Gift Horse or Trojan Horse in Chess


There is an expression, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Literally, if someone gives you a horse, don’t check its teeth to see how old it is. But if your chess opponent gives you a knight, check for teeth. The sacrificed knight may be a Trojan horse planning to “bite” you.

Kateřina Němcová, photo by Lennart Ootes, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club
Kateřina Němcová
photo by Lennart Ootes, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club

U.S. Championships

The U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship are from October 5–19, 2021. Before the first rest day on Sunday, October 10, Grandmaster Ray Robson led the U.S. Championship and International Master Carissa Yip and Woman Grandmaster Kateřina Němcová led the U.S. Women’s Championship. The leaders had three points out of a possible four points, with seven rounds remaining.

As of October 18, Yip secured the U.S. Women’s Championship. No player can catch up to her score in the last (11th) round. In contrast, the last round of the U.S. Championship still has six players, including Robson, who could theoretically become U.S. Champion. The eleventh round begins on October 18 at 1:00 p.m. Central Time, United States. October 19 is for play offs, if necessary, and a closing ceremony.

Robson versus Naroditsky

Ray Robson, photo by Crystal Fuller, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club
Ray Robson
photo by Crystal Fuller, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club

In round 1, Robson defeated Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky. On the last move of the game, a gift horse appeared. It was not a Trojan horse, because Black (Naroditsky) had too few chessmen left. In the story of the Trojan horse, summarized on Wikipedia, the siege of Troy ended when the Greeks:


constructed a huge wooden horse and hid a select force of men inside, including Odysseus himself. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army

chess diagram

Black is in a desparate situation, as both his knight and queen were attacked. And he is also a rook behind! He moves his knight to give a check. How should White reply?

48. Qxg5 – White takes the “gift horse.” If Black recaptures White’s queen, White captures Black’s queen and is a minor piece and rook ahead.

Yip versus Krush

Carissa Yip, photo by Crystal Fuller, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club
Carissa Yip
photo by Crystal Fuller, Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club

In round 4, Yip defeated Grandmaster Irina Krush, who has won the U.S. Women’s Championship eight times, including in 2020. Unlike Naroditsky, who was completely lost when he gave a knight to his opponent Robson, Krush had chances to survive her unpleasant position against Yip. After about four minutes of thinking, Krush turned her knight into a gift horse by playing 21…Nb4.

chess diagram

Unfortunately, Black has blundered a knight (or bishop) here. Can you find White’s best line leading to a fork?

22. Rxc8+ Rxc8 23. Rd4

The knight and bishop are forked. White will either win a bishop or a “gift horse.”

Yip thought for two minutes after Krush’s blunder, before replying with the correct move. As Yip said in a post-game interview, at 2:55:15 into that video, she wanted to make sure that she was not hallucinating. That is, she checked that Krush’s offered knight was not a Trojan horse.

No Draws by Agreement

One interesting regulation, new this year to the U.S. Championships, is no draws by agreement. It’s hard to break old habits, though, as draws by agreement are normal in chess tournaments. In the Round 2 game of Woman Grandmaster Anna Sharevich versus Krush, there was a draw offer and handshake acceptance of the offer. The position, and the handshake, are shown starting at 5:33:30 (five hours, thirty-three minutes, and thirty seconds) in the Round 2 commentary video. Then the arbiter reminded the players that they had to play on, post-handshake. They repeated the position three times, and then their draw became official.

To learn more about the 2021 U.S. Championships, go to

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on

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