I came across the following game in the Illustrated London News of April 26th, 1930 under the heading “USA Naval SS Baffled” and the concluding sentence “This should ‘larn’ the Americans to steal our naval secrets”! Intrigued, I looked at the game which was indeed spectacular. It was played in the London – Washington Cable Match for the Insull Cup, at which Sir George Thomas played on the second board against N.V Whitaker. The London players played their games at the Royal Automobile Club and the annotator (Ernest Irving) notes that after the 15th move, the English team took dinner. Having experienced the fine hospitality of Royal Automobile Club dinners, I am amazed that Sir George managed to play the rest of the game with such flair and precision!
The game was hot theory, following a game of Mlotkowski (playing on the 4th board of the same match) in 1904 (well ok, maybe not so hot!) and originally played in 3 Steinitz-Dubois games in 1862. The game had been quoted by Griffiths (who was acting as teller at Sir George’s board) in his “Modern Chess Openings”! Go to http://cloudserver.chessbase.com/MTIyMTYx/replay.html for a playable version of this game.
Whitaker,Norman Tweed – Thomas,George Alan
Match/City Cable ENG-USA +1–1=4 12.04.1930
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6
The annotator notes that “he was offered the gambit invented by Captain Evans, R.N. but possibly out of respect for the deceased seaman, declined the pawn!”
An unusual choice (5.a4 is the standard move in this position) though played successfully by Ganguly against no less than Aronian in the 2014 Dubai Rapid World Championship.
6.Be2 has been the modern choice, though it doesn’t look amazingly impressive: 6…d5 7.Bb2 dxe4 8.Nxe5 Bd4 9.Bc3 Bxc3 10.Nxc3 Qd4 11.Ng4 Be6 12.Ne3 f5 13.g3 Nf6 14.f3 exf3 15.Bxf3 0–0–0 16.Ne2 Qe5 17.0–0 Nc4 18.Nxc4 Bxc4 19.Rf2 Ne4 20.Bxe4 fxe4 21.Rf1 Qxb5 22.Re1 Qc5+ 23.Kg2 Rhf8 24.Nf4 g5 25.Nh3 Be6 26.Qe2 Qxc2 27.Rad1 e3 28.g4 Qe4+ 29.Kg3 h5 30.Ng1 Rf2 31.Qxf2 Qxg4# 0–1 (31) Jonkman,H (2383)-Van den Doel,E (2564) Leeuwarden 2001
6…Nh6 7.d4 d6 8.Bxh6 dxe5 9.Bxg7 Rg8
9…Qxd4 10.Qxd4 Bxd4 11.Bxh8 Bxa1 was the game Mlotkowski,S-Judd,M St Louis,MO 1904, when 12.Bd3 would have been balanced. Sir George Thomas’ choice is much more enterprising (and much stronger)
10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 11.Bxe5 Bg4
A novelty! Preventing Qh5+ and gaining a tempo by attacking the queen. Unfortunately, just like 11…Qg5, it allows White to get back into the game by preventing …Nc4. Apparently Sir George Thomas was expecting 12.Qd2 which however still allows 12…Nc4. His opponent played something much stronger.
Standard theory at the time this game was played. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a game recently played by 2 strong grandmasters (and ending in a win for White!)
(12.Nc3 Nc4 13.Qf3+ Ke8 14.Nd5 was Steinitz,W-Dubois,S London 1862 when 14…Bg4 15.Nf6+ Ke7 16.Nd5+ Ke6 looks good for Black. Kurnosov’s choice keeps the Black knight out of c4 which seems better.)
12…Be6 (12…Bg4 13.Nf3) 13.Qf3+ Ke7 14.0–0–0 Raf8 15.Qa3+ Kd8 16.f4 Qxg2 17.f5
It’s starting to feel good for White!
17…Nc4 18.Qd3 Nxd2 19.fxe6 Nf3 20.Bg3 Ng5 21.d5 Qf3 22.d6
and now it definitely is! 22…Rf4 23.dxc7+ Ke7 24.Qd6+ Kf6 25.Qxf4+ Qxf4+ 26.Bxf4 1–0 Kurnosov,I (2538)-Gyimesi,Z (2602) Moscow 2005;
11…Nc4 is unfortunately for this line, rather strong. It hits the piece keeping White’s central position together. 12.Qh5+ looks scary, but actually demonstrates the drawback of having too few pieces developed to attack effectively! 12…Kf8 13.Qh6+ Ke8 14.Qxh7 Be6 and …Bxd4 or …Nxe5 is coming
12.Qd3 c5 13.Nc3 cxd4 14.Nd5 Qe8
14…Rc8 feels more natural, trying to get the offside knight on a5 into play. The text attacks the bishop on e5 and the pawn on b5 but leaves the dark squares around the king looking very holey.
A tempting but risky move, that allows the Black knight on a5 to get into play for free. Either 15.Bxd4 or 15.f4 were better, in both cases with excellent play for White.
Apparently at this stage, Sir George only had a few seconds (!) for his next 5 moves!
16.Qf4+ Ke6 17.h3
The text is understandable and would be strong were it not for a hidden point to 15…Nc4. It not only activated the knight…
a. 17.Bxd4 Bxd4 18.Nc7+ Kd7
(18…Ke7 19.Nd5+ is just a draw)
19.Nxe8 Bc3+ 20.Kf1 Nd2+
(20…Raxe8 21.Qf7+ is very embarrassing)
(21.Kg1 Kxe8 is the engine move, with the great point 22.h3 Bf3 23.Rh2 Bxa1 as 24.Qxd2 Rd8 and Black’s pieces turn out to be in the perfect places!)
21…Bxd2 22.Nf6+ Ke7 23.Nxg8+ Rxg8 feels a bit better for Black despite White’s rook and 4(!) pawns for the 2 bishops as White’s queenside is so weak: a couple at least are bound to fall before White gets his other rook into play.;
was the best line I could find, and my engine wants it too.
17…Qf8 18.Bxb6 Nxb6
(18…axb6 19.h3 Bh5 20.Qc7 is awkward for Black due to the threat of Nf4xh5+)
(19.Qc7 Rg7 is the nice point, when the White queen is short of squares 20.Nf4+ Kf6 21.e5+ Kf5; 19.f3 Bh5)
is my engine’s improvement over my line. (20.Qc7 Nxd5 21.exd5+ Kf6 22.0–0 Qe7 should be good for Black)
(20…Nxd5 21.exd5+ Kd6 22.Qxh5 Re8+ 23.Kf1 d3 Another engine find: the idea isn’t obvious at all! 24.Qh4 (24.cxd3 Qg7 hitting a1 and g2!) 24…Qg7 (24…dxc2 25.Qb4+ Kd7 26.Qxf8 Rgxf8 27.Rc1 Rc8 28.h4 is a sharp double rook ending which will probably end up balanced as Black is likely to capture d5 and at least one more White queenside pawn.) 25.Qb4+ Kxd5 26.Qb3+ Kc5 27.Qa3+ Kb6 28.Qd6+ Ka5 29.Qa3+ is a draw by repetition)
21.Qg4+ Kd6 22.Qg3+ Kd7 23.Qg4+ with a draw by repetition (as always!) as the expected engine result.
The deadly point to 15…Nc4: it also freed a5 for the bishop!
18.c3 Bxc3+ 19.Kf1 Nd2+
19…Be2+ 20.Kxe2 Qh5+ 21.g4 Qxe5 is the engine line, with a safe extra piece.
20.Ke1 was White’s best try when Black should start again with 20…Nc4+; 20.Kg1 Nf3+ 21.Kf1 Qxb5#
20…Qxb5+ 21.Kg1 Bxd2 22.Nc7+ Kxe5 23.Nxb5 Bf3