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Immortal Game

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Immortal Game

The Immortal Game was a chess game played by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky on 21 June 1851 in London, during a break of the first international tournament. The bold sacrifices made by Anderssen to secure victory have made it one of the most famous chess games of all time. Anderssen gave up both rooks and a bishop, then his queen, checkmating his opponent with his three remaining minor pieces. The game has been called an achievement "perhaps unparalleled in chess literature".


General description

Adolf Anderssen was one of the strongest players of his time, and many consider him to have been the world's strongest player after his victory in the London 1851 chess tournament. Lionel Kieseritzky lived in France much of his life, where he gave chess lessons, and played games for five francs an hour at the Café de la Régence in Paris. His strength was shown most favourably when giving great odds to weak players; against masters, he was less convincing.

Played between the two great players at the Simpson's-in-the-Strand Divan in London, the Immortal Game was an informal one, played during a break in a formal tournament. Kieseritzky was very impressed when the game was over, and telegraphed the moves of the game to his Parisian chess club. The French chess magazine La Régence published the game in July 1851. This game was nicknamed "The Immortal Game" in 1855 by the Austrian Ernst Falkbeer.

This game is acclaimed as an excellent demonstration of the romantic style of chess play in the 19th century, where rapid development and attack were considered the most effective way to win, where many gambits and counter-gambits were offered (and not accepting them would be considered slightly ungentlemanly), and where material was often held in contempt. These games, with their rapid attacks and counter-attacks, are often entertaining to review, even if some of the moves would no longer be considered the best by today's standards.

In this game, Anderssen wins despite sacrificing a bishop (on move 11), both rooks (starting on move 18), and the queen (on move 22) to produce checkmate against Kieseritzky who only lost three pawns. He offered both rooks to show that two active pieces are worth a dozen inactive pieces. Anderssen later demonstrated the same kind of approach in the Evergreen Game.

Some published versions of the game have errors, as described in the annotations.

Annotated game

White: Adolf Anderssen   Black: Lionel Kieseritzky   Opening: Bishop's Gambit (ECO C33)

1. e4 e5 2. f4

This is the King's Gambit: Anderssen offers his pawn in exchange for faster development. Although this was a common opening in the nineteenth century, it is less common today, as defensive techniques have improved since Anderssen's time.

2... exf4

Kieseritzky accepts the gambit; this variant is thus called the King's Gambit Accepted.

3. Bc4 Qh4+

The Bishop's Gambit. Black's move will force White to move his king and White will not be able to castle, but this move also places Black's queen in peril, and White can eventually attack it with gain of tempo with Ng1–f3.

4. Kf1 b5?!

This is the Bryan Counter-gambit, deeply analysed by Kieseritzky, and which sometimes bears his name. It is not considered a sound move by most players today.

5. Bxb5 Nf6 6. Nf3

This is a common developing move, but in addition the knight attacks Black's queen, forcing Black to move it instead of developing his own side.

6... Qh6 7. d3

With this move, White solidifies control of the critical center of the board. German grandmaster Robert Hübner recommends 7.Nc3 instead.

7... Nh5

This move threatens Ng3+, and protects the pawn at f4, but it also sidelines the knight to a poor position at the edge of the board, where knights are the least powerful.

8. Nh4 Qg5

Better was 8...g6, according to Kieseritzky.

9. Nf5 c6

This simultaneously unpins the queen pawn and attacks the bishop. However, modern chess engines have suggested 9...g6 would be better, to deal with a very troublesome knight. Notice how the players have both developed one or two pieces, then moved them again and again.

10. g4? Nf6 11. Rg1!

This is an advantageous passive piece sacrifice. If Black accepts, his queen will be moved away from the action, giving White a lead in development.

11... cxb5?

Hübner believes this was Black's critical mistake; this gains material, but loses in development, at a point where White's strong development is able to quickly mount an offensive. Hübner recommends 11...h5 instead.

12. h4!

White's knight at f5 protects the pawn, which attacks Black's queen.

12... Qg6 13. h5 Qg5 14. Qf3

White (Anderssen) now has two threats:
  • Bxf4, trapping Black's queen (the queen having no safe place to go);
  • e5, attacking Black's knight at f6 while simultaneously exposing an attack by White's queen on the unprotected black rook at a8.
  • 14... Ng8

    This deals with the threats, but undevelops Black even further—now the only black piece not on its starting square is the queen, which is about to be put on the run, while White has control over a great deal of the board.

    15. Bxf4 Qf6 16. Nc3 Bc5

    An ordinary developing move by Black, which also attacks the rook at g1.

    17. Nd5

    White responds to the attack with a counterattack. This move threatens the black queen and also Nc7+, forking the king and rook. Richard Réti recommends 17.d4 followed by 18.Nd5, with advantage to White, although if 17.d4 Bf8 then 18.Be5 would be a stronger move.

    17... Qxb2

    Black gains a pawn, and threatens to gain the rook at a1 with check.

    18. Bd6!

    With this move White offers to sacrifice both his rooks. Hübner comments that, from this position, there are actually many ways to win, and he believes there are at least three better moves than 18.Bd6: 18.d4, 18.Be3, or 18.Re1, which lead to strong positions or checkmate without needing to sacrifice so much material. The Chessmaster computer program annotation says "the main point [of this move] is to divert the black queen from the a1–h8 diagonal. Now Black cannot play 18...Bxd6? 19.Nxd6+ Kd8 20.Nxf7+ Ke8 21.Nd6+ Kd8 22.Qf8#." Garry Kasparov comments that the world of chess would have lost one of its "crown jewels" if the game had continued in such an unspectacular fashion. The Bd6 move is surprising, because White is willing to give up so much material.

    18... Bxg1?

    The move leading to Black's defeat. Wilhelm Steinitz suggested in 1879 that a better move would be 18...Qxa1+; likely moves to follow are 19.Ke2 Qb2 20.Kd2 Bxg1.

    19. e5!

    This sacrifices yet another white rook. More importantly, this move blocks the queen from participating in the defense of the king, and threatens mate in two: 19.Nxg7+ Kd8 20.Bc7#.

    19... Qxa1+ 20. Ke2

    At this point, Black's attack has run out of steam; Black has a queen and bishop on the back rank, but cannot effectively mount an immediate attack on White, while White can storm forward. According to Kieseritzky, he resigned at this point. Hübner notes that an article by Friedrich Amelung in the journal Baltische Schachblaetter, 1893, reported that Kiesertizky probably played 20...Na6, but Anderssen then announced the mating moves. The Oxford Companion to Chess also says that Black resigned at this point, citing an 1851 publication. In any case, it is suspected that the last few moves were not actually played on the board in the original game.

    20... Na6

    The black knight covers the c7 square as White was threatening 21.Nxg7+ Kd8 and 22.Bc7#. Another attempt to defend would be 20...Ba6 allowing the black king to flee via Kc8 and Kb7, although White has enough with the continuation 21.Nc7+ Kd8 and 22.Nxa6, where if now 22...Qxa2 (to defend f7 against Bc7+, Nd6+ and Qxf7#) White can play 23.Bc7+ Ke8 24.Nb4 winning; or if 22...Bb6 (stopping Bc7+) 23.Qxa8 Qc3 24.Qxb8+ Qc8 25.Qxc8+ Kxc8 26.Bf8 h6 27.Nd6+ Kd8 28.Nxf7+ Ke8 29.Nxh8 Kxf8 with a winning endgame for White.

    21. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+!

    This queen sacrifice forces Black to give up his defense of e7.

    22... Nxf6 23. Be7# 1–0

    At the end, Black is ahead in material by a considerable margin: a queen, two rooks, and a bishop. But the material does not help Black. White has been able to use his remaining pieces—two knights and a bishop—to force mate.

    Savielly Tartakower described this as "a beautiful game".

    In Media

  • David Shenk provides a move-by-move description of the game intermittently within the narrative of his 2007 work, (The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain; ISBN 0385510101)
  • The Immortal Game, a 1999 novel by Mark Coggins that featured the famous chess game (ISBN 0918395186)
  • The Immortal Game: The Movie, by director Michael Mertineit, uses a set of military pieces from the 19th century to animate the game
  • References

    Immortal Game Wikipedia