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I saw the movie and was wowed by two things: the blind chess match in which Holmes wins with the move Bishop-Bishop 8, discovered check; and the mental fist fight they have in their minds. It's such a creative way for two geniuses (genii?) to do battle.

My question is, was the match that they had real/plausible? Was it based on a real, historical chess match? And was it even played as chess masters would play?

My first instinct was that they took a historical and famous chess match, and my gut feeling is strong. But I could be wrong. And anyway, which chess match is this? I figured, if it's a historical chess match, many users here will have studied it before.

I tried to get a screenshot of the last configuration of the board, but they never actually show it.

Instead, I know that Moriarty plays White. His opening move is c4. When Holmes moves again, he is shown to play d5, some turn after he has played e5 (but we're not sure how many turns after). On the bright side, I have a this screenshot when he plays d5:

screenshot of his timepiece

Finally, I have the list of moves they made during the end game, when their blind match started. I'll list their alternating moves according to how they said it, as I don't know how to write in notation.

Holmes: Bishop takes Knight, check
Moriarty: King to Rook 2
Rook to King's Rook 3
Bishop to Rook 3
Bishop takes Bishop
Rook to Bishop 4
Rook takes Rook
Pawn takes Rook
Bishop to Bishop 7
Queen takes Knight Pawn
Bishop to Bishop 8, discovered check, mate

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I've heard of people playing mental chess before, which is even harder than simply a mutual blindfold match because there isn't even an actual board to act as a reference in case somebody get something wrong. – Joe Z. Mar 5 '13 at 20:22
Just one question, I haven't seen Game of Shadows, but does it really involve a "Dean" Moriarty? As in, the guy from Kerouac's "On The Road"? – thesunneversets Mar 5 '13 at 20:25
not only is it plausable, but it's actually somewhat ordinary – Sam I am Mar 5 '13 at 22:16
People are able to do this, not necessarily because they're super geniuses, but because they have so much chess experience, that they have a more developed mental model about how the game is played and how it works. – Sam I am Mar 5 '13 at 22:19
@thesunneversets, Yes it does. But, this Dean Moriarty is a professor and genius, and quite beardy. This Dean is not anything like the Dean from On the Road. – markovchain Mar 6 '13 at 1:54

3 Answers 3

Here is a reconstructed version of the game. It was originally a Sicilian. The final variation chosen is one of many that leads to mate:

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# 1-0
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Are you asking if blindfolded chess matches exist? Yes, they do. I just read about one in the most recent copy of Wired magazine, actually:

Robson is up first. He sits across from one of the volunteers, Masoud Assali, a public-safety officer at Webster. To level the playing field somewhat, Robson removes his glasses so a cream-colored blindfold can be tied over his eyes. He’ll have to remember the position of all the pieces as the game progresses.

“c5,” Robson says.

He is playing black. Truong picks up a black pawn and moves it two spaces forward.

Assali thinks for a few seconds. Then he reaches out and moves a white knight. Truong calls out a letter and a number that tells Robson how his opponent moved—universal chess notation. Robson doesn’t hesitate. “d6,” he says. Truong advances another black pawn.

It goes on like this for several minutes: Assali taking his time, Robson calling out moves almost immediately. White pawns are captured; black advances. Robson soon encircles his opponent’s king. Assali nods with a gracious smile: checkmate.

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I'm asking if this specific blind chess match isn't just some random series of moves that made them sound smart :) – markovchain Mar 6 '13 at 1:53
2 how the poker games in movies, where the protagonists stake massive amounts on the turn of a single card (which magically ends up providing them with a royal flush), are not in fact anything close to the way in which good poker players actually play. – thesunneversets Mar 6 '13 at 3:09
Are you saying that the chess game in the movie isn't a designed game that is based on a historical match? – markovchain Mar 6 '13 at 3:34

Interesting question! Unfortunately it's not possible to easily reconstruct the complete game from the limited information available in the movie. Fortunately for us, this has been investigated in detail at, where they have done an awesome job of reconstructing the opening and ending from the movie.

The game played in the movie is based on the historical grandmaster game, Bent Larsen vs Tigran Petrosian, 1966 (Santa Monica). Both the opening move sequence and the ending have been changed somewhat to make it a little bit more exciting to watch. You can play through this original game in the linked article.

I won't include the board for the final position here since until we have better chess rendering support, it is better displayed on the linked website. You can click through the moves and see how it all unfolds.

The author of the blog post also emailed the movie's technical director, and got some additional information, including the historical background, which he used to refine his reconstruction of the game's opening and ending:

I emailed the technical advisor Adam Raoof during the chess scene and Qh6 and Kh1 wasn't in the movie but are the correct moves.(I presumed it cause it was the only possible move with queen cause of later Qxb2 and of course the King could have moved to f1 also).

I took a closer look at the chess scene and the opening and you can read the about it in the middle of the blog.They use a different opening in the movie then the Larsen-Petrosian game.

Adam Raoff told me that he choose the game with Larsen as a tribute to him and because it was one of his favourite tournament books and was played in the year of his birth.

Holmes was gonna play white in the original script but soon after they decided on this line the director changed the script so that Holmes was gonna have the black pieces so they reversed the position and lost a move.

Adam added the line 'discovered check and, incidentally, mate', which made it to the film and which Robert Downey Junior thought was "&&**ing awesome"!

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Thanks! And I just want to say, I thought that added line was also ****ing awesome – markovchain Mar 5 '13 at 17:48
And also, Moriarty makes a lot of stupid moves in that ending, under that configuration. – markovchain Mar 5 '13 at 17:53
@markovchain - No problem. Welcome to B&CG! – ire_and_curses Mar 5 '13 at 18:26

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