Best Game of 2023 Nominee

The Romanian Chess Championships of 2023 may have a contender for the game of the year.  Check out the news on for a full write up of the Szabo v Stepaneucu game by GM Rafael Leitao.  I just wanted to highlight a few postions that I found insightful.

The following position was after black’s 15th move. There are a few options for white here who just went a pawn down. I don’t know if I could have been bold enough to take the route Szabo did here.

Things got hairy from this point on.

While 16. Qe2 seems to be the safe play here, Szabo went for the sacrifice 16. Qxd8+ gaining a rook and bishop for his queen after 16 .. Bxd8 17 Rxd8+ along with a king side attack that he felt was worth the exchange.

After black’s 19th move to get out of check 19 … Kg6, Szabo finds himself in the following position. He finds a brilliant move here (spoiler hint here) seemingly ignoring the queen attack on his rook. But is he really?

Good luck finding the best move here!

Szabo found 20 Ng2.  If black decides to take the seemingly hanging rook, look at what follows: 20 … Qxd8 21 Nf4+ Kh6 22 Nxf7+ Kh7 23 Nxd8 and white gets a pawn and the queen for black’s mistake.

The next position is after black’s 26th move, when the queen took the rook on a1. White had just previously made the bizzare 26 Nb5 move.

Only one good move for white here. Can you find it?

The only good move was 27 Nh6+. After careful inspection, we see black cannot capture the knight because of 27 … gxh6 28 Rf4#. Thus, black is forced to take the pawn on h4.

While there are several other postions that are noteworthy, the last one I’ll share is at the end of the game. It is white to move and there is a mate-in-3 and a mate-in-2. See if you can find both!

Szabo found the mate-in-2. Can you find it and the mate-in-3?

If you found either, good job! Since I read the article and followed along I was provided the mate-in-2 which was brilliant. The mate-in-3, however, was not provided so I met that challenge! I was certain the mate-in-3 involved a discovered check by moving the knight on g5. But where? Did I want a double check or did the e4 or e6 squares provide a better tactic? After careful study, I found 43 Ne4+ g5 44 Bxg5+ Kh7 45 Nf6#.

The mate-in-2 is found by 43 Rxg6+!! White is forced to capture with their own knight, and then the smother happens with 44 Nf5#. Stepaneaucu resigned after the rook take. What an awesome game!

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