacrifice!

    19 Nxe4!? Bxd6 20 Nxd6

plas-2Where to move the lady?

a) 20…Qd7? is worst for after 21 Nd4 he must bail out with 21…Rxf5 but then 22 N4xf5 gives an overwhelming attack.

b) 20…Qf8 allows 21 Nxc8 Qxc8 (21…Qxa3? 22 Bxe6 wins) 22 Nd4 when again he must go 22…Rxf5 and 23 Nxf5 leaves no better way of meeting the check at h6 than 23…Nxg5 when there is a draw by knight checks since after 24 Nh6+ Kh8 is not possible because 25 Bb2+ mates and neither is 26…Kf7 because 27 Nd6+ wins the queen.

c) He chose 20…Qd8. Now 21 Nxf7? Qxd2 would leave White unable to check on the long diagonal and so quite lost and 21 Nxc8? fails to 21…Qxd2 22 Bxe6 Qxe3+.

But I unpinned with 21 Rd3!. Now 21…Rf8 22 Nxc8 Qxc8 23 Nd4! forces the repetition given in b) by 23…Rxf5 as 23…Re8? loses to 24 Nxe6 Rxe6 26 Rd8+!! Qxd8 27 Bxe6+ Kg7 28 Rf7+ Kg8 29 Rc7+ Kh8 30 Bb2+ and mate.

I think Miles missed that his 21…Rxf5 could be met by 22 Nxf5! when he should have taken the rook and a draw: 22…Qxd3! 23 Nh6+ Kh8! 24 Bb2+ Ng7 25 Nf7+, etc.

Instead he played 22…Qxg5?, after which he is lost. 23 h4 Qh5?!

My next move he had missed. In view of its power he had to try 23…Nxh4. Initially I just dismissed that as winning for White after 24 Nxh4. But Stockfish 14 does not give up so easily and assesses 24…Qa5 then as no worse for Black, e.g. 25 b4 Qh5 26 Nf4 Qg5 or 25 Bb2 Ng5.

The computer´s winning reply to 23…Nxh4 is 24 Ne7+! Kg7 25 e4!

Not the sort of continuation one would be likely to sight upon short of time over the board, but defensible via concrete analysis.

plas-rev1Black is up queen for rook and pawn but has no adequate defence.

On 25…Qa5 26 Bb2+ Kh6 27 Ng8+! Kh5 28 gxh4 with raging attack.

On 25…Nc5 26 Bb2+ Kh6 27 Bc1 Nxd3 28 Bxg5+ Kxg5 29 gxh4+ Kxh4 30 Rf8 wins, or 27…Qxc1 28 Rd6+ wins.

On 25…Qg4 26 Bb2+ Kh6 27 Rf6+ Kh5 28 Bc1 and the king is netted. The ending following 28…Ng6 29 Rf5+ Ng5 30 Rxg5+ Qxg5 31 Bxg5 Kxg5 32 Nxg6 is easily won.

Or 27…Ng6 27 Ng8+! Kg7! Best chance; on 27…Kh5 28 Rf5+ wins instantly. 28 Rf4+ Nd4 29 Rxg4 Bxg4 30 Nxd4 Kxg8 and the white initiative continues with, as Kasparov always pointed out, the big plus of getting a knight to f5 in front of a king. 31 Nf5, Decisive. 31…Bxf5 32 exf5 Nf8 33 g4 and wins.

And on 25…Ng6 26 Bb2+ Ne5 (or 26…Kh6 27 Ng8+ Kh5 28 Nf6+ Kh6 29 Bc1 wins.) 27 Nf5+ Kf6 28 Rd6 and Black is so trussed that White will regain his material. Black has nothing more constructive than 28…a5 29 Nf4 a4 30 b4 a3 31 Bc3 Qg4 32 c5 h5 33 Kh1. White can time it as suits him. 33…Qg5 34 Nd3. Now he´s ready. 34… Kf7 35 Nxe5+ Ke8 36 Rd3 with full material equality and winning attack.

24 g4!!

plas-14    24…Qxg4+ 25 Neg3 Qh3 (forced) 26 Nh6+ Kg7


Here 27 Ngf5+ was the most natural and 27…Kf6 28 Bb2+ Ne5 permits White wins by 29 Ng8+, 29 Ng3+.

Or even the snazzy 29 e4!! Qxd3 30 Ng4+ and 31 Nxe5+ and 32 Nxd3.

I blundered again with

    27 Nhf5+?

which allowed an escape with 27…Kf7! Then it ought to end with something like 28 Nh6+ Ke8 29 Ne4 c5! and, with his potent bishop locked out, White has only perpetual.


was the last error and it ended

    28 Nh5+ Ke5 (or 28…Kf7 29 Nh6+ Ke8 30 Nf6 mate) 29 Nfg3 Nef8 30 Bb2+

30 Bd6+ also mated in four.

    30…Ke6 31 Ng7+ Ke7 32 Ba3+ 1-0



Kasparov: a knight on f5 is often worth a pawn
(photo © Mark Rabkin)

Kasparov cited his 1980 game with Marjanovic as an instance of how it can be worth a pawn to establish a knight at f5 in front of the opponent’s king. He also told me the 16th game of his 1985 match with Karpov illustrated how the influence of a knight at d3 (d6) supported by a bishop may compensate for sacrificed material.

But there was also

    ci) 21…Qa5!? I gave 22 b4 Qe5 23 Nxf7 Kxf7 24 Bxe6+ Kxe6 25 b5! c5 26 Nc3 ‘. . . and Black’s chances of survival are slim’, in Starting Out: Attacking Play (Everyman 2004).

Stockfish 14 took a more sanguine view. Black gets slaughtered after 26…b6 27 Bb2!, e.g. 27…Qxg5 28 Ne4, e.g. 28…Qg4 29 Rd6+ Ke7 30 Bf6+ Kf7 31 Ng5+ Kg8 32 Rd8+ Nf8 33 Be7 or reaches a clearly worse ending after 27…Bb7 28 Rf6+ Qxf6 (28…Ke7 29 Nd5+) 29 gxf6 Ne5 30 Rd1 Nxc4 31 Ba1.

But 26…Bd7! is tougher. 27 Rf6+ (27 Nd5 Rf8 28 Rfd1 may also yield sufficient play for White, but I prefer this.) 27…Ke7 28 Nd5+ and

    cia) 28…Ke8 29 Bxc5 wins a fourth pawn with the Black king still under harassment.

29…Bh3 (threatening mate) 30 Rd4 (threatening the queen) 30…Rd8 31 Bd6! Rxd6 32 Rxd6 is one plausible and obscure continuation.

    cib) On 28…Kd8 29 Bxc5 Rc8 30 Bxa7 is a useful grab and also increases White’s attack potential. After 30…Rxc4 31 Rd1 there is the delightful line, 31…Bxb5 32 Nb6+ Kc7?? 33 Bb8+!!, indicating how useful Short’s favourite (Bxa7) may be.

31…Bg4 is better and after 32 Bd4 Qe8 33 Rd6+ Kc8 34 Nb6+ Kb8 35 Nxc4 Bxd1 36 Bb6 we get an ending where White is not worse.

So 21…Qa5 was as good as 21…Rxf5.

    d) 20…Qe7! was the refutation I gave in 2004. Whilst it is certainly the option to challenge White the most, even Stockfish 14 cannot affirm with certainty that Black emerges on top. But, as you will see, the variations and resultant positions are far from usual.

plas-aIf 21 h4 Rxf5 wins: White must take something.

    da) 21 Nxc8

    db) 21 Nxf7


      da) 21 Nxc8

We both rejected 20…Qe7! because of 21 Nxc8 Qxa3 22 Bxe6, transposing to a line given in the notes to b) 20…Qf8.

But Black has 21…Qxg5! and the tables are spectacularly turned, e.g. 22 Bxe6 Qxe3+

    dai) 23 Kg2

    daii) 23 Kh1


    dai) 23 Kg2

In Playing To Win (Batsford 1988) I said 23…Qxe6 24 Rd8+ Kg7 25 Bb2+ Kh6 26 Bc1+ Kh5 wins.

But this is wrong as 26 Rxf7! holds. ‘Playing to win’ would now fail, e.g. 26…Qxf7 27 Bc1+ Kh5? (27…Kg7 28 Bb2+ repeats) loses to 28 Rd4!, when White threatens 29 g4+ Kh4 30 g5+ Kh5 31 Ng3 mate, and 28…Rxc8 29 g4+ Kh4 30 g5+ forces a won ending after 30…Nf4+ 31 Rxf4+. So better to take the knight with 26…Qxe2+ 27 Rf2.

Black would now be best advised to keep checking, since going after the horse at c8 with 27…Qe6 28 Bc1+ Kh5? permits 29 h3! when 29…Rxc8 30 Rxc8 Qxc8 31 g4+! Kh4 32 Rf7! forces a lost ending, e.g. 32…h5 (32…Qg8 33 Rf5) 33 Rh7 Qh8 34 Rxh8 Nxh8 35 gxh5 and wins.
Or he would end up similarly trussed after 29…Nh4+ 30 gxh4 Rxc8 31 Rxc8 Qxc8 32 Rf6, e.g. 32…Qg8+ 33 Bg5 Qg7 34 Kf3, and white will be able to force a won pawn ending by Rh6+.
Yet there is no win by first checking the king to g1, viz 27…Qe4+ 28 Kg1 Qe6 because of 29 Bc1+ Kh5 30 Rd6!, e.g 30…Qxc8? 31 h3!. This was ineffective at move 30 because of 30…Qe1+ but now works well.

Black cannot wait whilst White moves his king up and mates him so 31…Qxh3 is best, and then 32 Rh2 Qxh2+ 33 Kxh2… creates mating ideas of Kh3 and g4 and White will retain a tiny plus after 33…Kg4 34 Kg2.

Or 30…Qe4 31 Rdf6 Rxc8 White draws by 32 R/6-f5+ Kg4 33 Rg5+ Kh3 34 Rh5+ etc.

Another draw results from 30…Qe1+ 31 Rf1 Qe5 32 Rf7! when Black ought to check on e1. 32…Rxc8? 33 Rxh7+ Kg4 34 Rxg6+ would leave Black behind on material and 32…Kg4? meets the spectacular 33 h3+!!

plas-12Disruptive knight sacs also do not work either, viz 27…Nf4+ 28 gxf4 Qg4+ 29 Kf1 Rxc8 and White is not worse following 30 Rd3 nor 30 Rxc8 Qxc8 31 f5.

Or 27…Nh4+? 28 gxh4 Qg4+ 29 Kh1 Rxc8 is losing to 30 Rf6+ Kh5 31 Rd4! Qe2 32 Rf5+ Kg6 33 Rg5+ Kf7 (33…Kh6 34 Rd6+) 34 Rf4+ Ke6 35 Re5+ Qxe5 36 Bxe5 Kxe5 37 Rf7.


It may be that Black could win from here by capturing the rook with 23…Qxd2 24 Bxf7+ Kg7.
But a far simpler solution exists.
Stockfish 14 advocates not to capture the bishop on e6 immediately but only after the crucial interpolation of 23…Qe4+! (effective also, of course, had white preferred 23 Kh1) 24 Kg1 Qxe6
For the king was an aggressor at g2 (seriously!) but not at g1, and the difference is that Black´s own king may now scurry down the h line to sanctuary (or even to become an aggressor himself!) e.g. 25 Rd8+ Kg7 26 Bb2+ Kh6 27 Bc1+ Kh5 28 g4+ Kh4! and White will lose after, e.g. 29 Rxf7 Qxf7 30 Kg2 Qe6 31 Ng3 Qxg4 32 Rd4 Qxd4 33 Nf5+ Kg4 34 Nxd4 Nh4+! and 35…Rxc8.
Alternatively there is 25 Rd8+ Kg7 26 Rxf7+ Qxf7. But here too White, in the face of Black´s finesses, cannot quite get it together.  After 27 Nd4 Qf6! 28 Bb2 Kh6! 29 Nd6 Rxd8 30 N/4-f5+ Qxf5 31 Nxf5+ Kh5 Black triumphs.
So, we must take his rook instead.

    db) 21 Nxf7 Qxa3

(21…Qxf7? 22 Bxe6 Qxe6 23 Rd8+ Kg7 24 Bb2+ Ne5 25 Nd4 is devastating, e.g. 25…Qe7 26 Rxc8).

Three pawns and a rook for the queen is near equality. But those are coarse guidelines for so delicate a setting. Black’s king is exposed, his queen out of it and his queenside undeveloped. Meanwhile White’s rooks and knights lurk as immanent attackers, the pawn at g5 may have an attacking role as well as serving as an anchor, and sometimes even the h pawn gets in on the act. For Black, a queen is a queen and one of its especial fortes is circling to exploit discoordination and weaknesses.

plas-3In 1988 I thought this unclear. Then in 2004 I said that after 22 Bxg6 hxg6 23 Nh6+ Kh8 White was lost.

The position is unique and, although it merits the signs for ‘development advantage’, ‘initiative’, ‘attack’ and ‘compensation for the material’, the playing fields are strewn with mines and ultimately concrete analysis is what counts.

White’s rook and three pawns are materially not quite sufficient in themselves. And, since f7 hangs, the first impulse is to take on g6.

But, as Stockfish 14 now is to argue, it’s not best.

    db1) 22 Bxg6 hxg6

plas-5    23 Nh6+

Essentially Black can try to get his act together in three ways: slotting the knight to g7, breaking out with …b5, or pulling the queen back.

    db1a) 23…Kh8

This does not demonstrate clear advantage.
24 Rf7 is met by 24…Qa5! and g5 falls. 25 Nf4 Qxg5 wins even after White wriggles with 26 Rf8+ Kh7! 27 Rh8+ Kxh8 28 Nf7+ Kh7 29 Nxg5+ Nxg5 etc.
So White should bolster with 24 h4.
The slot of 24…Ng7? loses as it allows both rooks in, viz 25 Rd8+ Kh7 26 Rff8.
I had thought the breakout with 24…b5 to be good for Black, but Stockfish 14  then cites the “interference” move of 25 Rd6! to be adequate. e.g.  25…Qc5 26 Nd4! bxc4 27 b4! (a useful nudge!) 27…Qxb4 28 Nxe6 Bxe6 29 Rxe6 and White may hold after 29…Rf8 30 Ref6! Re8 31 Rxg6 c3 32 Rxc6. Or, on 29…c3, the advocacy is to keep going to work on his king with 30 h5! , e.g. 30…gxh5 31 Nf5 (Garry vindicated yet again!) or 30…c2 meeting with White´s units achieving a cute coordination by 31 Nf7+ Kh7 32 hg6+ Kg7 33 Nd6 Qc5 34 Ne8+
Or if 25…bxc4 26 Nd4! cxb3! 27 axb3 Qc5 and now White´s nudge with 28 b4? runs into a disobliging 28…Qc3. But instead he may drop his other rook in with 28 Rf6!, e.g. 28…Rb8? 29 Nxe6 Qxe3+ 30 Kh2 Qe2+ 31 Kh3 Bxe6+ 32 Rdxe6 Qd1 33 Ng4 Rd8 34 Rf2 with clear superiority.
Should Black try to win by queen checks and grabbing pawns he will find White has some quite staggering resources to prevent him from managing that.
After 28…Qc1+ 29 Kh2 Qd2+ 30 Kh1 c5 comes 31 Rdxe6! (not 31 Nxe6?? Bb7+) 31…Bxe6 32 Nxe6
Black has four plausible continuations. None of them wins.
a) 32…Rb8 33 Nf4! c4 34 Nxg6+ Kh7 35 Ne7 (threatening mate) 35…Qc1+ 36 Kh2 Qb2+ 37 Kh3 (still threatening mate, so) 37…Qxf6 38 gxf6 (now threatening a perpetual by Nf7-g5+) 38…Kxh6.
The advance of the black pawn may now not be halted. But White´s splurge of advanced pawns and supportive king will enable him to survive (or better!) with 39 bxc4 a5 40 g4 a4 41 g5+ Kh5 (41…Kh7? even loses to 42 h5! a3 43 g6+ Kh6 44 Kg4 or 44…Kh8 45 h6) 42 Nd5! (threatening mate) 42…Kg6 43 Kg4 a3 44 Nc3 Rb3? 45 h5+ Kf7 46 Kf5! Or 44…Rc8 45 h5+ Kf7 46 c5! and White even wins on 46…Rxc5? 47 g6+! Ke6 48 f7 when the pawns triumph after 48…Ke7 49 h6  or 48…Rc8 49 e4
But he draws on  46…Rc6! 47 h6 Kg6 48 Nd5! a2 49 Nf4+ Kf7 (or 49…Kh7 50 f7 Rc8 51 Kh5 a1(Q) 52 g6+ etc) 50 h7 Rc8 51 Kf5! Rc5+ 52 Kg4 Rc8 53 Kf5 etc.
b) 32…a5 33 Nf4! c4 34 bxc4 a4 35 Rf7! Qc1+ 36 Kg2 Qc2+ 37 Kf3 a3 38 h5!… Just in time. Now on 35…gxh5 36 g6 or on 35…Rg8 either 36 hxg6 or 36 Nxg8 suffices.
c) 32…c4 33 h5!
Another irritant!
If Black now moves his c pawn White delivers perpetual by checking at f7 and then h6. Black cannot dodge that by 34…Kh7? because of 35 hxg6+ Kg8 36 Nh6+ Kh8 37 g7+ Kh7 38 Nf8+! Kxg7 39 Rf7+ Kh8 40 Ng6 mate.
So 33…Qd1+ 34 Kg2 Qe2+ (34…Qc2+ 35 Kh3 cxb3? succeeds in covering h7 but actually loses to 36 hxg6) 35 Rf2 and after 35…Qxh5 36 g4 Qh4 White may exploit the black queen´s being jammed out of the game with just 37 bxc4, i.e. 37…Re8 38 Rf7 Qe1 39 Nf8 Qe2+ 40 Kh1 Qe1+ 41 Kg2 etc.
d) 32…Qxe3 meets with the cool 33 Kh2! Qxb3 34 Nf7+ Kg8 35 Nh6+ Kh7 36 Rf7+ Kh8 37 Re7 which will permit a draw by checking at f7, and h6. On 34…Kh7 there is 35 h5!  Qc2+ 36 Kh3 gxh5 37 g6+! Qxg6 38 Nfg5+ Kh6 39 Nf7+, etc. 36…a5?! leaves White actually better after 37 Ne5.
Bringing the queen back before the breakout with 24…Qc5 25 Rd3 b5 also wouldn´t win.


After 26 Rf7! bxc4? 27 Nf4! and the boys pour in, e.g. 27…Ng7 28 Rd8+ Kh7 29 Ng8! Qxe3+ 30 Kg2 Qe4+ 31 Kh2 Qc2+ 32 Ng2, etc.
26…Nf8 is superior when the simplest way for white to show equality would be 27 Rd8 Qxe3+ 28 Kh1 Qe4+ 29 Kg1.
Returning the lady with 24…Qe7 makes more sense. That may be met by 25 Rf7 Qe8.
Black is now going to be able achieve a satisfactory …b5. But after a tidying up move such as, say, 26 Kh2 I don´t think White will be emerging too badly off after 26…b5 27 cxb5 cxb5 28 Nc3 (eyeing f6) 28…Ng7 29 Nd5 Be6 30 Nf6! Rd8 31 Rc2. Following 31…Bxf7 32 Nxe8 Bxe8 33 Kg2 with three pawns for a piece, he´s still hanging in there.
Alternatively, should he try to retain his queen by 31…Rc8 then with 32 Rfc7 White can quite paralyse him, i.e. 32…Rxc7 33 Rxc7 Qd8 34 Nf7+ Bxf7 35 Rxf7, etc, and neither would 33…Qf8 solve the problem as White just eats the a7 pawn.
But Stockfish 14 now favours what I had previously rejected: 23…Kh7! 


The knight will now go to g7 White has a long, forcing sequence which I had thought led to a possibly tenable ending. But Stockfish 14 disagrees.

After 24 Rf7+ Ng7.

If now 25 h4 Black repels with 25…Be6! when 26 Rxb7 Re8 creates the big threat of 27…Qa6 28 Rc7 Qa5 or 28…Qb6.

So 25 Rd8 when 25…Qa5! is the only move but a good one: the motile lady hits d8, g5 and e1. Instead, hitting e3 and g5 with 27…Qc5 may be met by 28 Nf4! Qxe3+ 29 Kg2 and White’s activity denies Black any hope of winning.

26 Rg8 Otherwise g5 is taken, or 26 Rff8 Qe1+ 27 Kg2 Bh3+ and wins.

26… Qe1+ 27 Rf1 Qxf1+! (27…Qxe2 28 Rxg7+! draws immediately.) 28 Kxf1 Bh3+ 29 Kf2 Rxg8 30 Nxg8 Kxg8

plas-8White just cannot get it together. He may try

    db1bi) 31 Nf4

    db1bii) 31 Kf3

    db1bi) 31 e4

    db1bi) 31 Nf4 Bf5 32 Kf3 Bb1 33 a3 Kf7 34 b4 Ne8! The knight sets off to attack. White cannot save this, not even by advancing his pawn clump, e.g. 35 c5 Nc7 36 g4 Nb5 37 h4 Nxa3 38 h5 Nc4, etc.

Or 32 c5 Bb1 33 a3 Ne8 34 g4 Nc7 35 h4 Nb5 36 h5 Nxa3 37 Kf3 Nb5 similarly.

    db1bii) 31 Kf3 White has up his sleeve the tricky device of g3-g4 confining the bishop. Black must play accurately. 31…Ne6 Essential: on anything else White
straightens out his kingside pawns. 32 g4 Nxg5+ 33 Kg3 Bf1 34 Nf4 Ne4+ 35 Kf3 Nd2+! 36 Kf2 g5!  37 Ne6 Bd3 38 Nxg5 c5! and White is struggling.
The other try to confine the bishop behind enemy lines is 34 Nc1. Now black may deploy the extraordinary device of 34…Nh3!

If White twiddles his thumbs the black king advances rapidly. But on 35 b4 the prison door is opened and Black just nips back with his knight to stand winning after 35…Ng5.

An entirely different notion is simply to head towards the black pawns by 32 Ke4 Nxg5+ 33 Ke5. Here Stockfish 14 regards Black as clearly on top with either 33…Kf7 34 Kd6 Ne4+ 35 Kc7 b5 or 33…Nf3+ 34 Kd6 Nxh2 35 Kc7 Bf1 36 Nd4… (36 Nf4? Kf7 and …g5 wins the knight.) 36…c5 37 Ne6 Bg2 38 Nxc5 Nf1

    db1biii) 31 e4 (This seemed to me the best chance.) 31…Ne6! (The only move. Against 31…Kf7 White plays 32 Nf4 and 33 h4 with a viable game.) 32 Nf4 Nxg5 (Once again the only way) 33 Nxg6 Kf7 34 Nf4 Nxe4+ 35 Ke3 Ng5

White has succeeded in liquidating the black kingside and now with two connected outside passed pawns for a piece and the black rook pawn the ‘wrong’ one for the bishop he still retains some hope following 36 c5.

Stockfish 14 thinks not after 36…Bf5.

So 23…Kh7! would win.

I looked at 21 Nxf7 Qxa3 as a response to 20…Qf8 and thought only of 22 Bxg6 hxg6 23 Nh6+.

plas-3The last option is

    db2) 22 Nh6+ Kg7 (22…Kh8 23 Bxg6 hxg6 24 Rf7 takes us into territory already reconnoitred. As would 23…Qc5 24 Rd3.)

g5 is now en prise and 23 Bxg6? fails to 23…Nxg5!.

(Well, I guess that’s how we refute: the machine prefers 23…Qc5 !!?)

So 23 h4 and some complex lines follow, vizplas-j    db2a) 23…Qc5

    db2b) 23…Qa5

    db2c) 23…Qe7

    db2d) 23…Ne5


    db2a) 23… Qc5 24 Nd4 Qe5 25 Kh2 and we gravitate towards a kind of compensation that white will often obtain in positions stemming from 22 Nh6+ Kg7 23 h4, where his coordinating pieces and advanced pawns near the black king grant him a dynamic equality, e.g. 25… Nxd4 26 exd4 Qe8 27 Rdf2.

Also after 23…Qc5 24 Nd4 Kh8 would be rational, when white may repeat by checking at f7 and h6 as 25 Nf7+ Kg7? loses to 26 Bxe6.

   db2b) 23…Qa5 again there is the ‘disobliging interference move’ of 24 Rd6! Now if 24…Nef8 25 Bxg6. On 24…Ngf8 25 Bh3 with an excellent game. And on 24…Qe5 White has 25 Bxg6! Qxe3+ 26 Kh1 hxg6 (26…Qxe2? 27 Bd3) 27 Rf7+ Kh8 28 Nf4 and again  black must avail himself of perpetual..

    db2c) 23…Qe7 24 Kh2… To avoid tricks at e3.

Fritz 9 showed the value of this in the fabulous line stemming from the tactical try of 24…Nxg5 25 Bxc8 Kxh6 26 Rd7!! Qxe3 27 Nd4! (Don´t forget Gary´s tip re a knight at f5 in front of his king!) 27… Nxh4 28 Rd6+ Kg7 29 Rd7+ with a draw.
But Stockfish 14 just plays 26 Nd4! analysing 26…Nxh4 27 gxh4 Qe5+ 28 Rf4 Rxc8 29 hxg5+ Kg7 30 Nf5+ and White is no worse.
There are no other squares for the e6 knight as 25 Bxc8 in response threatens 26 Nf5+, and alternatives are scarce. Black may harry the rook with 24…Qb4 25 Rdd1 Qa3 but here at least 26 Bxg6 will do, e.g. 26…hxg6 27 Rf7+ Kh8 28 Nf4 Qxa2+ 29 Kh1 Qc2 30 Rd3, or 26…Kxg6 27 g4!? Qb2 28 Rf6+ Kg7 29 Nf5+ and draws. 28…Qxf6? 29 gxf6 Kxh6 30 e4 could only favour White.
On 24…Qb4 25 Rdd1 and 25…Ne5 permits either 26 Nd4 or 26 Nf4 white steers things back towards lines similar to those of db2a)
With Fritz 9 I had thought White could not equalise if Black played 23…Ne5!.

He would like to swing his knight into the game, but 24 Nf4 allows 24…Nxf4 and 25…Nf3+! 26 Rxf3 Qc1+. So I had had it in mind to cover f3 with 24 Be4, but after 24…Qa5 25 Rfd1 with even so plebeian a move as 25…Rb8 Black may challenge White to show something before the other guy organises.

plas-lAgain 26 Nf4 runs into an inconvenient counter; 26…Nxf4 27 gxf4 Qc3!, e.g. 28 Kf2 Ng4+ 29 Nxg4 Bxg4 30 Bf3 Bxf3 and wins.

So 26 Kh1 to prepare, but then 26…Nf8 and Black is ready to complete development. Neither 27 Nd4 Ng4 28 Ndf5+ Bxf5 29 Nxf5+ Kh8 nor 27 Rd8 Qc7 28 Nf4 Bg4 will suffice for White, e.g. here 29 Rxf8 Rxf8 30 Nxg4 Rxf4! 31 exf4 Nxg4 and wins.

There is also the full retreat by 24 Bb1 when Black continues 24…Qa5 25 Rdd1 Nf8.

plas-mIf White cannot do something quickly Black will bring out his pieces and stand better or simply winning. Yet even his greatest irritations here still won’t do; 26 Nf4 Bd7 27 Nd3 Nxd3 28 Rxd3 Be6! and he cannot cause enough problems, viz 29 Rd4 Rd8 30 Re4 Kh8! 31 Ref4 Ng6 32 Nf7+ Bxf7 33 Rxf7 Qe5, and Black gets it all together.

By the way, in this line the interpolation 28 Rf7+ Kh8 29 Rxd3 would lose to 29…Qe1+, or 29 Bxd3 Qxa2!.

None of 27 Nh5+ Kh8 28 Nf6 Be6, nor 28 Nf7+ Nxf7 29 Rxf7 Bg4, nor 28 Kh1 Qc3 will suffice to generate enough play for the queen.

And other attempts also don’t quite work, viz 26 Nd4 Nfg6 27 Rf6 Qc3! 28 Kh1 Bg4, or 26 Rf4 Bd7.

BUT Stockfish 14 disagrees with all of that and thinks 23…Ne5 ought to he met by a simple 24 Kg2, retaining the now familiar ideas of Nd4 or Nf4.
So, on 24…Qe7 25 Nf4 Nxf4+? 26 exf4 is fabulous for White. Better would be 25…Qe8 when White is okay with the healthy developing move 26 Rfd1.
On 24…Qa5 there´s also 25 Rfd1.
To retreat with 25…Qc7? is met by a now decisive 26 Nf4 and Black is finished as 26…Qe7 loses to 27 Bxe6! Bxe6 28 Rd6! Bd7 29 Rxd7 with a winning endgame.
25…Nf7 would be superior when, after 26 Rd7!, Black has nothing better than to take that but after 26…Bxd7 27 Rxd7 Nd8 28 Nd4 he cannot realise his great material advantage, for if e.g. 28…Kf8 then 29 Ne6+ Nxe6? 30 Rxf7+ Ke8 31 Bxe6 and White is doing very well.
Dropping the other knight back with 25…Nf8 also permits cute tactics, viz, 26 Rd8 Nf7 27 Nf4! Nxd8 28 Rxd8! and Black can´t stop a draw by knight checks.
Stockfish 14´s  own recommendation is that 23 h4 be met not with 23…Ne5 but the nuance of 23…Qb4!?.
Doubling with 24 Rfd1 might be viable in the complexities stemming from 24…Qc5 25 Nd4 Nxd4 26 exd4 Qd6 27 Kg2, with Rf2 to follow. But I am going to advocate 24 Rdd1.
On 24…Qb6 25 Nd4 Nxd4 26 exd4 should be adequate. As with 24…Qc5 25 Nd4, when we see only the slightest difference from db2a) 
On 24…Qe7 25 Kh2 gives us db2c) but with the rook back on d1. Straightening out White´s pawns by 25…Nxd4 26 exd4 gives us a familiar setting with no reason to regard White as worse off.
And if now 25…Kh8 the tip is 26 Nd3 Nf7 27 Nxf7+ Qxf7 28 Ne5

In Conclusion

Black should have played 20…Qe7! when the envisaged 21 Nxc8? loses to 21…Qxg5! 22 Bxe6 Qxe3+. If either 22 Kg2 or 23 Kh1 Black wins by 23…Qe4+! and only then capturing on e6.

On the superior 21 Nxf7! Black must play 21…Qxa3 when after 22 Nh6+ Kg7 23 h4 the sacrifice is now looking as though it could well be valid.
Through the eyes of Stockfish 14.

*   *   *

The nature of our game is such that situations sometimes arise in which the possibilities border on the threshold of the calculable. Top players navigate through by calculation mixed with judgement, experience and intuition. And, as Tibor Karolyi once accurately observed in Kingpin, ‘They are also lucky.’

The first detailed computer analysis I saw was in Speelman’s Best Games. I was struck by the inhuman and unpatterned variations in, for example, his 1975 game with Miles. And it was Speelman who commented in The Independent on complications in a game I played with Fressinet that it was ‘… a position for machines, not humans’. He also emailed me after our game from Gibraltar 1993 to say that after 1 e4 d5 2 Nc3 dxe4 3 Nxe4 Nc6 4 Bb5?! Qd5 5 Qe2 Bf5 6 Ng3 Qxg2? 7 Qe5 e6 8 Qxc7 Bc5

plas-pinstead of my dreadful 9 Qf4? I could have established a clear plus by 9 Nxf5!. A computer had instructed him thus. At move nine.

Even with an IQ of 180, Dr Nunn observed how analysis with computers had revealed to him just how limited we are to patterned thinking. When commenting on the 19…Bh6!! of his win over Kuligowski from Wijk aan Zee, 1983 he noted that in complex positions one must look at every possible move, and Dvoretsky also observed that in very sharp positions one move may change everything.

When I gave Miles the queen he was ranked ninth in the world and had 54 minutes left on the clock to reach move 40 to my 16. Even he quite overlooked 21 Rd3!, 22 Nxf5! and 24 g4!!.

And each was an only move.

© Mark Huba

Mikhail Tal
(photo © Mark Huba)

‘You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.’

Mikhail Tal

But for these calculating engines everything is clear in even the most verdant setting. The outstanding characteristic of the computer move still remains the surprise and accurate tactic. When commenting on some (mutual) massive miscalculations in a complex game with Hans Ree, Speelman observed that such errors were easily made ‘in the heat of battle’.

Perhaps the definitive moment in the eclipsing of man by machine was the first match game when Deep Blue grabbed a distant Kasparov pawn, having simply calculated that it could withstand his attack.

Take for instance Larsen´s 32nd move in the first game of his 1971 Candidates match with Fischer.

Fischer – Larsen

Denver, 1971

A pivotal point of both game and match.

    32…Qxc3 was given ? by both Timman and later ?? by Speelman before Kasparov gave it ? in his book on his predecessors.

They all criticised Larsen for his optimism and said that by ceding Fischer a passed a pawn he gave him the game. Play continued

    33 Rg1+ Kf6 34 Bxa7 g5 35 Bb6 Qxc2 36 a5 Qb2 37 Bd8+ Ke6 38 a6 Qa3 39 Bb7 Qc5 40 Rb1 c3 41 Bb6

But computer analysis by Charles Sullivan posted by Muller at www.chesscafé.com suggests 32…Qxc3 actually deserves an exclamation mark and that after 33 Rg1+ Kf6 34 Bxa7 g5?? was the fatal error and Black could have demonstrated equality via 34…g6, 34…Ke6 or 34…Ke5.

All three GM commentators cited instead 32…a5 33 Bd4 Kh6 34 Rf1 as probably equal and certainly a better chance.

But the computers now view that as definitely superior for White.

34…g5 looks by far the most natural move on the board, and Timman and Speelman have each been ranked in the world top five whilst Kasparov was Kasparov.

But their conclusions, rational enough, were reached without using computers.


In the cold light of a Stockfish 14 day I conclude that my queen sacrifice with 19 Nxe4!? was sufficient.

21 Rd3! was the only way to validate it. And of all the moves I made in my life it remains the one of which I am the most proud.

My wife observed a certain symbolism in it all.

Chess is so difficult a game. And it is now played properly not by men but by machines.

I would (still!) welcome critical comments from Kingpin readers.

(Updated September 2023)

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