The immortal game is a famous chess game played in 1851 by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzsky. It is one of the most famous chess games of all time.
Adolf Anderssen was one of the strongest players of his time, and was considered by many to be the world champion after winning the 1851 London tournament. Lionel Kieseritzky lived in France much of his life, where he gave chess lessons or played games for 5 francs an hour at the Cafe de la Regence, Paris, France. Kieseritzky was well-known for being able to beat lesser players in spite of great odds.
This was an informal game played between these two great players at the Simpon's on the Strand Divan in London. Kieseritsky was very impressed when the game was over, and telegraphed the game moves to his Parisian chess club. The French chess magazine "La Regence" published the game in July 1851. This game was later nicknamed "The Immortal Game" in 1855 by the Australian Ernst Falkbeer.
The immortal game has resurfaced in many unusual guises. The town of Marostica, Italy has replayed the immortal game with living persons every year, beginning on September 2, 1923. The position after the 20th move is on a 1984 stamp from Surinam. The final part of the game was used as an inspiration for the chess game in the movie Blade Runner in 1982, though the chessboards are not arranged exactly the same (in fact, in the movie Sebastian's and Tyrell's board do not even match each other).
This game is an excellent demonstration of the style of chess play in the 1800s, where rapid development and attack were considered the most effective way to win, where many gambits and counter-gambits were offered (and not accepting them would be considered slightly ungentlemanly), and where material was often held in contempt. These games, with their rapid attacks and counter-attacks, are quite fun to review, even if the some of the moves would no longer be considered the best ones by today's standards.
In this game, Anderssen demonstrates amazing cleverness - he sacrifices a bishop on move 11, then sacrifices both rooks starting on move 18, and wraps it up with a queen sacrifice on move 22 to produce checkmate. Anderssen later demonstrated the same kind of extraordinary cleverness in the evergreen game.
The game is given below in algebraic chess notation. Note that some published versions of the game have errors, as described in the annotations.
1. e4 e5 2. f4
This is the King's Gambit: Anderssen offers his pawn in exchange for faster development.
Kieseritsky accepts the gambit; this variant is thus called the King's Gambit Accepted. This was a common opening in the 1800s; it's less common today, as black is often able to eventually equalize development, so white will be down in material.
3. Bc4 Qh4+
Kieseritsky's move will force Anderssen to move his king and Anderssen will not be able to castle, but this move also places Kieseritsky's queen in peril, and Kieseritsky will have to waste time to protect it.
John Savard's commentary claims that the moves were actually: 3.... b5 4. Bxb5 Qh4+ 5. Kg1 with the moves afterwards the same. These are transposed positions, with the final resulting position the same. However, no other work claims this is correct, so this is unlikely to be correct.
4. Kf1 b5?
This is the Bryan gambit, named after Thomas Jefferson Bryan. It's not considered a sound move by most players today.
5. Bxb5 Nf6 6. Nf3
This is a common developing move, but the knight now attacks black's queen, forcing black to protect it instead of developing his own side.
6...Qh6 7. d3
With this move, white now has solidified control over the critical center of the board. German grandmaster Robert Huebner recommends 7. Nc3 instead.
This move does threaten Ng3+, and it protects the pawn at f4, but it also sidelines the knight to a poor position at the edge of the board - where knights are the least powerful.
8. Nh4 Qg5
John Savard claims this is 8.... c6, but this is an error in Savard's documentation.
9. Nf5 c6
This simultaneously unpins the queen pawn and attacks the bishop. However, some have suggested 9.... g6 would be better, to deal with a very troublesome knight.
10. g4 Nf6 11. Rg1!
This is a clever piece sacrifice. If black accepts, his queen will be moved away from the action, giving white a lead in development.
Huebner believes this was the critical mistake; this gains material, but loses in development, at a point where white's strong development is able to quickly mount an offensive. Huebner recommends 11. ...h5 instead.
A clever move. White's knight at f5 protects the pawn, which is attacking black's queen.
12...Qg6 13. h5 Qg5 14. Qf3
Anderssen now has two threats:
Bxf4, which will snatch black's queen (the queen has no safe place to go),
e5, which would attack black's knight at f6 while simultaneously exposing an attack by white's queen on the unprotected black rook at a8.
This deals with the threats, but undevelops black even further - now the only black piece not on its starting square is the queen, which is about to be put on the run, while white has control over an immense amount of the board.
15. Bxf4 Qf6 16. Nc3 Bc5
An ordinary developing move by black, which also attacks the rook at g1.
Anderssen responds to the attack with a counter-attack. This move threatens Nc7, which would fork the king and rook. Richard Reti recommends 17. d4 ... 18. Nd5, which results in an advantage for white.
Black gains a pawn, and threatens to gain the rook at a1 with check.
This is an amazingly clever sacrifice - white offers to sacrifice both his rooks! However, there is controversy about this move. Huebner comments that, from this position, there are actually many ways to win, and he believes there are at least 3 better moves than Bd6: d4, Be3, or Re1, which lead to strong positions or checkmate without needing to sacrifice so much material. However, Grandmaster Garry Kasparov has pointed out that the world of chess would have lost one of its "crown jewels" if the game had continued in such an unspectacular fashion. This particular move is quite striking because white is willing to give up so much material.
This is a mistake, resulting in the loss of the game as the next moves show. Steinitz suggested in 1879 that a better move would be 18... Qxa1+; likely moves to follow are 19. Ke2 Qb2 20. Kd2 Bxg1.
Note that "The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games" has a mistake at this point; move 18 black through move 20 black inclusive are different. "Mammoth" records the moves as: 18... Qxa1+ 19. Ke2 Bxg1 20. e5 Na6 21. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+!! Nxf6 Be7# 1-0 However, it seems to be quite alone in this claim; other resources including Eade's book and the Chesslive Online Database give the moves listed here. Nor does "Mammoth" explain why it has a different move sequence than other works. The commentary here presumes that "Mammoth" is in error at this point. Note that this is a reordering of the moves, and the positions become the same again at the end of move 20.
This sacrifices yet another white rook. More importantly, this move prevents the black queen from protecting black's g7 pawn - in fact, the black queen won't be able to easily return to defend black's king at all. It sets up a dangerous possible attack, 20. Nxg7+ Kd8 21. Bc7#.
19...Qxa1+ 20. Ke2
At this point, black's attack has run out of power; black has a queen and bishop on the back row, but can't effectively mount an immediate attack on white, while white can storm forward. According to Bill Wall, Kieseritzky resigned at this point. Huebner notes that an article by Friedrich Amelung in the journal Baltische Schachblaetter, 1893, reported that Kiesertizky probably played 20... Na6, but Anderssen then announced the mating moves. In any case, it's suspected that the last few moves were not actually played on the board in the original game.
This move was probably made to counter 21. Nc7, which would fork the black king and rook, and it prevents the bishop from occupying c7 as part of a mating attack, but white has another dangerous attack available.
21. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+
This is a queen sacrifice, on top of the earlier sacrifices of a bishop and both rooks, and black cannot avoid taking the queen.
22...Nxf6 23. Be7# 1-0
At the end, black is way ahead in material: a queen and two rooks ahead, plus the advantage of having both bishops, while having only one less pawn. But the material doesn't matter. White has been able to use his remaining pieces (just 2 knights and a bishop!) together to force mate.
The moves in PGN format (see portable game notation).
Burgess, Graham, John Nunn, and John Emms. The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games. 1998. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-7867-0587-6. This detailed summary unfortunately has an error starting in move 18.
Chernev, Irving. The Chess Companion. 1968. ISBN 0-671-20104-2.
Eade, James. Chess for Dummies. 1996. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc. ISBN 0-7645-5003-9.
Kavalek, Lubomir. Chess (newspaper column). Washington Post. July 2003.