# Sherlock Holmes vs Professor James Moriarty, A Game of Shadow-Chess Game Position Reconstruction

The chess scene between Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty in the movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. What intrigued me even more was discovering the fact that the moves for this chess scene are loosely derived from a position that occurred in an interesting tactical game between Bent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian (Second Piatigorsky Cup, 1966). The position is as below -

``````    [FEN "r2q1rk1/pp2ppb1/3pn1Q1/3R4/2P3B1/4BR2/PP4PP/6K1 w - - 0 0"]
[White "Bent Larsen"]
[Black "Petrosian"]
``````

Here, Petrosian, playing Black did not capture the White queen, but instead played Nf4, which also lost the game. If he had played fxg6, then we have the sequence of moves that resembles the movie scene.

``````    [FEN "r2q1rk1/pp2ppb1/3pn1pQ/3R4/2P3B1/4BR2/PP4PP/6K1 w - - 0 25"]
[White "Bent Larsen"]
[Black "Petrosian"]

1. Qxg6 fxg6 2. Bxe6+ Kh7 3. Rh3+ Bh6 4. Bxh6 Rf5 5. Rxf5 gxf5 6. Bf7 Qb6+
7. Kh1 Qxb2 8. Bf8# 1-0
``````

Starting with Bxe6, in descriptive notation spoken out, that is -

"Bishop takes knight check"

"King to rook two"

"Rook to king's rook three check"

"Bishop to rook three"

"Bishop takes bishop"

"Rook bishop four"

"Rook takes rook"

"Pawn takes rook"

"Bishop to bishop seven"

"Queen knight three check"

"King to rook one"

"Queen takes knight pawn"

"Bishop to bishop eight, discovered check...and (incidentally) mate"

The only problem is, the moves

"Queen knight three check"

"King to rook one"

do not occur in the movie version, which brings me to my question-

Construct a chess position where the moves in the movie version make sense.

This means that there should not be any "obvious" move better than the ones Moriarty (whom we can consider to be a good chess player) played in that position. Thus, a position like the one below is ruled out, because Moriarty doesn't have to played "Rook bishop four" as he played in the movie, but can simply play "Rook bishop eight checkmate"-

``````  [FEN "r4rk1/pp2p1b1/1q1pn1p1/3R4/2P3B1/5R2/PP1B2PP/7K w - - 0 25"]

1. Bxe6+ Kh7 2. Rh3+ Bh6 3. Bxh6 Rf1# (3...Rf5?? 4. Rxf5! +-)
``````

Moreover, considering the fact that Moriarty sounded very confident with his move "King to Rook Two", the position must not "appear" to be objectively bad for Black. At the very least Black should "look" equal or even materially better. EDIT: April 21 2014 2:35 PM GMT The same applies to "Rook Bishop Four" Moriarty saw the obvious line after RxR, PxR and BxP check, but probably missed Bishop to Bishop seven.

Note: Although Sherlock Holmes played Black in the actual game, for the purpose of this question, we can assume he was White.

Here is my current solution. For convenience and resemblance to the Larsen-Petrosian game, I have assumed Sherlock Holmes is White.

``````    [FEN "1q3rk1/2p1p1b1/r1Ppn1p1/3R4/6B1/4BR2/PPn3PK/8 w - - 0 3"]

3. Bxe6+ Kh7 (3... Rf7 4. Bxf7+ Kf8 5. Bxg6+ Bf6 6. Bh6+ Kg8 7. Rg3 Nd4 (7...
e6 8. Rh5 Be5 9. Rxe5 dxe5 10. Be4+ Kh8 (10... Kf7 11. Rg7+ Kf8 (11... Kf6 12.
g4 Qh8 13. g5#) 12. Bh7 Rxc6 13. Rg8+ Kf7 14. Rxb8) 11. Bg7+ Kg8 12. Bh6+) 8.
Rh5 Ne2 9. Rg4 Be5+ 10. Rxe5 dxe5 11. Be4+ Kf7 12. Rg7+ Ke6 13. Rg6+ Kf7 14.
Rg7+) 4. Rh3+ Bh6 5. Bxh6 Rf5 6. Rxf5 gxf5 7. Bf7! (7. Bxf5+? Kg8 8. Be6+ Kh7 9.
Bf5+ (9. Bf7? Qc8 10. Rh4 Ra4! 11. g4 Qxg4 12. Rxg4 Rxg4)) 7... Qxb2 8.
Bf8# (8. Bc1+ Kg7 9. Bxb2+ Kxf7)
``````

Explanation:

After Sherlock plays 1. Bxe6, Moriarty is confident that the game is a draw by perpetual, so he plays 1...Kh7 immediately. Moriarty is unwilling to enter the complications of 1...Rf7, which also leads to a draw but gives a very complex position. After 1...Kh7, the forced sequence of moves arrives till 6...gxf5 when Moriarty expects Sherlock to take the pawn on f5 and give a perpetual. Instead, Sherlock plays 7. Bf7 and now Moriarty realizes it's over.

The variations show why 7. Bf7 leads to mate but 7. Bxf5+ leads only to a draw for Sherlock.

• Indeed, that discovered check ruins it... Well done, upvoted. Jul 26, 2014 at 19:59
• Nice explanation. Based on a game from a 1963 grandmaster tournament, the game is played in blitz fashion, which falls in line with the movie's portrayal of Holmes as some kind of demi-god. Sep 28, 2020 at 13:45

## A SMALL NOTE ABOUT DESCRIPTIVE NOTATION:

Both players calculate coordinate from their side of the board towards the opponents. In algebraic notation both sides calculate coordinate from White's side toward the Black.

Therefore, in algebraic notation Queen's gambit starts as `1.d4 d5`, but in descriptive as `1.P-Q4 P-Q4` ( not as `1.P-Q4 P-Q5` ).

## CONSTRUCTION OF DESIRED POSITION:

Since Sherlock Holmes was Black we need to adjust the Larsen-Petrosian position to address that fact.

Once we do that the notation from the movie fits right in, except for the missing check with the queen.

This is logical, since Moriarty was White, thus having an extra tempo. Therefore we must assume he already played with the queen in one of his earlier moves.

Since his last move was Queen takes knight pawn we must assume queen was on the `b-file`, `a6` or on `b7-h1` diagonal.

The last two options are not possible since White would be able to repel mating attack. Therefore we need to assume that queen was on the `b-file`.

In order to avoid the position you warned about in your post, we must assume the queen was not on `b3`. Therefore the only logical square would be `b5`. Still, queen can repel mating attack by giving checkmate to `e8`. This excludes `b5` square.

On all other squares on the `b-file` queen can be easily captured. Therefore we must add a little change in the position in order to make this plausible. The simplest would be to add White `c4` pawn so we can cover Black king from check and place queen on `b3`.

The position should also satisfy another condition of yours:

Construct a chess position where the moves in the movie version make sense.

This means that there should not be any "obvious" move better than the ones Moriarty (whom we can consider to be a good chess player) played in that position.

With least amount of changes here is the answer to your question:

``````[White "Professor Moriarty"]
[Black "Sherlock Holmes"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "6k1/pp4pp/4br2/2p3b1/2Pr4/1Q1PN1P1/PP2P1B1/R4RK1 b - - 0 1"]

1...Bxe3+ 2.Kh2 Rh6+ 3.Bh3 Bxh3 4.Rf4 Rxf4 5.gxf4 Bf2 6.Qxb7 Bf1# 0-1
``````

## EDITED on July 23rd 2014:

EDIT: April 21 2014 2:35 PM GMT The same applies to "Rook Bishop Four" Moriarty saw the obvious line after RxR, PxR and BxP check, but probably missed Bishop to Bishop seven.

``````[Title "Analysis diagram"]
[fen "6k1/pp4pp/7r/2p5/2P2b2/1Q1P3b/PP2P2K/R7 w - - 0 1"]
``````

In this position you wish to refute `...Bxf4+`. This means that White should defend from check. You can defend from check in chess in 3 ways -> interpose a piece, move king or capture the attacking piece.

If you put White bishop on `c1` then the entire solution is ruined, as Black would not have starting sequence with `1...Bxe3+`, so this move is solution is out of question. If you put rook on 4th rank then you ruin the solution again, as on `...Rxf4` White would have `Rxf4` instead of `gxf4`, so this solution too is out of the question. Putting rook anywhere on the `f-file` is out of the question due to obvious reasons... So we must conclude that bishop can not be captured.

This leaves us with other two defenses to check -> interpose a piece or move the king. Again, let me analyze the easier choice -> interposing a piece:

Since in the original position squares `g1` and `g3` were occupied by White pieces, we can intercept the check only with bishop on `e1` or knight on `h1`. With knight on `h1` the entire mating sequence is impossible so this solution is out of the question. The same goes with bishop on `e1` so again, we must discard this suggestion.

The last option is moving the king, which will ultimately lead us to the following position:

``````[Title ""]
[fen "6k1/pp4pp/7r/2p5/2P2P2/1Q1P3b/PP2Pb1K/R7 w - - 0 1"]
``````

If White could play `Qc1` he could threat `Qxh6` which would not be possible with pawn on `f4`. Furthermore, if we remove the pawn at `c4` White would gain additional defensive resources which would be enough for him to save the game in my opinion.

Therefore, my adjusted solution is this:

``````[White "Professor Moriarty"]
[Black "Sherlock Holmes"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "6k1/pp4pp/4br2/2p3b1/3r4/P2PN1P1/P3P1B1/RQ3RK1 b - - 0 1"]

1...Bxe3+ 2.Kh2 Rh6+ 3.Bh3 Bxh3 4.Rf4 Rxf4 5.gxf4 Bf2! ( 5...Bxf4+? 6.Kg1 Be3+ 7.Kh2 Bf2 8.Qc1! Rh5 ( 8...Rh4 9.Qg5!+-) 9.Qc4+! Kh8 ( 9...Kf8? 10.Qf4++- ) 10.Qf7!+- ) 6.Qxb7 Bf1# 0-1
``````

## END OF EDIT:

• +1 Good try. I had considered a solution on similar lines, but the one problem is that both moves Bxf4+ and Bf2 lead to mate. Moriarty sounded confident even when he played RB4 (Rf4), so he must have seen the "obvious" line after Bxf4+, but probably missed Bf2.
– Wes
Apr 21, 2014 at 3:14
• See if you can find a way that the Bxf4+ line doesn't lead to mate. I have found one such line which leads to a draw, but I wanted to see if there's a way the Bxf4/f5 line leads to a win for Moriarity.
– Wes
Apr 21, 2014 at 3:15
• @Wes: Can you edit your post with that line? I believe it is impossible to adjust the position to fulfill your requirements. Best regards. Apr 21, 2014 at 14:13
• @Wes: I meant about the position you found that ended in a draw. Best regards. Apr 21, 2014 at 14:54
• good try, but in your final solution, you missed 9...Be6! discovered check.
– Wes
Jul 26, 2014 at 14:30