The rich game of chess is way more than a millennium old. Over the course of more than 1500 years, there have been many clashes of titans, many great brains going head to head (no pun intended.) The discussion on which game tops the list as the best chess game of all time has been ongoing for quite a while, and it looks like it’s here to stay. That’s natural, because the idea of best and worst is most of the time subjective.
For example, if you look at Chess.com’s article on the top 10 chess games of all time, our chosen game doesn’t even feature on the list! The reason for this will become apparent as you read through the article. Hang tight, we are about to go on an exceptionally brilliant chess ride.
The Pinnacle of Chess Excellence
It goes without saying that there have been countless chess masterpieces, but in my opinion, one game consistently stands above the rest as the best chess game of all time. Played in 1851, this game showcases the brilliance of Adolf Anderssen, a German chess player, and it is celebrated as a masterpiece of tactical and sacrificial brilliance. In this article, we will delve into the details of this legendary game, exploring the moves, the players, and the enduring legacy of what is often referred to as “The Immortal Game.”
The Immortal Game
The Immortal Game was played in London on June 21, 1851, during the first international chess tournament held at the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand chess club. The two contenders were Adolf Anderssen, a German mathematics professor and one of the strongest players of his time, and Lionel Kieseritzky, a strong player of French and Polish descent.
While the game took place during the chess tournament, it was not actually an official competitive game but a casual one played during a break; perhaps this is the reason that some sources don’t hold the Immortal Game to be the best of all time, as their focus is on official tournament games where the stakes are high.
What makes this game legendary is the brilliant sacrifices and beautiful checkmate sequence despite a large material deficit. The game opened with a King’s Gambit, and this was the position after 4 moves:
The Remarkable Sacrifices
You can already see that the position is unusual as the game immediately started off with a gambit and a counter-gambit. After developing, solidifying the center, and attacking Black’s queen forcing it to retreat, the first sacrifice was played on move 10. White’s bishop on b5 was under attack by pawn, but completely ignoring this threat, Anderssen plays g4:
The idea behind this bishop sacrifice is to box in Black’s queen and buy time to develop. Black does not take immediately but instead plays Nf6, at which point White ignores the bishop again and plays Rg1:
At this point, Black takes the bishop on b5, gaining material but giving up the lead in development to White allowing Anderssen to seize the initiative and continue attacking Black’s queen. On move 14, White plays Qf3 and the position looks like this:
Here, White is threatening to trap Black’s queen with Bxf4. Not only that, but White can also play e5 attacking Black’s knight while revealing an attack on the rook on a8. To deal with those threats, Black has to play Ng8, undeveloping his knight. The problem now is that Black is so far behind in development; every Black piece is on its home square except the Queen which barely escaped getting trapped.
White then plays Bxf4 forcing Black’s queen to retreat to f6. One move later, the position is as follows:
Here, White responds to the bishop’s attack on the rook with Nd5, counterattacking Black’s queen on f5 and also threatening Nc7+ which would fork the king and rook. Black responds with Qxb2:
Black wins a pawn and is now threatening both rooks, but here comes a major piece sacrifice: White plays Bd6, leaving both rooks for dead! Black chooses to capture the rook on g1, and White offers him the second rook by playing e5:
The idea behind this pawn push is to disconnect Black’s queen from the diagonal, preventing it from protecting the imminent attack on Black’s king. Black takes the second on rook with Qxa1+, and White moves the king to safety:
It is at this point that Black’s attack expired. Some sources say that Black actually resigned at this point, and that the subsequent moves did not take place but were an extrapolation of the game and an explanation of why Black called it quits. In any case, Black’s next move is Na6 to protect the c7 square from White’s knight. White then plays Nxg7+ and Black moves the king to the only possible square:
At this point, White unleashes the biggest material sacrifice of the game with Qf6+, forcing the knight to capture the queen. White finally delivers the killer blow with Be7#:
An Exquisite Combination
Anderssen’s combination of sacrifices, culminating in the checkmate, was a breathtaking display of tactical acumen and creativity. At the end of the game, Black was up a whopping 21 points of material but could not do a thing. For this reason, this game is an exemplary display of the romantic style of chess; the style that favors quick, aggressive attacks as opposed to a long strategic battle.
The Enduring Legacy
The Immortal Game has left an indelible mark on the world of chess. It is celebrated not only for its extraordinary tactics but also for its enduring legacy:
– Influence on Chess Theory: The Immortal Game has influenced countless chess players and theorists, inspiring new generations to explore the beauty of tactical play.
– Chess Literature: The game has been featured in numerous chess books, articles, and analyses. It continues to be a subject of study and admiration among chess enthusiasts.
– Symbol of Creativity: The Immortal Game stands as a symbol of creative and daring play in chess, reminding players that sometimes the boldest moves lead to the most glorious victories.
The Immortal Game remains the most celebrated and revered chess game of all time. Its audacious sacrifices, relentless attacks, and exquisite combination have left an enduring legacy in the world of chess. This game serves as a testament to the boundless creativity and strategic depth that make chess the timeless and captivating battle of wits it is.
Do you agree that the Immortal Game is the best chess game in history, or do you think another game deserves this title? Please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to have a chat with you.