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The Immortal Game

This page shows the moves of a chess game, with a diagram for every move, to make it easy to read even without a chess board handy to play the game.

Although I must admit that I am hardly qualified to comment too instructively on the moves, studying annotated master games is indeed one popular method for learning about Chess. The game I have chosen is one considered to be perhaps the most entertaining game of chess ever played. It is the game played in 1851 in the Divan in London between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, termed the "Immortal Game". This game was played informally, not as part of a match or tournament.

Adolf Andersson was a mathematics teacher by profession, who lived and taught in the city in which he was born, then known as Breslau, and now known as Wroclaw and now part of Poland. He began as a composer of chess problems, but then went on to play chess in earnest, and had a highly successful record against the other masters of his day. He was, however, defeated by Morphy in a historic match. He was universally well-liked.

Lionel Kieseritzky was also a mathematics teacher, from what is now known as Tartu and is now within Estonia. His chess career was more successful than might appear from the fact that his best-remembered game is one he lost.

Incidentally, an excellent article on this game was recently published in the third issue of the American Chess Journal, I have discovered. I am far from attempting to compete with such an article; this page deals with this game from a very elementary standpoint. No knowledge of chess is assumed; even the basic rules are explained in the course of the game. (This however does mean that if one doesn't know the rules of Chess, one really will have to read the account of the game below twice to know what is going on. Assuming, of course, it was even worth reading once.)

Incidentally, I found a score in algebraic notation of this game on the Web which was incorrect, differing at Black's third move, making the game an example of the Bryan Counter Gambit. Presumably the game, as actually played, transposed into a position from that opening. (Many positions in the opening game in Chess can be reached by the same moves played in more than one order; they are listed under the order of moves which is most common, and when a position is reached by a different order of moves, it is said to have transposed to a position belonging to the opening under which that position is listed from the opening actually played.)


White: Adolf Anderssen

Black: Lionel Kieseritzky

This diagram shows the arrangement of the chess pieces on the board before play begins. Applicable to all games of chess played under the current standard rules, it applies to the game we are now about to view in particular.

Each player has two rows of pieces in front of him (or her). The front row is entirely made up of pawns. The row in the back is made up of several different pieces, and is symmetrical except for the two pieces in the middle.

The pieces on the back row are, in order from left to right, Rook, Knight, Bishop, Queen, King, Bishop, Knight, Rook.

The Queen being the most powerful piece, and the King the most valuable one (its capture being almost, but not exactly, the object of the game of Chess) it makes sense that players each have only one each of these two pieces.

 1. e4               P-K4

This is, of course, a very standard opening move. Although, therefore, there is nothing to comment about in length as to what prompted Adolf Anderssen to choose this move, I can still use the opportunity to say a few general things about Chess.

A pawn normally has only one move; one space forwards. Unlike any other piece, it does not capture the same way as it moves; instead, it can capture pieces which lie one space diagonally forwards from it by moving to the square such a piece occupies.

Capturing an enemy piece with a Pawn often has a disadvantage; now two of your pawns are in the same column (or file) of the board, getting in each other's way, and leaving an open gap in the wall of pawns you had previously had. Because of this result of the way a Pawn moves, and because in addition pawns cannot move backwards, not only is it true that the way your pawns are arranged is important in a chess game, but this also defines the kind of game that chess is. This was expressed in Philidor's famous remark: "Pawns are the soul of chess".

Each Pawn, when moved for the first time, is allowed to move two spaces forwards, as well as to make its normal move of one space forwards. Because this is thought of as a 'special' move, a pawn that makes such a move when another Pawn belonging to the other player could have captured it if it had made its regular move instead can still be captured, in a special move called en passant capture. The other player's Pawn simply pretends it is capturing the pawn in the square it would have moved to with a regular move, by moving diagonally, and then the pawn, in its real place, two squares forward, is removed from the board.

This move is considered good, and has become standard, for two reasons. It is important to control the center of the chess board. This is because a chess piece in the center can generally move to more places than one on the edge, and thus it is more powerful. Also, this move lets the Bishop next to the King move out. The Knight to the bishop's right doesn't need any help to move, since the Knight's move is a direct jump from its starting square to its ending square, not requiring it to have any unoccupied intervening squares to move through.

Besides allowing the Bishop and the Knight to participate in the game, and accomplish something in defeating the opponent, moving these pieces out has another important function. The King, like the lowly pawn, has a special move called castling, by means of which it can move two squares on its first move.

When the king has not yet moved, and there are no pieces between it and the Rook on either side, the King may move two squares towards that Rook. The Rook then moves, jumps over the King, and is placed in the square the King passed through. This move helps put the King in the corner of the board, with other pieces around it, and out of danger.

 1. ...      e4      ...      P-K4

Given the comments about the previous move, this is an obvious response. The black pawn is moved to a place where the white pawn can't capture it, and where it blocks that pawn's advance. Both pawns attack two empty squares in the important center of the board.

In recent years, however, the first move 1. P-K4 has become less popular, because the likely response is instead 1. ... P-QB4, the Sicilian defense. A game beginning 1. P-K4 P-K4 is recommended for beginning players, because it is an active tactical game, based on relatively simple ideas, and likely to be instructive. The Sicilian defense, however, while it does lead to games that are often tactical rather than positional in nature, leads into waters too deep for the beginner.

 2. f4               P-KB4

White has now moved a pawn into a location where Black's pawn can capture it. This doesn't mean he has made a mistake; this too is a standard opening move. The opening, so far, is called the King's Gambit. A gambit is the act of offering a piece to be captured, in a speculative fashion, in the hopes that the positional advantages of the situation after the offered capture is made will outweigh the material disadvantage.

 2. ...      e x f4  ...      P x P

Kieseritzky is clearly of the other opinion, and so the opening now belongs to the family known as the King's Gambit Accepted.

 3. Bc4              B-B4

This is a standard move. The Bishop is moved to the center of the board, and space is opened for castling (although with the loss of a pawn, the space on the Kingside is not as cozy for the King as it might have been). However, as we shall see, in this position, the bishop in this location is subject to annoyances; thus, the opening is now called the Bishop's Gambit. Bishops move diagonally, and this means that they always stay on the same color of square when the board is chequered; thus, losing one's first Bishop is considered worse than losing the odd Bishop that remains where other things are equal.

 3. ...      b5      ...      P-QN4

Black advances a pawn where it can capture the Bishop.

 4. B x b5           B x P

But the Bishop can capture the pawn! However, the Bishop is moved closer to the edge of the board. This time, Black can move P-QB3, and this pawn, which can also capture the Bishop, is protected both by another pawn and by a Knight in that position. So the Bishop wouldn't simply be able to take it, it would have to waste a move by retreating. This might be worth the loss of a Pawn.

 4. ...      Qh4+    ...      Q - R5+

Now that it's Black's turn to move, though, he has more exciting plans than just forcing a Bishop to waste a move. White's King is in check. It hasn't castled yet; if it moves out of the way, it will lose that privilege. The only piece that can block that check is the King's Knight's Pawn, which could move P-KN3. It would then be defended by the Rook pawn, and threaten the attacking Queen.

Of course, this would also open up the Kingside enough that castling would no longer have much point anyways.

The Queen is the most powerful piece; it moves in eight different directions, the four orthogonal and the four diagonal directions, any distance along empty squares, and one square further when there is an enemy piece to be captured. It combines the move of the Bishop, which we have already seen, and that of the Rook, which moves only orthogonally (forwards, backwards, and to the left and right).

 5. Kg1              K-B1

Rather than forcing the Queen to retreat, White is content to let it sit on the edge of the board if it wants. The King's normal move is one square either diagonally or orthogonally.

 5. ...      Nf6     ...      N-KB3

Black, rather than continuing the battle, makes a standard developing move.

 6. Nf3              N-KB3

White makes the same standard developing move, but gets something extra for it; his Knight now attacks Black's Queen.

 6. ...      Qh6     ...      Q-R3

Thus, Black pulls the Queen back, out of harm's way, and where a pawn protects it. Of course, since the Queen is a highly valuable piece, the prospect that a piece capturing it will in turn be captured does not usually discourage an opponent from trying to capture it.

 7. d3               P-Q3

Now White has formed a line of three pawns diagonally, the first two defending the ones after them. This has given White dominance of the center of the board, at least for now. It has, though, blocked a line of retreat for White's Bishop. But White's other bishop now attacks a black pawn. This Pawn, though, is defended by Black's Queen, and a Bishop is more valuable than a Pawn.

 7. ...      Nh5     ...      N-R4

Still, Black moves a Knight to the edge of the board to protect that pawn. In this way, Black is free to move his Queen somewhere else should it be desired.

 8. Nh4              N-R4

White moves his Knight symmetrically.

 8. ...      c6      ...      P-QB3

Finally, Black makes the pawn move that threatens the advanced White bishop the possibility of which we noted when commenting on White's fourth move.

 9. Nf5              N-B5

White's purpose in moving his Knight in a fashion parallelling Black's preceding Knight move has now become clear. It was being advanced to threaten Black's Queen. Now, Black must deal with this, or lose a Queen while only being able to capture a Knight in return, so White's Bishop is safe for the moment. The Knight in this position could also capture Black's King's Knight Pawn, although that Pawn is defended by a Bishop. Since White wouldn't really want to trade a Knight for a Pawn, this move doesn't really illustrate how the tactical manoeuver called a fork operates. When a piece moves so that it can capture two other pieces, and only one of those pieces can be moved away, defended, or protected by interposition (not, of course, applicable to a Knight's attack) (that is, putting another piece in the way) this is called a fork.

 9. ...      Qg5     ...      Q-N4

Black has chosen not to move his Queen very far. If there wasn't already a Pawn ready to capture the White bishop where it is standing, it would be significant that while Black wouldn't want to capture White's Knight on g5 at the cost of his Queen, should that Knight for some other reason move away from its current square, then Black's Queen could capture the white Bishop on b5. Thus, White's Knight is said to be pinned, and the pin, like the fork, is another major tactical manouver in Chess. In this case, though, White's Knight could move to two squares from which it would defend that Bishop. On one of those squares, it would even give check, as well as threatening to capture a Bishop. However, Black's other Bishop could easily capture it on that square (d6).

Note the importance of Black's having moved his Knight so that the Queen was free to move without abandoning a Pawn.

10. g4               P-KN4

Now, White's Knight is defended by a second Pawn, which is in turn defended by White's Queen. Also, Black's Knight is threatened by that Pawn. Black seems to have only one move open to him.

10. ...      Nf6     ...      N-B3

And, indeed, Black takes that move, and saves his Knight.

11. Rg1              R-KN1

White is now moving his King's Rook to a position from which it can enter the board. As well, it is supplying a second defender to the Pawn on that file.

11. ...      P x b5  ...      P x B

However, now that Black is no longer under immediate threat, there's that White bishop that was just sitting there to be taken (or en prise) by a Pawn.

12. h4               P-KR4

This move threatens Black's Queen. The Rook was moved away from where it would defend that Pawn, but it is still defended by White's Knight on g5. The Queen has only one safe square to retreat to.

12. ...      Qg6     ...      Q-N3

And so it goes there. Was all this worth the loss of a Bishop?

13. h5               P-R5

Well, it would certainly seem that a Queen is worth a Bishop. But wait a moment, Black's Knight can still take that threatening Pawn. But it will in turn be taken by the Pawn defending it. So the exchange will be even, but at the end of it, White's Rook will be threatening the Black Queen, which must waste yet another move.

13. ...      Qg5     ...      Q-N4

Except Black doesn't need to play that game. White's Pawn having moved, the square it had to leave before is now safe to return to. So White still seems to have lost a Bishop.

14. Qf3              Q-B3

White is keeping up the pressure on the Black Queen.

14. ...      Ng8     ...      N-N1

But Black solves the problem, by moving his Knight to safety, and clearing a diagonal for the safe retreat of his Queen. Note, though, that this leaves White with a significant advantage in development; almost all of Black's pieces are where they started from, while White has both pieces and Pawns arrayed formidably in the centre of the Kingside. Since chess games don't last forever, this may well have been worth a Bishop.

15. B x f4           B x P

White does not, however, have to wait for the Black Queen to retreat to take this Pawn.

15. ...      Qf6     ...      Q-B3

Black's Queen retreats, but not far.

16. Nc3              N-B3

This looks like a standard developing move, which further increases White's lead in development.

16. ...      Bd5     ...      B-B4

So Black makes a standard developing move, rather than conceding the Queenside to White. Except that Black is also threatening to capture White's King Rook.

17. Nd5              N-Q5

However, White's standard developing move put his Knight into a position to attack Black's Queen. So once again, White responds to a threat actively, with a counterthreat, instead of simply withdrawing the threatened piece.

17. ...      Q x b2  ...      Q x P

But has White made a terrible mistake? Black finally has done something active. In addition to moving far away to capture a Pawn, Black threatens to capture White's Queen Rook with his Queen, which would also give check, even as White's King Rook is exposed to capture from Black's Bishop.

Black does have to do something drastic at this point, though. White's Knight did not simply threaten to capture Black's Queen; it also still threatens to move to c7, forking Black's King and Black's Queen Rook. Another possibility would be Q-QB3, moving the Queen to c6.

18. Bd6              B-Q6

Has White taken leave of his senses? He calmly ignores both threats to his Rooks, and moves a Bishop. But Black is now forced to do something with his Bishop, or see it taken, even if it is to go ahead and capture White's Rook with it. And that Black bishop was the only thing preventing White from moving his Knight to d6, creating a fork involving a check to the King. So White could indeed have a reason for his moves.

18. ...      B x g1  ...      B x R

Black is not going to be diverted from his plan by White's apparently inexplicable antics.

19. e5               P-K5

This is too much! White has a Rook sitting there, waiting to be captured, and there is also a Bishop to be taken before the resulting check would make that impossible, and he advances a Pawn. What can he be thinking?

19. ...      Q x a1+ ...      Q x R+

Black will not be deflected from his course. He will make the obvious move, capturing another Rook, and protecting his Bishop from White's King.

20. Ke2             K-K2

As White must, he moves the King forward. He chooses the square towards the center of the board instead of the one towards the edge, but that is his only choice for this move.

Unfortunately for Black, though, his attack on the White King has now run out of steam. So it will be White's turn to attack.

20. ...      Na6    ...      N-QR3

Now that White has moved out of check, his Knight could move to c7, thereby accomplishing a fork of Black's Rook and his King. As this would win a Rook, Black moves his Knight so that it could capture White's Knight if it moves there.

Also, White's Bishop could have taken Black's Knight on the square from which it moved. However, Black's Rook was protecting that Knight, so had the Bishop taken it, the exchange would have been even. If Black had realized the danger his King was in, would moving his Queen Bishop to b7, because it block's the King's flight in the moves to follow, have changed anything, making White's sacrifices unsound?

White also has a win in that case, as chess professionals analyzing this game have found. But there are other moves open to Black. His Queen could take the pawn on e5, giving check, and thus almost forcing the Bishop to capture it. But that Queen sacrifice seems like it would only give a temporary respite.

Since Black's problem, as the next few moves will reveal, is that his King has only black squares to move to, controlled or controllable by the White Bishop, what about advancing his King's Bishop Pawn one square?

The problem is that almost any move other than the text move constitutes a Rook sacrifice. The Knight on a6 can capture White's Knight if it moves to c7, forking both Black's King and Black's Queen Rook. This is the move that Black expected.

One alternative move that is available which is not a Rook sacrifice would be for Black to move the Bishop on White's back rank to b6. That defends the forking square. It is itself liable to capture by White's Knight, but is defended by a Pawn. But that doesn't appear to do much to prevent Black from being mated either: the same course of moves by White as follows the text move would still lead to Black being mated.

Putting a computer chess program to work on the position before this move, the move B-R3, placing Black's Bishop on the square the Knight moved to instead, is recommended. Then, the computer anticipates White will fork the King, the Rook, and this Bishop; the King will move to c8, and White will take the Bishop.

21. N x g7+         N x P+

However, White is unconcerned with the Black King's Knight, and is about to demonstrate why he permitted Black to capture both of his Rooks without any reaction. With this move, White has captured a Black Pawn and placed the Black King in check. White's Bishop, furthermore, eliminates two possible squares for the Black King to move to, leaving that piece only one possible destination square.

21. ...      Kd8    ...      K-Q1

Black's King indeed moves there. Note that White's Bishop also prevents Black's King from leaving that square by continuing in the other direction.

22. Qf6+            Q-B6+

If it weren't for Black's Knight being able to capture the Queen, this would be checkmate. But Black's Knight can capture the Queen. However, if White let up the attack, say to move his Queen to g5 in two moves, Black could regain the initiative with his material superiority.

22. ...      N x f6 ...      N x Q

Black captures the Queen, as he must.

23. Be7++           B-K7++

And with Black's Knight out of the way, White moves his Bishop - the one moved to d6 on move 18 while Black was devouring White's Rooks - in to deliver checkmate, defended by his Knight.

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