Sports

Chess copycats

The prestigious Isle of Man International Open (now known as the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss) concluded last week with the winner Wang Hao securing his place in the 2020 Candidates Tournament.

In the eighth round, something incredible happened. The chief arbiter noticed two identical games being played on two adjacent boards and decided to move one of the games to a separate playing hall. The incident was all the more surprising considering the calibre of the players involved. Alexei “fire-on-board” Shirov was playing white against Yu Yangyi (Rating – 2,763; world rank – 11) on board seven, while Sergey Karjakin (Rating – 2,760; world rank – 12) was playing white against the veteran Russian Grandmaster Alexey Dreev on board eight.

When delving further into this mystery, we come across an interesting prologue from 2015.

Sergey Karjakin-Yu Yangyi (World Cup 2015)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4 Qc7 9.f4 Qb6 10.c4 Bb4+ 11.Ke2 (a surprising move, but apparently well-known theory at the highest level) f5 12.exf6 Nxf6 13.Be3 Qd8 14.Nd6+ Bxd6 15.Qxd6 Bb7

The game continued with 16.Rd1 Rc8 17.g4 c5 18.Rg1 Rf8 and Karjakin went on to win a fine game after 40 moves.

The two games from the Isle of Man tournament (Shirov-Yu and Karjakin-Dreev) followed the exact move order for the first 15 moves. What followed can either be construed as incredible drama or a comedy of errors depending on the way you look at it.

Instead of 16.Rd1, Karjakin deviated with the suboptimal 16.g4. He later admitted that his actual intention was to follow the earlier game from 2015, but mixed up the move order (it was 16.Rd1 and 17.g4 in Karjakin-Yu 2015). Shirov trusted Karjakin’s preparation and played the same move. Both the games continued with 16… c5 17.Rg1 Ne4 18.Qe5? when black could have obtained a huge advantage by 18… 0-0! 19.Bg2 e6! 20.Qxe6+ Kh8 (threatening 21… Re8) 21.Bxe4 Rf6!

Yu Yangyi, perhaps respecting Karjakin’s “novelty”, played 18… Qh4 19.Bg2 Qxg4+. Unsurprisingly, Dreev followed suit in the other game.


After the “separation”, Karjakin found 20.Kd3! and won the game soon after. Shirov played 20.Bf3 and his game was drawn after 44 moves.

Karjakin summed up the hilarious episode with a tweet afterwards. “Funny accident today when we had the same position like Shirov against Yu. I actually confused the moves with g4, forgetting my own game against …Yu! So in the end Shirov followed me, I followed Shirov, Dreev followed Yu, and Yu believed in my preparation!”

The 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal tournament featured the infamous “Argentine Tragedy” – perhaps the most high-profile case of “copycat” chess. In the 15th round, three Argentine masters – Najdorf, Panno, and Pilnik – surprised their Russian opponents with a prepared opening novelty. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 8.Bh4 Be7 9.Qf3 g5?! 10.fxg5 Nfd7 11.Nxe6 fxe6 12.Qh5+ Kf8


The three Russians – Geller, Keres, and Spassky – turned the tables and went on to win all three games after the spectacular 13.Bb5!!

In a tense final round of the 2019 Olympiad, the critical USA-China matchup saw two games on boards two and four following the same path for the first 16 moves. Curiously, Yu Yangyi was playing one of the games!

Yu Yangyi -Wesley So and Li Chao-Sam Shankland (Chess Olympiad 2018)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.a4

c5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Nbd2 b5 11.axb5 Bb7 12.Nxc4 axb5 13.Rxa8 Bxa8 14. Nce5 Bd6 15.Rd1 Qc7 16.Qxc7 Bxc7

Both the games ended drawn, with China narrowly beating the US to the gold medal via a tie break.