The “PRO” in the PRO Chess League stands for Professional Rapid Online. It is certainly all these things. And with the Arena Royale event running from September 16-24, it’s time to check out the greatest fast-paced games in history.
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Classic time checks give players time to really sink their teeth into position (not literally, as it’s kind of hard to bite into a chessboard without knocking at least a few pieces off their squares). However, as time shortens, calculation and deeper thinking become less important, while intuition and feeling become more important. That can lead to more errors, but the best faster games are no less epic than slower ones. If not, correspondence would be the pinnacle of chess.
So here are some of the best.
Magnus Carlsen vs. Sergey Karjakin, 2016
GM Sergey Karjakin gave GM Magnus Carlsen a run for his money in the 2016 World Championship. After seven draws in the classic 12-game leg, Karjakin took a lead in the eighth game, but Carlsen tied it again in the 10th and the game quickly turned into a quick four-game tiebreak. After two draws, Carlsen won the third and only needed a draw to keep his title.
Throughout the game Carlsen maintains a sustained lead, but Karjakin’s 48…Qf2 looks nasty, threatening checkmate on g2. Defensive moves such as 49.Rg1 or 49.Qg3 give White an advantage, the computer says, but there is actually a mate, starting with 49.Rc8+.
If white somehow misjudged something, that check takes a winning position and makes it impossible to defend against black’s threats, losing. But while Karjakin could have survived longer by intervening with 49…Bf8, he instead chose the move that included Carlsen’s astonishing 50.Qh6+!! Either 51…Kxh6 52. Rh8# or 51…gxh6 52.Rxf7# is mate.
No miscalculation. Just play, set and match.
IM Danny Rensch reviewed the game when it happened. Even more remarkable than the game, however, was Danny’s beard.
Vassily Ivanchuk vs. Arthur Jussupow, 1991
This match between GM Vassily Ivanchuk and GM Artur Jussupow, the candidates for the 1991-93 world championship, came in the early days of using blitz chess to break a tie.
Less than a decade earlier, FIDE had gone so far as to decide a Candidate Match (between GM Vasily Smyslov and GM Robert Hubner in 1983) through roulette rather than, perhaps the argument was gone, watering down the game. with faster time checks. Don’t ask how playing a casino game was better.
Now, in the 21st century, of course, short time checks are just a normal part of chess.
It is one of those games that is so complex that computers still struggle with it to this day. At depth 30, the Chess.com Game Report analysis goes from white +5.8 after 27.Kf1 to a draw after 27…Re6. That’s the way a computer says it has no idea what’s going on. Then it tries to tell you that 28.Qb7 is a “fault”, although in fact White is simply lost already.
Here’s NM Sam Copeland’s video review of the game:
Anish Giri v Alexander Morozevich, 2012
Unlike the previous two games, this GM found Anish Giri vs. GM Alexander Morozevich match took place in a fairly low stakes event in the sense that it had no World Championship implications. The World Mind Games event only ran from 2011-14 and chess was not even the focus of the event, which included other games such as bridge and go. Giri bridge, that’s a thought, but no, the bridge players played bridge and the chess players played chess.
If you’d rather play along with Giri before watching the game, try this Chess.com lesson.
The Catalan is usually a long-term strategic opening for White, but here Giri relentlessly gives blow after blow until Morozevich surrenders after just 25 moves.
It was somewhat of a role reversal given standard expectations. Giri has a not quite fair reputation as a draw master, while Morozevich, whose #2 peak world ranking in classical chess (achieved in 2008) is actually higher than Giri’s #3 (in 2016), is considered one of the more imaginative attackers in chess . But here it was Giri who played a bit like Paul Morphy in the midgame.
Vladimir Kramnik vs. Viswanathan Anand, 2008
Like Giri in the previous game, GM Viswanathan Anand’s overall score was an unsatisfactory -1 in this non-championship event, although it was an event with a bit more stamina. The Amber Tournament was held every year from 1992-2011, mostly in Monaco. It was one of the first annual tournaments focused on fast games, which were uniquely hybrid with blindfold games. The same 2008 Amber Rapid this game was played in also had a celebrated win for Ivanchuk over Karjakin, with a stunning opening novelty from Ivanchuk, after which Karjakin quickly faltered.
Instead, this match between Anand and GM Vladimir Kramnik was a brawl. That same year they also played for the world championship, which Anand also won.
Unlike Giri in the previous game, who quickly crushed Morozevich with tactical blows, this match was an endurance the computer considers pretty much even for the longest time. Kramnik eventually makes a mistake with 41.Qb6, but it is a very high level blunder, not missing Black’s next move, but the one after that. On move 41, even the silicon needs a few seconds to make the spectacular 42…Qf3!!
If Kramnik takes the queen, the recapture of gxf3 leads to an inevitable checkmate on h1. It’s hard to imagine being two queens ahead and losing, but if Kramnik had been in the mood to do that, he could have ended the game with 44.Bxf3 gxf3 45.b8=Q Rh1#.
We can forgive him for not being in the mood.
Teimour Radjabov vs. Oleksandr Bortnyk, 2016
We must have something of the FIDE World Rapid Championship, an event that somehow didn’t exist before 2012. (And neither do the official FIDE rapid and blitz classification lists.) And why not another relentless, romantic attack in the style of Giri-Morozevich, that of GM Teimour Radjabov against GM Oleksandr Bortnyk. Bortnyk is a speed demon with a score of 3300 bullets on Chess.com, but in this game he was surpassed.
According to the computer, Bortnyk is trapped in a forced checkmate after capturing the knight with 19…gxf5. For the next five moves, 20-24, Radjabov has only one move to stay in the mat line, including the queen’s pocket 21.Qxh5+. After forcing Radjabov for some time to find the best continuation, Bortnyk finally let a mate-in-one happen, but the alternative was to dump his queen to delay the inevitable by a few moves.
It’s always nice when mate appears on the board without the loser having to throw pieces in the way to add to the misery.
Edward Lasker vs. George Thomas, 1912
It may be the most famous game on the list, but a quick game? Before World War I? Kind of. We’ll explain.
First, let’s make sure it’s clear which Lasker we’re talking about. It is not the world champion of 1894-1921, Emanuel Lasker, but his distant relative Edward Lasker, who had never been close to world champion (although he almost became an American champion in 1923), but lives on in chess history through this game and a 1924 draw against Emmanuel.
According to Edward Lasker’s 1942 book Chess for fun & chess for blood (arguably the greatest title in the history of chess literature) he explained the game’s time control as one where neither player could use more than five minutes more than the other. In other words, if one player had spent 10 minutes on the game thus far, the other player had to make their next move before thinking a total of 15 minutes.
It is essentially the now rare “hourglass” time control. The faster player sets the pace of the game, but the slower player still has a minimum of five minutes for the game, even if the other participant moves immediately. No one moves right away, of course, and by using five minutes, Lasker and Thomas picked a time check that would have been played for practical purposes… fast.
As for the game itself, you may have seen its amazing queen sack and king hunt before.
Lasker’s decision to play 18.Kd2# instead of 18.OOO# remains controversial. This author likes it, for a reason similar to how Lasker explained it: “I was actually considering castling, but the efficiency-minded engineer in me got the better of me and I played [Kd2] for which only one piece was needed.’ The rook may mate from its original square, no less along the row, and it never does. Let’s save castling for checkmate when it’s really necessary, especially to attack the king on the d- or f-file.
Here’s an artificial example in puzzle form, because it can.
The move order and other circumstances of Lasker vs. Thomas are actually somewhat unclear. Edward Winter explains the situation, and everything else about this game, including the two Lasker quotes above, here.
Limiting all fast-paced games in history to just six best inevitably leaves room for controversy. Here’s a still-limited collection of several great games that missed the cut, starting with one brought to you by Chess.com’s Director of Training Content, NM Jeremy Kane, and the Ivanchuk-Karjakin game referenced above.
As you can see, it doesn’t take hours at the chessboard to create a masterpiece. Minutes to an hour or so is sufficient.
What is your all-time favorite fast-paced game? Let us know! And be sure to catch the PRO Chess League Arena Royale on Chess.com/TV from now until the final on September 24.