Jon Speelman: Violence and subtlety

by Jonathan Speelman
9/3/2023 – In this week’s column, violence and subtlety are presented side by side — violence from the Düsseldorf Rapid Team Championship, and subtlety from the sophisticated concept of zugzwang. Find here examples from games by Dommaraju Gukesh and Nihal Sarin, plus remarkable zugzwang positions, including the ‘Immortal Zugzwang Game’. | Photos: FIDE / Niki Riga

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From Düsseldorf and beyond...

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

World Rapid Team Chess Championship 2023This week, we look at a couple of violent positions from the inaugural World Rapidplay Team Championships in Düsseldorf, and then a very subtle one involving zugzwang.

A few days ago, as I write, there was a program on BBC Radio 4 about board games. Of course, it did feature chess quite heavily and there was also an interview with an Italian who is the world Monopoly champion. He pointed out that in the opening being sent to jail is a problem, and you must pay up at once to bail yourself, since at that stage the game involves acquiring as much as possible as quickly as possible — so lost tempi are disastrous. Later, however, when you want to avoid landing on your opponents’ delightful hotels, a sojourn in jail is a positive advantage since you get the chance to pass in safety.

We, of course, do not have the opportunity to pass, and zugzwang is a central concept, especially later on in the game. Endgame theory would be utterly different without the compulsion to move and, apart from changing the evaluation of numerous pawn endings, if you could pass, king and rook versus king would be a draw, and so I suspect would be queen versus rook.

Anyway, I’ve carried on with a proto-study in need of an introduction — which I managed to furnish a couple of days later. Then I added a few of my favourite examples of zugzwang, plus the Immortal Zugzwang Game and an interesting rook ending.

As always, please do get in touch if anything arises apropos this column, either via the ChessBase editors or direct to The next column will be on September 17th.

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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.