Sunday, August 19, 2007

Celebrated Chess Games from History - Stefan Levitsky vs Frank James Marshall 1912

David Shenk, in his excellent book The Immortal Game describes how, in an attempt to improve his game, he needed to "seek some expert help." As part of that quest he came upon a book of famous chess games, and from there upon one game in particular - "The Immortal Game" by Adolf Anderssen vs. Lionel Kieseritzky played June 21, 1851 in London.

For me, the first classic game I stumbled upon, after first learning the game of chess, was "Levitzky vs. Marshall", Breslau 1912. Why this particular game? Well, the book I was reading made this statement:

The most brilliant move ever seen on a chessboard was made by Frank J. Marshall, in a game against Levitzky. So electrifying was the effect on the spectators that they showered his board with gold pieces!

I had never played through classic game up to that point (I was about 9 or 10 years old), but with a claim like "the most brilliant move ever seen on a chessboard" and the mention of gold pieces being showered on the board I was hooked. This I had to see.

What a game! Marshall's last move consisted of a stunning queen sacrifice, seemingly out of the blue, allowing Levitsky to capture it in three different ways! Even with my limited understanding of chess I could appreciate the shock such a move must have created. Here is the game:

1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.exd5 exd5 6.Be2 Nf6 7.O-O Be7 8.Bg5 O-O 9.dxc5 Be6 10.Nd4 Bxc5 11.Nxe6 fxe6 12.Bg4 Qd6 13.Bh3 Rae8 14.Qd2 Bb4 15.Bxf6 Rxf6 16.Rad1 Qc5 17.Qe2 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Qxc3 19.Rxd5 Nd4 20.Qh5 Ref8 21.Re5 Rh6 22.Qg5 Rxh3 23.Rc5 Qg3!! 0-1

To this day, I remember it fondly as the first "classic game" of chess I ever played over.

What was your first memorable classic game?

UPDATE: I found an interesting discussion about the legend that "spectators showered the board with gold pieces" in a discussion in the Kibitzer's Corner at

"It is not strange that a game as old as chess should have its fabulous legends. Columbus's voyage to America, for example, according to one tale, would not have been possible had not King Ferdinand of Spain managed to retrieve a lost game (with the assistance of one of Columbus's well-wishers). A battle in the Revolution could have been won had a British general not pocketed a note during a chess game, in which he was much absorbed, warning him of the approach of the Americans. One myth has made the rounds so often that it has gained wide currency through reiteration, even though there isn't a grain of truth in it. It concerns the famous brilliancy at Breslau in 1912 in the game Marshall-Lewitzky [sic]. On his twenty-third move, the late U.S. champion won fantastically by subjecting his Queen to capture in three different ways on one move. This was dubbed the most beautiful move ever made on the chessboard. Enthusiastic spectators are alleged to have showered the board with gold pieces. But Caroline Marshall, who ought to know, disclaims knowledge of even a shower of pennies." I.A. Horowitz, All About Chess, 1958.

And this follow-up comment:

Its difficult to know for sure, but Caroline Marshall is probably right. Andrew Soltis in Frank Marshall, Chess Champion (McFarland, 1994) had Marshall's original notes for the "My Fifty Years in Chess". Marshall says only that he received "a purse" after the game. Why did he get money after the game? Apparently, some Russian nationals like P.P. Saburov and Alekhine bet that their countryman Levitsky would win. After the game, they dumped their coins on board to pay off Marshall. The story was recounted by Walter Korn in American Chess Heritage. Korn was not present but told the story as it was circulated around Europe.
Still, why didn't Caroline Marshall see the payoff? And why did Marshall after the publication of the book insist that the shower of gold story was true? The rumor has always been that Fred Reinfeld helped with My Fifty Years in Chess, so perhaps it was he who exaggerated the facts a bit and Marshall simply loved the idea.

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