26 May 2006

Gruenfeld - Alekhine, Karlsbad 1923

One of the curiosities on the list of Alekhine's annotated brilliancies is that Alekhine won two brilliancy prizes in each of three different events: 1922 Pistyan, 1923 Karlsbad, and 1926 Semmering. There are undoubtedly good reasons for this. One game might have been awarded a prize for the most brilliant game in the event, while the other might have won a prize for best game featuring an attack on the castled King. I'll check this the next time I visit a chess library.

The following position is from Karlsbad (Carlsbad) 1923. Just like the other brilliant game from the same event (Alekhine - Rubinstein), Kasparov selected this game for 'My Great Predecessors' and Kotov chose it for his biography of Alekhine.

This game against Gruenfeld was played in the round before the game with Rubinstein. Both games saw the same opening, a Queen's Gambit Declined, with Alekhine varying on his ninth move as White against Rubinstein (9.a4 instead of 9.a3); 'I wished to avoid fighting against the defence which I considered then, and still consider now, the best.'

The idea behind pushing the a-Pawn is seen in Black's last move in the diagram. It has allowed White's light squared Bishop to move from f1 to c4 (after ...d5xc4) to a2 to b1. The Queen and Bishop form a battery aiming at h7, a weak spot in Black's position. If it were now White's move and if the Knight were missing from f6, White could force mate in two.

Karlsbad 1923
Alekhine, Alexander

Gruenfeld, Ernst
(After 16.Ba2-b1)
[FEN "r1b1r1k1/3nbpp1/pq2pn1p/1p6/3N3B/P1N1P3/1PQ2PPP/1B1RK2R b K - 0 16"]

Alekhine first pointed out that White's last move, 'appears to prevent 16...Bb7 owing to the possibility of 17.Ndxb5 axb5 18.Rxd7 with a winning attack for White.' 16...Bb7! Anyway! This note and the following notes are all by Alekhine:

Black plays this move all the same, for 17.Ndxb5 would be refuted by 17...Qc6 18.Nd4 (forced) 18...Qxg2 with a strong counter-attack. In this way Black has successfully completed his development. There consequently remains nothing else for White than castling, after the failure of his premature attack.

17.O-O Rac8 18.Qd2

Hindering the double threat 18...Be4 or 18...Ne4.


This Knight will occupy the square c4, thereby fixing the weakness of the Queenside, induced by 9.a3.


In order to exchange Black's dangerous QB; White's next maneuver is finely conceived, but insufficient to equalize.

19...Bxf6 20.Qc2 g6

Not at all to prevent a harmless check at h7 but rather to secure a retreat subsequently for the KB, whose action on the long diagonal will be very powerful.

21.Qe2 Nc4 22.Be4!

Feeling himself in a strategic inferiority, Gruenfeld attempts to save himself by tactical skirmishing. He now hopes for the variation 22...Nxa3 23.Qf3! Bxe4 24.Nxe4 Bxd4 25.exd4 etc., which would ensure him the gain of the exchange.

22...Bg7! 23.Bxb7

But by this simple move, which is part of his plan, Black retains his advantage.

23...Qxb7 24.Rc1

The threat 24...Nxa3 compels White to retrace his 14th move.


The advance of the e-Pawn will give Black's Knight a new outpost on d3, still more irksome for the opponent than its present position.

25.Nb3 e4

Renewing the threat 26...Nxa3.

26.Nd4 Red8!

To make the following Knight maneuver still more effective, for now when it reaches d3 it will intercept the defence of the White Knight by the Rook.

27.Rfd1 Ne5 28.Na2

After this move, which removes the Knight from the field of action, White is definitely lost.

Alekhine wasn't shy about giving '!' to his moves. The five '!'-moves in the preceding sequence are as annotated by the fourth World Champion. He finished the game with a nice combination where he awarded himself two more '!'-moves as well as a '!!'-move! To play through the complete game see...

Ernst Gruenfeld vs Alexander Alekhine, Karlsbad 1923

...on Chessgames.com.

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