Monday, November 29, 2010

Capablanca vs Vidmar, New York 1927

We return again to Alexander Alekhine's book of the New York 1927 international tournament. The fourth-round game between J.R. Capablanca and Milan Vidmar quickly reached a "hedghog" type position that would become familiar territory in the later stages of the 20th century. Alekhine's notes are interesting as always, but there is an improvement, of which more later.

Capablanca – Vidmar, New York 1927
Queen's Indian Defence
Commentary by Alexander Alekhine

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 c5

I have always considered this move to be unfavourable in this position because of the possible reply 6.d5. I prefer both 5...Bb4+ and 5...Be7.


Though quite playable, this reply is rather inoffensive in nature and allows Black to equalize the game in a number of ways.

6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Bxg2 8.Kxg2 Be7

But this is inconsistent, because Black should be striving to rid himself of the weakness along the d-file as soon as possible. Although this aim would not be served by the immediate 8...d5 in view of 9.Qa4+ (as in the third match game Capablanca-Alekhine, Buenos Aires 1927), Black could make an effective preparatory move here: 8...Qc8!, for example: 9.b3 (9.Qd3 Nc6!) 9...Be7 10.Bb2 Qb7+ 11.f3 d5 12.cxd5 Nxd5 13.Qd2 0-0 14.e4 Nf6, etc.

9.Nc3 O-O(?)

Here too 9...Qc8 very much deserved attention, and if 10.b3 then 10...d5!

10.e4! Qc8

One move too late!

11.b3 Qb7 12.f3 Nc6 13.Bb2 Rfd8 14.Re1 Nxd4

Vidmar is playing the entire first part of the game inaccurately. Why, for example, does he develop the White queen in this position? Simpler was the immediate 14...d6.

15.Qxd4 Bc5(?)

Another obvious tempo loss!

16.Qd3 Be7 17.Rad1 d6

In spite of the multitude of inaccuracies committed by Black, his position is quite sturdy since in this varation the point d6 can, as is well-known, be defended without difficulty in the middlegame.

In the sequel Capablanca tries to make use of his last serious chance -- a flank attack. And indeed, this will demand exceptional accuracy from his opponent, who is very restricted in his freedom of action.

18.Re2 Rd7 19.Red2 Rad8 20.Ne2

Conclusively preventing – in the simplest way – the move ...d6-d5 (because of Bb2xf6 etc.)


In order to retreat the knight to e8, which at the moment would be met by 21.e5!

21.Qe3 h6 22.h4 Qb7 23.a4

In order to prevent the freeing move b6-b5 once and for all.

23...Ne8 24.Nf4 Bf6 25.Bxf6 Nxf6 26.g4 Nh7

After this White's attack has very little chance of success because the knight on f4 is restricted by the necessity of keeping the square d5 under observation. As soon as the White knight gives up control over this square (for example, after Nf4-h5) then the move e6-e5 would immediately follow, creating interesting attacking possibilities for Black's knight.

27.Qc3 Nf8 28.g5 hxg5 29.hxg5 Ng6!

Completely correct. If now 30.Nh5, then 30...e5 31.Kg3 Qc7 followed by Rd8-f8, Qc7-d8, etc. Thus White has nothing better than to exchange.

30.Nxg6 fxg6 31.Qd4 Qc6

The square c5 is now a sufficient counterargument for Black.

32.Kg3 Qc5 33.f4 Kf7 34.Kg4 a5 35.Rh2 Qxd4?

Because it not to White's advantage to exchange queens (over the last few moves because of ...b6xc5 with pressure on the b-pawn, and at this moment because of ...d6xc5 followed by an invasion along the d-file), and retreating the queen (to c3 or b2) is also not good for him on account of ...d6-d5!, etc, then the simplest way for Black to draw here was to adhere to waiting tactics. Correct therefore was ...Kf7-g8-f7-g8, etc., leaving it to White to make a decision about transforming the position. That Vidmar willingly goes into an endgame that is very dubious (to say the least) can only be explained by time pressure.

36.Rxd4 Re7 37.Rhd2 Red7 38.f5

In my opinion this tempting advance should have been delayed for one move: 38.R4d3! Ke7 (or Ke8) 39.f5 gxf5+ (if 39...Kf7 then 40.fxe6+ followed by 41.Rd5 and then Rd5-b5, or e4-e5 when convenient, with advantage to White) 40.exf5 exf5+ [stronger is 40...e5!?, when Black should hold – tr.] 41.Kxf5 Kf7 42.g6+ with a winning position. And in other variations too it would be easier than after the move in the game to transform White's positional advantage into material gain.

38...gxf5+ 39.exf5 exf5+ 40.Kxf5 g6+ 41.Kg4 Kf8

The only defence – and a temporary one at that – against the threat of Rd2-f2-f6 with a winning position. If 41...Ke8 then 42.Rh2!, etc. (see below).


This leads only to a draw. The proper way to realize the advantage that has cost White so much effort was – again – the win of a tempo: 42.R4d3!; then 42...Ke8 is met by 43.Rh2!, and after the exchange of a pair of rooks the remaining White rook penetrates to f6 or b8: 43...Kf8 (or 44...Rf7 44.Rh6, etc.) 44.Rf3+ Kg7 45.Rf6 (threatening 46.Rh6) 45...Rf8 46.Rxf8 Kxf8 47.Rh8+ followed by Rb8, etc. However, Capablanca forces the exchange of rooks under a different – and less advantageous – pawn configuration, after which Vidmar is able to save the game without difficulty.

42...Rf7 43.Rf6

If 43.Rfd2, then 43...Ke7 with a draw.

43...Rxf6 44.gxf6 Kf7 45.Kg5 Re8 46.Rxd6 Re5+ 47.Kf4 Re6

Much simpler than 47...Rf5+ and 48...Rxf6.

48.Rd5 Kxf6

Here it was possible to quietly draw the curtain.

49.Rb5 Ke7 50.Kg5 Rc6 51.Kh6 Kf8 52.Rg5 Kf7 53.Rg3 Re6 54.Rd3 Re5 55.Rd7+ Kf6 56.Rd6+ Kf7 1/2-1/2

With this we conclude our extract from Alexander Alekhine's book of the New York 1927 international tournament. But wait - there's an improvement!


After Black's move 29...Ng6, Russian GM Sergei Shipov demonstrated the following imaginative continuation for White:

30.Nh5! e5 31.Rh1 a6 32.Rd5!! Rc8

If 32...b5 33.axb5 Ne7 34.f4 Nxd5 35.exd5 f6 36.g6 Kf8 37.Qh3, etc.

33.f4 b5 34.axb5 axb5 35.f5 bxc4 36.b4!

Thus far Shipov's analysis in his book The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1. Here is a likely conclusion:

36...Ne7 37.Nf6+ gxf6 38.Qh3 Kf8 39.Qh6+ Ke8 40.Qh8+ Ng8 41.Qxg8+ Ke7 42.gxf6+ Kxf6 43.Rh6+ Ke7 44.f6+ Ke6 45.Qg4#!

Posting a rook on d5 in order to stabilize White's central position was unusual but very strong in this particular case.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The wandering king 2

In an earlier article we looked at a madcap king rush through the centre by Boris Shashin from a 1973 game against Viktor Korchnoi. Today we present another, even crazier example played in a Dutch open tournament a few years ago.

T.Burg (2268) – W.Spoelman (2461)
Scotch Game C45
Amsterdam (ACT) 2006

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6

Also possible is 8...Nb6, which I believe is the best move here. The problem with 8...Ba6 is that Black must play very accurately if the bishop is going to stay in play and not get stranded, so to speak.

9.Qe4 Nf6 10.Qe2 Nd5 11.Qe4 Nb6

As the higher-rated player, Spoelman has no interest in making a quick draw by repetition.

12.Nc3 Qe6 13.b3 Bb4 14.Bd2 Bxc3 15.Bxc3 d5 16.Qh4 dxc4 17.Rc1

Simpler is 17.Be2; for example, 17...0–0 18.0–0 Qf5 19.Rfe1 Rfe8 20.bxc4 Na4 21.Bd2 Rxe5 22.Bf3 with a slight edge to White. With the text move Burg is playing for complications – often a good policy if one is trying to win against a stronger opponent, but of course the opposite result is equally possible.

17...Qg6 18.bxc4

It is tempting to try to nail down the opposing king with 18.Bb4!?, but Black is doing fine after 18...Nd5 19.Ba3 Rb8 20.bxc4 Nb4 21.Bxb4 Rxb4 22.Rd1 Rb8; for example, 23.Bd3!? Qxg2 24.Be4 g5! 25.Bxg2 gxh4 26.Bxc6+ Ke7 27.Rd4!? Rb2! and Black is better.

18...0–0 19.Be2 Qxg2


Objectively speaking this is leading with the chin, as they say in boxing. But psychologically – well, it's something else entirely. It's a bold attempt to freak out the opponent... and it works!

White could maintain equality with 20.Bd3 h5 21.Be4 Qg4 22.Qxg4 hxg4 23.Rg1 Bc8 24.Bxc6 Rb8 25.c5 Nd7 26.Rxg4 Nxc5 27.Rd4.

20...Rad8+ 21.Ke3 Qg6 22.Rcd1 Rxd1?!

Here is where Black starts to go wrong. He should not exchange rooks but instead he should open more lines with 22...f6! It is hard to see how White could survive after that.

23.Rxd1 Qc2?

Here too 23...f6 was stronger. The text is a bad mistake which is clearly based on a miscalculation – almost a hallucination in fact.

24.Bd3 Nxc4+

Black has seen this far, but unfortunately White doesn't have to take the knight.


Even stronger is 25.Kd4! when Black is pretty well forced to resign immediately.

25...h6 26.Bxc2 g5+ 27.Kf5 Bc8+

27...gxh4 28.Rg1+ Kh8 29.e6+ f6 30.e7 Nd6+ 31.Kf4 Rf7 32.Bb3 and White wins.

28.Kf6 gxh4 29.Rg1+ Kh8 30.Ke7!

Completing the king's epic journey in triumphant fashion. Black has no defence and was forced to resign here. 1-0

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Alekhine vs Levenfish, Moscow 1920

It is a little-known fact that the winner of the first Soviet Championship in 1920 was none other than Alexander Alekhine. The contemporary title of the event was the First All-Russian Chess Olympiad, and it was only after 1922 – when the Soviet Union was formally established – that it was subsumed as part of the continuing series. Alekhine, of course, left his homeland in 1921, never to return. After his match victory over Capablanca in 1927, he reportedly made some anti-Soviet statements to a gathering of emigre Russians in Paris. His former compatriots immediately declared him persona non grata, and he was not rehabilitated until after the death of Stalin.

Along the way to winning the title in 1920, Alekhine had to survive a very difficult encounter with Grigory Levenfish (who won the title himself in 1937). Today we present an extract from Sergei Voronkov's 2007 book Masterpieces and Dramas from the Soviet Championships, 1920-1937. We pick up the action after Levenfish's 31st move ...Kg8-h7. From now on the commentary is by Voronkov.


“The only way to draw,” exclaims Alekhine [in his 1921 book Schachleben in Sowjet-Russland - tr]. “If first 32.Qd3+ g6 and now 33.Kg4, then 33...f5+ 34.exf6 h5+ and wins.”

Alexander Kotov in his book Alekhine's Chess Heritage (1982) shows exactly how: “After the only move 35.Kh4! (35.Kg5 Rc5+) the win is achieved as follows: 35...Qxf6+ 36.Kh3 Qb2! 37.Kh4! Kh6! 38.Rh8+! Kg7!”

Go ahead and laugh, but this is just not true! You don't believe me?

If we extend the variation with the five exclamation marks for one more move – 39.Qd8! – the draw becomes obvious: 39...Rc8 40.Rg8+ Kh7 41.Qxc8 Qxh2+ 42.Kg5 Qxg3+ 43.Kf6 Qxf4+ 44.Ke7 Qe4+. Or 39..Qf6+ 40.Qxf6+ Kxf6 41.Rf8+ Ke7 42.Ra8 Rxh2+ 43.Kg5 Rg2 44.Rxa7, etc.

What's more, the alternative move 35.Kg5, which must seemingly be rejected in horror due to the “fatal” check 35...Rc5+, is in fact winning for White:

36.f5 Rxf5+ 37.Qxf5!! (and not 37.Kh4 Qxh2 mate) 37...gxf5 38.Rd7+ Kg8 39.Kg6! and it suddenly becomes clear that Black can avoid immediate mate only by giving up his queen! (By the way, I was very proud of my discoveries until I found out they had already been made in 2002 by the trainer L. Veretnovy from Krasnoyarsk.)

The most striking thing of all is that Alekhine's variation is doubly wrong. In the first place, as we have seen, it leads not to a win, but to a loss! In the second place, after 32.Qd3+ g6 33.Kg4 f5+, Levenfish in annotating the game in the Newsletter of the Petrograd Commune had already indicated a simple drawing line: 34.Kf3! Rc3 35.Rd7+ Kh8 36.Rd8+ with perpetual check. However, he too thought that 34.exf6 would lose on account of 34...h5+.


“Such a pity!” is Levenfish's lament in his book Selected Games and Reminiscences. “By continuing 32...h5+ 33.Kxh5 (33.Kxg5 f6+) 33...Rxh2+ 34.Kg4 Qg2 35.Qd3+ (if 35.Rd7 then 35...Rh6!) 35...g6 36.Rd7 (or 36.Kg5 Kg7 37.Rd7 Rh5+ 38.Kg4 Rh4+! and mates) 36...Kh6! 37.Rxf7 Rh4+! 38.Kxh4 Qh2+ 39.Kg4 Qh5#, Black would have brought this combative game to a beautiful conclusion.”

Indeed, it's a beautiful conclusion. Why then did Alekhine, in citing the alternative variation 32...g6 33.Rh8+! Kxh8 34.Qd8+ Kh7 35.Qe7! with a draw, restrict himself to the laconic comment, “If 32...h5+ then simply 33.Kxh5!” Was he mistaken yet again?

No, this time his analysis was accurate. It turns out that White is not obliged to play 36.Rd7? (also bad is 36.Rf8? Qh3+ 37.Kf3 Rg2 38.Rxf7+ Kh6 39.Ke4 Rxg3). One of Levenfish's parenthetical variations in fact leads to a draw: 36.Kg5! Kg7, and as before not 37.Rd7? but 37.Qa3! Rh5+ 38.Kg4 Qd2+ (or 38...Kh7 39.Rh8+ Kxh8 40.Qf8+ Kh7 41.Qxf7+ Kh6 42.Qf8+) 39.Qf3 Qh2 40.Qa3 with a repetition of moves.

33.Qd3+ g6 34.Rd7! Kg7

If 34...Rh4+? then 35.Kf3!



With this we conclude our extract from Voronkov's book.

About Me

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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.