Chess tournaments Chess strategy Computer chess Chess players FIDE Chess variants Chess rules and history
Home :: Chess

Desperado - chess

In chess, a desperado piece is a piece that seems determined to give itself up, typically either (1) to sell itself as dearly as possible in a situation where both sides have hanging pieces or (2) to bring about stalemate if it is captured, or in some instances, to force a draw by threefold repetition if it is not captured (Hooper & Whyld 1992:106-7). Andrew Soltis describes the former type of desperado as "a tactical resource in which you use your doomed piece to eat as much material as possible before it dies" (Soltis 1975:246).

Examples of the first definition

Petrosian versus Fischer

Petrosian vs. Fischer, 1958
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 12.Nxe5

A simple example illustrating the first definition comes from a 1958 game between future World Champions Tigran Petrosian and Bobby Fischer (see diagram). White had just captured the e5-pawn with his knight on f3. The white knight can be taken, but White's move also opened a discovered attack on the black knight on h5. If Black takes the knight, then 13.Qxh5 leaves him a pawn down. To avoid this, Black sacrificed the h5-knight for material:

12... Nxg3 13. hxg3 Bxe5

Fischer later said 13...dxe5 would have been better (Fischer 2008:24-25); the game ended in a draw.

Bogolyubov versus Schmid

Bogolyubov vs. Schmid, 1949
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
In this position, Schmid played 5...Nxe4!?

A classic example of the first definition is Bogolyubov-Schmid, West German championship, Bad Pyrmont 1949. In the position shown, Schmid played the surprising novelty 5... Nxe4!?, with the point that 6.Nxe4 would be met by 6...Qe7 7.f3 d5, and Black will regain the sacrificed piece. According to the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, White can then gain a small advantage with 8.Bb5 Bd7 9.Bxc6 bxc6 10.0-0 dxe4 11.fxe4! g6 (or 11...0-0-0 12.Qf3) 12.Qf3 Bg7 13.c3 0-0 14.Bf4 c5 15.Nb3 Bc6 16.Qg3! Instead of 7.f3, Tartakower and DuMont recommend 7.Nb5 Qxe4+ 8.Be2 Kd8 9.0-0 "with compensations for the mislaid pawn" (Tartakower & du Mont 1975:39-40).

Instead, play continued 6. Nxc6 Nxc3! initiating a sequence of desperado moves, where each player keeps capturing with his knight, rather than pausing to capture the opponent's knight. Black cannot pause for 6...bxc6?? 7.Nxe4 Qe7 8.Qe2, leaving White a piece up with a winning position. 7. Nxd8! White must also continue in desperado fashion, since 7.bxc3? bxc6 would leave Black a pawn up. 7... Nxd1 Again the desperado move is forced, since 7...Kxd8?? 8.bxc3 would leave Black a queen down. 8. Nxf7 Since 8.Kxd1 Kxd8 would leave White a pawn down, the knight continues capturing. 8... Nxf2 Still continuing in desperado fashion, in preference to 8...Kxf7 9.Kxd1 with material equality. 9. Nxh8 Nxh1. Between them, the desperado knights have captured thus far two queens, two rooks, two knights, and three pawns. The complete score of the game:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Nxe4!? 6. Nxc6 Nxc3 7. Nxd8 Nxd1 8. Nxf7 Nxf2 9. Nxh8 Nxh1 10. Bd3 Bc5 11. Bxh7 Nf2 12. Bf4 d6 13. Bg6+ Kf8 14. Bg3 Ng4 15. Nf7? (Better is 15.Bd3 followed by Ng6+ "with a probable draw" (Tartakower & du Mont 1975:39-40).) 15... Ne3 16. Kd2 Bf5! 17. Ng5 (Desperation. 17.Bxf5 Nxf5 18.Ng5 Be3+ wins.) 17... Bxg6 18. Ne6+ Ke7 19. Nxc5 Nxc2! (The desperado knight strikes again, this time with deadly effect. Not 19...dxc5? 20.Kxe3 with equality.) 20. Bh4+ Ke8 21. Ne6 Kd7 22. Nf4 Nxa1 23. Nxg6 Re8 24. Bf2 Nc2! 25. Nf4 (If 25.Kxc2, Re2+ followed by ...Rxf2 wins.) 25... Nb4 (The knight departs, having captured in its 13 moves White's queen, both rooks, a knight and three pawns. Its White counterpart captured the queen, a rook, both bishops, a knight, and two pawns in its 14 moves.) 0-1

Tal versus Keres

Tal versus Keres, 1962
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Here, Keres played 18...Nd3!

Another example of this type of desperado is Tal-Keres, Candidates Tournament, Curaçao 1962 (see diagram).

Seeing that White's knight on d4 is unprotected, Keres offered to simplify the position with 18... Nd3!, when 19.Bxd3 Bxd4 20.Rb1? would allow 20...Qf6! forking White's b- and f-pawns. Instead, Tal went in for complications with 19. Nc6? Nxf2!, when either 20.Kxf2 Qb6+ or 20.Nxd8 Nxd1 21.Nxf7 Nxb2 22.Nxd6 Nc4! 23.Nxc4 Bxa1 would leave Black with a material advantage.

Tal tried:

20. Qf3? Nxh3+! 21. Kh2

If White captures the knight, 21...Qb6+ regains the piece and leaves Black with a won game.

21... Be5+! 22. Nxe5 dxe5 23. Rad1

If 23.gxh3, Qxd2.

23... Nf4!

Now 24.Bxf4 is met by 24...Qh4+. Black won (Soltis 1975:247-48).

Examples of the second definition

Pilnick versus Reshevsky

Pilnick vs. Reshevsky, 1942
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black moved 92...g4??; White replied 93.Qf2!

One of the best known examples of sacrificing a desperado piece to achieve stalemate is the game between Carl Pilnick and Sammy Reshevsky, U.S. Championship 1942 (see diagram). After:

92... g4?? 93. Qf2!

the white queen is a desperado piece: Black will lose if he doesn't capture it, but its capture results in stalemate.

Evans versus Reshevsky

Evans versus Reshevsky, 1963
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position before 47.h4!

Another of the best known examples involves a swindle in a game by Larry Evans versus Reshevsky. Evans sacrificed his queen on move 49 and offered his rook on move 50. White's rook has been called the eternal rook. Capturing it results in stalemate, but otherwise it stays on the seventh rank and checks Black's king ad infinitum.

47. h4! Re2+ 48. Kh1 Qxg3?? 49. Qg8+! Kxg8 50. Rxg7+
Evans vs. Reshevsky, 1963
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
After 50.Rxg7+! - the eternal rook

Either a draw by agreement will occur or a draw by threefold repetition or the fifty-move rule can eventually be claimed (Averbakh 1996:80-81) (Evans 1970:15).

The game was called "The Swindle of the Century".

Reshevsky versus Geller

Reshevsky vs. Geller, 1953
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 53...Rf3+!

Reshevsky also fell into a stalemating trap against Efim Geller in the Zürich 1953 Candidates Tournament. After 53... Rf3+! (diagram) 54.Kxf3 would be stalemate. If 54.Kg2, then 54...Rxg3+! winning a crucial pawn; again, White could not take the rook without resulting in stalemate.

The game continued:

54. Ke2 Rxg3 55. Rxf5+ Kxh4

and the players agreed to a draw a few moves later.

In light of these three games, the Russian analyst Verkhovsky observed that Reshevsky apparently suffered from stalemate blindness every 11 years.

Keres versus Fischer

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 71...Kh7

Another famous game saved by the possibility of stalemate is Keres-Fischer, Curacao 1962, although Fischer avoided the stalemating lines and allowed Keres to draw by perpetual check instead. In the position shown on the left, Keres played the centralizing 72. Qe5!! Fischer commented:

What's this? He makes no attempt to stop me from queening!? Gradually my excitement subsided. The more I studied the situation, the more I realized that Black had no win.

Analysis: Keres-Fischer
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
After 75.Qg6+!

Now if 72... g1(Q), 73.Bf5+ Kg8 (73... Kh6?? 74.Qh8#) 74.Qe8+ Kg7 75.Qe7+ Kg8 (75...Kh8?? 76.Qh7#) 76.Qe8+ draws by repetition; if 72...Qf2+, 73.Kh3 g1(Q) 74.Bf5+ Kh6 75.Qf6+ Kh5 76.Bg6+! Qxg6 77.Qg5+!! and either capture is stalemate. The game continued:

72... Qh1+ 73. Bh3

Now if 73...g1(Q), 74.Qh5+ Kg7 75.Qg6+! and either capture of the queen results in stalemate (see analysis diagram) - otherwise the white queen keeps checking the black king: 75...Kh8 76.Qh6+ Kg8 77.Qg6+! Kf8 78.Qf6+ Ke8 79.Qe6+, and Black must repeat moves with 79...Kf8, since 79...Kd8?? runs into 80.Qd7# (Fischer 2008:233).

73... Qxh3+ 74. Kxh3 g1(Q) 75. Qe7+ Kh8 76. Qf8+ Kh7 77. Qf7+ ½-½ (van Perlo 2006:127).

Tilberger versus Drelikiewicz

Tilberger-Drelikiewicz, 1970
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black to move

Sometimes it is possible for the inferior side to sacrifice two or three pieces in rapid succession to achieve a stalemate. An example is seen in the game Tilberger vs. Drelikiewicz, Poland 1970 (see diagram).

Black saved the draw with:

1... h3+! 2. Kxh3 Qf5+! 3. Qxf5

Not 3.Kg2? Qxd7.

3... Rxg3+! 4. Kh4 Rg4+!

Korchnoi versus Vaganian

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black to move

In Korchnoi-Vaganian, Skellefteå 1989, a similar three-piece sacrifice might have enabled Vaganian to save the game. From the position at left, Vaganian played:

35... Qxc2+? 36. Kh3 Qa4 37. Kh4

Jacob Aagaard notes that now "White had a winning endgame, which Korchnoi indeed won."

Analysis: Korchnoi-Vaganian
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
After 37...Qf1+!

Aagaard instead recommends 35... b6!!, when the natural 36. Qxc6 would be met by 36... Ne3+! 37. Rxe3 Qf1+! (analysis diagram) 38. Kxf1 stalemate (Aagaard 2004:28).

Korn versus Pitschak

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black to move

In Korn-Pitschak, Brno 1936, White's desperado queen and rook saved the draw despite White's apparently mobile e-pawns. In the position illustrated, Black appeared to be winning after:

1... dxe2!

in light of 2.Qxd4 exf1(Q)+ or 2.Qxe2 Qh4+ 3.Kg1 Qh2#. Instead, Korn played:

Korn-Pitschak, 1936
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 6.Qe7+!

2. Rf8+! Kxf8 3. Qf5+ Ke8

3...Kg8? 4.Qf7+ Kh8 5.Qf8#

4. Qf7+ Kd8 5. Qf8+! Ne8 6. Qe7+! (diagram)

Now 6...Kxe7 is stalemate, while 6...Kc8 loses to 7.Qb7+ Kd8 8.e7# (Korn 1966:16) (Pachman 1973:17-18).

Hegde versus Palatnik

Hegde-Palatnik, 1988
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black to move can draw by 1...Bg7!

This endgame position is from a game between Ravi Gopal Hegde and Semon Palatnik, Kozhikode 1988. The position appeared in the endgame section of Chess Informant 45. Black resigned in this position, but he has an easy draw:

1... Bg7! 2. Rh4 Bd4!

(threatening 3...Bxa7), etc. (Dvoretsky 2006:237).

Capturing the bishop results in stalemate, allowing Bxa7 is a draw, and 3. Rh7 Bg7 leads to a repetition of position.

Vasilevich versus Kosteniuk

Vasilevich-Kosteniuk, 2000
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black had just blundered with 55...Nh4-f3??

Now (see diagram) the game ended with:

56. Qg4+!

If Black captures the queen, it is stalemate. If Black instead plays 56...Kh6, then 57.Qg6+! forces Black to capture the queen.

Instead of 55...Nf3??, 55...Qc3+ followed by 56...Nf3 would have allowed Black to keep her decisive advantage.

Ponziani study

Ponziani, 1782
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Black to move draws, starting with 1...Rh7+

Black draws after (Rabinovich 2012:476):

1... Rh7+ 2. Kg5 Rg7+ 3. Kh6 Rh7+!

Capturing the rook results in stalemate.

4. Kg5 Rg7+ 5. Kf6

If 5.Kf5 then 5...Rf7+; and then if 6.Ke5 then 6...Re7.

5... Rg6+!

Capturing the rook results in stalemate.

Read more:

COMMENTS
Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy