Traps, Tricks & Mistakes: Steel King

This post is a collaboration with my friend Misha who is a true chess enthusiast.
I met him at Nairobi Chess Club (NCC) where he served as a Committee Member, Director of Play for five years and trained the young members.


The game of chess has amazed humans for centuries. In the 1980s chess software came to the market. But nobody seriously believed that it would be able to defeat human players. However, in 1997 it happened. IBM developed a supercomputer called Deep Blue and organized a match against Garry Kasparov who was the Chess World Champion. The final score was 3,5-2,5 favourable to Deep Blue. This victory of computers over humans marked the symbolic beginning of the rise of Artificial Intelligence.

The game has become more scientific. Nowadays, every professional chess player works with engines. And the high rate of draws is something that worries tournament organizers.

Two centuries ago, in the so-called romantic era of chess, it is generally admitted that games were more vibrant, full of excitement, and amazing moves. It is true that they contain mistakes. Nevertheless, they keep bringing enjoyment and delight to chess enthusiasts.

One of those games is today’s example. It features an amazing “king walk” where White’s king travels from its initial position until Black’s queenside.

The game starts with the so-called Steinitz Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2). It is a variant of the Vienna Game where White offers the f-pawn similarly to the King’s Gambit. The gambit has its name after Wilhelm Steinitz who popularized it. Steinitz saw no danger in keeping the king in the center. His idea was to keep the king there and, after queens trade, to have the advantage of a centralized king in the endgame.

With his gambit, Steinitz won the last game of the first Chess World Championship that he played against Zukertort in 1886. The final score was 12,5-7,5 favorable to Steinitz.

One year before, in 1885, Steinitz launched the International Chess Magazine. In the first issue he published, under the title ‘Chess in Calcutta’, a fascinating game illustrating his gambit. He received the game from his friend Robert Steel who played it in India and the game not only contained the Steinitz Gambit but also a remarkable king walk with the board full of pieces. It turned out that Steinitz published only a variation from Steel’s analysis where White wins, while the game ended in a draw.

As you can see, old games have full excitement and astonishing combinations. But somewhere mistakes and blunders always appear. As Savielly Tartakower used to say: “Blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made”

About this game, William Hartston, an English IM and journalist, commented in July 1980 in the magazine ‘Now!’: “Modern grandmasters, of course, are far superior in technique and understanding, but games from the distant past have a feeling of spontaneous enjoyment and a quest for brilliance which is generally lacking in today‚Äôs sophisticated world… Such a game as the famous Steinitz Gambit brilliancy won by Robert Steel from 1880s gives the impression that calculating ability and imagination in chess are no better now than they were 100 years ago. The game is far more scientific, of course, but for sheer flair and inventiveness such nineteenth-century brilliancies remain practically unparalleled in modern play


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