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Alexander Alekhine vs Akiba Rubinstein
The Hague (1921), The Hague NED, rd 9, Nov-04
Queen Pawn Game: Zukertort Variation (D02)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
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Mar-12-07  RookFile: It's actually pretty unbelievable that Rubinstein made it to move 51, considering how bad his game was out of the opening.
Sep-14-07  ColonelCrockett: 7. ... b6 seems suspect but it's difficult to suggest a better move. Perhaps Be7 followed by Bf6 trying to put pressure on the fixed backward d-pawn and keeping an eye on e5. the text (b6) favors white in this instance. (opening the c-file which white is ready to occupy . . . Black's light square bishop blocks his path to the open file and moving it wastes time at the moment. Black should be thinking "e5 break preparation and leaving the c-pawn vulnerable. It's also worth a note that pushing the h-pawn becomes difficult for white in the Be7 variation (making the knight on g6 stronger). Another note, Black must still be careful not to castle too early and commit himself to either side. Without a castled king to attack White is almost planless. (the long diagonal h1-a8 is the only "logical" development of White's Bishop, given his other Bishop's blocking the e-file, and the diagonal isn't worth much . . . Black would be effectively working with an extra piece in the center if he hadn't rushed in headlong after b6. Wow, that was a mouthful ... ;)
Nov-16-07  Dr. Siggy: Eugène A. Znosko-Borovsky, "The Art of Chess Combination", english transl., London 1936, pages 164-5:

After 8... cxb6, "a pawn advances to h6 to attack the castling position. The black squares become weak, and White's QB seizes on them with notably increased powers.

"There is no immediate combination in this position. As a matter of fact, the game was prolonged over fifty moves. On the 24th the exchange was won for a Bishop, and on the 45th the pawn fell, in order to secure a threat of mate in two moves.

"[...] Here [...], the pawn advances to weaken the castled position. Had Black played h7-h6, there would have followed g2-g4-g5. If 11... gxh6, then Black's doubled RP's are isolated and very weak. And after the actual move 11... g6, there are two 'holes' left in Black's defense.

"It must not be supposed, from what has been said of the pawn on the 6th, that it means a forced win. All that one can assert is that, as a rule, it wins when there are still a number of pieces on the board, and the pawn may thus become the pivot of an attack. It wins also when, in the endgame, it is safe from attack, for then it immobilises in its neighbourhood the adverse King or some other piece. But otherwise it may become weak, and its threats are not very dangerous."

Nov-16-07  Dr. Siggy: Eugène A. Znosko-Borovsky, "The Middle Game in Chess", english transl., London 1938, pages 134-6:

<After 17... Qb6>: "The [...] example [...] illustrates the exploitation of strong squares [...].

"Having weakened the black squares on Black's K side by the advance of his h-pawn, White has created some very strong points at e5 and c5. He is now bent on occupying them. A K side attack seems called for, and many players in this position would have unhesitatingly embarked upon it. But in that case Black would obtain counter-chances on the Q side, after occupying a strong square at f5 and making full use of the open c-file."

<After 20... Nc4>: "The Knight could not be taken because of 20... Bxc5 21. dxc5 Qxc5 22. Bd4 Qc6 23. Ne5 Q any 24. Ng4, threatening Nf6+, and the attack against the King becomes into being. How many attacks there are on various parts of the board! This is great Chess!"

<About 22. Ne5>: "Now White attacks the Bishop twice and the c4-pawn at the same time. If ...Bxc5, a piece is lost after dxc5."

<About 23... Bd6>: "If 23... Re8, White continues 24. dxe5 Rxe7 25. Ne4, with the double threat of Nf6+ and Qd6."

<After 25... Rxd7>: "And White wins, being the exchange ahead."

Jun-11-09  Bridgeburner: Rubinstein was probably as good as dead in this game when he played <9...Bd6>, allowing the White's h-pawn to advance into his King side not just to <h5> but to <h6> even. <9...h5> meeting that pawn head on would have fully equalized, and White would have had nothing, especially with his DSB clogging his development at <e3>:

click for larger view

<20...Nc4> looks to be a really bad move, virtually losing by force. It was true the Knight on <c5> couldn't be captured for the reasons given by Znosko-Borovsky, although there were technical resources at Black's disposal.

Position after <20.Nc5>:

click for larger view

White's immediate threat is to capture Black's <Pa6>, which if allowed, would win the game. Black's <20...Nc4> covers that pawn from the attack by White's LSB and also appears to be trying to create some counter play on the queen side by attacking the unprotected pawn at b2, or, on the capture of the Knight, trying to create chances with the advanced b and c pawns.

It was a worthy plan, of course, as even an understrength Rubinstein, as he generally was after the War compared to his salad years, was always a player to be feared. But Alekhine was more than up to the task, making it look easy.

With the wisdom of hindsight and modern technology, one could suggest that a defensive move such as <20...Ra8> or <20...Bc8> was objectively better but to what end?

Better to go down fighting than get slowly strangled.

Jun-11-09  AnalyzeThis: Yes, it's an amazing game. It's not like Rubinstein wasn't developing his pieces - he certainly was doing that.
Jun-11-09  Bridgeburner: <AnalyseThis>

Although in my collection I label this a game in which Rubinstein was completely outplayed, this is more an indirect testament to Alekhine's amazing ability than to the lack of it in Rubinstein. Even an understrength Rubinstein was always a player to be feared, or at least respected, by absolutely everyone. After all, <only> Alekhine and Lasker had career plus scores against Rubinstein, even with the poor man's psychological infirmities.

Rubinstein was <made> to look easily beaten, but when you look at the alternatives he had after his bad choice of opening, I thought he played about as well as was possible, fighting his way through a thicket of losing variations to lock onto his best active counter chances.

But after the ninth move, it was always going to be a catch up game...not something that usually worked against Alekhine, regardless of the resourcefulness of his opponents.

Jan-23-11  cunctatorg: I recently read the kibitzing regarding the Rubinstein-Alekhine game; Vienna 1922: 1-0. In 1922 these greatest players had four encounters; one draw, the aforementioned game and two Alekhine wins.

Anyway judge by yourself the caliber of Alekhine's play then by means of the 1921 game!...

Apr-02-11  SufferingBruin: Silman annotates this in detail here:

Incredible effort by Alekhine.

Nov-21-12  Shams: After <13.Bf6> Alekhine writes in "Alexander Alekhine's Best Games":

<"An extraordinary position after the thirteenth move of a Queen's Gambit! During the first thirteen moves White has played his c-pawn thrice, his h-pawn thrice and his dark-squared bishop four times, after which he has obtained a position in sight of a win, if not actually a winning one. It is especially with respect to the original opening of this game that people often speak of a 'hyper-modern technique', a 'neo-romantic school', etc.

The question is, in reality, much simpler. Black has given himself over to several eccentricities in the opening (3...a6, 5...Nge7, 6...Ng6) which, without the reaction of his opponent (for example, 7.e3 instead of 7.Be3 or 9.g3 instead of 9.h4) would in the end have given him a good game. It is, therefore, as a necessity, and not with a preconceived idea, that I decided upon the advance of the h-pawn, preventing Black from securing an advantage in the centre. But, as a rule, in the opening stages of a game such eccentricities are in accordance neither with my temperament nor my style, as the reader can see from the perusal of this book.">

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: Surely Black can do better than to get into a castled position with White's pawn on h6 and bishop on f6?

Alekhine suggested 12...f5 but still claimed a big advantage for White. I'm ready to believe him.

How about 11...gxh6? If then 12. Bxh6 Nf5. True, Black gets an isolated h-pawn, but it can't be worse than the gaping kingside holes he gets in the actual game. And unless White wants to risk falling further behind in development with 13. Bc1, he can trade off the dangerous dark-squared bishop and gain the bishop pair.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: Following up on my previous post, I think it would probably continue 11...gxh6 12. Bxh6 Nf5 13. Qd2 Nxh6 14. Qxh6, which looks like an advantage for White, but nowhere near as bad for Black as the actual game. He might then defend with 14...Be7, for example.
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: Earlier on, what has White got if Black plays 9...h6, preventing the dark square holes as in the game?

For example, 9...h6 10. h5 Ne7 11. Bf4 Nf5 12. e3 Bd6, etc. The only drawback I see for Black is the weakened queenside pawns, but White's own h-pawn is also looking a bit overextended.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: On on the other hand, after <bridgeburner>'s suggested 9...h5, White plays <10. Bg5>. If Black replies with natural development with 10...Be7 11. Bxe7, White gets some good positional advantages: Black's dark squares are weak and his bishop is hemmed in by his own pawns.
Mar-11-17  visayanbraindoctor: This game is a classic on the the principles of tempo, initiative, and attack. The reason why White's funny looking moves worked is that they exploited Black's errors with threats, always maintaining the initiative.

Why is h4, h5, h6 possible? It's because Black made the mistake of developing his Knight to g6 (really strange play for a player of Rubinstein's caliber), turning it to a potential target. Alekhine sees he can get his pawn to h6, weakening the Black Kingside, without loss of tempo, or force h5, which likewise weakens the Black Kingside.

Take a look at the position after 15. Bd3 Rc8. AAA's plan of 16. a4 forcing b4, which weakens the a6 pawn (Bxa6 is suddenly threatened), which in turn gives him one more tempo (Rubinstein decided to defend his a6 pawn with 17.. Qb6) in order to maneuver his knight to 19. Nb3, with an eye for c5 is indicative of his great powers of imagination.

Notice 17.. Qb6 which defends the a6 pawn deflects the Queen away fom the e7 Knight. This Knight is being hit by White's f6 Bishop, and so looks adequately defended by the d6 Bishop. However, this d6 Bishop is later brilliantly overloaded by AAA with the combination beginning with 20. Nc5!

This means that after taking the sacrifice with 20.. Bxc5 21. dxc5, Black can't take the c5 White pawn with Rxc5 (as this leaves the e7 Black Knight hanging and vulnerable to Bxe7), but with 21.. Qxc5. This in turn deflects the Queen into a square in which it can be attacked by 22. Bd4! (from which the Queen can go to only two squares).

Again every move a threat. Tempo is all important in such sharp tactical positions. The Black Queen is left with only two squares.

But 22.. Qd6 is met with 23. Be5 (again another threat) and 24. Bxc7

or 22.. Qc6, in which case 23. Ne5! again threatens it. This allow White to jump the Knight to 24. Ng4! without losing any tempo, and thus hitting the f6 square (with opting for Nf6, another threat!) and getting an overwhelming position.

Notice that in the above line, everytime Black moves as a reaction to White's threat, White follows it up with another tactical threat. Very few players can sustain such a continuous series of tactics. It requires mind-boggling powers of fantasy and imagination and a vision of the chessboard that must be accurate at least three to five moves long.

For instance, when did Alekhine notice that 20. Nc5 was possible? Offhand, the knight jumps into a square defended by three black pieces. The combination is based on the fact that if the Knight is taken by 20.. Bxc5, 21. dxc5 vacates the d4 square where this pawn was located allowing 22. Bd4. The combination is based on a very-hard-to-see clearance tactic of a pawn moving sideways as it eats another piece.

Surely Rubinstein never saw 20. Nc5. But certainly Alekhine did even several moves back.

Did Alekhine see 20. Nc5 four moves previously when he essayed 16. a4?

Lots of modern day kibitzers and players belittle Alekhine's tactical skills (maybe because of Fischer's dislike for AAA's play? or just because of the narcissistic generation syndrome?), but if a youngster would suddenly begin playing like this in our present-day live-in-the-internet tournaments, everyone would be agog that a new Kasparov has arrived.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <visayanbraindoctor> <Lots of modern day kibitzers and players belittle Alekhine's tactical skills> You're kidding, right?
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: A classic example of the use of the h6 pawn march to weaken the opponent's kingside. Another successful example is Alekhine vs Euwe, 1938

Before this era, the advanced h-pawn might have been perceived as a weakness, as actually occurred in Alekhine vs Nimzowitsch, 1914

This adds a new "chunk" to chess perception, assuming you accept the "chunking hypothesis" of chess skill.

Jun-13-17  Leole: @Bridgeburner

After 9...h5 Black will be worse anyway:

10.Bg5 f6 11.Qc2! Nge7 12.Bd2!(12.Bf4 Nxd4!?), White is better.

Jun-13-17  JimNorCal: Is the h pawn an example of what people call a "fawn pawn"?
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <JimNorCal>
"fawn pawn"
Is this an actual widely used chess term, and if so, who coined it and when? Are you sure it's not "thorn pawn"?
Jun-13-17  JimNorCal: <beatgiant>
Yes, fawn pawn is a term. Its origin is described half way down the page here.

Game Collection: Fawn Pawns

Some refer to this as a <Pawn Nail>, or a <Thorn Pawn>. The noted youtube chess video annotator Tryfon Gavriel- known as <Kingscrusher>- calls them <Thorn Pawns>. However, Tryfon has a heavy English accent, so we thought he was saying <Fawn Pawns>.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <JimNorCal>
I see. Looks like a kibitzer misheard "thorn pawn" as "fawn pawn" so a new term was born.

Can we all go back to calling them "thorn pawns"?

Dec-13-18  Granny O Doul: Just wanted to say, that's a great Alekhine quote in Shams's comment of Nov/21/12.
Aug-10-19  tigreton: Great game, every chess player should know it. At that time the idea of advancing the h-pawn was not so familiar as it is today.
Mar-02-21  sudoplatov: Stockfish ( seems to think the 7...h6 was superior; to be followed by Be7. Should White play 8.h4 then 8...Be7, 9.h5 Nh4. White still has an advantage but Black doesn't lose immediately (though Rubinstein did hold out until move 51 anyway.)
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