Spanish Game: Johannes Zukertort vs Adolf Anderssen 1865 - Berlin

[fen ""]
[White "Zukertort"]
[Black "Anderssen"]
[Event "Berlin 1865"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nge7 4. c3 d6 5. d4 Bd7 6. O-O Ng6 7. Ng5 h6 8. Nxf7 Kf7 9. Bc4 Ke7 10. Qh5 Qe8 11. Qg5 hxg5 12. Bg5#

To give my question some pre-text, my friend Mato has done a quick YouTube analysis on this Anderssen-Zukertort game here which dates back to 1860s Germany I believe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCV45-Kaxy0

Thought I'd ask this here: There's a truly astonishing queen sacrifice in a math practice game that my daughter has come home from scouts with (she's attending an Atlanta charter school), and it's got me thinking about whether Adolf Anderssen was the "world leading" unparalleled tactician that some 1980's chess theory books celebrate him as. I'll disclose that I hadn't seen this classic Zukertort game before, so you'll have to forgive me if there is an analysis line of thought on this somewhere that I haven't turned up on google yet.

The kids' math game itself is called Yamie Chess (its aimed at middle school kids and been done by the looks of things by a US Woman's chess master called Jennifer Shahade) and it basically frames the above old grandmaster chess line of Zukertort v Anderssen with the spanish opening--quite astonishingly--through a Disneyesque cartoon style story, that presents a series of math lessons and puzzles that kids have to solve all the while interactively re-enacting this Anderssen game on the board almost like passing nintendo levels to move on to the next chapter. But all done with chess. It's long too... 250+ pages to get through the whole Anderssen game.

My question relates to 8.Nxf7 in the late middle game.

So, 8.Nxf7... isn't that a weak move? If not, why not? I was thinking 8...Kxf7 9.Bc4+ Ke7?.. as Ke8 could give Black some advantage. I just think it seems weird that Anderssen didn't see this coming. What is going on?

I appreciated that the Yamie Chess comic doesn't labor this line, actually the comic somehow manages to combine 8.Nxf7--if you can believe it--with a section on transitive properties in school algebra. Dumbed down common core math, it ain't.


2 Answers 2


Objectively, I think you are right that 8.Nxf7 is a somewhat weak move. But it is also an unsettling, complicating move that poses a concrete defensive problem, enough of one in fact that a (truly!) great tactician like Anderssen made a serious misstep. You are also right that the main culprit in Anderssen's defeat was 9...Ke7?, and that 9...Ke8 is far preferable objectively. So why might Anderssen have played it (besides the possibility that he may have just blundered, as all the greats have done)?

One plausible reason is that that alternative 9...Ke8 itself perhaps looked hopeless. It invites the same move as in the game, 10.Qh5, with the difference that in this line the knight is pinned. Only two moves could save it: 10...Ne7 or 10...Qf6. Each can be best met by 11.f4, and it turns out that in the 10...Ne7 line the g6 knight is lost anyway (see board below). The move 10...Qf6 (which again is an ostensibly uncomfortable move to consider, lining up the black queen against the white rook on a soon-to-be open file) does save the day and leave Black with the advantage, but only with very precise play: 11.f4 exd4! 12.f5 Ne5 13.fxg6 Bg4!. I'm going to trust Stockfish here in saying that each of those ! moves is the only one to leave Black to the better.

It's very plausible that back at move 9 Anderssen didn't see that defensive possibility materializing. He may have thought he was already lost and that not walking into the pin was his best practical chance. After 9...Ke7?, if Anderssen can just get a chance to catch his breath and run away with ...Qe8 and ...Kd8, he will be better. The only move to stop that plan is the game's 10.Qh5!, and at that point White really is just winning, as there is no way to save the knight. So Anderssen probably just threw up his hands and continued with 10...Qe8. Then, either Zukertort plays the mate that he did, or Anderssen escapes; it was already out of Anderssen's hands at that point.

[fen ""]
[White "Zukertort"]
[Black "Anderssen"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nge7 4.c3 d6 5.d4 Bd7 6.O-O Ng6 7.Ng5 h6 8.Nxf7 
Kxf7 9.Bc4+ Ke7? 
    ( 9...Ke8 10.Qh5 Qf6! 
        ( 10...Ne7 11.f4 exf4 12.Rxf4 )
    11.f4 exd4! 
        ( 11...exf4? 12.Rxf4 )
    12.f5 Nce5 13.fxg6 Bg4! 14.Qxg4 Nxg4 15.Rxf6 Nxf6 )
10.Qh5 Qe8 
    ( 10...Be8 11.Bg5+ hxg5 12.Qxg5+ Kd7 13.Qf5+ Ke7 14.Qe6# )
    ( 10...Nf4 11.Qf7# )
11.Qg5+ hxg5 12.Bg5#
  • 3
    I don't know if it's just me, but on 12...Ne5, Chrome just freezes. So does IE for some weird reason!
    – Wes
    Jun 3, 2014 at 6:47
  • @Wes: He needs to change Ne5 to Nce5 in order to work, I have edited that part of the post. Check now to see if it crashes... Jun 3, 2014 at 10:39
  • 1
    @AlwaysLearningNewStuff, Nce5 is redundant, because only the knight on c6 can move to e5. I suppose this might be a bug in stackexchange's implementation of the chessboard.
    – Wes
    Jun 3, 2014 at 16:13
  • @Wes: Exactly, but it does not crash anymore does it? Jun 3, 2014 at 20:39
  • @AlwaysLearningNewStuff, no it doesn't crash now.
    – Wes
    Jun 3, 2014 at 20:56

My question relates to 8.Nxf7 in the late middle game.So, 8.Nxf7... isn't that a weak move?

No it isn't. In fact, it is the strongest move in that position.

If not, why not?

Because it initiates the decisive attack on the opponent's king.

With d6-e5 pawn structure Black chose in the opening, he is weak on light squares. The only pieces that can defend the light squares in such pawn formation are Nf6 and Bc8 along with the f7 pawn.

Since Black chose Steinitz defense of the Ruy Lopes, his knight is posted on g6 instead of f6 which is one light square defender less. Furthermore, Steinitz defense gives Black cramped game, so he usually finishes quickly his development and tries to free his position with exchanges.

Here, Black was too slow with h6 move. He weakened his light squares with that move ( g6 square, and because of that the entire h5-e8 diagonal as well ) thinking that there is still time to finish development.

White's pieces were able to get a strong grip on the light squares, and since he was better in the center, he was able to open the game advantageously. Furthermore, White had pieces well organized for kingside attack, which is also inherent characteristic for open games.

The only thing needed was the right move/moment to open the game, and that was the point of Nxf7! -> White forces Black king to stay in the center/kingside where he has advantage and removes the last defender of the light squares ( f7 pawn ). If White passes this chance then Black can continue with his plan. Now, after Nxf7 Black can't organize defense in time since he is cramped, and his pieces are misplaced for defense of the light squares. White "crashes in" with his fast pieces ( bishops and queen ) and is supported with his mobile, well placed pawn center.

In order to get time to organize defense, Black will have to return the piece, but will be still a pawn down and cramped, which is enough for White to win. The following lines in the below diagram confirm this.

NOTE: I am out of shape, and have uninstalled all chess software from my computer, so if a mistake in my analysis crops up please tell me so I can correct my post.

[Title "Zukertort-Anderssen, 1895"]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[fen "r2qkb1r/pppb1Np1/2np2np/1B2p3/3PP3/2P5/PP3PPP/RNBQ1RK1 b - - 0 1"]

1...Kxf7 ( 1...Qf6 2.Nxh8+- ) 2.Bc4+ Ke7 ( 2...Be6 3.d5+- ) ( 2...Ke8 3.Qh5 Nce7 ( 3...Qf6 4.f4+- exd4 ( 4...exf4 5.Rxf4 Qg5 6.Rxf8+ Rxf8 7.Bxg5+- ) 5.f5!?+- ) 4.f4+- exf4 5.Rxf4+- ) ( 2...Kf6 3.Qf3+ Nf4 ( 3...Ke7 4.Qf7# ) 4.Bxf4 exf4 5.Qxf4+ Kg6 ( 5...Ke7 6.Qf7# ) 6.Qf7+ Kh7 ( 6...Kg5 7.f4+ Kh4 ( 7...Kg4 8.Be2+ Kh4 9.Qh5# ) 8.g3+ Kh3 9.Qh5+ Qh4 10.Qxh4# ) 7.e5! Bf5 ( 7...Qc8 8.Bd3+ Bf5 9.Bxf5++- ) Qxf5++- ) 3.Qh5 Be8 ( 3...Qe8 4.Qg5+ hxg5 5.Bg5# ) 4.Bg5+!+- hxg5 5.Qxg5+ Kd7 6.Qf5+ Ke7 7.Qe6#

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