The Greatest Move

What was the greatest game ever played? The greatest player who ever lived? These questions can still provoke endless debate, and there will never be a final answer.

Someone is always sure to argue the greatest game has not yet been played, or the greatest player has not yet been born. But no such doubt exists about the greatest move. Legend has it that Frank Marshall, USA champion from 1909 to 1936, made one that knocked spectators for a loop. They promptly expressed their delight, so the story goes, by showering the board with gold coins.

The tale is apocryphal, but Marshall's feat has never been surpassed in the annals of chess. Critics dubbed his sizzling Queen sacrifice on move 23 as the most beautiful ever conceived. "The simple beauty of the decisive move is its penetration to the hostile King in a quiet way, without fanfare or fury," said Al Horowitz. "It conceals a potential wallop in all its sleek reverberations."

This inspired move took place at the 18th congress of the German Chess Federation in Breslau 1912. The major tournament -- won by Oldrich Duras and Akiba Rubinstein with 12-5 in a field of 18 -- has been forgotten. So has Marshall's mediocre score of 9.5 - 7.5. Posterity remembers only a single move that he made in an otherwise forgettable game.

The victim (if we can call him that) was Stepan Levitzky, an obscure Russian master who posted a minus score of 7-10, which also has no importance today. But his name is forever linked with being on the wrong end of a move in a game that gained him negative immortality.

White should relieve the pressure by 16 a3. Later 20 Qe5! Qxh3 21 Rxd4 (if 21 gxh3 Nf3 followed by Nxe5) would avert disaster. At the end the prosaic 23...Qb7 24 Rc7 Ne7 25 Kh1 Rh6 would also win by keeping the extra piece; but 23...Qg3!!! 24 Qxg3 (any other capture loses instantly to Ne2) Ne2 25 Kh1 Nxg3 26 Kg1 Nxf1 27 gxh3 Nd2 is much prettier.

Half a century later at the Puerto Rico Open in 1967 the same theme occurred on the same 23rd move and brought the same smile of delight to spectators. At the end if 24...Qxg6 25 Nxg6 fxg6 26 Rxh7 mate.

White: STEPAN LEVITZKY Black: FRANK MARSHALL French Defense 1912

1 d4 e6 2 e4 d5 3 Nc3 c5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 exd5 exd5 6 Be2 Nf6 7 0-0 Be7 8 Bg5
0-0 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!!! White Resigns



1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 c3 Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 cxd4 Bb4 7 Bd2 Bxd2 8
Nbxd2 d5 9 exd5 Nxd5 10 Qb3 Nce7 11 0-0 c6 12 Rfe1 0-0 13 a4 b6 14 Ne5
Bb7 15 a5 Rc8 16 Ne4 Qc7 17 a6 Ba8 18 Qh3 Nf4 19 Qg4 Ned5 20 Ra3! Ne6? 21
Bxd5 cxd5 22 Nf6 Kh8 23 Qg6!!! Qc2 24 Rh3! Black Resigns