The joy of hacking

by Jonathan Speelman
11/1/2020 – Former world number 4 and long-standing columnist Jon Speelman shares one of the most complicated games he has ever played — a win he got over Britain’s first grandmaster Tony Miles when he was 19 years old. How did he do it? Speelman concludes his analysis: “There’s no point in looking for consolidation when the board is awash with lava.” | Pictured: Tony Miles (sitting) and Michael Stean at the Zonal Tournament 1978 in Amsterdam | Photo: Dutch National Archive

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Above all, fight!

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

Magnus CarlsenIt’s generally agreed that with “perfect play” a game of chess “ought” to end in a draw. A White win seems very unlikely, and a Black one — the initial position being decisive zugzwang — almost inconceivable if not proven mathematically.

The margin of error actually seems to be fairly large, and so for a strong player to lose he or she has to be put under considerable pressure. This can be done quietly through long positional manoeuvring and determined endgame play — Magnus Carlsen's schtick most of the time — or by more violent means: hacking.  

Scratch almost any strong player and beneath a possibly placid exterior you will find a sleeping hacker: a player revelling in violent tactical battles (especially if they are on the right side of them). And today we celebrate the joy of hackery with one of the most complicated games I’ve ever played.

This was in the 1975 British Championship in Morecambe. When I was still 19 and not yet even an IM. It was, apparently (I consulted John Saunders’ Britbase), in the ninth of the eleven rounds that I played White against Tony Miles, who the next year would become Britain’s first grandmaster. Tony wound me up in the opening and becoming nervous about what was in reality a perfectly playable position by normal means, I began to hack and continued in a game which became ever more complex and hysterical.

I first annotated it around 1975 for The Chess Player, a now defunct periodical and had another look for my Best Games book about 1997, when available chess engines were beginning to make a difference. I’ve had another look with today's crop and made some more alterations.

The most important point about the game is not the exact variations which you might or, more likely, might not find during a game, but the mindset you require once things really kick off. There’s a point of no return beyond which the initiative is king and formal material balance of only limited importance. You must calculate as much as you can, try to stay reasonably calm, and above all fight!

We’ll continue in a fortnight with some recent examples of extreme violence at the board.

[Pictured: Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Andreas Kontokanis]


To compliment my madness, a nicely hackety game I saw last night as I write.

Since I spend some time streaming, I sometimes watch how other people do it and I happened to drop into part of a simul that Dutch GM Benjamin Bok was giving on another server. Most of the games were pretty straightforward but in one of them his opponent really went for him — as you should in a simul. Bok knew that the sacrifice wasn't supposed to work — since he’d had a previous game in the line. But of course he couldn’t remember the exact details in these circumstances and at one moment his opponent missed a very pretty mate.


Master Class Vol.2: Mihail Tal

On this DVD Dorian Rogozenco, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh and Karsten Müller present the 8. World Chess Champion in video lessons: his openings, his understanding of chess strategy, his artful endgame play, and finally his immortal combinations.


Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.


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