Jeff Sarwer - Josh Waitzkin (1696) [E76]

US National Primary School Championship/Charlotte, North Carolina (7) 1986

Josh Waitzkin retells the story of this game and his competition with Jeff Sarwer in The Art of Learning (2007), pp. 23-27. Going into the game, Josh knew that he only needed a draw to win the Championship on tie-breaks. The actual game is completely misrepresented in the film version of Searching for Bobby Fischer, which is unfortunate since the actual game is quite dramatic. The score and actual score-sheet is provided by Jeff Sarwer on his website with the note: "I blew a winning position and a draw occured that I never realized would become chess folklore... In short, I was 7, he was 9, and I quickly forgot about the draw and won the world-10 championships 2 months later." I don't think the game has ever been shown in a book or online other than at Sarwer's site.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4 O-O 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. e5 Ne8

"He started the game with tremendous aggression, coming straight after me with a very dnagerous central pawn storm against my King's Indian Defense. I had never seen this variation before. He moved quickly, playing with terrifying confidence, and I was on the ropes from the start. His central pawn phalanx seemed to be devouring me, pushing me back before the game even began" (Waitzkin 25).


8. Bd3 c5! 9. dxc5

9. Be3 cxd4 10. Bxd4 dxe5 11. fxe5 Nc7


9... Nxc5?!

9... dxe5! 10. fxe5 (10. f5 Nxc5) 10... Nxe5 11. Nxe5 Bxe5


10. Bc2 a5

10... Be6!


11. O-O b6?!

Black assumes too much of a defensive posture in response to his opponent's aggressive play. Black needs to fight back against the center. Black still has good play by 11... Be6 12. Nd5 Nd7!


12. Be3! Bb7 13. Qd4!? dxe5 14. Nxe5 Qxd4 15. Bxd4 Rd8 16. Bxc5 bxc5 17. Na4 Bxe5?!

Black should retain the two Bishops and just hunker down with 17... Rc8


18. fxe5 Rd2?

Usually a Rook on the 7th creates counterplay, but here the Rook is easily traded and then Black has no way to protect the weak c5-pawn.


19. Rf2! Rxf2 20. Kxf2 f6 21. e6! Nd6 22. Nxc5 Rc8 23. Nxb7 Nxb7 24. b3 Nc5 25. Re1 Rc6 26. Be4! Ra6

The e-pawn is protected by a nice tactic: 26... Rxe6?? 27. Bd5


27. Bc2!?

White returns the pawn, perhaps to invite the trade of Rooks, but with equal material the win will be harder.

a) 27. Bd5? Nd3+

b) 27. Kf3! Nxe4 28. Rxe4 and White would have excellent winning chances despite the difficulties inherent to any Rook ending.


27... Rxe6

27... Nxe6! 28. Rd1 Kf7 might have been easier to hold for a draw.


28. Rxe6 Nxe6 29. Ke3 Kf8! 30. Ke4 Ke8 31. g3 Kd7 32. Kd5 f5 33. a3 h6 34. b4 axb4 35. axb4 Nc7+ 36. Kc5 e5 37. Ba4+ Kc8 38. Bc6 e4

Bishops are naturally better than Knights in positions where both sides have passed pawns because they can move swiftly to defend against the opponent's pawns while supporting their own. Both sides have played well to activate their passed pawns, but the Bishop gives White a very big advantage, especially due to White's superior passed pawns, which are connected and "outside" the center, making them harder to fight with the slow moving Knight.


39. b5?

White likely had a win by 39. Kd6! e3 40. Bf3 g5 41. b5


39... e3

39... Ne6+!? 40. Kb4 (40. Kd6? Nd4 and the Knight holds f3 so that the Bishop cannot stop the Black e-pawn from queening.) (40. Kb6? Nd4 41. Bb7+ Kb8 42. c5 e3 43. c6 Ne6 44. c7+ Nxc7 45. Bf3 Nd5+ 46. Kc5 Nc3) 40... Nd4! 41. Be8 e3 42. Kc3 Kd8 43. Bxg6 Nf3 44. Kd3 Ne5+ 45. Kxe3 Nxg6 46. Kd4 Kc7 is not without losing chances for Black, e.g.: 47. Kd5 f4 48. gxf4 Nxf4+ 49. Ke4 Ne6 50. Kf5 Nd4+ 51. Kg6 Nf3 52. h3 Ne5+ 53. Kxh6 Nxc4 54. h4 Kb6 55. h5 Kxb5 56. Kg7 Nd6 57. Kg6!


40. Bf3 Ne6+ 41. Kd5 Ng5 42. Be2 Kc7 43. Ke5 Ne4 44. Kd4 Kd6 45. Kxe3 Kc5 46. g4 Nd6 47. Kf4 g5+ 48. Ke5 fxg4 49. Kf6

"I'll never forget the feeling when I sensed my potential escape. Often in chess, you feel something is there before you find it. The skin suddenly perks up, senses heighten like an animal feeling danger or prey. The unconscious alerts the conscious player that there is something to be found, and then the search begins. I started calculating, putting things together. Slowly the plan crystallized in my mind. I had to take my Knight out of play and give up my remaining pawns to set up a long combination that would leave just two kings on the board -- a completely counter-intuitive idea" (Waitzkin 26-27).


49... g3! 50. hxg3 Ne4+ 51. Kg6 Nxg3 52. Bd3

52... Nh1!!

A really spectacular move, and probably the only way to draw the game.


53. Kxh6 g4 54. Kg5 g3 55. Be4

55. Bf1 Nf2 56. Kf4 g2!! 57. Bxg2 Nd3+ 58. Kf5 Kxc4 59. b6 Nc5 60. Bc6 Kb4 61. Ke5 Ka5=


55... Nf2 56. Bd5 Nd1 57. Kf4 Nc3 58. Bc6 Ne2+ 59. Kf3 Nd4+ 60. Kxg3 Nxc6 61. bxc6 Kxc6 62. Kf3 Kc5 63. Ke3 Kxc4 1/2-1/2

Game in PGN


Sarwer, Jeff. "Chess." Accessed September 21, 2007

Sloan, Sam. "Searching for Bobby Fischer." Avler Chess Forum
Sloan describes in detail the way this game is represented in the film Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Waitzkin, Josh. The Art of Learning. Free Press 2007.