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Nikolay Zubarev vs Peter Romanovsky
USSR Championship (1920), Moscow RUS, rd 15, Oct-24
Four Knights Game: Spanish. Rubinstein Variation (C48)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Oct-24-18  Delboy: The natural-looking 31. Nf3 loses spectacularly by force. The unappetising 31. Re2 had to be tried, but after the exchange of rooks black would eventually comfortably convert his 2-pawn advantage
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Romanovsky needed only a draw in this final-round game to take 2nd place (ahead of Levenfish). Alekhine had clinched first place in the penultimate round.

Romanovsky--in the absence of Alekhine--won the 2nd USSR Championship in 1923, a point ahead of Levenfish.

The play by Zubarev here (who was already out of the money) was feeble, so Romanovsky finished a full point ahead of Levenfish here with this win.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3

By playing the Four Knights Game, Zubarev essentially advertised that he would be satisfied with a draw.

3... Nf6
4. Bb5 Nd4

The Rubinstein Variation, which is more unbalanced than 4...Bb4 but which allows White to force a drawish ending with 5. NxN, the position after 4...Nd4 being:

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5. Ba4

Spurning the drawish 5. NxN, but he would soon have reason to wish he had settled for a draw. The text, however, is entirely playable and if properly followed up could yield a small advantage to White.

5... Bc5

5...NxN+ and 5...c6 were easier ways to play to split the point.

6. d3

Very weak and giving up any realistic prospect to play for an edge. For whatever reason, Botvinnik played this same move in his second game against Fine at AVRO 1938 and draw quickly.

6... 0-0

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7. Bg5?

Botvinnik, in this game against Fine, played 7. 0-0 here and drew effortlessly. The sloppy text allows Black to get the better game even at this early stage.

7... c6

Black also emerges with the better game after 7...h6.

8. Bb3 h6

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9. BxN?

This leads to a lousy game for White in which he will have to struggle to avoid a quick loss. Zubarev would have been worse but not in terrible shape with 9. Bh4.

Romanovsky now took charge:

9... QxB
10. NxN exN

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11. Ne2

White has no attractive move here (11. Na4 Be7 [or 11...Bd6] loses a piece to 12...b5).

11... Bb4+
12. Kf1

It requires awful play by White to get into such a mess as early as move 12.

click for larger view

White is probably not quite lost yet, and--remember--all Romanovsky needed to take 2nd place was a draw.

What followed was awkward. Romanovsky wanted to avoid any complications in which a slip might cost him 2nd place and so eschewed anything but safe lines. But Zubarev's play remained abysmal. Romanovsky allowed all this to continue for another ten moves, but when Zubarev (who had nothing much to gain even if he won this game) kept dithering, Romanovsky--as we will see--finally just tore the White position apart.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

12... d6

12...d5 or 12..Re8 were stronger, but at this stage it appears that Romanovsky was shunning any complications, satisfied with a draw that was at this stage of the tournament as good for him as a win.

13. Ng3

Somewhat more logical for White are 13. a3 or 13. b3 or 13. h3; especially against an opponent seemingly content with a draw.

13... Kh7

Consistent with his safety first policy, Romanovsky got his King off the potentially dangerous a2..g8 diagonal.

14. h3

The beginning of a plan by Zubarev to obtain a castled King's position the hard way (i.e., Kg2; Kh2 and then Rf1 or Re1. This plan, however, had a flaw that would soon become evident.

14... Bd7
15. Kg1 Qe5

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With the Black Queen on e5, Zubarev's idea of Kh2 en route to castling has hit a snag. But, nothing daunted, he soldiered on with:

16. Kh2?

He could likely have held his own with 16. Ne2 saving "castling" for later (possibly by means of g3 and Kg2).

16... f5!

Romanovsky took prompt advantage of Zubarev's temerity. White is now in serious trouble, if not theoretically lost already.

17. exf5

17. a3 was probably most prudent. After the text, Romanovsky almost certainly had victory in his grasp:

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17... Rae8

Wimping out. Romanovsky should have followed his last strong move with 17...d5!

18. Rf1

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18... Rxf5

Too cute by half. The g3 Knight was pinned so this doesn't lose a Rook, but--especially in light of Romanovsky's tempo-losing next move, he should just have played 18...Bxf5 or perhaps 18...d5.

19. Kh1?

Still blinded by his "castling" plan, Zubarev missed 19, c3, which would have gotten him pretty much back into the game.

19... Rff8

Having played 18...Rxf5, and having gotten a lemon of a response by Zubarev, Romanovsky should surely have continued with 19...Rf4! But he was seemingly still fixed on making sure he didn't lose and allow Levenfish to catch him and tie for second prize.

But now Zubarev got a bit cocky and, instead of playing something solid such as 20. c4 or 20. c3 or 20. a3, he decided to bring matters to a head with:

20. Qh5?

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All of a sudden, Romanovsky had a variety of ways to win. He could have traded Queens; he could have played 20...d5. But he chose another powerful move:

20... Qf4

I see no way for White to survive with best play from here.

21. a3 g6
22. Qd1 Ba5

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Whether Black has a theoretical win at this point became moot, as Zubarev, perhaps out of desperation, began playing wild chess and was--as I will discuss in my next post on this game-- wiped out by Romanovsky in short order.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

23. c3?

Near suicide. 23. Ne2, or maybe 23. Rc1 would have given him some practical chances. But Zubarev was almost certainly lost anyway.

23... dxc3

23...d5 also wins, but the text was most accurate.

24. bxc3

As good or bad as anything.

24... Bxc3

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Zubarev's position was perhaps not yet resignable, but it could hardly have been fun to play.

25. Rc1 Qe5

Probably even stronger than 25...Be5, which also wins.

26. Rc2 d5

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27. f4?

This leads to immediate loss. As will be seen, Zubarev appears to have become transfixed by what turned out to be a mirage. Romanovsky was not fooled, and what followed was a massacre:

27... Rxf4
28. RxR QxR
29. Ne2

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My guess is that Zubarev thought this Knight fork would save--or perhaps even win--the game for him. Romanovsky's response no doubt dashed any hopes under which Zubarev had been operating.

29... Qf2!


30. Ng1

Hopeless, but White had nothing better.

30... Qf6

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30...Qe1 looks even simpler. But the text also deprived White of any hope to save the game.

31. Nf3?

Now White was in a mating net from which there was no escape. As <Delboy> pointed out on this site more than four years ago, 31. Re2 was the only way to prolong the game for White. But that too would only have led to a position with White two pawns down with no chance to offer meaningful resistance. After the yexy, Romanovsky cleaned up neatly!

31... Re1+!

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32. NxR Qf1+

Romanovsky's concluding combination is not difficult to find, but it is pretty nonetheless. Zubarev's next four moves were his only legal choices.

33. Kh2 Be5+
34. g3 Qh3+
35. Kg1 Bd4+
36. Rf2 Qxg3+
37. Ng2

37. Kh1 BxR also leads to a quick mate.

37... BxR+

click for larger view


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