The Queen’s Gambit and its Lesser Puzzles

Study for Match v. Russian Champion or go to the bar?

Besides her matches with Borgov and Pluchenko in Moscow, The Queen’s Gambit abounds with intriguing chess games and positions. They are here presented, in the venerable spirit of chess puzzles like this collection from logician Raymond Smullyan.

Black’s last move? taking the N when it moved to a8 with discovered check

Thus far, games or positions discussed include

  • Mate in 3 puzzle from Episode 6 Adjournment in Benny’s basement loft, as it were, with his chess friends, who later challenge Beth to multiple simultaneous games of speed chess.
  • From Exchanges (Episode 2)
    Beth’s first tournament move
    Mate in 1 position from a Beltik game

Note: For Beth’s championship (and other) games with Borgov and Benny, see The Queen’s Gambit and its Puzzles

Consider first this puzzle from Benny’s friends in episode 6, Adjournment

3 moves to win, K-Q7 is how you begin

Notice first that a Black pawn is hiding behind Black’s King, on KB5; White begins:

  1. K-Q7 (straight toward bottom of board, we are seeing the board from Black’s side)
    Two sequences each lead to checkmate of the Black King:
    a) … K-KN7
    2. N-Q6 then if K-KB6 (return to original square) 3. N-K8 mate
    if K-KR6 3. NxP (KB5) mate
    b) … B-KN7
    2. N-Q8 B move any; the K can’t move anywhere 3. N-K8 mate
Various checkmates

The Most Famous Game Ever Played

Somewhere in the series (… forthcoming), a game is shown that is a replica of the “Most Famous Game Ever Played,” between the American chess phenom Paul Morphy (1837 – 1884, who is often mentioned by Beth and Harry; like Bobby Fischer, he retired from chess young – at age 22 – spending the rest of his life as a lawyer and wandering in general, passing away at age 47) and Duke Karl and Count Isouard during an opera in Paris, 1858), described by Agadmator here. This short game (17 moves) is often used to demonstrate the value of rapid development – moving all your pieces once before moving any twice is one such good idea. Note how quickly White develops an attack by developing all of her ok his pieces! Meanwhile, several of Black’s pieces are bottled up and never do even move once.

Morphy / Dukes of Hazard
1. e4 e5; 2.Nf3 d6; 3.d4 Bg4 an outdated defense (loses a pawn to 4.de de; 5.Qxd1 Kxd1; 6.Nxe5)
4. dxe Bxf3; 5. Qxf3 dxe; 6.Bc4 (threatening 7. Qxf7 mate) Nf6; 7. Qb3 (threatening both 7.Bxf7 ch and
also 7.Qxb2)

3. … Bg4 ? 7.Qb3!

7. … Qe7 8. Nc3 instead of 8.Qxb2, since “Qxb2 is a butcher’s move, and Morphy was an artist”
8. … c6 9. Bg5 b5 10. Nxb5 cxb5 11. Bxb5+

9. … b5 challenge 11.Bxb5 ch

11. … Nbd7 12. O-O-O Rd8 13. Rxd7 Rxd7 14. Rd1 Qe6 to relieve the pin on Black’s N

13. Rxd7 14. … Qe6

15. Bxd7+ Nxd7 16. Qb8+ Nxb8 17. Rd8 checkmate

Queen sacrifice: 16. Qb8 ch 17. Rd8 checkmate

Exchanges (Episode 2): KY State Tournament

A career begins: 1. e4 <only move shown>
Beltik – Cullen: R-d1 gives mate in 1 (shown above; KY tournament)

In Beth’s 2nd game, she moves up in the competitive ranks against a player ranked in the 1500s (2200 is required for “Master,” 2400-2500 for “Grandmaster;” she begins the tournament as “unrated;” 1500s is as far as I ever officially got <besides some stimulating losses to some higher rankeds> ); she observes a game between Harry Beltik and another Master, who are each trying to reach Grandmaster status.

KY: Sham Draw Offer from Mr. 1500s (Episode 2: Exchanges)

Black/Red pins Beth’s Q to her K with … B-g4
Beth’s Queen is expendable! Qxg4
<Smirk> … RxQ
B-e5 ch (!!)
Draw offer refused, … Q-f6 meets BxQ and mate after … Rg7; BxR. Resigns.
KY: Match with Townes

As Beth climbs the competition ladder, next shown playing her chess mentor and friend Charles Townes, she essays a gambit version of the spunky Center-Counter Defense (aka Scandinavian Defense, which “is one of the oldest recorded openings, first recorded as being played between Francesc de Castellví and Narcís Vinyoles in Valencia in 1475 in what may be the first recorded game of modern chess, and being mentioned by Lucena in 1497.” <wiki> )

  1. e4 d5 The Scandinavian; 2.exd c6 offering another pawn in exchange for freedom of movement 3. dxc Nxc6
Beth plays a pesky Scandinavian Gambit

4. Nf3 e5 Beth grabs the center, and prevents d4 by White
5.Bb5 Bg4 struggle to control the center continues, Beth threatens e4
6. Nc3 Nf6
7. Bxc3 bxc

5. Bb5 Bg4 6. Nc3 Nf6
7. Bxc3 cxb

Next position shown, then Beth plays QxQ (h2)

30. … QxQ(h2); 31. Nxh2 Re7; 33. Rg2

KY: Finale with Harry Beltik

Another game copied from a Grandmaster match, “Agadmator” shows us the complete game at No Reverse Gear Elizabeth! || Harmon vs Beltik || Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit – YouTube. The game was originaly played in 1962 by Russian Grandmaster Rashid Nezhmetdinov.

The game begins

  1. e4 c6 Harry plays the Caro-Kann Defense (to play d5 vs. White’s P on e4, but without
    restricting his Q Bishop behind his pawns as in 1. … e6 2. … d5 the French Defense)
  2. Nc3 d5
  3. Nf6 Bg5 White avoids the classic approach, 2.d4 … 3. Nc3 or 3. e5
  4. h3 Bxf3
  5. Qxf3 e6
Harry plays the Caro-Kann Defense

6. g3 g6 both players prepare to “fianchetto” their Bishops on long diagonals
7. Bg2 Bg7 a more modern Harry would have played 6. … Nf6 Agadmator tells us
8. O-O Nd7 Harry yawns; Beth shows her annoyance (“she gets easily annoyed …”)
9. Qe2 d4; 10. Nb1 e5; 11. d3 Ne7; 12.f4 Qc7; 13.a4 O-O; 14.f5 Beth begins her attack
14 … f6 Harry prevents any possible future P-f6 annoyances, frees his Nd7 to roam elsewhere
15. Nd2 Bh6; 16. Kh2 Kh1; 17.fxg hxg;

18. Nf3 Bxc1; 19. R(a)xc1 Nc5 20. c3 Nb3; 21. R(a)d1 R(a)d8; 22. Nh4 Qc8; 23. Bf3 Qe6; 24. Nf3 Qg8

25. h4 Kg7; 26. Rf2 Rd6? 27. R(d)f1 R(d)d8 retreat!; Nxe5 then Rxf8 was threatened
28. Qc2 b6; later, Benny later suggests (Episode 3: Doubled Pawns) a stronger move at 29 for Beth, ticks her off. Why is this better? maybe the rest of the game may show why. For one, it prevents Black’s immediate Queenside actions …

29. h5 slash and burn attack! c5; 30. hxg dxc; 31. cxd c4(!) 32. d4 exd; 33. cxd Nxd4; 34. Nxd4 Rxd4 at this point, Beth goes off to her analysis center, the bathroom. “I don’t want to give anything away, but some things happen in the bathroom … she comes back a million times more focused ” 🙂
Agadmator is succinct, subtle …

35. e5 Beth presses her attack, sac’ing her B on g4 if necessary (exf ch wins)
… f5; 36. Bxf5 here, Harry could have found a way out (thank you Agadmator) with Nx(B)f5 to draw, but instead presses for a win with

36. … Qd5 37. Be6 !! Beltik says some nasty words, Beth reminds him, as per the Agadmator’s caption at top, had he showed up on time, maybe he could have gotten out of it (but now – “I don’t think so”)

37. … Rh8 ch 38. Bh3 Nxg6 [38. … Rd3 is Black’s best chance, cutting off White’s Q from the attack, and threatening K-Q fork with Rd2 ch at some point]
39. Rf7 ch Kh6 40. Qxg6 ch !!! Harry sees mate in 7 coming – “do you want to finish it here, or on the board?” Beth taunts. Harry resigns, and graciously applauds Beth’s surprising win.

Here is how checkmate would have been delivered:

40. … Kx(Q)g6 41.R(1)f6 ch Kg5; 42.Rf5 ch Kg6; 43.R(7)f6 ch Kh7

44.Rh5 ch Kg7 45.Rg5 ch Kh7; 46. Bf5 checkmate

Harry’s analysis of Beth’s game with Benny (Episode 5: Fork)

Speed Chess with Benny (Episode 5: Fork)

During the tournament in Ohio, Beth meets with Benny and his friends one evening and Benny puts his speed chess skills he picked up in NYC to profitable use: one $5 game from Beth after another. Beth opens with a Queen’s Gambit and they reach an equitable middle game position.

A Queen’s Gambit Accepted position is quickly reached

Beth Benny
1. d4 Nf6; 2. Nf3 d5; 3. c4 dxc4; 4. e6 e3; 5. Bxc4 c5 Benny challenges the center
6.O-O a6; 7. b3 cxd4 Beth would seem to hope to pressure the center with b3 allowing Bb2 8. Nxd4 Bd6 recapture with exd, rather than Nxd4 as played, would better hold the center, despite
giving White an isolated d pawn; now Black’s e pawn is unrestrained and cramps
White’s position

8. … Bd6 begins the middle game

Now it is a little bit of a puzzle to get from 8. … Bd6 to the position below. We need to account for the following:
a) the white square bishops have been traded off, with h3 by /White likely precipitating the exchange
b) the black square bishops have also been traded, likely with White recapturing on a3
seem reasonable, setting the stage for Benny’s (Black’s) final assault
c) Black has advanced his pawn e6-e5-e4, and doubled Q and R on the c file
If you give up already … here is a plausible sequence (actual moves are not shown until the diagrams below)

9. Ba3 White’s center is desperately vulnerable, possibly 9. f4 (to restrain e6-e5-e4) and eventually e4
herself would be a better plan
… Bxa3
10. Nxa3 e5! “and the caissons go rolling along”
11. Nf3 Bg4 Black’s white-square Bishop is free to move once e5 was achieved
12. Be2 … e4 attacking the pinned N on f3 would have been uncomfortable, so the pin is broken
… Nc6 Black’s queenside is developed; Black can recapture QxQ with R instead of K
13. Qc2 O-O
14. R(f)d1

14. R(f)d1

Rd1 … Nd3 but how to get here??

9. Ba3 Bxa3 Beth needed to strengthen her center, possibly 9. Nc3
10. Nxa3 e5
11. Nf3 e4

Speed Chess with Benny and Friends (Episode 6: Adjournment)

Mexico City: Borgov’s Interesting Position (Episode 4: Middle Game)

Mexico City: Curious Early Resignation by Diedrich

Mexico City: Loss to Borgov

Mexico City, Harmon v. G. Girev Russian Boy Wonder
(Middle Game, Episode 4)

Beth meets a fellow wunderkind, the 13 year old Russian Grandmaster who feels destined for the title of World Champion (by the time he is 16, he projects). Once again, the Sicilian defense appears

Girev, the Boy Who Would Be King [of all]

helpful analysis of the real game from which this was taken can be found here, along with brief analysis of all of < >’s 7 favorite games from The Queen’s Gambit series..

Girov plays [surprise, yet another] Sicilian Defense

Beth Boy King
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 e6
3. d4 cd
4. dc Nc6
5. Nc3 d6
6. Be3 Nf6
7. f4 e5 moving ePawn a 2nd time, but it allows
8. Nf3 Ng4 attacking White’s dark squared Bishop
9. Qd2 Nx(B)e3
10. Qx(N)e3 fe
11. Qxf4 …
then, many moves get played, apparently, and they arrive at the adjournment position. Harmon seals 41. (P-)h5, and the action picks back up …

Adjournment, then 41. h5 (!)

Any shred of protection for Black’s King is about to be ripped away, and White threatens mate in 2, beginning with (P)h x (P)g then Rh7 mate, supported by the White B on d5

White’s pawns support a mate-in-2 threat

But first, Georgi has some tricks up his own sleeve vis-a-vis White’s King: his arm appears to slightly retreat a piece from the far end of the board, thus
41. … Re7 threatening Rx(P)b2 ch and cornering White’s King.
Black’s threat is real:

White is set up for a devastating “discovered check”
Rc2 uncovers check AND attacks White’s loose R on c7

42. a4 Rxb2 ch White thus makes an escape route
42. Ka3

Black still needs to find a defense against White’s mate threat. Only five moves are implied in the film, but a look at the final position shows that it will take a few more than that.

Harmon Analysis Tub The final position shown as Black’s King on e5 resigns
“the old-fashioned way, for you Beth Harmon”

We observe the following clues:
a) Black’s 4 pawns (a7,b7, g6,h6) have been captured
a1) White’s pawn on e4 seems to have disappeared once the game resumes,
judging from a close scrutiny of the triad of pictures further above (“41. e5(!!)” ) (?)
b) Girov laments after resigning that “I should not have allowed your Rook to do that”
c) White’s R ends up on b8, while the Black R is found on g6, Black’s B on f2, likely

White’s Pawn e4 has indeed vanished during the adjournment!
and a final position reminder

Black’s only defense against White’s dark art of checkmate seems to be

42. … Rh2
43. hxg hxg

42. … Rh2 prevents 44. Rh7 mate

44. Rxb7 Bd4 Black protects the a pawn
45. g7 ch (!) Bxg7 g pawn sac’d (threat was 46. g8/Q) to clear out Black’s a pawn
46. Rxa7 Bd4
47. Ra8 ch Kg2

45. g7 ch ! 47. … Kg2

48. b5 … Now White plans to [promote to] Queen a pawn

How to get from here to “I resign” ?

We are close to reaching the end, but a few moves are required yet. We resort to entirely arbitrarily motivated moves, their sole unifying rationale … to reach the “correct” final position. Thus … well it seems that we first need to make Black’s g pawn disappear, to make up for White’s e4 pawn disappearing earlier. There may be a local Bermuda’s triangle of lost pawns in the area

48. … Rh3 ch
49. Bb3 d5
50. Rb8 Rh6 prevents W’s b pawn from advancing
51. a5

51. a5 almost home

51. … Bf2 Black’s d pawn could advance, or even better the g pawn, which now must disappear
52. Bd1 Kf6
53. Be2 Ke5
54. a6 Rg6
55. Bd3 Black resigns
Conclusion: some interesting attacks and counter attacks, but a pawn on each side disappearing at the end, then some truly random moves, achieve the final position. An area “open for research” to come up with a better sequence …

For Beth’s championship (and other) games with Borgov and Benny, see The Queen’s Gambit and its Puzzles

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