While playing through Alekhine’s “Collection of Best Games”, my attention was caught by this position from Alekhine-Reti Vienna 1922.
It’s a famous position of course, but I couldn’t escape from the feeling I’d seen this diagram in another old book: I had an image in my head of how it looked on the page – rather old-fashioned in fact. A bit of rummaging later, and I’d found it!
It’s from a book called “Brilliance in Chess” by Gerald Abrahams, published in 1977. I don’t think I’d looked at it for about 30 years! As you can read though, the annotations don’t add much to our understanding of the game. Rather disappointingly neither does Tartakower in his “The Hypermodern Game of Chess”
After I published this article, a kind reader also sent me an extract from Kotov’s single volume English language book on Alekhine which unfortunately is also fairly superficial.
In desperation I ordered 2 classic Russian language books of Alekhine’s games: Kotov’s 2-volume biography of Alekhine and Panov’s collection of 300 Alekhine games.
They didn’t add anything to Alekhine’s notes either.
The quest for illuminating annotations continued when the same reader found a copy of Larry Evans’ tournament book of the Vienna 1922 tournament. Unfortunately, Evans also mostly contents himself with repeating Alekhine’s comments:
The moral of the story is clear: if we want to know what was going on, we’ll need to do it ourselves! Let’s take a look!
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Nc3 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.Nxe5 Nxe5 8.d4 Bd6 9.dxe5 Bxe5 10.f4 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3
Looking back, the chess books I read as a child were of variable quality. I’ve seen this position discussed a number of times, and all the books follow Alekhine’s lead in condemning Black’s opening play. Tartakower in his “The Hypermodern Game of Chess” is a typical example. It only just occurred to me that Black could simply play 11…Bb7 in this position with a good game! Larry Evans also points this out in his book!
A very risky choice from Reti. You wonder how much he had seen of the ensuing play as Black’s position only hangs together by the slenderest of tactical threads!
Tartakower’s annotations may not help much from the chess point of view, but he has a lovely turn of phrase. He calls this “The fairy-tale phase”. “Each party competes with grand conceptions. Everything hangs, halts and squats”
12…Qe7 13.0–0 (13.Qe2 is Tartakower’s line but 13…Re8 instead of Tartakower’s 13…Ne8 14.0–0 Bb7 is reasonable for Black) 13…Ne4 14.Qd5 Qc5+ is a Stockfish suggestion.
15.Kh1 Nf2+ 16.Rxf2 Qxf2 17.Ba3 c6 18.Qd6 Re8 (18…Bb7 19.Qxd7) 19.Bc5 Stockfish considers that Black has a clear advantage. I was thinking the other way! 19…Qe2 (19…Qxf4 20.e6 wins) 20.h3 a5 21.a4. I would rather be White!
Stockfish prefers either 13.exf6 or 13.Qf3.
13…Bb7 Again missed by everyone, but this is more understandable: it’s a bit of Stockfish magic
14.exf6 (14.Bxc5 Ne4 15.Bxf8 Qh4+ 16.g3 Nxg3 17.Be7 Qxf4 18.hxg3 Qxg3+ 19.Kd2 Qf4+ 20.Ke1 Qg3+ is a Stockfish draw!) 14…Re8+ 15.Kf1 b4
An amazing move! (15…Qxf6 16.Bxc5 Qxf4+ 17.Bf2 wins for White) 16.Bb2 (16.cxb4 Qxf6 wins!) 16…c4 17.Bxc4 Re4
is Stockfish’s incredible idea with wonderful attacking chances for Black. I can’t compete with that!
13…Qa5 is where I started analysing. Bearing in mind Reti’s amazing defensive resource in the game (16…Qa5! exploiting the presence of the king on g1) it seemed indicated to change the move order around with 14.exf6. We’ll look at that first before proceeding to the game continuation 14.0-0:
Black has a number of choices:
a) 14..Qxa3 15.Qd5 c4
a1) 16.0–0 leads to the game;
a2) 16.Qg5 Re8+ 17.Kf2 g6 18.Qh6 Qf8 is rather embarrassing! The bishop on b3 is trapped;
a3) 16.Kd2 Rb8 is also embarrassing! 17.Qg5 Qd6+;
a4) 16.Kf1 Re8 (16…cxb3 17.Qg5) 17.Qxa8 cxb3 18.cxb3 Qb2 19.Re1 Rxe1+ 20.Kxe1 Qc1+ 21.Ke2 Qc2+ 22.Kf3 Qd3+ is a draw
16…cxb3 (16…Re8+ 17.Kd2 The key idea: the king is safer here than on the kingside 17…Qd6+ 18.Kc1 Qa3+ (18…Qxf6 19.Qf3; 18…Qxf4+ 19.Kb2) 19.Kb1 b4 20.Qb8 (20.Qf3 also wins) 20…bxc3 21.Bxc4 wins) 17.0–0 b2 18.fxg7 Re8 19.Rab1 looks very good for White;
b) 14..Re8+ 15.Kd2 Qxa3 (15…c4 16.Qg4 g6 17.Rhe1 Bb7 18.Be7 wins) 16.Bxf7+ The most powerful way to continue
16…Kxf7 17.Qh5+ g6 (17…Kxf6 18.Qxe8 Bb7 19.Qe5+ Kf7 20.Rhe1) 18.Qxh7+ Kxf6 19.Rae1 Bb7 20.f5
was my path to a win which is good enough (there are others!) 20…gxf5 21.Rhf1 Rxe1 22.Rxf5+ Ke6 23.Qg6+ Ke7 24.Qf6+ Ke8 25.Qf8#;
And now Black’s best attempt:
c) 14…Qxc3+ 15.Kf2 Bb7
This line had occurred to me, but I waved it away with the thought that White was bound to have a way of reaching a clear advantage. When I put my analysis to Stockfish, he was unenthusiastic which made me decide to look a little deeper…White’s big problem is that both his bishops are constantly in danger. Black’s immediate threat is 16…b4 winning the bishop on a3 as 17.Bc1 drops the rook on a1. (15…b4 16.Qd5 Rb8 17.Rae1 bxa3 (17…Bb7 18.Qg5) Qxf7+ wins)
A lot of White possibilities just don’t work:
a) 16.Qxd7 Rad8 17.Bxf7+ Kh8;
b) 16.Qd3 Qxf6 (16…Qxd3 17.cxd3 keeps the Bb3 safe by preventing …c4) 17.Bxc5 fails to an astonishingly evil tactic 17…Qxf4+ 18.Kg1 Qg5
Forking the bishop on c5 and the pawn on g2: White loses a piece! This tactic is the crux of Black’s counterplay: he rarely has to waste time defending the pawn on c5!;
c) 16.Qe1 Qxf6 (16…Qd4+ 17.Qe3 Qxe3+ 18.Kxe3 Rfe8+ 19.Kf2 c4 is equal) 17.Bxc5 Qc6 (17…Qxf4+ 18.Kg1 Qg5 19.Qf2 was my idea.) ;
d) 16.Qd6 b4;
e) 16.Bd5 Bxd5 17.Qxd5 b4 again picks up the bishop on a3 while keeping the queen on c3 connected with the defence of the Black king. (17…Qxa3 18.Qg5)
White has only 1 very complicated path to a clear advantage:
f) 16.Re1 Qxf6 Threatens …b4 17.Rb1
(17.Qxd7 Bc6 18.Qc7 Rfc8 followed by …c4 is equal) 17…Rfe8 Stockfish keeps finding chances for Black. Black threatens …c4 and the c-pawn is still taboo. However, White has a narrow tactical path to a clear advantage (17…Qxf4+ 18.Kg1 d6 19.c3 is pleasant for White with his 2 bishops) 18.Qxd7 (18.c4 Qg6 is very unpleasant for White; 18.Bxc5 Qxf4+ 19.Kg1 Qg5 wins again) 18…Bc6 19.Bxf7+ Kh8 20.Qxe8+ Bxe8 21.Bxe8 Qxf4+ 22.Kg1 is Stockfish’s line, with advantage to White.
In general, 14.exf6 seems stronger than 14.0–0: it gives Black many more difficult choices! After 14.0–0, Black either spots the saving tactic, or he resigns!
14.0–0 Qxa3 15.exf6 c4 16.Qd5 Qa5
17.Qxa8 Qb6+ 18.Kh1 Bb7 wins!
17…Qb6+ 18.Kh1 Kxg7 19.Bxc4 Bb7
White is a pawn ahead, but a difficult technical task ahead due to his doubled c-pawns.
19…bxc4 loses to 20.Qxa8 Bb7 21.Rab1 Qxb1 22.Qxf8+
20.Qe5+ Qf6 21.Bd3 Rfe8 22.Qh5 h6 23.Qg4+ Kh8 24.Qxd7 Re7 25.Qd4 Qxd4 26.cxd4 Rd8 27.f5 f6
Overcautious. 27…Rxd4 looks very sensible as 28.f6 Re6 29.Rae1 Rg4 wins! In the ensuing fight, White maintains winning chances without ever really getting close to the win.
28.Rae1 Rg7 29.Be4 Rxd4 30.Bxb7 Rxb7 31.Re6 Kg7 32.Rxa6 Rc4 33.Rf3 Rxc2 34.h3 Kf7 35.Rg3 Rf2 36.Rg6 Rxf5 37.Rxh6 Kg7 38.Rh4 b4 39.Rg4+ Kf7 40.Rg3 Rfb5 41.Rb3 Kg6 42.Kh2 Rc5 43.Ra4 Rcb5 44.h4 R5b6 45.Kh3 Rb8 46.g3 f5 47.Ra5 Rc8 48.Rf3 Rf6 49.Kg2 Rc3 50.Ra8 Rxf3 51.Kxf3 Rc6 52.Rg8+ Kf6 53.Rf8+ Kg6 54.Rb8 Rc4 55.Rb6+ Kg7 56.h5 Rd4 57.Rc6 Re4 58.Rg6+ Kf7 59.g4 Rxg4 60.Rxg4 fxg4+ 61.Kxg4 Kg7
Thanks to a kind reader Colin Patterson, I can keep on adding to the list of books in which this game is mentioned! Graham Burgess provides brief notes to the game in his “Chess Highlights of the 20th Century”. However, again there are no revelations:
The same reader suggested taking a look at “Draw! The Art of the Half-Point in Chess” by Leonid Verkhovsky and lo and behold, some very interesting notes to the Alekhine-Reti game!
The analysis is far from perfect, but it does raise a number of the points in this article!
- 13…Bb7 14.exf6 Re8+ 15.Kf1 is correctly mentioned as a better alternative for Black than 13…Qa5 though Stockfish’s amazing 15…b4 is much stronger than 15…Qxf6 16.Bxc5 Qxf4+ 17.Bf2 which I felt was winning for White.
- Verkhovsky correctly states that 14.exf6 is better than 14.0-0 though I don’t think that his line ending 16.Qd6 b4 17.Rad1 etc. is very convincing. Black just regains his piece with a decent game.
- In the notes to 15.exf6, Verkhovsky recommends 15.Qd6. However this just seems to be a hallucination: after 15…Ne8 Black is just a piece up!
A trip to the Max Euwe Centrum in Amsterdam on 4th June gave me the opportunity to study their large collection of Max Euwe books. I found 2 references to the Alekhine-Reti game. The first was in this book:
Unfortunately, there’s nothing new to discover here. The same goes for Euwe & Kramer’s “The Middlegame 3”:
I also managed to sneak a look at Wolfgang Heidenfeld’s entertaining book “Draw” about which my friend Steve Giddins had tipped me off. This also deals with the game but no joy!
So the search still goes on for good published annotations of this game!
14 Comments on “Bygone books”
re: Alekhine-Reti – Very entertaining and enlightening Matthew. Patzers like myself read old book analysis and blithely take it as read that the author sweated over the board for hours to make sure it was completely correct, especially in such a sharp game! Sadly not, by the look of it. Oddly, I had just played through Kotov’s analysis of this game a couple of days prior, so went back to check his annotations after reading yours. Sadly, I can’t say he had any more insight than Abrahams or Tartakower. At Black’s 27th, he commends … f6 and warns against … Rxd4, stating that “Hurriedly capturing the QP would allow Alekhine to weave a mating net around the black king by 28. P-B6!”. Hmmm. [Happy to send you his version of events on jpegs if you have any desire to see it though]. Of course it’s also hard to judge contemporary analysts too harshly, when you see what a great assistant Stockfish is, but there does seem to be an inexcusable blind spot regarding an earlier … Bb7, as you point out. I wonder if Reti ever published analysis of this game? I don’t have any book of his best games unfortunately.
Hi Colin, glad you enjoyed it! It is surprising how much there still is to discover in these old games even without computer help – that’s what makes it so rewarding to study them! I do have to say that I’m always very impressed by Alekhine’s own analysis. There is a big portion of “I won so everything I did was great” to his comments but when he gets down to analysing things, he finds some really wonderful ideas. You have to pinch yourself to remember that he managed this in the pre-computer age! My very first blog post (http://matthewsadler.me.uk/lessons-from-the-masters/analysing-alekhine/) on one of his games against Euwe is a case in point: Alekhine finds some absolutely stunning resources (attacking and defensive) for both sides and his conclusions overall still stand whatever engine you throw at it!
That’s a great point about Reti’s own comments. I’m going straight off to see if I can get a copy!
I’d love to see what Kotov wrote about the game – I’ll send you a mail!
Hi Colin, I’ve updated the article with a reference to Kotov’s book! Thanks very much for that! I’ve ordered Reti’s book too so I’m looking forward to seeing whether he deals with the game! Best Wishes, Matthew
Hi Colin, Received Reti’s Best Games but only his win against Alekhine is in there! I’ve ordered the German edition (volume 1) and the Russian edition (volume 2) of Kotov’s 2-volume biography of Alekhine which is supposed to be much better than the English version so waiting impatiently for that to arrive! Best Wishes Matthew
Hi Matthew, I’m learning a lot from your analysis on this blog and the Youtube videos, and thoroughly enjoying both – thank you for posting them. I’ll be interested to read what you think of Kotov’s work on Alekhine, as his thematic division seems fairly congruent with your approach, at least in principle. By the way, for this game there are some minor but curious discrepancies between the English version of Kotov’s notes and the German (I’ve got a chunky 1-volume edition of the German). There’s also a book by Larry Evans on the Vienna 1922 tournament, but I’ve never seen it. 11…Bb7 – yes, why did that never cross my mind?! All the best, James
Hi James, thanks for your kind comments! Thanks also for the tip about the Larry Evans book – I’ll look out for that one! The Kotov book looks very interesting though my Russian unfortunately doesn’t go much further than the alphabet and a few chess terms… It’s very good though to see how he’s grouped games together with similar ideas: I’ve already discovered lots of games I wasn’t aware of before which is always the fun thing about working in this way! In terms of annotations for this game, there’s nothing new unfortunately: he’s more or less repeated Alekhine’s comments (just like Panov in his 300 Selected Games of Alekhine). Still quite a lot of analysis of Alekhine games to post so that will come on to the site in the next few months! Best Wishes, Matthew
Matthew – I had forgotten all about Evans’ book, so thanks to James’ reminder, I’ve located my copy. Evans does pick up on 11… Bb7 as being a perfectly good alternative, but otherwise, does little more than quote Alekhine throughout. There is one mention of a point made by Max Euwe, but scanning through my Euwe-authored books, I couldn’t see where this was lifted from, although it might very easily be sourced to a magazine article or a book I don’t have. I’ll copy you the Evans version (for completeness) when I get a chance.
Hey Colin, thanks – I’d love to see that! Reading about this book, it seems that Evans wrote it when he was 16 and then revised it just before he died almost 70 years later! Intriguing comment about Euwe… I’ll see whether I can find out anything about that! Best Wishes Matthew
Hi Colin, updated the post with the Larry Evans annotations. Thanks very much! Best Wishes, Matthew
Hi Colin, I got the chance to go to the Max Euwe Centrum in Amsterdam today so I took the opportunity to look through Euwe’s books for analysis of the Reti game. I’ve added them to the article, but he doesn’t add anything new unfortunately. Steve Giddins had also mentioned Mark Heidenfeld’s book “Draw!” as another possibility (very entertaining book by the way!) and he was indeed right! There also however, just the standard annotations. Best Wishes, Matthew
Great effort Matthew, A pity that those two very promising leads turned to nought, but I’m sure you will have enjoyed visiting the Centrum anyway! Meanwhile, I have probably checked another 10 miscellaneous game collections, but without any success. I have at least learned that Reti commands nearly as many column inches as Alekhine, when it comes to noteworthy, or prize-winning games. So no wonder their head-to-head contests could be so enthralling!
Incidentally, as you probably knew all along, Draw! is a book by Mark’s father, Wolfgang. All too easy to latch onto the name we’re most familiar with when on autopilot!
Hi Colin, Ouch! Yes indeed! It’s there on the cover! I’ll edit the post and we’ll pretend it never happened 😉 Best Wishes Matthew
Great exegesis on this terrific draw! It’s really interesting to see all the different commentary.
I used this game as an example in two chess lessons yesterday. Both students were blown away by the tactical give and take. I think this game shows the value of how apparently small changes in position can result in a big difference in what’s playable and what’s not (Alekhine’s comment that … Bc5 is better before … b5). The game also reminds us how not to meekly accept our apparent chess fate (the meek retreat 12 … Ne8?) but to make a stand when faced with a critical situation.
Of course, your column shows how Alekhine really barely scratched the surface of the complexities of this game, thanks to the Stockfish and other variations. Once again, we are humbled by how little we know.
In my original Alekhine Best Games book, Alekhine says 11 … 0-0 is forced (not mentioning 11 … Bb7), and dismisses 11 … Nxe4 due to 12 Bd5. However, 12 Bd5?? loses to 12 … Nxc3, as my student Steven Porta, Jr. pointed out. Few commentators even mention 11 … Nxe4, although Panov’s book gives 12 Qd5 in response, which by the way is still complicated.
I wonder if anyone has pointed out this mistake. Perhaps it was a typo that was corrected in later editions. However, I also recall once reading a theory that Alekhine was given to annotating his games “blindfolded.” As evidence, the proofs of a game between Winter-Alekhine (Nottingham, 1936) were given in which Alekhine transposed the moves in a variation after 26 … Nc4!. The reasoning was that this obvious error could only have committed by someone who was trotting out his analysis from memory, without sight of a board. Is it possible that’s what he did here?
In any case, very interesting! BTW, I just received my copy of your AlphaZero book and I look forward to reading it!