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Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky vs Alexander Alekhine
USSR Championship (1920), Moscow RUS, rd 7, Oct-12
Spanish Game: Morphy Defense. Anderssen Variation (C77)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Oct-08-05  notyetagm: Wow, according to Raetsky and Chetverik's book on Alekhine, 38 ... a5!! is the only move that draws. It is the only move that forces White to run out of pawn moves before Black does.

Amazing that Alekhine could find this save in an actual tournament with the clock running.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: "I have to give myself top marks for the fact that I worked out all the lines of the pawn ending at the board". - Alyekhin.
Premium Chessgames Member
  GrahamClayton: <notyetagm>Wow, according to Raetsky and Chetverik's book on Alekhine, 38 ... a5!! is the only move that draws. It is the only move that forces White to run out of pawn moves before Black does. <notyetagm>
38....d5 39. exd5 cxd5 40. b4 b6 41. a4
38....c5 39. a4 b5 40. axb5 axb5 41. b3
38....b5 39. b4 c5 40. e5 cxb4 41. exd6
All lose for Black.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: A lovely pawn endgame save by Alekhine.
Going into this 7th round game, Alekhine was tied for first with A. Rabinovich. With Alekhine and A. Rabinovich drawing and Romanovsky winning this round, these three led the field with 5.5 out of 7 after completion of these games with Kubbel a half-point behind at 5 out of 7. Alekhine followed up this game with 6 wins and 2 draws in his remaining games and ended up in first a full point ahead of Romanovsky.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. d3

A highly sound alternative to the more usual 5. 0-0 in the Ruy Lopez. The move goes back to Anderssen, and was played by Steinitz and later used by Fischer and Smyslov among others.

5... d6

The most usual response. 5...b5 or 5...Bc5 are good and arguably stronger options.

6. c3

Again the most usual line. 6. c4 is an aggressive alternative. White can also just play 6. 0-0.

6... g6

The most popular move for Black here. it was a favorite of Zukertort and later of Korchnoi, and was also played by Tarrasch, Tchigorin, Euwe and Bisguier, and later by Mamedyarov.

Despite the text's popularity, 6...Be7, 6...b5, and 6...h6 are good alternatives.

7. 0-0 Bg7
8. Re1 0-0
9. Bg5

9. Nbd2 is the usual move here. The text was also Smyslov's choice, but it does not appear to yield more than equality.

9... h6

click for larger view

10. Bh4

This is almost always the response here. But 10. Be3 looks like a better spot for the Bishop.

10... Bd7

10...b5 looks stronger, but the text is certainly sound and good enough for approximate equality.

11. Nbd2 Qe8

Once again, 11...b5 was worth considering.

12. Nf1

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12... Nd5?!

This tricky move results in the exchange of two pairs of minor pieces. Alekhine later criticized the move as allowing White to get the better game, and suggested 12...Nh7. But after 12...Nh7 13. Ne3 White is surely better.

Best for Black was probably 12...b5, a move Alekhine seemed reluctant to play this game, or--in fact--the text.

13. BxB NxN+

The intermediate move that retained material equality.

14. QxN NxB

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Alekhine's comments notwithstanding, Black is nearly equal here. I wonder if Alekhine was unhappy that he was not able to find something better or more double-edged out of this opening.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

15. Ne3 c6
16. Rad1 Qe6

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Black threatens Qxa2. Can White just ignore this?

17. g4?!


"Preventing f5." (Alekhine)

This hyper-aggression by Ilyin-Genevsky on the King-side defines much of the rest of the game. It leads to a crisis on that wing, both weakening White's Queen-side (especially on f4) while threatening Black. Meanwhile, it leaves the a-pawn hanging. White could have accepted equality and played the sound 17. b3 or maybe 17. c4. Against a more mature Alekhine, the text might have brought White to grief.

Neither Fritz nor Stockfish care much for the move.

click for larger view

17... Bf6


"Black must aim for further exchanges in order to hinder the development of the opponent's initiative." (Black)

Alekhine poo-poohed the danger of 17...Qxa2 for White, claiming that if Black snatched the pawn here he would run into trouble after 18. Nc4. But he fails to explain what White would do if then 18....b5. After that, 19. Nxd6 Qxb2 looks terrible for White. And if 19. Ra1 Black still seems to have the better of the struggle with Qb3 20. Na5 Qxb2 21. Nxc6 Qxc3 22. Ne7+ Kh7 23. Nd5 Qc8 24. Be7 Nc5 25. BxR QxB leaving Black with two dangerous passed pawns on the Queen-side for the lost exchange. The position remains double-edged, but Black seems to have more than adequate resources and all sorts of attacking chances of his own. I sure wouldn't want to play the White position against Alekhine.

18. BxB

The position now with Black to recapture was:

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18... QxB?

This could have led to a superior ending for White. Alekhine should have played 18...NxB. After the text (18...QxB) the position was:

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19. Qg3?

As Alekhine pointed out, Ilyin-Genevsky should have traded Queens: "Now, Black obtains the better game, since f4 becomes a week point..."

19... Nc5!

Headed for f4.

20. Ng2 Ne6
21. Rf1 Nf4
22. NxN

This exchange helps only Black. 22. Qf3 or 22. Rhe1 or even 22. Kh1 were preferable.

22... exN

click for larger view

23. Qf3 Kg7
24. Kg2 h5


click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

25. h3

"Of course not 25. gxh5 in view of 25...Rh8." (Alekhine)

After 25. gxh5 Rh8 26. h3 (Not 26. hxg6? Qg5+ 27. Kh1 Rxh2+! 28. KxR Rh8+ 29. Qh3 RxQ+ 30. KxR Qh5+ 31. Kg2 Qg4+ 32. Kh2 f3 and mate next move) Rxh5 27. Rh1 Re8 28. Kf1 d5 29. exd5 cxd5 with a crushing bind on the White position.

25... Qg5

25...Rh8 was far stronger.

26. Rh1

26. Rg1 is more accurate. After 26. Rh1 the position was:

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26... f5?

Now White equalizes with ease. Alekhine suggested 26...Rae8 27. Rdg1 (27. Kf1 was definitely better) d5? (missing the superior 27...Rh8) 28. exd5 cxd5 29. Kf1 h4 30. Kg2 after which White should be able to survive).

Best for Black here was 26...Rh8 immediately.

27. exf5 gxf5
28. Rdg1


"The saving move." (Alekhine)

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28... fxg4
29. hxg4

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The game might look as if it were about to wind down to a draw with 29...hxg4 30. Kf1 gxQ 31. RxQ+. But with Alekhine, no position was ever boring. Here, he took great risks in an effort to win, and nearly lost in the process. As so often the case, however, Alekhine's almost superhuman ability to find tactical resources eventually broughty him home after a perilous journey.

29... h4?!
30. Kh3 Rae8
31. Re1

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Black can still survive here with 31...d5 or 31...Qg6. But Alekhine wanted more and so instead played the dangerous:

31... Kg6?!

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32. Re2


"White now forestalls his opponent." (Alekhine)

Actually, the text was a mistake, and Alekhine would have been in trouble after 32...Re4 (e.g., 32...RxR [if 32...Qd8 33. Rhe1 Kg5 (forced) 34. Qe2 RxR (forced) 35. QxR Rf7 36. Qe8 with excellent winning chances whether Black swaps Queens now or later] 33. QxR+ Kg7 34. Re1 Qf6 35. d4 with a winning bind.

After Ilyin-Genevsky's actual 32. Re2, the position was:

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Black can again survive, now with 32...Qd5 33. QxQ cxQ 34. Rhe1 RxR 35. RxR Kf6! and the Black h-pawn is of course immune. But Alekhine continued to play for victory, and avoided defeat, as we shall see, only because of an oversight by his opponent and some masterful endgame play.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

32... RxR?

This should have cost Alekhine the game.

33. QxR Qe5
34. Re1 Re8

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35. Qe4+


Taimanov called this move a "tricky check," and indeed at first sight it does seem to present Black with a dreadful problem. But after this move, Alekhine "found a study-like draw." (Taimanov)

But both Alekhine and Taimanov miss the fact that Ilyin-Genevsky could in fact have won from the diagrammed position with 35. QxQ. Best for Black is then 35...dxQ, but White still wins with 36. Re4! Rd8 (else 37. d4 is an immediate killer) 37. d4 exd4 38. cxd4 Kg5 39. f3 Rd6 40. Re5+ Kg6 41. Re7 Rxd4 42. Rxb7 a5 (the best try) 43. Rc7 Rc4 44. Kxh4 Rc2 45. g5! And if 36...RxQ 37. RxR exR 38. Kxh4 with an easily won King and pawn ending.

Granted, White's 35. Qe4+ looks like a winning move. But Alekhine found a brilliant way to save the game:

35... QxQ


36. RxQ RxR


37. dxR Kg5
38. f3

38. a4 and 38. b4 are no better. After 38. f3, the position was:

click for larger view

38... a5


"The only move to save the game." (Alekhine)

"The only move to maintain equality." (Taimanov)

<GrahamClayton> has shown on this site (see his analysis above) that all other moves by Black fail.

One must agree with Taimanov that: "A move like this is sometimes harder to work out than a brilliant combination; and with Alekhine when he reportedly (according to Taimanov) said: "I have to give myself top marks for the fact that I worked out all the lines of the pawn ending at the board."

After 38...a5, the position was:

click for larger view

39. c4

As both Alekhine and Taimanov demonstrated, 39. a4 also draws. Alekhine also showed that 39. b3 is sufficient to draw. But both Alekhine and Taimanov incorrectly claimed that 39. b4 loses to 39...axb4. They reached this erroneous conclusion by considering only 40. cxb4? which does indeed lose after 40...b5 (Taimanov) or 40...d5 (Alekhine) or even to 40...c5. What Alekhine and Taimanov missed is that after 39. b4 axb4 White still can draw with 40. c4!

In any case, after White's actual 39. c4, the game was quickly drawn:

39... b5

39...a4 also draws.

40. cxb5

40. b3 also draws.

40... cxb5

click for larger view

1/2 -- 1/2

A magnificent save by Alekhine.

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