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Zidane chess

Zidane chess

Very few know that Zidane, who is considered one of the greatest football players of all time, played chess at his childhood. For a long time he was not able to choose from these two kings of sport. A good 25 years ago I participated in an open tournament near Marseille in the South of France. He rarely played long tournaments because he would not have been able to fit them into his football training. However at that time he had a light injury which forced him to rest for a short while. He played chess with enthusiasm; whenever he finished his game he looked for a opponent to play blitz. If he did not find one then he observed players who analysed their games. One of my games lasted really long; rook endings sometimes do not end quickly. It was an exciting ending; and finished in my favour. My opponent and I decided to look at the end part of the game. A little boy, who’s name I did not know then –by now the they know it all over the world- was sitting next to me and followed the analysis very carefully. After finishing the analysis the small Hungarian delegation went to have dinner. I never though that the efffect of this particular game of mine will be seen in the final of the football World Cup. During my next game I noticed the same little boy from the previous day’s analysis keeping an eye on my game.   

When I finished it he immediately came to me limping. I must say I never imagined that the same boy would run among defenders in World Cup final. He very politely introduced himself and told me just to call him Zizou. He asked me to forgive him for disturbing me, but the previous day, during my post mortem an idea came for my opponent to his mind. He then did not dare to interrupt the analysis, however he checked it at home and spent quite a lot of time, and he thought my opponent could have played better, even that he could have held a draw. He did not leave much time to think and quickly told me the move. I straight away understood what he based his defensive plan on. Even if I had not realised what he was doing I would have done it quickly as he explained his whole plan. If White tries to help with the king, then I keep checking him till the king returns behind his pawn; if the rook leaves the g file to help to push the pawn, then the king approaches. It did not take much time to notice that the boy had talent.

His discovery visibly made him happy, however for not too long. I gave it a good think and asked him: ok, but what would you do dear Zizou, if in that position it would your turn to move? I also started to think, and gradually his happiness was disappearing. Then he tried a repost: maybe you are not able to give up the right to move. I told him that was simple to do. So he returned to the position and slowly came to terms with the fact Black was not able to save the game with his move. I explained to him that what he tried is nothing new but a well-know defending method in rook endings. My English and French let me down and did not know the name of this method in English and French. I automatically translated for him how they call this defending method in rook endings. And I told him this the forehead attack, which he tried to employ. In this particular position it did not bring success, however it can save games. He instantly started to like this defence and asked me to tell him all I knew about it. Let me summarise the most important part of the forehead attack with a central pawn!

Let start with the position that was on the board when Zizou started to follow the post mortem of my game.

                                                                                                                 Karolyi,T – N ,N

                                                                                                                    Marseille, 1984

51.Kf5  White plans to take the g pawn and push e as much as he can. White has decent winning chances because despite Black’ king is on the short side, he established a two files cut.  51…Rf7+ Had played 51.Kf4 this check would lead to the game continuation. 52.Kg5 Re7 53.Rg3 Rg7+ [53...Re4 54.Kf5 wins.] 54.Kf4 Kh6 55.Rxg4 Rf7+ 56.Ke4 Kxh5 this way Black forces White to find a move, which is not simple to find. [56...Re7+ Not taking the pawn would not have helped 57.Kf3 Kxh5 (57...Re8 58.Rh4 white holds on both pawns and wins.)

 58.Rg2 ( 58.e4?? with this mistake White would through away the win. 58...Rf7+! 59.Rf4 Re7 60.Ke3 Kg6 Black easily holds the draw with the forehead attack, because his king is cut by only one file.) 58...Rf7+ 59.Ke2 Re7 60.Kd3 Rd7+ 61.Kc4 Re7 62.Kd4 Rd7+ 63.Ke5 Re7+

64.Kf5 Rf7+ 65.Ke6 White wins.]

57.Rg8!! This is the only winning move in this position, it doesn’t allow the opponent’s rook give check from the required distance. 57…Re7+ 58.Kf5! Because of the mating threat White can push his pawn and win. 58…Rf7+ 59.Ke6  1-0 Black resigned because he can do nothing but watch how White pushes his pawn to e5.

Let’s have a look at the young boy’s improvement!


51…g3!? this the move the future great football star suggested; it makes hard for White to win. 52.Kf4 g2 53.Kf3 White has no choice but take the pawn. 53…Kh6 54.Rxg2 wins. 54…Rf7+ 55.Ke2 Kxh5 black must win the h pawn, but makes no difference for us as this is what concerns us as this is what Zidane analysed  at home. 56.e4 Re7 57.Ke3

57…Re8! This is the move Zidane put his trust in, he has an inborn talent to forehead attack. 58.Rg1! This is the move avoided his attention; White simply gives up the right to move; it poses an unsolvable problem for Black. Whoever is an old fox in the area of endings knows one must always think of zugzwang endgames. The forehead (frontal) attacks have strict conditions even if it works: The rook must be 3 ranks away from the pawn; the king can’t be cut on the rank; the king of the defender can’t be too far away from the rank of the pawn because then the rook defends it and the king goes front and can force pushing the pawn. [58.Kd4 Rd8+ 59.Kc5 Re8 60.Kd5 Rd8+ 61.Ke6 Re8+ 62.Kf5 Rf8+! This check saves Black.] 58…Kh6 Maybe this move postpones resignation the most. If the king stood on h7, Rg4 and Kd4 would win. [58...Kh4 It looks like it gives the best practical chance, White must stay sharp in order to win.

59.e5! Rxe5+ If Black would not take the pawn it would be too close, therefore the rook checks no longer were effective. 60.Kf4 White wins the rook thanks to the checkmate threat.; 58...Re7 It brings the rook too close to the pawn, that is why it loses. 59.Kd4 Rd7+ 60.Kc5 (60.Ke5?! Even if it doesn’t spoil the position it gives Black time to get organised. 60...Rd8! White can’t go back to e3 with  his king.) 60...Re7 61.Kd5 Rd7+ 62.Ke6 Rd8 63.e5 White pushes the pawn and with the bridge-building method wins easily.] 59.Kd4 Rd8+ 60.Kc5 The king intentionally doesn’t step on the square right in front of the pawn the threat push the pawn. 60…Rc8+ 61.Kd5 Rd8+ 62.Ke6 Re8+



63.Kf6!! With this small finesse White after all can force through pushing the pawn no matter there are enough, 3 ranks distance. If you remember the football world cup final between France and Italy, in the end of the match (in the endgame) I think not accidentally Zidane attacked  Materazzi in the middle of the football pitch. If I had kept the g pawn maybe he would have attacked the right side defender. Maybe then the line judge would have been further away from the incident and may have not noticed it. These endgame were very instructive, yet it is worth to look if White’s pawn has not reached the fourth rank.

                                                                                                       Szmyslov és Loevenfish



1.Kd3 Rd8+ 2.Kc4 Re8 3.Kd4 Rd8+ 4.Ke5 Re8+ 5.Kf6

5…Kh5! This is the only move to draw this position.  [5...Rf8+? 6.Ke7 Rf5 7.e4 Re5+ 8.Kf6 white’s pawn reaches the 5th and wins.] 6.Re1 Rf8+! 7.Ke7 Ra8 Of course the rook tries to defece from the longer side of the board. 8.e4 [8.Rg1

8…Ra3!! There is no other way to the draw. 9.e4 Re3! This is only move as well, however it is much easier to find than the previous one. 10.Kf6 Rxe4 11.Kf5 Ra4 Black defends the checkmate and holds the position.]

8…Kg5! Decreases the cut to one rank, it means the rook check from the long side provide the draw. [8...Ra7+? 9.Kf6 Ra6+ 10.Kf5 Ra5+ 11.e5 Kh6 12.Rg1 wins.] 9.e5 Ra7+ 10.Kd6 Ra6+ 11.Kd5 Ra5+ 12.Kc6 Ra6+ 13.Kb5 Ra8

Let’s have a look whether the position is a draw regardless where Black’s king stands on the h file. In the next example Black’s king stands worse.



1.Kd3 Rd8+ 2.Kc4 Re8 3.Kd4 Rd8+ 4.Kc5 Re8


5.Rg3! here the difference is that White can defend the pawn with the rook from the side after that the king can force pushing his pawn. 5…Kh6 6.Kd5! [6.Kd6? Kh5! black’s counterplay come in time.] 6…Rd8+ 7.Ke6 Re8+ It is necessary as e4 was threatening.

8.Kf7!! [8.Kf6? Kh5 9.Kf5 Rf8+ sends back the king to e2 by checks.] 8…Re4 [8...Ra8 9.e4] 9.Kf6! the threat of the checkmate gives no time for a rook move. 9…Kh7 10.Kf5 Re8 11.e4 and White wins.

Learning these positions made the little Zidane happy, however they did not keep him satisfied and his desire to get knowledge too long. Next day he came up with a new question. What happens in case of the central pawn but the defender’s king is cut to the long side. I told him the weaker side has chances only if the pawn has not reached the 4th. It is ok, but please show an example!


1.Ke3 in this position White easily wins with the help of the mating threat. 1…Re8+ 2.Kf4 Rf8+ 3.Ke4 Re8+ 4.Kf5 Rf8+ 5.Ke6 Rd8 6.Rd1 Rd4 7.Ke5 Rd8 8.d4 White wins.


1.Rg3 if the Black’s king is far away White wins even if there is no possibility to create a mating net. 1…Ra8 [1...Kh6 2.Ke3 Re8+ 3.Kf4 Rf8+ 4.Ke5 Re8+ 5.Kf6 Rf8+ 6.Ke7 Rf4 7.Ke6 Ra4 8.Ke5 Ra5+ 9.Ke4 and White carries out d4.] 2.Rg4! Rb8 [2...Kh6 3.Ke3 Kh5 4.Rg1 wins.]

3.Ke3! the king goes in front, after that he can push the pawn. [3.d4?? with this hectic move White spoils his position. 3...Rb3! Black with this unusual cut reaches draw.] 3…Re8+ 4.Kf4 Rf8+ 5.Ke5 Re8+ 6.Kf6 Rd8 7.d4


1.Re5! In this example Black’s king got too much in front. The defender is defenceless against the horizontal cut. [1.d4? It allows a surprising, though not new to us counterpaly. 1...Kg5! the king must approach properly.  (1...Kg4? 2.Kd3 Rd8 3.Re5 Kf4 4.Kc4 Rc8+ 5.Rc5 Ra8 6.Rc6 Ra4+ 7.Kc5 Ra5+ 8.Kb4 Ra8 9.Re6 Rd8 10.Kc5 Rc8+ 11.Rc6 White wins as Dvoretsky pointed out.) 2.Rf3

2…Ra8!! This is the only move holds the draw; it threatens to exchange rooks. 3.Rf1 Ra3 Black obtains draw with this cut.] 1…Kg4

2.Ke3 [2.d4 Kf4 3.Kd3 Rd8 4.Rh5 Kg4 5.Rc5 Kf4 6.Kc4 Ke4 7.Re5+ Kf4 8.Re6 wins.] 2…Rc1 3.Ke4 Re1+ 4.Kd5 Ra1 5.d4 Kf4 6.Re8 White can push his pawn without any worry.

I realised on my own that Zidane would be curious what the situation is when the king is cut by two ranks on the long side. That is why I showed him before he asked.

                                                                                                             Kan,I – Lisitsin,G

                                                                                                                     Leningrad 1934

73.Rc2! sets up problem by cutting the king. 73…Rh8!! Zidane at this point needed no help that in this position the forehead attack must be employed. [73...Rh4+? In the game Lisitsin lost a vital tempo, after that White was winning. 74.Kd5 Rh8 75.e4 Rd8+ 76.Ke5 I would rather approach via the e6 square, however this wins as well. 76...Re8+ 77.Kf5 Rf8+ 78.Kg6 Re8 79.Rc4 (79.Be2 is wins.) 79...Kb6 80.Kf7 Kb5 81.Rd4 Rh8 82.e5 It makes Black’s situation hopeless. 82...Kc5 83.Rd1 Rh7+ 84.Kg6 Rh2 85.e6 Re2 86.Kf7 Kc6 87.e7 Rf2+ 88.Ke8 Kc7 89.Rc1+ Black resigned.] 74.Rc3!


74…Kb6!! Black can take advantage of the fact that White’s king is right in the front of the pawn and blocks it. [74...Re8+? Black’s king stands on an unfortunate, far away square from the rook. 75.Kd5 Rd8+ 76.Ke6 Re8+ 77.Kd7 Re4 (77...Re5 78.Rb3+ Ka6 79.Kd6 Re8 80.Kd5! threatens e4. (80.Kc6? Ka5) 80...Rd8+ 81.Kc6 Rc8+ 82.Kd7 Rc4 83.Kd6 White after Kd5 can play e4.) 78.Rb3+ Ka7 (78...Ka6 79.Kc6 Ka5 80.Kd5 Re8 81.e4 wins.) 79.Kc6 Re8 80.Kd5 Rd8+ 81.Kc4 Rc8+ 82.Kd3 Rd8+ 83.Ke2 Re8 84.Rb1 For human brain this is the simples to understand. (84.Rb4 Ka6 85.Kd3 wins.) 84...Ka6 85.Kd3 wins as well.] 75.Kd5 Rd8+ 76.Ke6 Re8+ 77.Kd7


77…Re5!! Already Smyslov and Loewenfish found this majestic saving move and showed it in their pioneer book of the Theory of the rook endgames. [77...Re4? 78.Rc6+ Kb5 (78...Kb7 79.Re6 Rc4 80.e4 wins.) 79.Re6 Ra4 80.Kd6 wins.] 78.Rc6+ [78.Kd6 Re8! 79.Rb3+ Ka5! 80.Kc5

80…Ka4! 81.Rd3 Rc8+! Till this point Black made only moves, however here he had two choices. 82.Kd5 Rd8+ draws, here 82...Kb4! seems to hold the game.] 78…Kb5 79.Re6

79…Rd5+! To make this check possible was the point moving shorter with the rook. 80.Ke7 Kc5 81.e4


81…Rd3! [81...Rd4? 82.Kf6 wins.; 81...Rh5! To our brain this is the most natural draw in this position. 82.e5 Kd4 83.Kf6 Ke4 Black wins White’s pawn.; 81...Rd1?? 82.e5 Re1 83.Kd7 Kd5 84.Rd6+ Now it can be seen white why White played so uneven in his games.] 82.e5 [82.Ra6 Kd4] 82…Re3! Black no longer has any useful. In the next I do not know how many of these ideas came Karpov’s came during the world cup final, but the forehead attack occurred as the example shows it. Who know with how much nostalgia he thinks back of the Marseille open?

After we kept exchanging sides we kept writing to each other; with decreasing frequency. Of course he was curious about chess. After that we kept ( though with less and less frequency exchanging mails. He was naturally wondering about forehead attack position with c or f pawns. His football required more and more work, yet he kept the number of hours he still played chess. After finishing consulting the f and c pawns we terminated these section with the edge pawns. I tried to introduce the mysterious world of other kind of endgames, but he was still focusing to his favourite forehead attack. I tried to make him understand chess better. I wanted him at least to look at other type of rook ending. His results slowly started to deteriorate because he was still mainly interested in the forehead attack; finally we finished these lessons with an attack. The worse result did not bother him, only results counted. It happened that he has a close to win in a rook endgame. He intentionally simplified to a position where  he was able to play his pet motive in chess, . Of course with such an uncompetitive thinking one can’t get really far in sports. Do we need an any better example for that than Zidane.

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