Today, a very strong international chess tournament starts in Montreal, and my friend Pascal Charbonneau, a grandmaster and two-time champion of Canada, has been warming up this week by playing blitz games on the Internet against a world-class opponent. Each side had only a mind-whirling three minutes. (Three chapters in King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game feature Pascal’s struggle to earn the grandmaster title and achieve a respectable performance in the 2004 world championship in Libya. It was in Tripoli, when I wasn’t being harassed by Libyan intelligence agents, that I first saw how Pascal avoided serious preparation for his opponents by spending serious time on Internet speed chess.)
After seventeen moves in one of this week’s blitz games, Pascal reached the following position as White in the opening known as the Sicilian Dragon.
His opponent had “sacrificed the exchange”–given up a high-valued rook for a lesser-valued knight–to fracture the pawns around White’s king and accelerate an attack on Pascal’s king. Moreover, Black’s wily knight is both attacking Pascal’s corner rook and threatening to deliver a devastating check that would fork the queen. What did Pascal do?
When you want to know the rest of the game, please see chess problem answers.