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Abram Rabinovich vs Grigory Levenfish
USSR Championship (1920), Moscow RUS, rd 10, Oct-17
Scandinavian Defense: Marshall Variation (B01)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: These two players were two of the four contestants at the first USSR Championship who had previously attained the rank of master (Alekhine and I. Rabinovich being the other two). A. Rabinvich had played at Carlsbad 1911 (finishing in the bottom half of the field). For Levinfish, this was to be the first of many strong performances in the USSR Championships: he finished second (to Romanovsky) in 1923; fourth (behind Bogoljubow, Romanovsky and Bogatyrchuk) in 1924; second (behind Boboljubow in 1925); tied for third (with Lisitsyn and I Rabinovich and behind Botvinnik and Alatortsev) in 1933; tied for first (with I Rabinovich) in 1935; and was first alone in 1937.

Levenfish finished third in this tournament behind Alekhine and Romanovsky in part because of his controversial defeat in the first round at the hands of the latter caused in part by a strange comment by Alekhine (see notes for that game on this site).

The instant game was a short exciting tactical struggle in which both sides sought complications but were ultimately relegated to Bishops of opposite colors ending in which Levenfish might have played on but with little chance of winning.

1. e4 d5

Levenfish with his very first move announces his desire for a sharp struggle.

2. exd5 Nf6
3. d4 Bxd5
4. c4 Nb6

Sharper and not significantly worse than the more usual 4...Nf6.

5. Nc3

A small surprise since it permits 5...e5. For that reason, 5. Nf3 is more frequently played.

5... e5

As would be expected.

The position was now:

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6. dxe5?!

Did White think he could win and retain an extra pawn? 6. Nf3 looks more sensible.

6... QxQ+
7. NxQ

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A pawn is a pawn, I guess, but it is hard to see why White fancied his chances in this line. Black is better developed and has what initiative exists.

7... Nc6
8. f4

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8... Nd4?!

Why not the obvious 8...Be6? The text only helped White develop his pieces.

9. Ne3 Be6
10. Bd2 0-0-0

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11. Rc1?

Forfeiting any advantage he had held. 11. 0-0-0 or (if that looked too scary) 11. b3 were the ways for White to fight to hold the edge.

11... g5

Either this or 11...Na4 were the ways for Black to exploit the counterplay White's 11th move allowed.

The position was now:

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Piost II

12. f5?!

This could have led to trouble. 12. fxg5 was muc better.

12... Bxf5?

Why give up the Bishop. 12...Nxf5 was surely best.

The position was now:

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13. c5?!

Pressing for complications rather than taking the small advantage he could have had with the simple and obvious 13. NxB.

13... Nd5

Even sharper than the alternative: 13...Na4.

14. NxB NxN
15. Bxg5 Re8
16. Nf3

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So White has emerged (very temporarily) with an extra pawn and with the two Bishops, but his e-pawn was weak and could not be held and his forces were still not developed. Chances were about even, since Black would have to expend time to regain the pawn.

16... Nd4?!

Once again choosing the sharpest option. 16...f6 looks simplest, but Levenfish was still itching for a fight, and the text allowed him to regain the lost pawn immediately with a simple forking combination.

17. NxN Rxe5+

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18. Be2?!

18. Kf2 was surely best. Hiding the King in the corner could have been a recipe for trouble.

18... RxB
19. 0-0

Perhaps A. Rabinovich had been planning on 19. c6 but noticed that this would have gotten him nowhere after 19...b6.

19... Ne3

White may have already regretted his failure to play 18. Kf2.

20. Rxf7

This left the following fascinating position:

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20... Bxc5

Chickening out. The critical line was 20...Bg7! This seems to fail against 21. Rxc7+ KxR 22. Ne6+ Kb8 23. NxR leaving White two pawns up in an endgame where he would have excellent winning chances. But perhaps Levenfish overlooked that he would have had the better game with 21...Kb8! 22. RxB (pretty much forced) RxR 23. Bf3 Rhg8 and Black is up the exchange for two pawns with the better chances.

21. Bf3

21. Kh1 (to get out of the pin) or 21. g3 were better. Now Levenfish retained some edge:

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Levenfish should here probably have played 21...Bb6 with slightly better prospects. But instead, he yet again went for the sharpest line:

21... Nc2?!
22. RxN BxN+

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With Bishops of opposite colors, a draw looks likely. But there were still some twists and turns to come in this game before a draw was finally agrred upon.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

23. Kh1?

Inexplicable, and giving up any even slim advantages he enjoyed. 23. Kf1 was obviously better than running to the corner.

23... Be5?!

Playing for a trick that ultimately materialized on move 26. But all that need not have happened and 23...c6 was the simplest route to equality.

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24. Rc5?!

Thinking he could gain from the pin. But 24. g3 or 24. g4 would have solved his upcoming problems.

24... h6

One simple way to neutralize whatever Rabinovich had in mind with his last move.

25. Rb5

The attack on b6 gets White nowhere. 25. Rc4 or 25. h4 would have avoided problems for White.

25... b6

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I would have bet on a draw at this point. But I never would have guessed how that would come about.

26. b4?

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A draw would have seemed inevitable after 26. a4 or 26. Rb4. But now, with the White Rook on b5 hanging, Levenfish had a cute combo at his disposal:

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26... Bxh2!

Rabinovich was lucky this did not lead to a win for Black (one of the unfair aspects of Bishops of opposite colors endings):

27. RxR

27. Rbf5 Bd6 was hardly better.

27... hxR

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All of a sudden, White seemed to be in jeopardy. But Rabinovich found the best reply:

28. b5!

Now, thanks to the position of the White Rook and the equalizing power of Bishops of opposite colors, the game is probably a theoretical draw.

28... Kd8
29. g4

29. Bc6 or 29. Be4 may have been somewhat better. But not to worry since Levenfish here agreed to a draw, the final position being:

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1/2 --- 1/2

The result is perhaps correct, but I am surprised that Levenfish didn't play on for a while. I would bet that Magnus Carlsen if playing Black would at least make an effort before letting White off the hook.

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