What is an immortal game in chess? (Fact checked!)

I have been watching a lot of chess videos lately since I’ve got some time to breathe. I realize that there is a term that I encounter frequently which is the so-called immortal game(s). 

Of course now I know what it means since I had analyzed a lot of games in the past that are branded as immortal, but I know there are beginners out there that are wondering about this concept.

So what exactly is it? What is an immortal game in chess?

An immortal game is a notable chess game that is so memorable that it is still remembered centuries after it is played. This is even when the people who played it have already passed. It’s usually composed of beautiful attacks or positional sacrifice.

These are usually the games that appeal to beginners and keep them motivated in pursuing the game, it can be important to search for this in order to fall in love with chess again. 

Or if you have someone who you are looking to introduce to this game then showing him/her one or two immortal games might do the trick. But we need to know what it is first.

What makes a chess game immortal?

Some frequent element of an immortal game is a beautiful positional sacrifice, an aggressive combination, and a visually appealing ending.

Attacks are usually what is memorable to a chess game, if it’s something that will be popular enough to be remembered for a long time it has to appeal to a lot of people. 

A lot of people do not appreciate positional mastery since most people do not understand the broadness of a quiet positional game. Something that is not visually appealing on the surface usually does not make the rank of being an immortal game (usually), there are few exceptions but such is a minority.

This is why chess games that are considered immortal are usually aggressive attacking games with flurry combinations, and best of all, a beautiful and art-like ending position.

These are just the kind of games that appeal to most of the beginners and those who do not understand the game at all (which is a larger population) so it is likely to be passed with decades following the original game since there are more people who are likely to talk about it.

Immortal chess games surpass the human life

All people in this world will have limited time to live, that is the same with chess players where they will die eventually as well. However there are things that can be remembered even when somebody has already passed on, which is the work that they have done when they are still living.

An immortal game is a chess game that is so memorable that it will be remembered for a really long time even after the players involved are dead (in other words, it has a permanence that even surpasses human life).

It is something that will stay even when those who orchestrated it are no longer in this world, which is why it is considered immortal. 

It is immortal in the sense that it can surpass those who created it in timeliness, though of course, such games will die eventually if nobody is able to appreciate the (humanity), but in the context of time, it really does surpass human life.

Immortal games usually contain a lot of mistakes

This is something that a lot of people who are not engaged in the game do not understand, which is that it takes mistakes for a beautiful game to be created. If both sides played perfectly (or with only minor inconsistency) then the ending would be close and pretty normal.

Something that is just pretty normal would not be remembered for a long time, it does not earn the title of immortal. Games considered to be immortal are usually games where both sides make a significant amount of mistakes, if both sides played perfectly they would not have reached the position that could be called beautiful.

One side (who usually is the losing side) will have to make a concession that would allow the opportunity for a variety of wild positions. These wild positions where the winning side can change with one wrong move are the home of crazy combinations, crazy consecutive moves that if played perfectly are artistic to the eyes.

It also stands out from all other normal games out there, though one side may be on the receiving end for making the mistake that eventually led to brilliancy.

The term immortal games come from the original immortal game

The term immortal game originates from the original game played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, though it has expanded its definition over time. It is a game that you will rarely see played today (since there are a lot of mistakes) but that’s what makes it immortal.

People started calling other similar beautiful games as immortal games after this one, but the original term really did originate from this. 

This is a good video from my favorite Youtuber agadmator with a beginner guide to the match, it also gives you a sense of what an immortal game really is:

Are there any restrictions for a chess game to be called immortal?

Immortal games can be played by anybody even if they are not famous, it can be in any tournament casual or not, or without any historical significance. As long as it can be remembered for a long time it can still be an immortal game.

As I had talked about before, the main condition for a match to be considered immortal is the quality to be remembered for a long time. However we do not know which game this is (that will be remembered for a long time) since we need a long time to pass to identify that.

There might be games out there that are beautiful, contains positional sacrifices, etc. but do not make it to the ranks of being an immortal game since it didn’t get popular enough to be remembered for a long time.

This is why immortal games are usually old games that have been played at least a decade before, we just don’t know if a beautiful game will be popular enough to become immortal if it has just been played recently.

There might be characteristics that we can identify to be worthy of being an immortal game (like what has been discussed above), but the ultimate definition is the quality to be permanent in people’s minds.

We need the help of time to clearly assess the validity of something that may be considered an immortal game.

An immortal game can be played by anyone

There are no restrictions whatsoever telling that only the elites of a particular era can have an immortal game, it is not relative to the strength of the players nor the tournament. This means that theoretically, even lower-rated players can have an immortal game for themselves.

Immortal games are just not one game that can only be played by specific people, it is basically a game that is so beautiful that it will be remembered even if it was played by non-famous individuals. 

You can have an immortal game, I can have an immortal game, but we do need to play a great game. 

However I will say that the stronger players are usually the ones who are able to create such masterpieces since they have the skills that are required to do so, lower-rated and players rarely get to play something brilliant.

This is why you can see a lot of stronger players having their own immortal game while some not-so-stronger ones having none at all, it is not because reputation is a meter, but because it needs to be a great game that can be played by a very good player.

Immortal game and historical significance

This is another myth that I have to debunk, some people out there think that the match needs to have some historical significance behind it in order to be considered an immortal game. This is not true. 

Immortal games are usually separated from the historical significance of the game, whether it is played in an important event or not, it can still be immortal (or non-immortal). 

Even if it is played by a lower-rated player that has no historical significance to chess whatsoever, as long as the game is beautiful it can still be immortal. 

The opposite is also true, just because someone is a strong player (and regularly plays in stronger tournaments) doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have a lot of immortal games just because of their reputation.

However, I will say that if something has historical significance behind it, it is more likely to be remembered for a really long time since more people are likely to have viewed it (unlike with other non-famous beautiful games). It is a plus definitely, but not a requirement.

Immortal games don’t need to have sacrifices

This is another myth that he’s been going around for quite some time now, that immortal games are only aggressive and contain a lot of sacrifices (as a requirement) this is again, not true.

Immortal games are not always about aggressive attacks and beautiful sacrifices, it can also be a positionally beautiful game such as a zugzwang immortal.

A zugzwang is basically putting one player in a condition where they have no moves available that would not lose them the game, however, they are forced to move something due to the rule of chess. Such is evidence that you don’t need sacrifices in order for a game to be called beautiful.

How is an immortal game different from other great chess games?

An immortal game stands out from other great games due to its popularity, if it is still talked about decades later after it was originally played, it will have an element of permanence with it.

I think this has been a recurring occurrence throughout this article, which is I attempt to describe an immortal game by its elements but still the ends up saying that it might not be the case.

That is because there is no pure description for a chess game to be considered immortal, the general population of the chess world will decide that, primarily depending if it is still being talked to for decades after it was initially played.

It doesn’t need to have a sacrifice (there are immortal games that doesn’t have that), it doesn’t need to be beautiful (beautiful is relative to the individual), it doesn’t need to be positional (a lot of immortal games contain sacrifices), as long as it can be remembered for a long time then it qualifies.

Immortal games have timeliness

Immortal games have to be games that stand out from the context of time, some beautiful attacking games centuries ago (that have become immortal), will be glossed over now since there’s a lot of information about such tactics.

That is if you are talking objectively, some games that have become popular has been debunked by a lot of modern grandmasters to be such a crappy game, but are only visually beautiful. This is why the context of time and modern knowledge are separated from the definition.

Just because the standards have risen now doesn’t mean that it will be removed from the hearts of people who have enjoyed the game. And in fact, it may have become the reason why such games become so popular, which is it appeal to beginners.

The thing that separates an immortal game from other really good games is its popularity, if it’s something that appeals to a lot of people (basically the essence of chess) it will become immortal eventually. And guess what, there are a lot more beginners in chess than pros!

So if a game is easy to understand, it is more likely to be favored by the majority of the population. However you can’t get something that is visually beautiful if there are not a lot of mistakes, so immortal games are really mostly crappy games in the eyes of the pro, but not in the eyes of everyone else.

Do you now know what is an immortal game?

Immortal games objectively speaking, do have a lot of mistakes, yes, but I personally believe that the passion that started everyone in this game is the most important. And the same immortal games that contain a lot of mistakes are usually the ones that started the fire to play chess.

Seeing a perfect game is really boring in my opinion (it will most likely be a draw) and I need to see something exciting once in a while that has some errors. This is not because I don’t like to improve, but more of the urge to remember why I am playing in the first place, to recover that feeling.

You would never improve if you don’t play! So I’m holding to that feeling, and I hope you too! sleep well and play chess.

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