Australian rules

by Jonathan Speelman
1/17/2021 – Noting that Australia is the continent with the greatest variety of venomous animals, star columnist Jon Speelman explores creepy-crawlies in chess — i.e. tiny moves that often have a huge effect, far beyond their visual impression. He then looks at games in which Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov make use of such creeping manoeuvres.

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

When I checked just now, I was unsurprised to confirm that Australia is the continent with the greatest variety of venomous animals.

Many of these are creepy-crawlies, and it was in connection with creepy-crawliness that I was looking, since today we examine the most toxic of concepts: the creepy-crawly (or as people actually say) creeping move.

This is typically a tiny move with the queen shifting just one square to change the tactics; hard to find, they often have a huge effect, far beyond their visual impression. I’ve also included a second type of move which I personally sometimes miss: collinear moves, in which typically a rook goes some way along a rank or file but not where you are expecting. And a third, in connection with one of my games with Garry Kasparov — I don’t quite know what to call it, in which a piece lands on a hook which was unexpected, at least by me.

I have a feeling that there’s a game by Smyslov (at least I think it was Smyslov) in which, as White, he played something like Qd5-c5 — certainly a one-square queen move round about that part of the board — and it proved decisive. Irritatingly, I can’t find it, and if readers would like to help me out in the comments it would be much appreciated.

Boris SpasskyWhen I searched for creeping moves, I instead found a nice win by Boris Spassky [pictured] against Viktor Korchnoi in their Candidates final match in Kiev 1968. (Incidentally, Spassky won this one 6½-3½; I confused it for a moment with the CT final in Belgrade 1977, the humdinger both on and off the board which Korchnoi won 10½-7½, but not before losing four games in a row at one stage).

Next I’ve got a famous Karpov v Spassky game with a glorious retreat. Apart from this, it has several small but deadly moves, most notably Karpov’s 27th.

Then there are a couple of games with collinear rook moves: not so difficult to see in theory, but both of which I was at least a little surprised by when I first saw them.

And finally one of the games I drew with Garry (I had a pretty large minus score but nothing like as bad as against Ivanchuk) in which both 27.Rd4 and — despite being forewarned — 37.Rf4! surprised me at the time.

Creepy-crawlies are fun — at least if they are half a world away. They can be difficult to find during a game, but may have a huge effect. I’d be delighted to receive more examples of these from readers to use in future columns.  

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov | Photo: Dutch National Archive


How I became World Champion Vol.1 1973-1985

Garry Kasparov's rise to the top was meteoric and at his very first attempt he managed to become World Champion, the youngest of all time. In over six hours of video, he gives a first hand account of crucial events from recent chess history, you can improve your chess understanding and enjoy explanations and comments from a unique and outstanding personality on and off the chess board.


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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Fritzpa Fritzpa 1/19/2021 05:30
Yes what Kotov says about analysis is possibly true "in theory" but entirely untrue in practice - I've never met anybody who analyses each line once and then moves on... . I also was wondering how you can learn to see types of move that you often/usually miss and had no real idea apart from looking at examples and letting the patterns filter into your noddle.

I did see that the Qa5-a6 was mentioned in relation to creeping moves but it didn't feel as "creepy" to me. It's just a sensible move taking control of some white squares.
Peter B Peter B 1/19/2021 05:35
Thanks for replying Jon. It stuck in my mind because Kotov's advice was so unhelpful! After listing a couple of examples, he simply says "So learn to find insignificant creeping moves". That's a bit like saying, "So learn to play as well as Spassky"! Fortunately you have not gone down that path, and simply written about how such quiet moves can be so brilliant. Another example might be Kramnik's 23 Qa6 in his only win in the the 2008 match against Anand.
Gerald C Gerald C 1/18/2021 03:04
Pretty article and wonderful game by B. Spassky.
Fritzpa Fritzpa 1/18/2021 12:55
Many thanks for your help Peter B. I haven't read Think Like a Grandmaster for years and had completely forgotten that he included a section on creeping moves. I found it on my shelf surprisingly quickly The final example Smyslov v Petrosian is lovely and v possibly (I'm not absolutely certain) the one I was trying to remember.

All the very best,

jinanjomon jinanjomon 1/18/2021 07:18
nice article!
Peter B Peter B 1/18/2021 04:01
Should Alexander Kotov be credited in this article? The term "creeping move" appears in "Think like a Grandmaster", and Kotov even cites Spassky's 26 Qb6! as his first example.
philidorchess philidorchess 1/18/2021 02:28