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After White's first nine moves in the Immortal Draw:

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1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Bc5 3.Na4 Bxf2+ 4.Kxf2 Qh4+ 5.Ke3 Qf4+ 6.Kd3 d5 7.Kc3 Qxe4 8.Kb3 Na6 9.a3

Why is 9...Qxa4+ the best move here? Doesn't Black have an advantage with White's King on the third rank? What hidden (from me, anyway) resource does White have that causes the Queen sacrifice to be necessary?

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This game looks like a stunt. –  Tony Ennis Jun 1 '12 at 23:20
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In the diagram position, White has an extra bishop, and as compensation Black has both two extra pawns and, as you mention, prospects for an attack based on the fact that the white king is out in the open on the third rank. If White can secure the king, though, then his extra bishop will mean more in the long run than the two pawns, and White will be doing much better.

With his last move, 9. a3, White is threatening to do precisely that, as he as opened a retreat path for his king to make use of (once he takes care of the fact that his a4 knight would be hanging at the moment). Thus if Black were to make some nothing move, e.g. 9. ... h6?, then play could proceed with something like 10. Nc3 Qf5 11. Ka2 (though here White doesn't even need to be in a hurry rushing his king back, and could do something more productive instead) and White is just cruising.

In broad strategic terms, Black must act quickly to take advantage of the dynamic factors currently in his favor (White's exposed king and lack of development), or White's long-term static plus (extra material) will win the day. 9. ... Qxa4+ does exactly that, giving up (much) more material, but in return forcibly drawing the white king further out into the open, where it turns out Black has enough firepower in reserve to draw with a perpetual check.

One could try other ninth moves for Black of course, but again the point is that matters are urgent: something must be done now about White's consolidating idea of Nc3 -> Ka2, and there's only so many moves that have potential. 9. ... d4 keeps the knight from c3, but it also removes the attack on the knight, so White can play 10. Ka2 immediately. Instead 9. ... Be6 is a nice thought, with the idea of discovered check by 10. ... d4+ keeping the white king out in the open; but unfortunately 10. d4! in reply stops that idea and leaves White firmly in control. (Incidentally, if White had gone ahead and played 9. d4 instead of his 9. a3, he would have already killed off the attack and had a big advantage, but then we wouldn't have the Immortal Draw.)

I could go on, but I think the above spells out the exigency of Black's situation. If you're still curious from here why 9. ... Qxa4+ is the way to go, the best thing to do is probably some concrete analysis, toying around with possible variations starting from the diagram position above (with a trusty engine looking over your shoulder).

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Qxa4+ successfully pulls the King out of the white position, and after Nc5+ there is no way back. In the following moves white had to play very precisely to avoid loss (sometimes crazy looking moves like 14. Bc6).

See this link for an analysis.

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Where has it been mentioned that 9... Qxa4+ is the best move? but considering the alternatives it is the move that has made the game immortal, suppose black would have just followed up by playing positional chess only and managed to win, the game would have become just a case of positional example and hardly immortal. The rest of the game was not easy for white, number of times a playing a logical move would have lost white the game.

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I'll reverse myself and agree that 9. ... Qxa4+ isn't necessarily the best move, it is a daring move - a speculative queen sacrifice. Stockfish on modest hardware recommends, after 25 minutes or so, 9. ... Ne7 10. Nf3 Qf5 11. Bxa6 bxa6 12. Ka2 O-O 13. d3 e4 14. Nd4 Qxf2 15. Qg1 Qf6, with a 2.2 point advantage to black. –  Tony Ennis Jun 5 '12 at 0:56
    
@TonyEnnis : Thank you for the analysis. So now it looks even better! to have proceeded with that win, it would been hardly even noticeable. But the funy thing is the positional aspects gave black the chance to draw with a queen down after all. –  Arjang Jun 5 '12 at 2:53
    
"Where has it been mentioned that 9... Qxa4+ is the best move?" - see Is there a “perfect” game? –  Daniel δ Jun 13 '12 at 18:29
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