Learning from Alekhine

Wed, 2014-10-22 17:52 -- IM Max Illingworth

[pgn][Event "World Championship 13th"]
[Site "Buenos Aires"]
[Date "1927.10.26"]
[Round "21"]
[White "Capablanca, Jose Raul"]
[Black "Alekhine, Alexander"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D63"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[EventDate "1927.09.16"]
[EventRounds "34"]
[EventCountry "ARG"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

{My inspiration for this week's post is the World Championship practice of the
4th World Champion, Alexander Alekhine. He has been called by many of the
current world elite 'the first universal chess player', meaning a player
strong in all aspects of the game and all types of positions. And we will see
in the games I've selected what we can learn from him.} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3.
Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 Be7 6. Nf3 O-O 7. Rc1 a6 {Black's idea is to play in
the style of a Meran/QGA with ...dxc4, ...b5, ...Bb7 and ...c5. White should
change the structure here so that ...a6 is not so useful.} 8. a3 $6 (8. cxd5
$142 exd5 9. Bd3 c6 10. Qc2 Re8 11. O-O {is a normal QGD where Rc1 is slightly
more useful than ...a6.}) (8. c5 {is also very logical as ...a6 is useless in
this position.}) 8... h6 9. Bh4 dxc4 10. Bxc4 b5 11. Be2 Bb7 12. O-O (12. b4 a5
$1 {is the stock reaction to b4, as pointed out by Alekhine.} 13. Qb3 axb4 14.
axb4 Nd5 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 {with a comfortable game.}) 12... c5 13. dxc5 Nxc5 {
Black exchanged off White's extra space, which is one of his main objectives
in the Queen's Gambit Declined. Black even has the easier game because of his
more harmonious minor piece placement.} 14. Nd4 (14. b4 Ncd7 15. Qb3 {would
have kept the equilibrium.}) 14... Rc8 15. b4 $6 {Now the move is mistimed as
White doesn't have any dynamics to compensate the weakening of c4.} Ncd7 {This
is safer than} (15... g5 $5 16. Bg3 Nce4 17. Nxe4 Nxe4 18. Rxc8 Qxc8 19. Be5 {
although Black has some initiative here too after the positionally smart} Qd8
$1 {.}) 16. Bg3 (16. Bf3 {was mentioned by Alekhine, but this helps Black as
the f3-bishop is useful in guarding the weakened light squares.}) 16... Nb6 17.
Qb3 (17. Nb3 {also suggested itself, trying to use the a5 or c5 square for his
knight.}) 17... Nfd5 {A good idea, intending to trade on c3 and bring the
bishop to d5, but} (17... Qd7 {was also logical to bring the final pieces into
play.}) 18. Bf3 $6 {Forfeiting the c4 square like this is incorrect.} (18. Ne4
Na4 {also gives Black some initiative as his knights control a lot of squares
on the queenside.} ({But we should avoid} 18... Nxb4 $2 19. Rxc8 Nxc8 20. axb4
Bxe4 {because of the tactic} 21. Nxe6 $1 {.})) 18... Rc4 {Knights are
generally the strongest pieces on outpost squares, and here as well:} (18...
Nc4 $1 19. Ne4 Qd7 {is better for Black. His plan is to then advance the
kingside pawns to grab a space advantage as well.}) 19. Ne4 Qc8 20. Rxc4 $6 {
An erroneous exchange as it just helps the knight get to a better square.} (20.
Qb1 {is correct, since then after} Rxc1 21. Rxc1 Nc4 {White is the one who
gained a tempo as a quick comparison will show.}) 20... Nxc4 21. Rc1 Qa8 {A
nice move, forcing the e4-knight to retreat.} 22. Nc3 $2 (22. Nc5 {was more
active and therefore better.}) 22... Rc8 (22... Nxc3 23. Rxc3 Rd8 {was even
better. White's pieces are quite unfortunately placed with the c4-knight
controlling the whole queenside and also ...Bf6 is a real threat.}) 23. Nxd5 {
Once again the voluntarily exchange is an admission that everything went wrong
for White.} Bxd5 24. Bxd5 Qxd5 {If we look at the pawn structure, it is easy
to see that the exchange of light-squared bishops was in Black's favour.} 25.
a4 Bf6 26. Nf3 Bb2 {Black clears the bishop out of the way for ...e5-e4 which
will really cramp White up.} (26... Rd8 27. Re1 Qd3 28. Qxd3 Rxd3 29. axb5 axb5
{was still quite good though as the b4-pawn is very hard to preserve.}) 27. Re1
Rd8 28. axb5 axb5 29. h3 e5 30. Rb1 e4 {Now Black is winning.} 31. Nd4 (31. Ne1
Qd2 32. Qc2 Qxc2 33. Nxc2 Rd2 {was demonstrated by Alekhine to be winning.
White's pieces are completely dominated, or in the case of the g3-bishop,
staring into space.}) 31... Bxd4 32. Rd1 $2 (32. exd4 Qxd4 {was also winning
for Black.}) 32... Nxe3 {This tactic seals the deal.} 0-1 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "World Championship 13th"]
[Site "Buenos Aires"]
[Date "1927.11.22"]
[Round "32"]
[White "Alekhine, Alexander"]
[Black "Capablanca, Jose Raul"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D35"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "125"]
[EventDate "1927.09.16"]
[EventRounds "34"]
[EventCountry "ARG"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

{The endgame arising from this game has been analysed extensively in several
sources (Chess.com articles for example), so to avoid duplication I will limit
my commentary to the opening and middlegame.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4.
Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 c6 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Bd3 Be7 8. Nge2 {In my view the best square
for the knight as it doesn't block White's pawn structure. So he can play for
f3 and eventually e4 to use his central majority (though Alekhine demonstrated
another good plan).} O-O 9. Ng3 $5 {An interesting idea, aiming to bring the
knight to f5 and exchange Black's good bishop, though nowadays it is mainly
viewed as a relic of times long gone.} Ne8 (9... h6 $1 10. h4 Nb6 {is the
correct response to White's idea. If} 11. Nf5 Bxf5 12. Bxf5 Nc4 {is somewhat
pesky.}) 10. h4 {This idea of letting the opponent take the bishop to open the
h-file is not unusual.} (10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. O-O {however was a more modern
approach, intending the f3/e4 plan I mentioned before. I should add that we
wouldn't play e4 as soon as possible, but rather make sure our pieces are all
on their ideal squares first.}) 10... Ndf6 11. Qc2 Be6 (11... h6 {again was
called for as eventually White will have to move that bishop.} 12. O-O-O hxg5
$2 13. hxg5 Ne4 14. Ncxe4 dxe4 15. Bxe4 g6 16. Bxg6 {however would not be very
nice.}) 12. Nf5 Bxf5 13. Bxf5 Nd6 14. Bd3 h6 15. Bf4 {White has the bishop
pair and coordinated himself for the kingside pawn storm, so he can claim some
edge.} Rc8 (15... Re8 {was suggested by Alekhine, with the idea of playing a
knight to e4.}) 16. g4 $1 {This is a very typical idea when attacking - often
we don't need to prepare our pawn break, relying on the open file(s) created
if Black grabs the pawn.} (16. O-O-O c5 17. dxc5 Rxc5 {was Capablanca's idea,
using the c-file to start a counterattack against White's king.}) 16... Nfe4 (
16... Nxg4 {was actually best here though, as after} 17. Bxd6 Bxd6 18. Bh7+ Kh8
19. Bf5 Nf6 20. Bxc8 Qxc8 {the White attack has been neutralised and Black has
a very solid position for the exchange.}) 17. g5 $1 {It doesn't really require
an exclamation mark as taking on g5 would be suicidal, but I want to emphasise
why White goes for this pawn storm: to open lines against the enemy king. The
pawn storm is usually not successful without some sort of pawn tension being
created from it at some point.} h5 18. Bxe4 Nxe4 19. Nxe4 dxe4 20. Qxe4 {Here
Black heads for the endgame as White's king is safer if the queens stay on the
board.} Qa5+ (20... Bb4+ 21. Kf1 Bd6 22. Kg2 Re8 23. Be5 {for instance leaves
the king very safe on g2.}) 21. Kf1 Qd5 22. Qxd5 cxd5 {For an analysis of the
rest of the game, I refer you to Bryan Smith's chess.com article where he
examines this game very, very thoroughly.} 23. Kg2 Rc2 24. Rhc1 Rfc8 25. Rxc2
Rxc2 26. Rb1 Kh7 27. Kg3 Kg6 28. f3 f6 29. gxf6 Bxf6 30. a4 Kf5 31. a5 Re2 32.
Rc1 Rxb2 33. Rc5 Ke6 34. e4 Bxd4 35. Rxd5 Bc3 36. Rxh5 a6 37. Bc7 Be1+ 38. Kg4
Rg2+ 39. Kh3 Rf2 40. Kg4 Rg2+ 41. Kh3 Rf2 42. f4 Rf3+ 43. Kg2 Rf2+ 44. Kh3 Rf3+
45. Kg2 Rf2+ 46. Kg1 Rc2 47. Bb6 Rc4 48. Kg2 g6 49. Re5+ Kd7 50. h5 gxh5 51.
Kf3 h4 52. Rh5 Rc3+ 53. Kg4 Rc4 54. Kf5 Bxa5 55. Rh7+ Kc6 56. Bxa5 Rc5+ 57. Ke6
Rxa5 58. f5 Ra3 59. f6 Rf3 60. f7 b5 61. Rh5 h3 62. Rf5 Rxf5 63. exf5 1-0 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "World Championship 14th"]
[Site "GER/NLD"]
[Date "1929.09.19"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Bogoljubow, Efim"]
[Black "Alekhine, Alexander"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A50"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "60"]
[EventDate "1929.09.06"]
[EventRounds "25"]
[EventCountry "GER"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 b6 {This Queen's Indian type of line is not particularly good
but it can be very tricky for an unprepared opponent, especially if they
usually allow the Nimzo as White.} 3. Nc3 Bb7 4. f3 {A good response to
blunten that b7-bishop, which could even have been played a move earlier.} d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 e6 {The position resembles a Semi-Tarrasch
(others may relate more to the Grunfeld) but it's a good version for White as
he can avoid the ...c5/...cxd4/...Bb4 liquidating sequence typical for that
space. The more pieces on the board, the more White's central space advantage
counts.} 8. Bb5+ Nd7 (8... c6 9. Ba4 {makes it tricky for Black to get in ...
c5 before castling.}) 9. Ne2 Be7 10. O-O a6 11. Bd3 c5 12. Bb2 $2 {Alekhine
rightly criticises this move - actually the bishop might be worse on b2 than
c1 as it has minimal mobility behind the c3 and d4 pawns. One of my students
would call it the base of the pawn chain!} (12. a4 {seems best to stop Black's
queenside majority advancing. White has a real edge after} O-O 13. Be3 {which
could be increased with play on the queenside combined with a central advance.}
) 12... Qc7 13. f4 $2 {Clearly White did not know how to play this sort of
position, which certainly justifies Alekhine's opening experiment in a
practical sense.} (13. e5 O-O 14. Qb1 g6 15. a4 {would be a more normal
continuation. The e5-pawn does a good job of restricting the e7-bishop and
d7-knight and it helps that Black's d7-knight can't get to d5 so quickly.})
13... Nf6 (13... O-O {was also possible, giving White more opportunities to
flounder.}) 14. Ng3 h5 $1 {A very dynamic idea that sharpens the struggle in a
way that wouldn't have suited the relatively positional Bogoljubow.} 15. Qe2 (
15. e5 h4 16. exf6 hxg3 17. fxe7 Rxh2 18. Rf3 Kxe7 19. Rxg3 Qxf4 20. Qg4 Rxg2+
21. Rxg2 Qe3+ 22. Kf1 Qxd3+ 23. Re2 Bf3 24. Qg5+ Kd7 25. Qe3 Bxe2+ 26. Qxe2 {
with a dynamically balanced position was optimal play by both sides. But White
decided to play it safe, and loses the initiative as a result.}) 15... h4 16.
Nh1 {A sad necessity.} Nh5 17. Qg4 $2 (17. Bc1 {was rightly adorned by
Alekhine as a better continuation. The bishop was doing nothing on b2.}) 17...
O-O-O $1 {Usually the king isn't safe on the queenside, but White's passive
play allows Black greater liberties.} 18. Rae1 (18. f5 $1 {was the only chance
- White can't afford to play passively or his centre will be destroyed.}) 18...
Kb8 19. f5 e5 20. d5 c4 $1 {A nice move, liberating the passive e7-bishop.} 21.
Bc2 Bc5+ {That's more like it!} 22. Nf2 g6 $1 {You have to open lines against
the opponent's king ot checkmate them, and we open lines by trading pawns!} 23.
fxg6 ({Or else} 23. Qxh4 gxf5 24. exf5 Nf4 25. Qf6 Nxd5 26. Qxe5 Bd6 {.}) 23...
Rdg8 24. Bc1 Bc8 25. Qf3 Rxg6 {The pressure down the g-file is irresistible,
and White tries to get his king off the rook's and c5-bishop's archery
practice, but allows something even worse. Actually, the bishop pointing
towards the opponent's king is a very common attacking idea too.} 26. Kh1 Ng3+
$1 27. hxg3 hxg3+ {White is getting massacred.} 28. Nh3 Bxh3 29. gxh3 Rxh3+ 30.
Kg2 Rh2# 0-1 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "World Championship 15th"]
[Site "Germany"]
[Date "1934.04.11"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Alekhine, Alexander"]
[Black "Bogoljubow, Efim"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D31"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "121"]
[EventDate "1934.04.01"]
[EventRounds "26"]
[EventCountry "GER"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

{The following game is not one of Alekhine's finest wins but it is a very good
example of his wile in defence (much like that of his predecessor Lasker). Any
of the top players of the time could play strongly in a better position, but
being able to defend accurately in a difficult position (or conversely,
finding the right way to counterattack) is a true hallmark of chess greatness.
} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Bd3 Nbd7 6. f4 $6 {Alekhine was the
first to admit that this opening experiment is not very good.} (6. Nf3 {
transposes back to the Meran, which I wrote about quite recently on here.})
6... dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. Nf3 a6 10. a4 {Alekhine is critical of this
move but it is better than} (10. O-O c5 11. f5 exf5 12. Bxf5 Bd6 {which leaves
the White position rather loose.}) 10... b4 11. Ne2 (11. Ne4 c5 12. Nxf6+ Nxf6
{would also favour Black somewhat.}) 11... c5 12. O-O Be7 13. a5 $6 {This move
doesn't really further White's plans.} O-O 14. Ng3 g6 {Killing White's only
active idea of f5 and leaving him in a very passive position. What do we call
the c1-bishop? A tall pawn! :)} 15. Qe2 cxd4 16. exd4 Nb8 $1 17. Ne5 {White
finally gets in an active move! And it is a good one too. When you are very
passive it's often good to look for ways to free your position, if necessary
with a pawn sacrifice. It won't solve all your problems necessarily, but it
changes the nature of the opponent's advantage.} Nc6 ({The greedy} 17... Qxd4+
18. Be3 Qd6 19. Rfd1 {activates White's pieces and gets rid of his one
weakness. Black is also behind in development, so White does get good
practical chances for his pawn.}) 18. Nxc6 Bxc6 19. Bc4 $2 (19. Bxa6 {was best
- if you can safely take a pawn back, go for it!} Ng4 $1 {would still be quite
strong however, as White can't take the knight without losing back the pawn.})
19... Bb7 ({Again, it was quite possible to grab the pawn with} 19... Qxd4+ 20.
Be3 Qd7 {.}) 20. Be3 Qd6 {Alekhine and Lasker both say that Black has a
strategically winning position, which is confirmed by modern engines. So it is
very interesting to see how Alekhine swindled his esteemed opponent.} 21. Rad1
Rfe8 22. b3 Bf8 (22... Bd8 {was a good alternative, tying a White piece to a5.}
) 23. Rd3 {White is basically waiting for the executioner's axe to fall.} Qc7
24. Qa2 Bd6 25. Bd2 Qc6 26. Be1 Rad8 {White has at least three weaknesses
Black can attack: a5, d4 and g2. Defending all of them at once is a thankless
task.} 27. Rd2 Be7 (27... Bb8 $5 28. Rf3 Ba7 {was also winning for Black.}) 28.
Qb2 Rd7 29. Rc2 {White has to do something before the d4-pawn falls.} Qd6 (
29... Ng4 $1 {was crushing as White has no way to defend all the weak squares
and pawns at once.}) 30. Ne2 Nd5 (30... Ng4 {with the idea of ...Bf6, ...
Nh6-f5 and ...Red8 was still very strong.}) 31. Qc1 Bd8 32. Bg3 Qe7 (32... Bxa5
33. f5 {is completely unnecessary to allow.}) (32... Qc6 33. Rf3 Bf6 {was
another way to maintain Black's decisive advantage.}) 33. Ra2 Qf6 34. Qd2 Qf5
35. Bd3 Qf6 36. Bc4 Be7 37. Qd3 Red8 38. Be1 Qf5 39. Qd2 Qe4 40. Bd3 Qe3+ 41.
Bf2 Qxd2 42. Rxd2 Rc8 {The endgame is still clearly better for Black, but the
absence of queens means that at least White's king doesn't have to fear a
mating attack in the near future.} 43. Bc4 Kg7 44. g3 Rcd8 (44... h5 $1 {with
the idea of ...h4 was the right way to open the king and increase Black's
advantage.}) 45. Rc1 h6 46. Bd3 f5 {There's no need to rush with this when} (
46... h5 {and ...h4 was still on the agenda. If} 47. h4 Nf6 {leaves White with
a menagerie of weaknesses!}) 47. Rdc2 g5 {This is quite logical to put
pressure on White's pawn chain and gain more space.} 48. g4 $1 {Generally
speaking it's a good idea to exchange pawns when you are in a bad position,
especially when you exchange some of your weak pawns in the meantime.} Nxf4 $2
{I know you're not meant to speak badly of the dead, but this is a woeful
exchange! Why trade the pride of Black's position, the d5-knight, for the
donkey on e2?} (48... Rf8 $1 49. gxf5 exf5 50. Ng3 Kg6 51. fxg5 hxg5 {was the
way to keep control of the position. The trades have not helped that much as
Black still has all the space and can advance on the kingside with a later ...
g4 and after due preparation, ...f4.}) (48... fxg4 49. f5 Bd6 $1 50. fxe6 Re7 {
was also very good for Black, though this is less obvious.}) 49. Nxf4 gxf4 50.
gxf5 e5 {This was Black's intention, but he made a serious miscalculation.} (
50... Kf7 51. fxe6+ Kxe6 52. Re1+ Kf7 53. Bc4+ Bd5 54. Re4 {also sees White
take over the initiative.}) 51. Re1 exd4 $2 {This blunder allows a spectacular
combination.} (51... Rxd4 $1 52. Bxd4 Rxd4 53. Rc7 Kf6 {was still holding for
Black as the connected passed pawns offer very good counterplay.}) 52. Rxe7+ $1
Rxe7 53. Bh4 Kf7 {Other moves also fail, e.g.} (53... Ree8 54. Rc7+) (53... Re3
54. Rc7+) (53... Rde8 54. f6+) 54. Bxe7 Kxe7 55. Rc7+ Rd7 56. f6+ {Perhaps
Black forgot about this intermediate check.} Ke8 ({or} 56... Kd6 57. f7 $1) 57.
Bg6+ Kd8 58. f7 Kxc7 59. f8=Q f3 60. Qxb4 Rd6 61. Bd3 {Well, we've seen how
the opponent can also make mistakes when we are in trouble, if we defend as
tenaciously as possible.} 1-0 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "World Championship 17th"]
[Site "Netherlands"]
[Date "1937.10.16"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Alekhine, Alexander"]
[Black "Euwe, Max"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D10"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "45"]
[EventDate "1937.10.05"]
[EventRounds "25"]
[EventCountry "NED"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

{Finally, this game is a model example of how to punish an opponent who fails
to develop their pieces quickly. Indeed, this can be just as decisive in the
closed games as in the open games.} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 ({
Incidentally, one of Alekhine's more quirky opening ideas was} 3... Nf6 4. e3
g6 5. f3 $5 {, intending to take the centre with} Bg7 6. e4 {, and to be
honest it's not silly at all:} dxe4 (6... O-O 7. cxd5 cxd5 8. e5 {favours
White.}) 7. fxe4 e5 8. d5 O-O 9. Nf3 {and while I don't share Alekhine's view
that White is better here, Black is also unlikely to be familiar with this
King's Indian type of position, having started with the Slav.}) 4. e4 e5 (4...
b5 5. a4 b4 6. Na2 Nf6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Bxc4 {was considered slightly better for
White by Alekhine and it's only in the last eight years that this assessment
has been put into question.}) 5. Bxc4 {A very romantic way to play, though
objectively incorrect.} (5. Nf3 exd4 6. Qxd4 Qxd4 7. Nxd4 {is standard
protocol today.}) 5... exd4 6. Nf3 b5 $4 {A fairly simple blunder at this
level - Euwe overlooked White's next move.} (6... dxc3 7. Bxf7+ Ke7 8. Qb3 cxb2
9. Bxb2 Qb6 {was already indicated by Alekhine as neutralising White's attack;
if} 10. Ba3+ c5 11. Bxg8 Rxg8 12. Qxg8 Qa5+ 13. Nd2 Qxa3 14. O-O Be6 15. Qxh7
Qb2 {and Black has a material advantage, and as is often the case, White has
lost some coordination now that the attack is over.}) 7. Nxb5 Ba6 (7... cxb5 8.
Bd5 {is the obvious tactic Black overlooked.}) 8. Qb3 $1 Qe7 ({Alekhine also
notes} 8... Bxb5 9. Bxf7+ Kd7 10. Nxd4 {as winning for White.}) 9. O-O Bxb5 10.
Bxb5 {Obviously the bishop still can't be safely taken.} Nf6 (10... Qb4 11. Bc4
Qxb3 12. axb3 {would also be winning for White, as Black has no development
and will lose his d4-pawn.}) 11. Bc4 Nbd7 12. Nxd4 {This is the simple way,
but Alekhine pointed out that} (12. e5 {also wins; after} Nxe5 13. Bd2 $1 {
followed by Rfe1 is killing.}) 12... Rb8 13. Qc2 Qc5 14. Nf5 (14. Rd1 {was
also good.}) 14... Ne5 15. Bf4 Nh5 16. Bxf7+ {White cashes in to a clearly
winning endgame.} (16. Bxe5 Qxe5 17. Qa4 {is how a computer would win it.})
16... Kxf7 17. Qxc5 Bxc5 18. Bxe5 Rb5 19. Bd6 Bb6 20. b4 Rd8 21. Rad1 c5 22.
bxc5 Bxc5 23. Rd5 {And on that brevity, I recommend you continue studying the
games of the top players of the past, who as we've seen could play games that
a modern super-GM would be happy to play today.} 1-0 [/pgn]