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The Independent Culture
Perusing my Radio Times a couple of weeks ago, I was drawn to a televisual delectation - I gleaned it to be a dramatic production of some sort - entitled "The Immortal Zugzwang Game". Scheduled at the ghastly hour of 2.35am on something called "Channel 4", it missed my custom by several hours. So in place of a considered review, here is the game that inspired its title.

White: Fritz Saemisch

Black: Aaron Nimzowitsch

Copenhagen 1923

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Be7 6.Nc3 0-0 7.0-0 d5

A move too rigid for modern tastes. Simply 8.cxd5 gives White some advantage now, which is why 7...Ne4 is generally preferred.

8.Ne5 c6 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.Bf4 a6 11.Rc1 b5 12.Qb3 Nc6 13.Nxc6 Bxc6 14.h3 Qd7 15.Kh2 Nh5 16.Bd2 f5

Black's purposeful play contrasts sharply with White's hapless meanderings. Now White should try to keep the game closed with 17.f4 followed by 18.e3.

17.Qd1 b4 18.Nb1 Bb5 19.Rg1 Bd6 20.e4

Taking the poisoned bait.

20...fxe4! 21.Qxh5 Rxf2 22.Qg5 Raf8 23.Kh1 R8f5 24.Qe3 Bd3 25.Rce1 h6!!

As the diagram position illustrates, White is totally bereft of moves. His knight on b1 is stifled; his bishop on d2 can only move to c1, which loses to Bxb1; the rook dare not move from e1 for fear of Re2; nothing can step on f1 without losing its life; and Kh2 allows R5f3, trapping the queen. 26.g4 invited 26...R5f3 27.Bxf3 Rh2 mate, and 26.a3 is met by 26...a5, repeating White's dilemma. So ...

White resigns.

The game immediately earned the epithet of "The Immortal Zugzwang", yet the final position is scarcely a true zugzwang at all. That piece of Teutonic ugliness should be reserved for positions where not only does every legal move make matters worse, but where the opponent could not win were it his turn to move. In this case, Black has a multitude of winning plans. Doing nothing is simply the most effective.