Codgerly self-indulgence

by Jonathan Speelman
10/2/2022 – Today is Jonathan Speelman’s sixty-sixth birthday, so he allowed himself a certain amount of self-indulgence, as he decided to present a selection of his favourite games and studies. His criterion: “A preference for either the breathtakingly simple or the mind-bogglingly complex”. Happy birthday, Jon! | Pictured: Julian Hodgson and Jonathan Speelman

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A personal selection

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

Today is my sixty-sixth birthday, so I’m officially a pensioner: a far from joyful moment but inevitable in the absence of a handy time machine.

Since this column transmogrified from a straight agony column to freestyle, I’ve allowed myself a certain amount of self-indulgence (more in the titles and introductions than the actual chess content) and I’m definitely going to continue today with a selection of my favourites.

This isn’t something which I’ve been carefully preparing for, so the selection is fairly random. When I realized a fortnight ago that the next column would be on my birthday, I decided that this was appropriate. But I didn’t do anything about it until I was lying on a sofa on Wednesday evening, unenthusiastic about anything to flobber to on television — yes, I’m so ancient that I still watch terrestrial television and have a landline! — and began to wonder what precisely to include. 

My chess taste is somewhat polarized with a preference for either the breathtakingly simple or the mind-bogglingly complex. I’ve started with three games, the third of them one of my own favourite hacks, followed by three studies: and finally a couple of proof games.

The games appear as .pgns, but I will say something about them here. I was going to start with Karpov v Spassky from Leningrad 1974 (game 9) — the glorious game in which Karpov made lots of deadly ‘little moves’ including Nc3-b1, but then I realized that I’d had it here just a couple of months ago, in column 174, “Asking the right questions”. So instead I’ve gone with another Karpov game, his famous win agaisnt Viktor Korchnoi in the Yugoslav Attack.

Anatoly Karpov, Viktor Korchnoi

Anatoly Karpov playing black against Viktor Korchnoi | Photo: V. Velikhanzhin

Next, Tigran Petriosian’s victory in game 5 of his world championship match against Mikhail Botvinnik: Petrosian’s first-ever victory against ‘The Patriarch’. I love it for its searing simplicity and especially the iconic adjourned position with the White king in the top right-hand corner of the board. (I can never remember exactly where the king was at the exact moment of the adjournment, but in fact it was g7). Bob Wade’s book of the match was my first ever grown up chess book which my mum bought me when I was seven, and while I can’t really have appreciated this game at the time, it is a wonder. 

Thirdly, one of my favourite ever attacking games in which — somewhat unfairly, given that I've just given Karpov v Korchnoi — my victim was Viktor Korchnoi. He used to do bad things to me if he got the queens off the board early enough, but if they remained I had decent chances of creating pyrotechnic chaos as in this one. 

Garry Kasparov, Jon Speelman

Garry Kasparov, Jon Speelman and Viktor Korchnoi in Reykjavík, 1988

I’ve just got the starting positions of the studies in the text. The first two are by the great Nikolai Grigoriev (1895-1938) and feature breathtakingly stark simplicity, and they’re followed by a pawn ending of my own — and a supplementary example explaining why triangulation works.  


I was first shown this barely half a century ago at the Glorney Cup, a junior team competition between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Jonathan Mestel. With lots of us trying to solve it and clashing hands, it took ages, but a single clear head might do better.


After some preliminary manoeuvring, this leads to an endgame of queen v pawn in which White has to be extremely accurate at the outset to avoid a draw. 


The obvious Ke5 leads to a race in which Black is able to draw, so White has to do better...


In this additional example, I wanted to point out why triangulation works. The reason that the black king can’t match his white counterpart’s manoeuvre is because e7 (and g7) are unavailable to him

In this proof game, you must reach this position after Black’s fourth move. 


The final example was discovered by French-Canadian computer scientist François Labelle from the output of his program. It is to construct a game ending in 7.Rc7 mate with the black king on d7. This is extremely difficult and took me a whole week to solve! Note that it’s Rc7 mate, not Rxc7 mate. There are several very slightly different exact sequences possible, but the final position is (almost) unique.

I’m leaving the solution till next time for anybody brave enough to have a try, or if you can’t wait you can find it in column 128 of August 16th 2020.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Chess Classics - games you must know

As the author explains in the introductory video, knowing the classic games from the past enriches your chess understanding in general, and helps to improve the level of your own games.


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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