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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Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/20/2021 04:08
The author of the problem under the position by Horwitz (with the 8 black pawns) is by Otto Gallischek and published 1960 in the Weser Kurier. Artistic property rights – didn't I mention these before?
Endgame studies can be found using the Van der Heijden database, problems can be searched in the yacpdb dot org database – mentioned (not only by me) several times here. The last one is freely accessable, and contains this problem; neatly giving a link to a chessbase article by Yochanan Afek from 12/23/2010 where the problem is given with the proper credits. By the way, in that article a game L'Ami-Van Wely (Wolvega 2010) is mentioned, with a comparable manoeuvre to win against the 'mad rook'.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/19/2021 11:02
Quite a coincidence: today the Dutch site schaaksite dot com gave a column by Hans Meier ('Schaken in het dolhuis'), in which he not only gives an example of a composition (by Matous) of a 'mad queen', but also of a mad knight, a mad bishop and two mad rooks!
malfa malfa 3/19/2021 03:57
@Frits Fritschy, exactly! What puzzled me was not *how* he could win, but *why* he couldn't, right after the worst was behind him. Relaxing prematurely might have well been the answer.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/19/2021 11:24
The quickest way to win in Post-Nimzowitsch was 92 Kc7 and now 92... Ra5 93 Kb7 or 92... Ra8 93 Kb6, and black has to let go of his a-pawn. I assume Post saw this but didn't want the bother to win this endgame (which Nimzowitsch probably would have resigned quickly), and instead saw the 'forced mate' with 98 Kb1, 99 Rb2 and 100 Rd3 when he played 92 Ke7 - which is a proof of his strength, but a bit like someone, having crossed on foot a busy motorway, in relief of surviving, kills himself stepping backwards into a ditch.
There were many ways for white to win, 98 Rbc4 being one of them.
Post should have been the hero of this story, because unlike Radjabov, he found the way out of the checks.
tip4success tip4success 3/19/2021 11:03
@ malfa: Is it just me or white is winning at move 98??, i.e. +-(#6) 98.Rbc4 Ra8 99.Rc3+ Ka2 100.Rd2 Rb8 101.Kc1+ Rb2 102.Rxb2+ Ka1 103.Ra3#
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/18/2021 09:24
I wonder, has there ever been a composition (asking for a game seems a bit too much) where a queen takes the role of the mad rook (as far as I know, Krabbé calls it 'rambling rook' in English) and can't draw? Maybe such a queen could be called a 'Dolle Mina', after the Dutch feminist group of the early 1970's...
A (very crude) scheme would be W Kc6 Qe6 Be7 pd6; B Ka3 Qc2 pa4. White wins by 1 Kd7 Qc6+ 2 Kd8 Qb6+ 3 Ke8 Qb5+ 4 Qd7, with some easy minor variations.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/18/2021 05:05
Well done Sagar! For my analysis of this fascinating endgame see
malfa malfa 3/18/2021 05:05
Nimzowitsch was ingenious as his usual, but he was lost anyway, though! I don't understand why Post failed to win right after his king had eventually managed to escape the continuous rook checks.