My previous chess post on this blog featured the brilliant 19th century US player Paul Murphy winning a sparkling miniature against two opponents at Paris in 1858. This post is about a game at the absolute opposite end of the scale – the longest tournament game ever recorded, in terms of moves.
The game took place in a minor tournament in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1989, and featured two minor players – Ivan Nikolic playing the White pieces, and Goran Arsovic playing the black pieces. A long and difficult ending was reached after 60-odd moves, which eventually after 167 moves turned into one of the standard pawnless endgames in chess – king, rook and bishop for Nikolic against the king and rook for Arsovic. This ending can be theoretically drawn by the player with the rook, but in a tournament setting with time issues, as well as fatigue, it is hard for the player with only the rook to continually find the best moves. The player with the rook and bishop can play on with virtually no chances of losing (exclusing a major blunder), which is exactly what Nikolic did in this game, hoping that Arsovic would make a fatal blunder. Nikolic also took advantage of a change in the “fifty-move rule”.
The fifty-move rule in chess states that a player can claim a draw if no capture has been made and no pawn has been moved in 50 consecutive moves. The purpose of this rule is to prevent a player with no chance of winning from obstinately continuing to play indefinitely, or seeking to win purely by tiring the opponent out. This rule aids the player with the lesser pieces, as they know that if they can last for 50 moves, the game can be drawn. However computer analysis of various endgames including the rook + bishop v rook endgame showed that the player with the superior forces could theoretically win the position using more than 50 moves. As a result, the fifty-move rule was changed to a hundred-rule move in 1984, which was the rule in force when this game was played. This explains why Nikolic played on for 102 moves from move 167 until the game was agreed drawn after 269 moves. Shortly after this game was played, the rule was changed to 75 moves, if a certain defined types of endgame occurred. In 1992 the rule was changed back to the 1984 rule, eg 50 moves to get a result after the last pawn move or capture of a piece. The game in total took 20 hours and 15 minutes to play, and computer and human analysis has shown that Nikolic missed wins on moves 201, 238, 239, 241, 244, 247 (checkmate with 247. Ra6#) and 255.
This game still holds the record for the most moves in a serious over-the-board tournament game with “classical” time controls
Here is a list of the other tournament games that have been at least 200 moves
228 Sanal-Can 0.5-0.5, European Championship, Plovdiv, 2012
213 Zawadzka-Lach, 0.5-0.5, Polish Women’s Championship, Warsaw, 2011
210 Neverov-Bogdanovich 0-1, Ukraine Championship, Kiev, 2013
209 Chekhlov-Stavrinov, 0.5-0.5, Riga City Championship 1988
204 Shanava-Emiroglu, 0-5-0.5, 40th Olympiad Open, Istanbul 2012
201 Mirzoev-Sanal 0-5-0.5, Nakhchivan Open, 2013
200 Meiers-Rausis, 0-5-0.5, Latvian Championship, Riga, 1989
200 Wegner-Johnsen, 0-5-0.5, Gausdal 1991
Here is a youtube video of all 269 moves, thankfully compressed into 10 minutes: