Comet Charousek - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


The name Rudolf Charousek (1873-1900) might not mean anything to many readers or perhaps the newer generation of young chess fans. But this spectacular 19th century Hungarian star, who was born on this day 145 years ago, remains one of the great intriguing “What ifs?” of our wonderful game, as he died all too young just when he was nearing the peak of his short career, and being talked up by many experts as being a potential world title contender.

Charousek (pronounced “kah-ROO-zek”) had a natural chess talent. A quick learner, it took just him just seven years from the time of discovering how the pieces moved, to actually beating the World Champion of the day, Emanuel Lasker, at the Nuremberg 1896 international chess tournament. And after Nuremberg, the literally unknown 23-year-old proceeded to beat every strong master of his era and to finish first or second in every international tournament he played in.

Alas, like many before him – such as one of his contemporaries, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, the American phenomenon, who also died all too young aged 33 of the same affliction – Charousek’s promising future was tragically cut short, as he was dead by the age of 26 in 1900 of tuberculosis, only four years after starting his spectacular international career.

And with literally appearing out of nowhere, and shining brightly for a brief period time, and then his star dying out all too young, led to Charousek receiving the epitaph of being a “Chess Comet”. Sadly today, he is all but largely forgotten, rarely mentioned except in some of the better books on chess history. A real pity, as he left to us a legacy of dazzling games, many of them stemming from gambits which suited his swashbuckling style of play that much can still be learned from.

I only came across “Comet Charousek” in my mid-teens through an article with the same title that appeared in the late 1970s in the British Chess Magazine. It left an indelible mark on me, and soon I sought out the only book then available on this young old master, Charousek’s Games of Chess, by Philip W. Sargeant, published in 1919, where the author concludes his introduction with the fitting tribute: “It is not possible for us to judge what greater heights he might have reached in his art, if his life had not closed in its spring.”

A biography also appeared in 1997, Chess Comet Charousek, by Victor A. Charuchin, but this Russian-to-English translated tome has largely been dismissed by critics and chess aficionados alike as being very poorly done – an injustice, and certainly one that makes a strong case today for someone to do a more fitting tribute to this wonderful, yet largely forgotten swashbuckling master, who went by the name of Rudolf Charousek.

PhotoCharousek’s Games of Chess, by Philip W. Sargeant, published in 1919 by G Bell & Sons Ltd.

Geza Maroczy – Rudolf Charousek
Budapest, 1896
King’s Gambit Declined, Falkbeer Counter-gambit
1.e4 e5 2.f4 The King’s Gambit was almost de rigueur during the age of Rudolf Charousek. 2…d5 3.exd5 e4 Even in today’s modern game, the Falkbeer Counter-gambit is seen as an effective way of playing against the King’s Gambit. 4.Qe2?! White should avoid this. Instead, modern theory now prefers 4.d3 Nf6 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.Qe2 with equal play. 4…Nf6 5.Nc3 Bd6 6.Nxe4 0-0 7.Nxf6+ Qxf6 8.d3 Na6 9.Qf3 If 9.Nf3 Bg4 and the threat of …Re8 means the White queen will have to move off the e-file anyway. 9…Re8+ We can now see that, despite being two pawns down, Charousek has won the opening battle: White has difficulty in completing his development, and Black’s …Re8+ sets in motion a spectacular assault on White’s king, which quickly gets assailed by Black pieces. 10.Kd1 Bd7 11.Ne2 Re7 12.Nc3 Nc5 13.Ne4 Maroczy does what everyone should do when faced with an opponent who has strong, active pieces: namely, try and exchange them off to ease the pressure. The alternative 13.Bd2 wasn’t any better anyway, as after 13…Rae8 14.g3 Na4 15.Nxa4 Bxa4 16.Rb1 Qd4! it’s all becoming rather awkward for White. 13…Nxe4 Charousek could have gone for 13…Qd4! 14.Nxd6 cxd6 15.Rb1 Na4 16.Be2 (16.c3? Nxc3+! 17.bxc3 Qxc3 and Black is crashing through for a win.) 16…Rc8 17.Rf1 Nc3+! 18.bxc3 Qxc3 19.Rb2 Ba4 and White is in deep trouble. 14.dxe4 Qd4+ 15.Bd3 If 15.Qd3 Rxe4 16.Qxd4 Rxd4+ 17.Bd3 Bg4+ 18.Ke1 Bc5 and Black will regain his pawns with a winning advantage, as White’s king is still caught in the crossfire of Black’s active pieces. 15…Rae8 16.c3? Under the huge strain of coping with the relentless onslaught from Charousek, Maroczy – unlike this annotator, who has the benefit of the ever-reliable silicon nerves of steel – misses a trick with 16.e5!?; but perhaps he feared that Black would come crashing through with 16…Bxe5 17.c3 (17.fxe5? Bg4!) 17…Ba4+ 18.b3 Qxc3 19.fxe5 where it is not so clear, as it forces Black into 19…Qxa1 (Not 19…Rxe5?? 20.Bxh7+! spectacularly turning the tables.) 20.Qe4! when it is far from certain now if Black is winning.  But then again, without this error, we wouldn’t have the flourishing finish! 16…Ba4+ 17.Kd2 Rxe4!! [see diagram] Now a tsunami of Black pieces come crashing through for a spectacular win. 18.b3 Bb4! 19.Bb2 Instead, if 19.cxb4 Re3!! (Not 19…Qxa1 20.Bxe4 and White is winning.) 20.Qf1 (20.bxa4?? Qxd3#) 20…Bb5 and Black is winning. 19…Re3 20.Qf1 Bb5 0-1


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