Chess Tactics: the Old but Evergreen Philidor’s position

Filed under Chess Tutorials

In the previous article explaining Philidor’s position and showing how Grandmasters also stumble into it, we now show you one of even more recent origin that arose in a game played between two young but promising Grandmasters.

Alexander Grischuk (b.1983) is a Russian GM who came into limelight when he was a teenager. In 2004 Russian Championship, he came out second behind the winner Garry Kasparov. He is now (in July 2009) ranked 14th in the world as per FIDE list of top players. He is also one of the best blitz chess players in the world. He is married to Ukrainian WGM Natalia Zhukova.

Ruslan Ponomariov (b.1983) is from Ukraine and won the World under-12 Championship when he was 10 and the World under-18 Championship at the age of 13. In 1997, he became the youngest GM ever (this record was broken later by Sergey Karjakin). In 2002, he became the youngest FIDE champion. He is ranked 16th in the world in the FIDE list of July 2009.

The diagram below shows the position after 16 moves in a game played between these Grandmasters in a tournament at Torshavn in 2000.

Philidor's position in a recent setting

On first look, you cannot possibly imagine how this position can get into Philidor’s legacy! I do not know if the players themselves had any inkling about what was likely to develop! Play out the moves to see how it transpires.

17. dxe5 Nxe5  
18. Nxe5 Rxf1+  
19. Qxf1 Qd4+  
20. Kh1 Qxe5  
21. Bd8 Qc5   The crystallization stage – White’s Q and KB are ready, the Knight has to take its position!
22. Ne4 Qb4  
23. Ng5 Kh8   Black seems to be more worried about his Knight at b6
24. Qf7 Bd7   The White pieces are in position waiting for the final strike.
25. Bxe6 Rxd8   25. … Bxe6 26. Nxe6 threatens mate. 25. … Qf8 26. Bxb6 loses a piece.
26. Qg8+ Rxg8  
27. Nf7#  


All the previous examples showed Philidor’s mate applied by White, but it can work equally well for Black also as the following game shows. It was played between J. Stepanek and Karel Treybal at Prague in 1936 and the board position shows the situation after 18 moves. Here also, it certainly does not look anywhere near developing into Philidor’s position.

Philidor's mate from Black side

This is how it happens.

19. a4 Rb8  
20. axb5 Rxb5  
21. Qc2 f3  
22. g3 Qb8  
23. Ra2 Rc5  
24. Qa4 Nd3  
25. Rb1 Qb6  
26. Nc4 Rxc4   White played into the hands of Black and the basic pattern for Philidor’s mate is now apparent.
27. Qxc4 Nxf2  
28. Be6 Nh3++  
29. Kh1 Qg1+  
30. Rxg1 Nf2#  


Here it is a little different from ideal smothered mate in the sense that g2 square is not occupied by any white piece, but the black pawn at f3 denies this square to White King.

You must have heard the bitter quote: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Lest you get focused only on the usual Philidor’s position and overlook variations on the theme, our next article on smothered mate will give an example where it starts with Rook sacrifices and also show other types of smothered mate possible during the opening phase.


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