A mad rook rampage

by Frederic Friedel
3/18/2021 – Round seven of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. In the game between Jorden van Foreest and Taimour Radjabov the latter had outplayed his opponent and was clearly on his way to victory. But the Dutch GM used a well-known trick to conjure up a problem for his opponent, one he was unable to resolve. Watch the exciting live commentary during the game. It's entertaining and instructive.

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Before we come to the remarkable game I need to give you some background.

In my college days I sometimes had a visitor who, at the time, had two IM norms. We's play games, without me having the ghost of a chance – until one evening, when he was thoroughly inebriated and blundered a piece. I went on to get a thoroughly won endgame and was looking forward to chortling triumph, when he suddenly pulled a trick on me, the likes of which I had never seen before. He got a draw and I sat there stunned.

I sought to use the trick myself, in my games – but the situation never arose. And a few years later I read about it in one of the most influential books I own.

The author is Tim Krabbé, writer and collector of chess curiosities. Buying his books on chess curiosities I discovered that I could read Dutch, which is very close to my native German. Later I got to know Tim and wrote a number of stories based on what I had learned from him (here is the most famous on the Babson Task).

In any case Tim had written about the manoeuvre my IM friend has used on me. The Dutch call it "dolle toren", which translates to "crazy rook". His chapter on that contains the following example:


You can see a wonderful example of a dolle toren hounding the opponent's king. This is the path the rook took, and this is how the white king sought in vain to evade it.

The only way to escape the mad rook is to capture it with a move that relieves the stalemate. There are a number of well-known positions that demonstrate that. Here's one that makes the principle clear in an elementary fashion:


Black launches a mad rook: 1...Rd6+. White can't take the rook (stalemate), but he can escape with 2.Ke4 Rd4+ 3.Kf3. Now White can defend against any mad rook check by releasing the stalemate. Here's a more complicated example:


To win this position Black must tread a careful path: 1.Rc6+ d6 2.Rxd6+ f6 3.Rxf6+ Kh7 4.Rh6+ Kg8 5.Rh8+ Kf7 6.Rf8+ Ke6 7.Rf6+ Kd7 8.Rd6+ Kc8 9.Rd8+ Kb7 10.Rb8+ Kc6 11.Rxb6+ Kd7 12.Rd6+ Ke8 13.Rd8+ Kf7 14.Rf8+ Kg6 15.Rf6+ Kh7 and now if 16.Rh6+ Black has Rxh6 mate! 

Which brings us to a truly remarkable game that occurred in round seven of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational:


I want you to listen to the hysterical commentator follow the actions live on the board. You will get a feel for this kind of mad rook position like you have never got before. Note that Radjabov, who is around 200 points stronger than the commentator, misses a win that Sagar finds while screaming at the position. You can see how the pressure of actually making the moves weighs on a player. If you do not enjoy this video tremendously (maximize, sit back and watch), you should seek psychological council.

You can try to follow everything with your chess engine, or watch Sagar explain it all very clearly in this video recorded after the round:

Well worth the five minutes invested in learning how to escape a mad rook.

And if you are now in the mood, here's another extraordinary stalemate from the same event.

Finally, if you want to try your skill at a mad rook problem, here is a very pretty one I have taken from Tim Krabbé's book. 


After 1.Ne2 h1=Q+ 2.Bxh1 Ra1+ how does White stop the rampaging rook? 3.Kc2 Rc1+ 4.Kd3 Rd1+! (of course not 4...Rxc7, which quickly loses). White needs 33 more carefully executed moves to finally take the rook while at the same time relieving the stalemate. Are you able to work it out? 

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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