Latest Chess Article

This page includes a piece of chess quirkology guaranteed to pique your mental interest!  Check back from time to time for a new article.

THE LONGEST GAME
by Eddie Wyckoff

If you're interested in chess, particularly if you have played it a few times and usually seem to finish in short order, the question must have crossed your mind, "how long... can this go on exactly?"

This question can be answered on multiple levels, but first, every chess player should remember the 50-move rule.  This rule states that, without a pawn push or a capture over the course of 50 moves, a chess game may be declared a draw.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, this rule reigns in the average length of most games, even on the highest of levels.  Often, professional games are under 100 move pairs, though it is possible to have games significantly longer.

"The longest tournament chess game (in terms of moves) ever to be played was Nikolić-Arsović, Belgrade 1989, which lasted for 269 moves and took 20 hours and 15 minutes to complete a drawn game" - Wikipedia (speaking of the longest competitive game)

At first glance, this little gem seems quite impressive!  I'm certain that many of my readers, as do I, have a deep respect for any attention span that could reach a solid 20 hours.  If the longest chess game is to be judged by time, and not moves, however, then Nikolić-Arsović decidedly falls short.  Correspondence chess, an ever-growing and relevant field for testing the objective truth behind chess lines, often takes a couple of months to complete a single game!  Looking at it this way, one could almost say that the longest game of chess ... could last forever.

"Dr Reinhart Straszacker and Dr Hendrik Roelof van Huyssteen (both RSA) played their first game of correspondence chess in 1946. After 112 matches, with both men having won half the games, their record play of over 53 years ended with the death of Straszacker on 13 October 1999."  - http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com

But going back to the moves, sure, 269 moves looks impressively long, but considering all those complexities in chess, wouldn't it be fun to know what the longest chess game is objectively?  With best play?  Though chess has yet to be solved, some objective solutions to specific chess positions have served to surprise the chess world with their length - to say the least!  This is especially the case when people opt to throw the 50-move rule out the window in order to see the truth behind certain positions.

Some endgames are commonly known for their tedious length - one among them is a king and two knights vs. a king and pawn, which is only a win in certain situations.  The defender's pawn is essential to the attacker's ability to force a mate, and the location of the pawn influences the objective length to mate (sometimes in excess of 70 moves), or the ability to checkmate at all.  Hard core chess nerds might want to look up the "Troitzky line" for more on this...

But that is just one example.  To take it to the extreme, brute force analysis of one particular pawnless endgame shattered all previous ideas concerning what constituted "long" in terms of moves: a king, queen, and knight verses a king, rook, bishop, and knight.  It turns out that, if we can ignore the 50 move rule, the superior side would require an astonishing 545 moves to checkmate*! (when observed from one particular setup of course)

So, there you have it!  Chess constantly unveils more surprises in both length and logic as more about the game is continuously discovered.

* http://rybkaforum.net/cgi-bin/rybkaforum/topic_show.pl?pid=182054
**Also, if anyone is interested, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxIaMcO2amE , though the outdated mate in 524 from the same ending, I have always found a pleasurable view.