Murder in a vacuum

by Jonathan Speelman
9/4/2022 – There are some ideas which the meanest members of the ‘silicon brotherhood’ will flag up immediately but are way beyond our normal human compass. The move that inspired this column is one which is hard to imagine ever being found in a blitz game but might be within the range of a world-class player in a classical game if not in time trouble: Vasyl Ivanchuk, say. | Pictured: José Raúl Capablanca

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An empty square!

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

We start today with an incredible move which could have been played in the blitz tournament in Saint Louis. It must have been highlighted elsewhere, but I spotted it “myself”, due to the efforts of the silicon brotherhood.

There are some ideas which the meanest members of that brotherhood will flag up immediately but are way beyond our normal human compass. This is one which I couldn’t imagine ever being found in a blitz game but might be within the range of a world-class player in a classical game if not in time trouble: Vasyl Ivanchuk, say.

Please have a look, and if you do get there then perhaps you could also find the answer to the main line in which White replies with a rook move.

 

If you’re still wondering but haven’t checked the games file, then you might consider the title of this column. The vacuum refers to the fact that the move is to an empty square...

Leinier Dominguez

Got it! — Leinier Dominguez | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Bryan Adams

Working from this, I started thinking about other unusual moves to empty squares and came up with these. The most common are queen sacrifices to create knight forks, which are lovely but fairly easy to spot once you’ve learned about them: indeed, Anish Giri took less than a second to find the one in his game.

I’ve then got the famous game Ossip Bernstein versus José Raúl Capablanca, followed by a couple of illustrative positions of my own in which White needs a deflection to create a back rank mate. In one case it works swimmingly, but in the second, after an apparently tiny tweak to the pawn structure, it fails spectacularly: a reminder that when calculating tactics you must consider all relevant details.  

This tactical exercise points back to a very famous but I suspect apocryphal game in which there is a whole series of queen sacrifices on empty squares due to a back rank weakness.

To finish, what has to be the favourite move of my life: an absurdist knight jump into an armed paddock in the heart of the enemy territory. It isn’t a knight sacrifice as such, and sadly — though very predictably — isn’t sound.  But I've certainly enjoyed having played it in retrospect, if at the time it was more of a madcap gamble.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games



A Complete Black Repertoire against 1.d4, 1.Nf3 & 1.c4

These video courses feature a black repertoire against 1.d4, 1.Nf3 and 1.c4. The recommended variations are easy to learn and not difficult to remember, but also pose White serious challenges.


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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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