Apart from analysing kingside attacks, my other favourite chess pastime is accumulating themes from the games of the great players. In my forthcoming book Chess for Life (co-authored with WIM Natasha Regan) I explain how I used the analysis of themes from Capablanca’s games to help me prepare for the games against Kramnik and Svidler at the 2013 London Classic. Recently I’ve felt my play needed a bit of spicing-up so I’ve been looking at Alekhine’s games for inspiration. I was watching a Chessbase DVD about Alekhine’s games the other day and the presenter – IM Oliver Reeh – mentioned that the surprising move b4 occurred very often in Alekhine’s games. That got me interested and I put together a little database of these moments. In this article, I’ll present the best of those moments with a few brief comments. Hopefully both you and I will be inspired to surprise our opponents with b4 in our own games!
A. b4 to deflect the opponent’s pieces from a defensive post
1. Alekhine – Rubinstein Carlsbad 1923
A very famous example. Black’s position looks reasonable at first sight: 2 bishops and a decent pawn structure. Although Black’s king’s position is a little loose, White’s pieces are not yet knocking at the Black king’s door. Black does have an additional tactical weakness in his position however: the c-file. Alekhine combines this factor with the current vulnerability of the Black king to bring all his attacking forces over to the kingside with amazing speed.
21…Bxb4 22.Qxc8 Rxc8 23.Rxc8+ leads to back-rank mate!
22.Qc6 Rd7 23.g3 Qb8 24.Ng5 Red8 25.Bg6
An amazing move!
25…fxg6 26.Qg2 From the c-file over to the kingside! Black is powerless against the threat of Qh3–h7+!
26.Nxf7+ Rxf7 27.Bxf7 Qf5 28.Rfd1 Rxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Qxf7 30.Qxc8 Kh7 31.Qxa6 Qf3 32.Qd3+
2. Alekhine – Maroczy Bled 1931
We have already examined this position in great detail in an earlier blog article: “Maroczy Bound (hand and foot)”. Take a look if you’re in the mood for variations! Otherwise just enjoy as Alekhine distracts the Black queen from the defence of the e5 square and threads his own queen into the Black position.
25.b4 Qxb4 26.Qe5 Nd7 27.Qh8 Rxd3 28.f6+
28.f6+ Kd8 29.Qxe8+ Kxe8 30.Rc8# is a beautiful mate!
3. Alekhine – Frydman Podebrady 1936
Even in the ending you had to watch out for Alekhine’s b-pawn! Black threatens to attack White’s central structure with …Rh3+ and …Kd4 after which White’s passed f-pawn will also be vulnerable. Alekhine finds a lovely way of stopping this.
Black tries to stay in touch with the d4 square. He still threatens …Rh3+
36…Kxb4 37.Re6 Rh3+ 38.Kf2 White picks up the e5 pawn and the 2 passed central pawns will decide.
Now the king has been nudged away from c5, White’s rook can now reach the d-file and cut the Black king off. The f-pawn is now ready to roll without any interference from the Black king
37…Rh3+ 38.Ke2 Rh4 39.Kf3 h5 40.Re6 Rf4+ 41.Ke3 h4 42.Rxe5 h3 43.Rd5 Rh4 44.Rd4+ Kc3 45.Rd1 h2 46.Rh1 Rh3+ 47.Kf4 Rh4+ 48.Ke5 Kd2 49.f6 Ke3 50.Kd6 Rxe4 51.Rxh2 Rd4+ 52.Ke5
B. b4 to draw the opponent’s pieces into vulnerable positions
4. Alekhine – Euwe World Championship 1935
Black has been trying to keep things “tight at the back” by avoiding any pawn weaknesses and trying to keep his pieces out of range of Alekhine’s pieces. Well if they won’t come to you of their own accord, Alekhine will make them!
Stunning! The beautiful point is 19…Bxb4 20.Nb3 Qc7 21.Qe4 Hitting the bishop – which was lured to b4 by 19.b4 – and the knight on e5. 21…Bd6 22.Qd4 g5 23.Bxg5 White has a clear advantage.
Euwe attempts to keep things closed but Alekhine prises the Black position apart with surgical skill.
20.b5 c5 21.Nf5 f6 22.Ne3 Be6 23.Bd5 Bxd5 24.Rxd5 Qa5 25.Nf5 Qe1+ 26.Kg2 Bd8 27.Bxe5 fxe5 28.Rd7 Bf6 29.Nh6+ Kh8 30.Qxc5
C. b4 to storm the opponent’s position
5. Alekhine – Shapiro New York sim 1924
White’s position is excellent of course but Black’s pawns on c5 and d5 keep the White knights at bay for now. Alekhine decides to destroy them!
16…Qxb4 17.Rb1 wins a piece
16…cxb4 17.Nd4 Qa5 (17…Qd7 18.Nb6) 18.Nf5 wins a piece due to the double threat of Nxe7+ and Qg4+ with mate
17.bxc5 Rab8 18.Nd4 Qe8 19.Nf5 Kh8 20.Qg4 Bf8 21.Nb6 Rc6 22.Nxd5 Re6 23.c6 Bc8 24.Nc7 Re4 25.Nxe8 Rxg4 26.c7 Rb6 27.f3 Rgb4 28.e4 h5 29.Rfd1 Ra4 30.Ned6 Rxa2 31.Nxc8 Rbb2 32.Nh4
D. b4 to speed up Alekhine’s own development
6. Alekhine – Landau Scarborough 1926
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nc7 6.Bc4 Nc6 7.0–0 Be6 8.Bxe6 Nxe6
A stunning concept that is much used in similar lines. For example the recent game Aronian-Topalov London 2015 went 5…Nb4 6.Bc4 Nd3+ 7.Ke2 Nf4+ 8.Kf1 Ne6 9.b4 cxb4 10.Nd5. White loosens Black’s hold over the centre and opens up the a1–h8 diagonal for himself in double-quick time.
9…g6 10.bxc5 Nxc5 11.Ba3 Ne6 12.Rb1 Qd7 13.Nd5 Bg7 14.Qa4 Rd8 15.Rfc1 with a wonderful position for White
E. Take me or leave me… I’m coming for you!
7. Alekhine – Bogoljubow World Championship 1929
Black’s position is in some disarray. Alekhine uses a favourite technique of his to ramp up the pressure: offer the b-pawn. If Black takes it, the b-file is opened. If Black refuses, the queenside pawns will be at Black’s throat!
18.b4 f5 19.c5 Qxb4 20.Re5 Ng6 21.Rb1
with a big mess!
F…but b4 isn’t ALWAYS the right move
You do have to time it right and even Alekhine wasn’t infallible! Take a look at this White simultaneous game against Grabill in Los Angeles 1929:
20.Qf4 Nxe5 21.Rxd8+
No!!! 21.b4 was the right way when 21…Qc3 22.Ne2 wins a piece.
21…Rxd8 22.b4 Qc3 23.Qxe5 Rd1+
Very painful but somehow Alekhine managed to make a draw from here!