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!