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Czech King Walks into Chess History

The first official world chess champion Wilhelm Steinitz, born in Prague, based his gambit in the 1860s on a magical stroll of his king. Almost 150 years later, the Prague-born David Navara took his king on a breathtaking march at the grandmaster tournament in Biel, Switzerland.
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Walking is the best way to see the Czech capital, Prague. There is even the Royal Route based on coronation procession of 1458, connecting the Old Town with the Prague castle.

The first official world chess champion Wilhelm Steinitz, born in Prague, based his gambit in the 1860s on a magical stroll of his king. Almost 150 years later, the Prague-born David Navara took his king on a breathtaking march at the grandmaster tournament in Biel, Switzerland.

The French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the event:


Navara's king-walk made for a memorable tournament. There are not many examples in chess history like this one. The Czech champion prepared it with the computer, but it was not clear how far. I asked and he replied: "My preparation ended with 25... Rg8, I analyzed 25... Rxc5 only." He liked the game, but admitted that the moves 35.Nd5+ and 44.Kg5 could have cost him a half point.


Still, it was like walking into a hornets' nest. Even after the computer assures you that you are not going to be mated, you need to be cautious. There could be a glitch 10 moves down the road. The game was difficult and ended in a complicated rook endgame that still needs to be analyzed further.

Navara,David (2724) - Wojtaszek,Radoslaw (2733)
48th Biel GM tournament 2015

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3
The Robert Byrne system against the Sicilian Najdorf was later renamed the English Attack.
7...Be6 8.h3
When Byrne started to play his variation in the early 1970s, he continued 8.Qd2 preventing 8...d5? 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.0-0-0 Bb4 11.Bc4 and White wins a piece. The line evolved into 8.Qd2 Nbd7 9.f3 h5!? stopping g2-g4.
8...Be7 9.g4 d5!?
Otherwise White plays 10.Bg2, stopping any action in the center.
10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Bg2
Exchanging the dark bishop to pressure Black on the diagonal h1-a8.
11...Nxe3 12.Qxd8+ Bxd8 13.fxe3 Bh4+ 14.Kf1 Nc6 15.Nc5 Bc4+
The forcing and hitting game is tempting. 15...0-0 was played previously.
16.Kg1 0-0-0 17.b3
The bishop on c4 does not have a good retreat.
17...Bg5 18.Re1 Bh4 19.Rb1
Navara finds the best square for his rook. It is not a long-term strategy as some people thought.
19...Bg5 20.Kf2 Bh4+ 21.Kf3
A chess tease. The computers prefer the move repetition: 21.Kg1 Bg5.
21...e4+ 22.Kf4!


Before computers appeared on the chess scene, this would have been considered suicidal, unplayable in a tournament game. The analysis of this move would last hours and days, but today computers find instantly that White is not going to be mated. If you are worried, you can tweak it a bit, just to be sure the position has no unpleasant surprises.
White still has a draw after 22.N5xe4 Ne5+ 23.Kf4 Ng6+ 24.Kf3 Ne5+.
Forcing the white king to move up at the cost of locking the dark bishop on h4. Other moves do not win:
A. 22...Rd6 23.N3xe4 g5+ 24.Kf5 (24.Nxg5? Rf6+ 25.Ke4 Bxg5 26.bxc4 Re8+ 27.Kd3 Rxe3+ 28.Kd2 Rb3+-+) 24...Rd5+ 25.Kf6 Rg8 26.bxc4 Rg6+ 27.Kxf7 Ne5+ 28.Kf8 Rd8+ 29.Ke7 Nc6+ 30.Kf7 Ne5+=;
B. 22...f5 23.gxf5 g5+ 24.fxg6 Rdf8+ (24...h5 25.bxc4 Rhf8+ 26.Kxe4 Rfe8+=) 25.Kxe4 (25.Kg4? hxg6 26.bxc4 Ne5#) 25...Re8+ 26.Kf3 Ne5+ 27.Ke4 Nc6+=;
C. 22...Rd2 23.N3xe4 f5 24.Nxd2 (24.gxf5 g5+-+) 24...g5+ 25.Kxf5 (25.Kf3 Ne5#) 25...Rf8+ 26.Ke4 Re8+ 27.Kf5 (27.Ne6? Rxe6+ 28.Kf3 Nd4+ 29.exd4 Be2#) 27...Rf8+=.
23.Kf5 Rhe8 24.Rhd1!
The only move. White gets mated after 24.bxc4? Rd6! 25.N3xe4 Re5 mate.
After 24...Ne7+ 25.Kf6 Nd5+ (25...Bd5 26.Bxe4 Rd6+ 27.Kg7 Rg8+ 28.Kxh7 Bxe4+ 29.N3xe4 Rdg6 black can draw, but not more.) 26.Nxd5 Bxd5 27.c4 Rd6+ is equal.
25.Kf6 Rg8
A little surprise, keeping more pieces on the board. Navara analyzed 25...Rxc5 and White does not have much to fear, for example 26.Rxd8+ Nxd8 27.bxc4 Rxc4 28.Nxe4 Rxc2 29.Nd6+!? Kc7 30.Be4 Rf2+ 31.Ke7 Nc6+ 32.Bxc6 Kxc6 33.Rc1+ with a pleasant play.
From move 8 Navara blitzed all his moves, but he spent 6 minutes here.
26...Rg6+ 27.Kxf7 Re7+ 28.Kf8
Touchdown! British players would be allowed to change the king to the Queen.
The position is still balanced after 28...Reg7!? 29.Ne6 (29.N3xe4 Rg8+ 30.Kf7 R8g7+=) 29...Rg8+ 30.Kf7 Ne5+ 31.Ke7 Nc6+ 32.Kd6 Re8 33.Kc5 Rgxe6 34.Rd6 Rxd6 35.Kxd6 Bg3+ 36.Kc5 Re5+ (36...Bb8 37.Nd5 Ba7+ 38.Kd6 Bb8+=) 37.Nd5 Re6 38.Nb6+ Kc7 39.Na8+=
29.Kg8 Rg6+ 30.Kh8!


An amazing concept. The white king ends up in the corner, challenging two black rooks.
After 30...Bg3 White can defend against the mating threat 31...Be5 with
31.Rd5! Be5+ 32.Rxe5 Nxe5 33.Rxb7! Rxb7 34.Nxb7 Kxb7 (34...Nxc4 35.Kxh7 Rf6 36.Bxe4+-) 35.Bxe4+ and wins.
31.Rf1! Bf2 32.Rxf2 Rxf2 33.Rf1! Rxg2?!
It is hard to blame Wojtazsek for this move since it may lead to an equal rook endgame. Still, 33...Re8+ 34.Kxh7 Rxg2 would eliminate the fork with good drawing chances after 35.N3xe4 Re7+ 36.Kg6 b6 37.Nd6+ Kc7 38.Nf5 bxc5 39.Nxe7 Nxe7+ 40.Kxg5 Nc6.
34.Rf8+ Kc7
After 34...Nd8 35.Nd5 Rf7 36.Rg8 threatening 37.Ne6, Black is under big pressure.


A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, but Navara was not happy with this move since it leads to a draw. But who would play over the board the line suggested by the computers: 35.N5xe4! Kd7 36.Nf6+ Ke6 37.Ncd5 Rf7 38.Re8+ Kd6 39.Nxh7 (39.Kg8 is also possible.) 39...Rxc2 40.Nxg5 and with two connected passed pawns on the kingside, White has winning chances.
35...Kd6 36.Nxe7 Kxc5 37.Rf5+ Kxc4 38.Nxc6 bxc6 39.Rxg5
The players reached a complicated rook endgame with many chances to go wrong.
Black could have drawn after 39...Rxc2! 40.Kxh7 Kd3!? (40...Re2 41.h4 Rxe3 42.Rg8 Rg3 43.g5 e3 44.g6 Rh3=) 41.Rh5 Kxe3 42.g5 Rc5=.
40.h4 h6?
Helping White. The game could have ended with a picturesque finale: 40...Rxe3 41.Kxh7 Rg3 42.h5 e3 43.h6 Kc3 44.Kg6 e2 45.h7 e1Q 46.h8Q+ Kxc2 47.Rc5+ Kb1 48.Qb8+ Ka1!


now the black king hides in the corner and White can't win.
Good intuition prevailed. Navara was proud of this move. 41.Rg8 gave Black drawing chances.
41...Rxe3 42.Kg7
After a little rest, the king walks again.
42...Rh3 43.h5 Kd5 44.Kxh6 e3 45.Rg8+-
43.Kxh6 e3


The second move Navara did not like and with good reason. Marching the g-pawn led to a winning queen endgame: 44.g5! Kd4 45.Re6 Rg4 46.h5 Re4 47.Rxe4+ Kxe4 48.g6 e2 49.g7 e1Q 50.g8Q and White should win.
Wojtaszek missed a draw with 44...Kc3!
A. 45.h5 e2 46.Re6 Kd2 47.h6 e1Q (47...Re3? 48.Rxe3 Kxe3 49.h7 e1Q 50.h8Q should win.) 48.Rxe1 Kxe1 49.h7 Rh3 50.Kg6 Kf2 51.Kg7 Kg3 52.h8Q with equal chances.
B. 45.Rxc6+ Kd2 46.Rd6+ Kxc2 47.Re6 Kd2 48.Rd6+ Kc2=.
Finishing the loop: the king is back where it all started, but it almost gives the win away. White had to interject 45.Rg8 Rg2 (45...Ke4 46.h5 e2 47.h6 Re3 48.h7 e1Q 49.h8Q+-) 46.h5 Rxc2 and only now 47.Kf4!+-

A critical position has been reached in the game:



The last blunder according to computers. The following variations could easily confuse any player, but Black is very close to make a draw.
Black had to try 45...e2! 46.c4+ Deflecting the black king from the square e6 is forced. 46...Kxc4 (46...Kd4 47.Re6+-)
A. 47.Rxc6+!? Kd5 48.Rc1 Ra3 49.Re1 Rxa2 50.Kf5 (50.h5 Ke6 51.Kf3 Ra3+ 52.Kxe2 Kf6 and Black successfully blockades the white pawns.) 50...Kd6 51.h5 Ke7 52.Kg6 Kf8 53.h6 Rb2=.
B. 47.Re6! Rh3 (47...Rg2 48.Kf3 Rh2 49.Kg3 Kd5 50.Re8+-) 48.Rxe2 Rxh4 for example 49.Rc2+ Kd5 50.Kf5
b1. 50...c5 51.Rd2+ Kc4 52.g5 Kc3 (52...Rh1 53.g6 Rg1 54.Kf6 Kc3 55.Rd5 c4 56.g7+-) 53.Rg2 Rh8 54.g6 c4 55.g7 Rg8 56.Ke4 Re8+ 57.Kd5+-)
b2. 50...Kd6! 51.g5


a) 51...Ke7 52.Rxc6+-;
b) 51...Rh1! 52.g6 (52.Rf2 Ke7 53.Rf4 Kf7; 52.Kf6 Rf1+ 53.Kg7 c5 54.g6 a5 55.Rc3 Rf2 56.Ra3 c4=) 52...Ke7 53.Kg5 (53.Rxc6 Rh5+ 54.Ke4 a5=) 53...Rg1+ 54.Kh6 Kf8 55.Rxc6 Rh1+ 56.Kg5 Rg1+ 57.Kf6 Rf1+ 58.Ke5 Re1+ 59.Kd6 a5 60.Ra6 Rg1 61.Rxa5 (or 61.Ra8+ Kg7 62.Rxa5 Rxg6+) 61...Rxg6+ 62.Kc7 and according to endgame databases, White can't win.
c) 51...a5 52.g6 Ke7 53.Rxc6 Rh5+ 54.Kf4 Rh2=;
d) 51...c5 52.g6 (52.Re2 Rh1=) 52...Ke7 53.Kg5 Ra4 54.Rxc5 (54.Rf2 Ra3 55.g7 Rg3+ 56.Kh6) 54...Kf8 55.Rc8+ Kg7 56.Rc7+ Kg8 57.Kf6 Rf4+=.
46.h5 c5
It is too late for 46...e2 47.Rg5+ Ke6 (47...Kd4 48.Re5 Rh2 49.Re4+ Kc3 50.Kg3+-) 48.Re5+ Kf6 49.Rxe2 wins.
47.Rg5+ Kd4 48.Re5
Threatening to collect the e-pawn after 49.Re4+.
Black resigned.


In 1885, one year before he became the world champion, Steinitz launched the International Chess Magazine. In the first issue he published a fascinating game sent to him from India by his friend Robert Steel. It contained the Steinitz Gambit and a remarkable king walk with the board full of pieces. It turned out to be only a variation from Steel's analysis, but it caught the attention of many chess enthusiasts.
Walter Penn Shipley of Philadelphia seemed to know the tricks behind the variation and succeeded to beat Steinitz and Lasker in simultaneous exhibitions in the early 1890s.

Steel,Robert - NN
Calcutta 1885

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2 d5
Johannes Zukertort's aggressive attempt to pry the position open at all costs. The solid way is 5...d6, for example the game Kavalek-Leonid Stein, 1964 Olympiad in Tel Aviv, continued 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Nd5 (7.Bxf4 is Steinitz's good move.) 7...0-0-0 and I thought I should have honored Steinitz with a king walk: 8.Kd3 Qh6 9.Bxf4 Qh5 10.c4 f5 11.exf5 Qxf5+ 12.Kd2 Nb4 13.Nxb4 Qxf4+ 14.Kc3 Nf6 15.Kb3 and the game was drawn in 30 moves.
After the game, Ludek Pachman, the top board on our team, told me that I have insulted the Soviet School of Chess with my opening and my king stroll against the Soviet champion and should be punished upon our return to Prague. I replied that Steinitz should be punished first.
6.exd5 Bg4+ 7.Nf3 0-0-0
Zukertort played this piece sacrifice against Steinitz in London in 1872, hoping to destroy the exposed white king.
8.dxc6 Bc5 9.cxb7+ Kb8 10.Nb5 Nf6


Steinitz played 11.Kd3 and the variation was heavily played and analyzed in the 1890s by Walter Penn Shipley, Emanuel Lasker and Steinitz. Black can force a draw with 11...Bxd4!? 12.Nbxd4 (Black is better after 12.Nxh4 Be3+ 13.Kc3 Rxd1; or after 12.c3 Bf5+ 13.Kc4 Be6+ 14.Kb4 Bc5+ 15.Ka4 Rxd1 16.Nxh4 Bd7.) 12...Rxd4+ 13.Kxd4 Qf2+ 14.Kc3 Qc5+ 15.Kb3 Qb6+ 16.Ka3 Qa5+ with a perpetual check.
11...Rhe8+ 12.Kd3 Bf5+ 13.Kc4 Be6+ 14.Kxc5!


This capture could be compared to Navara's move 22.Kf3-f4. The adventure begins: pieces fly, queens are sacrificed and the white king marches on. Black can repeat moves after 14.Kd3 Bf5+ 15.Kc4 Be6+.

Black is weaving a mating net, threatening mate in two.
White cannot take the queen: 15.Nxh4 Ne4+ 16.Kc6 Bd5 mate.
After 15...Kxc7 16.Nxh4 Rd5+ 17.Kc4 the king escapes.
16.Ne5! Nd7+
White gets the queen back after 16...Qxd1 17.Nc6+ Kxc7 (17...Kxb7 18.Ba6+) 18.Bxf4+, winning.
17.Kb5 Qxd1



A faulty attempt to create something beautiful. In the last century, the winning move 18.Nxd7+! was discovered. White wins in all variations:
A. 18...Rxd7 19.Bxf4 Qxa1 20.Kb6! and white mates soon.
B. 18...Kxb7 19.Nc5+ Ka7 (19...Kc8 20.Bxf4 Qxa1 21.Kc6+-) 20.Nxe8 Rxe8 21.Kxa5±;
C. 18...Bxd7+ 19.Kb6 Re6+ 20.Nxe6+-.
On the other hand, 18.Nc6+ Kxb7 19.Nxa5+ Ka7 20.Nc6+ is only a draw.
18...Qxa1 19.Ka6
19.Nxd7+ loses to 19...Ka7 or to 19...Kxb7.
19...Nxe5 20.Nxe8


Black wins after 20.Bxe5 Bc4+! 21.Bxc4 Rxe5! 22.Rxa1 Rd6 mate.
This leads to a draw. Black wins with 20...Rd5! as played in the game Morgan-Shipley, Philadelphia 1891: 21.Bc4 (21.Bxe5+ Rxe5 22.dxe5 Bc4+ 23.Bxc4 Qxh1-+) 21...Qxh1 22.Bxd5 Qf1+ 23.Kb6 Qxf4 24.Bxe6 fxe6 and White resigned.
21.dxe5 f5 22.Be3 Rxe8 23.Bb5
White can force a draw with 23.Ba7+ Kc7 24.Bb6+ Kb8 25.Bc5 Rc8 26.Ba7+ (26.Bd6+ Rc7) 26...Kc7 27.Bb6+ Kb8 28.Ba7+.
23...Qxb2 24.Ba7+ Kc7 25.Bc5 Qxb5+ (25...Rd8 26.Bb6+ Kb8 27.Ba7+ Kc7 28.Rd1!+-) 26.Kxb5 Kxb7 27.Rd1±.
The game Steel-Ross, Calcutta 1884 finished 24.Bc5 Rd8! 25.Ba7+ Kc7 26.Bb6+ draw. It was published in Steinitz's first issue of the International Chess Magazine, January 1885, under the heading Chess in Calcutta.
24...Kc7 25.Bc5 Rd8?
The wrong square. The key-square is c8 and either 25...Bc8 or 25...Rc8 forces a draw, for example 25...Bc8! 26.Bb6+ Kb8 27.Ba7+ Kc7 28.Bb6+ draw; or 25...Rc8 26.Bb6+ Kb8 27.Ba7+ Kc7 28.Bb6+ etc.

Black resigned, since 27.Bb6 mate is hard to prevent. But the game was not played. It is an analysis by Robert Steel (1839-1903), a British government official in India.

Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.

Images by (Prague) and by Biel Chess Festival.

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