Penalizing mistaken touches
In a serious tournament game once, I had achieved a nearly winning position by sacrificing a bishop. All I needed to do next was to move my rook to attack my foe’s queen, which could not escape being captured on my next turn. Without thought, I quickly picked up a rook to make my decisive move. It was then I realized that my hand was holding the wrong rook, one that would not win the queen. My opponent looked at me as if to say, “What do you plan to do with that?” His unspoken but implied message was, “you touched it; you move it.” I was about to be victimized by the “Touch-Move” rule and would be down a full piece.
One of this column’s readers recently shared a relevant story. His opponent had made a losing move instead of an advantageous one that he could have played instead. Our reader then took a bathroom break. He relates: “When I returned, lo and behold the move that had troubled me was on the board, and my opponent was doing everything he could not to make eye contact.” Knowing that a spectator had viewed the unlawful switch, our reader decided on a creative way to avoid “uncalled-for embarrassment.” “Excuse me, sir, you prefer this move to the one you originally played?” he asked. “To which he [the opponent] muttered something under his breath, and a few seconds later returned the board to the original position.”
The TM rule is intended to hold us responsible for our actions. If you intentionally touch one of your men, you must move it if you can. If the man you touch belongs to your opponent, you must capture it if you can. TM makes subsequent changing of the mind or having secondthoughts irrelevant.
Every so often, even the greatest of champions have found themselves picking up a piece too quickly. A famous example occurred in 1966 at the Piatigorsky Cup, a meeting of top world grandmasters held in California. In the last round, Bobby Fischer had achieved a likely winning edge a pawn ahead. Spotting a natural attacking move of a bishop, he touched the piece prematurely to move it. At that point, he suddenly realized that the move would allow a tricky draw.
An examination of that memorable encounter (in- cluded with this column) shows that Fischer nicely survived the Marshall Gambit, keeping Black’s sacrificed pawn. On move 30, he had good choices; for instances, Qe2 or Qb1. His Bd3 allowed ... Rxc2 and a trade into a drawable bishops of opposite colors ending.
His opponent later said: “After touching the bishop, Fischer sat for seconds with his finger on the piece desperately looking for another move ... but there is no other move!” That lost half-point cost him a tie with future World Champion Boris Spassky for first place.
In 1992, former World Champion Anatoly Karpov was a queen ahead in a queen and rook versus rook endgame against former Soviet Champion Alexander Chernin. He did not notice that his opponent’s last move had created a check. He touched his queen to move it and suddenly realized the only way he could get out of check was by blocking with, and losing, his queen. Probably rattled, he ended up losing the game.
Game of the week Robert Fischer-Jan Donner Second Piatigorsky Cup Santa Monica July 21, 1966
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4 14.g3 Qh3 15.Be3 Bg4 16.Qd3 Nxe3 17.Rxe3 c5 18.Qf1 Qh6 19.Nd2 Rad8 20.Nf3 Bxf3 21.Rxf3 cxd4 22.cxd4 Qd2 23.Rd3 Qg5 24.Rc1 Rc8 25.Rdc3 Rxc3 26.bxc3 Ba3 27.Rc2 Rc8 28.c4 bxc4 29.Bxc4 Qf5 30.Bd3 Rxc2 31.Bxf5 Rc1 32.Qxc1 Bxc1 33.Kf1 Kf8 34.Ke2 h6 1⁄2–1⁄