Sports News

The Chess Corner: A tribute to Nezhmetdinov




Every serious chess player knows and reveres Mikhail Tal. “The magician from Riga” was a creative genius whose intuitive sacrifices and daring attacks left an enduring imprint on the game. However, not many people know about the man who not only out-Tal’d Tal, but was also instrumental in inspiring and nurturing the great man. That man was Rashid “No reverse gear” Nezhmetdinov (1912-1974). Tal, despite his reputation, could adapt to situations and opponents. Nezhmetdinov was more uncompromising in his attacking ways.

In the 1950s, Alexey Suetin, then a promising young talent, was invited to play his first major tournament. The authorities provided him with an old Belorusian master as a trainer to help with his preparation. In the second round, Suetin was paired with Nezhmetdinov. The trainer said no preparation is required. Being inquired as to why, he responded : “Well, color won’t matter. Nezhmetdinov can play any opening. Somewhere he will sacrifice a pawn for the initiative. Then he will sacrifice another. Then he will sacrifice a piece for an attack. Then he’ll probably sacrifice another piece to drive your king into the center. Then he will checkmate you.”

The trainer, who was unsurprisingly sacked upon the request of the unamused Suetin, later complained of his ‘unfair treatment’. “‘I don’t understand why this young Alexey is so upset with me, everything I told him turned out to be exactly right!”

Despite having an overall plus record in the 20 games he played against World Champions, Nezhmetdinov never became a Grandmaster for the simple reason that he was never allowed to compete in events that award the title. Nezhmetdinov’s career would have gone unnoticed in the history books if not one truly special sacrifice. The reason why we are reminiscing about Nezhmetdinov this week is because Alexandr Predke did something very similar, a tribute to Nezhmetdinov so to speak, in the second round of the ongoing FIDE Grand Swiss, being held in Riga of all places.

First, here’s what Nezhmetdinov did nearly half a century ago.

Rashid Nezhmetdinov – Oleg Chernikov (1962)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Bc4 O-O 8.Bb3 Ng4 9.Qxg4 Nxd4 10.Qh4 Qa5 11.O-O Bf6

Now, Nezhmetdinov unleashed the “Greatest Queen sacrifice in history”.

White played 12.Qxf6!! here

The amazing thing about the sacrifice is it’s a purely positional one. It took twenty more moves to grind the win out with the dark squared bishop – sans its opposite number- playing an important role.

12.Qxf6 Ne2+ 13.Nxe2 exf6 14.Nc3 Re8 15.Nd5 Re6 16.Bd4 Kg7 17.Rad1 d6 18.Rd3 Bd7 19.Rf3 Bb5 20.Bc3 Qd8 21.Nxf6 Be2 22.Nxh7+ Kg8 23.Rh3 Re5 24.f4 Bxf1 25.Kxf1 Rc8 26.Bd4 b5 27.Ng5 Rc7

The final touch (28.Bxf7 Rxf7 29.Rh8+)

28.Bxf7+ Rxf7 29.Rh8+ Kxh8 30.Nxf7+ Kh7 31.Nxd8  Rxe4 32.Nc6 Rxf4+ 33. Ke2 1-0

Now onto what Predke did last week.

Alexandr Predke (2666) – Nodirbek Yakubboev (2621)

FIDE Grand Swiss 2021

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.h3 O-O 6.Bg5 Nc6 7.Nf3 h6 8.Be3 e5 9.d5 Nd4 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Qxd4 Ng4

White to play

Here, Predke stunned everyone by calmly capturing the knight and sacrificing his queen. 

12.hxg4 Bxd4 13.Bxd4 Kh7 14.Be2 f5 15.exf5 gxf5 16.Rh5 Kg6 17.Kd2 fxg4 18.Rah1 Bf5 19.Rxh6+ Kf7 20.R1h5

After 20.R1h5

White’s pressure is unrelenting. Black surrendered after 34 moves.

20…Ke7 21.Nd1 c5 22.Bc3 Kd7 23.Ne3 Bb1 24.Bxg4+ Kc7 25.f3 Qe8 26.Rh1 Bg6 27.Re1 Rg8 28.Be6 Qf8 29.Reh1 Re8 30.R1h4 Rxe6 31.dxe6 Qe8 32.Nd5+ Kc6 33.Nf6 Qe7 34. Rg4 1-0

The similarities between the two games are uncanny. First a black knight came to g4 to try and exchange white’s dark squared bishop, only for the same bishop to play a starring role later. The sacrifice occurred at the exact same time (12th move). The two hapless black players were forced to endure a prolonged period of misery before waving the white flag. The fate of the two black queens provides the biggest justification of the sacrificial idea. In the Nezhmetdinov game, the black queen went back to d8 and stayed there until it got captured. In the Predke game, the queen’s sorry touch map read d8-e8-f8-e8-e7.