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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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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.)
Aug-25-22  Sirius69: The much talked about endgame prowess of Rubinstein is nowhere to be seen! In fact it was riddled with errors.
Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: As Alekhine (allegedly) said:

<No wonder Rubinstein, who, throughout this period, was always better primed in the openings than his opponents, was able to celebrate, from his first debut in international chess, impressive victories. His outstanding success, I suppose, was his tie for first place with Lasker in St.Petersburg in 1909, a memorable tournament which I attended as a youth of sixteen. From this peak achievement commenced his decline, at first slow, afterwards more and more apparent. It is true he continued to study indefatigably, and a few isolated successes resulted; but one noted that this study was actually too much for his brains, which were talented for chess but otherwise very mediocre. And so it happened that, when I came to Berlin after four years' experience of the Soviets, I found there a Rubinstein who was only half a grand-master and a quarter of a human being. Blacker and blacker the shades closed round his brains, partly from megalomania, partly from persecution mania.>

But nothing about flies.

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: I like the enthusiasm of the annotator of this game by St Louis Chess club at :

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Classic Thorn pawn attacking strategy :)
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