Friday, 28 June 2013

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (3½ Stars)

This is the sequel to "Sherlock Holmes", once more starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. My guest writer Kaylena already reviewed it here.

Instead of writing about the whole film I'll just zoom in on the chess game between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty in one of the final scenes. The last 13 moves of the game are called out loud, but we aren't shown the position on the board. The question that most chess fans will ask is whether these moves are possible. If I had watched the film when it was first released in 2011 I would have researched it, using the pattern matching algorithms of the chess database program Chessbase; as it is I'm two years late, and the work has already been done for me. My main source is a blog post by Stefan Jonsson.

According to the film's chess consultant, Adam Raoof, "Not much of the footage of the actual game we filmed survived the edit, but it was a famous Larsen game with reversed colours and using some variations". The game he's referring to was between Bent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian in 1966. Unfortunately the first few moves of the game that we see being played don't match the ending. Holmes is shown playing Black, although we can calculate from the final 13 moves that he must have been playing White. This is a goof, but admittedly something that practically nobody would notice. Another goof is in the photo below, taken from the film. The black king and queen are on the wrong squares. Evidently Mr. Raoof wasn't paying attention.

The game's full notation is printed below, or click here to replay the full Holmes-Moriarty game in a Javascript window.

Sherlock Holmes - James Moriarty

 1. e4 c5
 2. Nf3 Nc6
 3. d4 cxd4
 4. Nxd4 g6
 5. Be3 Bg7
 6. c4 Nf6
 7. Nc3 Ng4
 8. Qxg4 Nxd4
 9. Qd1 Ne6
10. Qd2 d6
11. Be2 Bd7
12. O-O O-O
13. Rad1 Bc6
14. Nd5 Re8
15. f4 Nc7
16. f5 Na6
17. Bg4 Nc5
18. fxg6 hxg6
19. Qf2 Rf8
20. e5 Bxe5
21. Qh4 Bxd5
22. Rxd5 Ne6
23. Rf3 Bf6
24. Qh6 Bg7
25. Qxg6 fxg6
26. Bxe6+ Kh7
27. Rh3+ Bh6
28. Bxh6 Rf5
29. Rxf5 gxf5
30. Bf7 Qb6+
31. Kh1 Qxb2
32. Bf8#

Addendum on June 29th: This is something I've never done before. I'm extending my post a day after I first wrote it due to comments I've received. Usually I would add additional thoughts in the comments section, but in this case it's too much.

After I made my post an anonymous person contacted me and suggested the following game as an alternative to the game that I included in my post. Click here to replay it in a Javascript window.

James Moriarty - Sherlock Holmes

 1. c4 e5
 2. Nc3 d5
 3. cxd5 Nf6
 4. g3 Nxd5
 5. Bg2 Be6
 6. Nf3 Nc6
 7. Ng5 Qxg5
 8. Nxd5 Qd8
 9. Ne3 Qd7
10. d3 Be7
11. Bd2 O-O
12. O-O Rad8
13. Bc3 Nd4
14. Re1 f5
15. Nc2 f4
16. Na3 Bg5
17. Nc4 fxg3
18. hxg3 Qf7
19. Rf1 e4
20. Bxe4 Qh5
21. Bxd4 Rxd4
22. Ne3 Rf6
23. Qb3 Kh8
24. Bf3 Qh3
25. Bg2 Qxg3
26. fxg3 Bxe3+
27. Kh2 Rh6+
28. Bh3 Bxh3
29. Rf4 Rxf4
30. gxf4 Bf2
31. Qxb7 Bf1#

It has two major advantages over the game in my original post::

1. Sherlock Holmes is playing black.

2. The opening moves are the moves we see being played.

This game also matches the final 13 moves that are spoken out loud in the film. The reason is that in the film the old "descriptive moves" are used, which are ambiguous because they make no difference between White and Black. Since the 1980's unambiguous algebraic moves have become more common. For instance, the following algebraic notation and descriptive notation describe the same four moves.

Algebraic: 1. e4 e5 2. Nc4 Nf6

Descriptive: 1. P-K4 P-K4 2. N-QB3 N-KB3

This game is a good construction to match what the film shows us, but I still think that the more plausible explanation is that the film's opening moves were a goof. The reason is that this construction contains severe blunders on both sides. In move 23 Holmes could have taken Moriarty's Queen (23... Bxb3). Even worse, in move 28 Moriarty misses an immediate checkmate (28. Rf8#). The game in my original post, which follows the 1966 Larsen-Petrosian game until move 25, is a lot more logical.

1 comment:

  1. Judging by the high number of hits in such a short time, this post has generated a lot of excitement. I've received comments by email and in person, but so far no comments here in the blog. This is the best place to post comments, so that other people, not just me, can see what you have to say. I only have two readers who regularly write comments here, and I would like to have more. Don't be shy.

    Today was the first time I've ever gone back and edited a post already on my blog (apart from correcting embarrassing spelling mistakes). I want to avoid doing it again.


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