It is rare indeed to see a Candidate for the World Chess Championship allowing a checkmate in one move.
How can it happen? We have two examples for Checkmate Monday – and the circumstances of the respective games vary considerably.
Didn’t See it Coming
The first example is from the famous Linares tournament, which always featured the world’s top players. Garry Kasparov won the tournament in 1992, two points ahead of an all-star cast.
Nigel Short – Alexander Beliavsky
White to play
Short has been pushing for some time and stands well in this ending. The passed b-pawn is a valuable asset. What happens next is remarkable.
What is best now? 58 Nxf6, 58 Kd4, or something else?
This game was already into the sixth hour of player and both players were tired. There has been little pressure for Short before now; he has been steadily improving his position, away from any danger, for some time.
The perceived lack of tension, an absent sense of danger and tiredness combined to produce a startling finish.
58 Ke6?? Bc8 checkmate.
The second example shows a completely different scenario.
Viktor Korchnoi’s matches were always filled with tension and danger usually lurked behind every move – for both players.
The name of Henrique Mecking isn’t likely to spring immediately to mind when one thinks of Candidates for the World Chess Championship. A talented player, his title ambitions were cut short by an illness which saw him withdraw from the chess world for a considerable amount of time. He is still an active player but it is very unlikely he will ever rejoin the world’s elite group of players.
He reached the quarter-final stage twice, losing to Korchnoi in 1974 and Lev Polugaevsky in 1976 (one win and 11 draws for the latter out of 12 games).
In this game, Korchnoi was just one point ahead and Mecking missed various chances to equalise.
Viktor Korchnoi – Henrique Mecking
Candidates Match, 1974
White to play
A typical Korchnoi position! The board is ablaze and there is tension everywhere. What would you play in the above position?
Korchnoi initiated a curious sequence of moves featuring four consecutive checks; two per player. A rarity!
40 Nxe5+ Kf6+
The smoke has cleared and Mecking is a whole rook and a pawn down, with no compensation. Black resigned; 1-0.
This win sealed the match victory for Korchnoi. All well and good, but go back to the position before Korchnoi played 40 Nxe5+ and there is a checkmate in move, with 40 Qh6 checkmate.
Allowing a Checkmate in One Move –
How Can it Happen?
How can it be that a top player can be seen allowing a checkmate in one move?
In the first case, the lack of a sense of danger lowered the guard. In the second case, the palpable sense of tension – accentuated by time-trouble – prevented the clear thinking of both players. Under extreme circumstances, finding a winning path is enough. There isn’t a different point system for ending games by checkmate as opposed to the opponent’s resignation; a win is a win.
Obvious tension or not, one is clear: a checkmate can happen at any time, even to the best of players.
There are many more beautiful checkmating patterns in our course, The Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and CraftyRaf.
There is a shortened, free version of the course here.