Sunday, September 19, 2010

Marshall vs Alekhine, Bradley Beach 1929

A couple of weeks ago, Eduardo Moura and I were analysing some tournament games played by Alexander Alekhine. One in particular – a queen ending – caught our eye because of the way Alekhine managed to fashion a win out of very thin material. The opponent was Frank Marshall, and the venue was the Bradley Beach tournament of 1929. (This, by the way, was Alekhine's first official event following his defeat of Capablanca in 1927.) Here is the game with annotations by Soviet GM Alexander Kotov, taken from Volume 2 of his book Shakhmatnoe Nasledie A.A. Alekhina:

In queen endings, as in other types of endings, an outside passed pawn sometimes plays an important role. Thus in the following game of Alekhine's, White's queen was deflected by a strong Black passed pawn on the a-file while White's own passed pawn on the d-file was easily held in check by the centralised Black king.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 c5 4.Bd3 d5 5.c3 Bd6 6.O-O Nbd7 7.Nbd2 O-O

A well-known variation of the Colle System. This opening was once considered rather threatening, but after several equalising methods were found for Black it was eventually reassessed as insufficient for advantage.


White has to acquiesce to an isolated pawn on d4 because the preliminary exchange on c5 does not work. It was precisely for this reason that Black developed his knight on d7.

8...cxd4 9.cxd4 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 Qb6!

This move is considered strongest. Black attacks the b-pawn and prevents the development of White's bishop on c1.


This advance is tactically justified by a double attack: 12...Bxe5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Bxh7+ followed by 15.Qh5+. However, stronger was the natural 12.Qe2 followed by 13.Be3 or 13.Bg5.


Decisively preventing any White attempt to attack on the kingside. In the sequel Alekhine skilfully defends the resulting weakness on e6.

13.Nxd7 Bxd7 14.Bf3 Bc6 15.Re1 Kh8! 16.Bg5

Not falling for the trap 16.Rxe6? Bxf3 17.Qxf3 Bxh2+.

16...Rae8 17.Rc1

This enables Alekhine to seize the initiative and obtain the better position. More promising was 17.Bxc6.

17...Bxf3 18.Qxf3 Qxb2 19.Rb1 Qxa2 20.Rxb7 Rb8 21.g3

Marshall makes an escape square for his king so that he can follow up with 22.Reb1, which at the moment is not possible because of 22...Qxb1+! However, this pawn move gives Alekhine the opportunity to exchange bishops and at the same time inflict serious damage on the pawn cover in front of Marshall's king.

21...f4! 22.Bxf4

Capturing on f4 with the pawn is worse because of 22...h6.

22...Bxf4 23.gxf4 Rxb7 24.Qxb7 Qd2

The heavy piece ending is favourable for Black. All four of White's pawns are isolated and weak, and his king is exposed. However, the reduced material does not allow Alekhine to decide matters in the so-called “fourth stage” of the game [i.e., a mating attack in the endgame – tr.]. Eventually he has to agree to an exchange of rooks.

25.Qe4 h6 26.Qe3 Qb2 27.Qe5 Rf6 28.Re3 Qb1+ 29.Kg2 Qb7+ 30.Kg1 Qf7 31.Qb8+ Kh7 32.Qb1+ Rf5 33.Qe4 Qf8 34.Re2 a5

After some extensive probing manoeuvres, Alekhine finally sets his passed pawn in motion. This forces Marshall to start thinking about creating his own passed pawn.

35.Qxe6 Rxf4 36.d5 Rd4 37.Re4 Rd2 38.Re2 Rxe2 39.Qxe2 Qf5

On the surface the queen ending appears to be absolutely equal, but this is not the case at all. There is no doubt that Black stands better. In the first place, his king is much more secure than White's, although this is not the decisive factor. The main thing is that Black's passed pawn is the cause of many worries for White's queen, distracting her from any sort of attack on Black's kingside. Meanwhile, White's pawn on d5 will be held in check by Black's soon-to-be centralised king. It is interesting to follow how the World Champion is able to realise an apparently insignificant advantage against such a strong player as the American grandmaster.

40.Qd1 Qg6+ 41.Kf1 Qa6+ 42.Kg2 Qd6 43.Qd4 Kg8

The king sets off toward the pawn on d5 in order to assist the queen in either holding up this dangerous pawn or even capturing it.

44.Qc4 Kf7 45.Qb5 Qd8 46.f4

In order to deprive the Black king of the square e5 in case he decides to settle on d6.

46...Qc7 47.Kf3 Qc3+ 48.Kg4

Here is the first indicator of the power of the outside passed pawn. The White king cannot go to e4 because then 48...Qb4+ would lead to an easily-won pawn ending.

48...Ke7 49.Qb6

Marshall does not notice the World Champion's clever tactical trick. He had to play 49.h4, preventing the following “hammer blow” by the Black pawn. But even then 49...Kd6 would leave Black with reasonable winning chances.


This forces White's destruction within a few moves.


White has to take; otherwise Black forces the exchange of queens with a check on f6.

50...Qh3+ 51.Kg5 Qg2+ 52.Kf5

Or 52.Kh4 Qxh2+ 53.Kg4 Qg2+ 54.Kh4 Qxd5 and with his extra pawn Black must win.

52...Qxd5+ 53.Kg6

White cannot avoid the pawn ending in any case.

53...Qd6+ 54.Qxd6+ Kxd6 55.f5 a4 56.Kxg7 a3 57.f6 a2 58.f7 a1=Q+ 59.Kg8 Qg1+

White resigned.

With this we conclude our extract from GM Kotov's book.

I will only add the observation that Alekhine was particularly skilled in his conduct of queen and pawn endings. Anyone who looks up his games will find many similar examples.

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.