One of Alekhine’s most famous and spectacular sacrificial victories is his win against the super-solid Hungarian player Geza Maroczy at the Bled 1931 tournament. Bled was a massive success for Alekhine as he scored 20,5/26 undefeated and finished 5,5 points clear of the rest of the world-class field! As always, there’s plenty new to discover even in the best-known games!
We start our examination of the game after White’s 21st move:
A mistake according to Alekhine and he seems to be right. Black is trying to defend as actively as possible, but his threats along the d-file turn out to be pretty insignificant in comparison with the venom of White’s attack.
The first interesting moment. How should White continue his attack? Alekhine played 23.Nh7+ and both Kotov and Panov adorn it with an exclamation mark, but I don’t like this move very much: the knight on f6 is so strongly-placed, it should only be moved away in return for a direct win. The obvious way for White to increase his attack is 23.f5 which also turns out to be Stockfish’s #1 choice. It’s also recommended by Peter Romanovsky in “Soviet Middlegame Technique”. Let’s take a look at 23.f5 first:
The best defence I could find
23…Rxd3 24.fxe6 The threats of e7 or Nxe8 and Rxf7 are impossible to counter 24…Qb4 (24…fxe6 25.Nd5+) 25.e7+ Qxe7 26.Nh7+
23…e5 24.Qe3 Rxd3 25.Qxh6+ Ke7 26.Qg5 was my win. The discovered attacks cannot be dealt with. For example 26…Bc6 27.Nd5+ Kd6 28.Qxd8+
On 24…Nd5 White has several ways to win:
25.Rcf1 Qb6 26.a5 Qa7 27.Qf2 was my preferred line which also looks good enough
25.Nxe8 Rxe8 26.Qh5 Stockfish! (26.Rxf7+ Kxf7 27.Bg6+ Kxg6 28.Qxe8+ I thought this was a win too as the rook on d4 is loose but I’d missed… 28…Kf5 29.Qf7+ Ke5 30.Qg7+ Ke4 Amazing! The king stays close to the rook on d4 and ensures the draw!) 26…Re1+ 27.Rf1 Rxf1+ 28.Rxf1 I hadn’t spotted this idea of Qh5 pinning the Nd5 against the Black queen on a5!
Covering the h6 pawn and threatening …Qd4 exchanging off queens.
I couldn’t find a forcing line leading to mate so I settled for material. Stockfish did better of course!
26.Nxe8 My eventual choice as I couldn’t get any of the tempting attacking lines to work. Stockfish can of course! 26…Qd4 At first I thought that this was a saving resource for Black, but White has a couple of clever ideas to maintain a material advantage. (26…Rxe8 27.Rxf7+ Kxf7 28.Rf1+ wins on the spot) 27.Qxd4 Rhxd4 (27…Rdxd4 28.g3 Rhg4 29.Nf6) 28.Nc7 Rxd3 29.Ne6+ is clever and painful!
27.Rg5+ hxg5 28.Qxg5+ Kh8 29.Nf6 Qd4+ 30.Kh1 Bc6 wins for Black!
27…Kh8 28.Qe5+ Kg8 29.Nf6+ Kf8 30.Rf2
The concept I didn’t spot when analysing. This blocks the Black check from d4 and prepares Qg3
30.Nxe8 is very similar to 26.Nxe8 but with the queen on e5 instead of e3 which makes no difference
30…Qd4 31.Nh7+ Kg8 32.Qe7
31.Nd7+ Rxd7 32.Qh8+ Ke7 33.Re2+ wins
Job done! Let’s go back now to Alekhine’s move 23.Nh7+.
Black is still in great danger. 24…Rxd3 25.f6+! picks up the exchange so Black must find another way
Maroczy now played 24…R8d6, but this is not the best defence. Let’s take a look at a couple of alternatives
Spoiler alert! Here we can use Alekhine’s fabulous concept from the game to force a win.
Even stronger than the immediate 25.Bb5
25…Rxb4 (25…Qd5 26.Rc5) 26.Bb5
Blocking the queen’s path to e5 and thereby shutting the Black queen out of the game!
26…Rxb5 (26…f6 27.Bxe8 Rxe8 28.Nxf6 Kxf6 29.Qh5 is just killing) 27.axb5 Qxb5 28.f6+
Making use of the fact that the king can’t go back to f8
28…Ke6 29.Qg4+ Kd6 30.Rfd1+ Nd5 31.Rxd5+ Qxd5 32.Rd1 wins
Feels like the best defence to me, getting the bishop active and blocking the c-file which also provides the Black king with safe(ish!) passage to the queenside!
White has several possibilities here. If I’m a bit cheeky, then I might even claim I analysed better than Stockfish!
26.Rf6 Qd5 27.Bf5 Rd1+ is bad news for White!
26.Bg6 Stockfish’s favourite move, but I had rejected it due to 26…Rd2. Bizarrely enough, the evaluation drops to 0.00 after putting it on the board 26…Rd2 27.Rf7+ Kd6 28.Rd1 (28.Qe3 is apparently the way to make a draw for White. It looks abominably risky! I had only calculated the following line:) 28…Qc5+ 29.Rf2 (29.Kh1 Bxg2+ 30.Kxg2 Qd5+) 29…Rxd1+ 30.Qxd1+ Kc7 with a great position for Black
26.Bf5 Qd5 27.Rce1 Rd6 28.Nf6 Qxg2+ 29.Qxg2 Bxg2 30.Kxg2 Kxf6 31.Bxe6+ is just a small initiative for White.
Which leaves White’s main try:
I was really proud of this idea!
26…Qd5 27.Ng6+ Kd6 28.Nf4 Bizarrely Black cannot deal properly with the threat against e6 28…Qe5 29.Qxe5+ Kxe5 30.Rce1+ Be4 31.Bxe4 Rxe4 32.Ng6+ Kd5 33.Rd1+ Rd4 34.Rxd4+ Kxd4 35.Rd1+
26…R8d6 Some wonderful variations now! 27.Qf2
a) 27…Rxd3 28.Qf6+ Ke8 29.Nxe6;
b) 27…Nd7 28.Nxe6 Rxe6 (28…Kxe6 29.Qf7+ Ke5 30.Rf5#) 29.Qxd4;
c) 27…Qg5 28.Nxe6 (28.Ng6+ Kd8 29.Nh8 is a quite wonderful Stockfish alternative. 29…Rf4 was not totally clear however 29…Rf4 30.Qxb6+ Ke8 31.Rxc6 Rxf1+ 32.Bxf1 bxc6) 28…Rxe6
(28…Qxg2+ 29.Qxg2 Bxg2 30.Nxd4 Bxf1 31.Nf5+) 29.Qf8+ Kd7 30.Rf7+ Re7 31.Bf5+ Kd6 32.Rf6+ and now first the fun line:
33…Ke4 (33…Rxe6 34.Qc5+ Ke4 35.Re1+ wins; 33…Kd6 34.Bh3+ Kd5 35.Rf5+ wins) 34.Re1+ Kd3 35.Rf3+ Kc2 (35…Kd2
36.Rf2+ Kxe1 37.Rf1+ Kd2 38.Qf2+ Kd3 39.Rd1+ Ke4 40.Re1+ Missing 40.Qxd4#! 40…Kd3 41.Qe2# was my line. Took me ages to get there!) 36.Rc3+ Leads to forced mate (36.Rf2+ Rd2 37.Qf5+ was my banker option with a winning position after 37…Qxf5 38.Bxf5+ Kb3 39.Rxe7 Rd1+ 40.Rf1) 36…Kxb2 37.Rb3+ Kc2 (37…Ka2 38.Qf2+ Rd2 39.Rbe3+ Rxe6 40.Qxd2#) 38.Re2+ Rd2 And here I needed Stockfish to round things off! 39.Rxd2+ Qxd2 40.Qf5+ Kd1 41.Qf1+)
And now the boring line!
32…Kc7 (33.Qxe7+ Nd7 (33…Rd7 34.Qe5+) 34.Rfxc6+ bxc6 35.Qxg5 hxg5 was the best I could find: White has a clear advantage but still a way to go
27…Rxd3 28.Qxd3 Kxf8 29.Qd8+ wins
27…Qd5 28.Rf3 Qg5 29.Re1 Bxf3 30.Qxe6+ wins
When I put the position onto Stockfish, I suddenly realised to my horror that I’d missed 29.Qxg2 Rg4! winning the queen! However, Stockfish rescues the concept! Well…kind of!
28…Rxd3 29.R1f7+ Kd6 30.Qxd3+
29.Re8+ Kxe8 30.Qxe6+ Kd8 31.Qxb6+ Ke7 32.Qc7+ Rd7 33.Rf7+ Kxf7 34.Qxd7+ Kf8 35.Qd6+ Kf7 36.h4 Qd5 37.Qg6+ Ke7 38.Qg7+
when Stockfish claims an advantage though the drawing tendency must be very high.
All good clean family fun of course, but let’s go back to Maroczy’s choice in the game after 24…R8d6
25.fxe6 fxe6 26.Qf2 looked very scary and is indeed also Stockfish’s preference. Alekhine’s choice – though fantastically creative – seems to give Black chances again
25…Qxb4 26.Qe5 Nd7 27.Qh8
The final mistake by Maroczy. He was under such pressure!
27…Qb6 28.a5 Qxa5 29.Rc8
27…Rc6 The best defence also indicated by Kasparov in “My Great Predecessors Vol.1”: the king on e7 keeps the White knight on f6 out of play and Black simply deals with White’s main threat of Rc8 or f6+ followed by Qxe8+ and Rc8+ 28.Rxc6 (28.fxe6 I was hoping to make use of the rook on c1 to invade via the b-file after Rb1xb7 but… 28…Rxc1 29.Rxc1 Qd2 stops any nonsense) 28…bxc6 29.fxe6 The best idea to get the Nh7 active 29…fxe6 30.Nf6 Nxf6 31.Qxf6+ Kd7 32.Bxa6 (32.Rb1 Qd6 (32…Qc5 33.Qg7+ Kd6 34.Qf8+ Kd5 is another Stockfish line which he thinks holds for Black!) 33.Rb7+ Kc8 34.Bxa6 Rd1+ 35.Kf2 Qc5+ 36.Kg3 Rd3+ 37.Bxd3 Qd6+ 38.Kf2 Kxb7 is maybe a tiny edge for White) 32…Qxa4 An edge for White but nothing diasastrous any more for Black
28.Rc8 Qd4+ was Maroczy’s idea. Unfortunately White had an even worse idea!
28.f6+ Kd8 29.Qxe8+ Kxe8 30.Rc8# would have been the stunning finish!
Irresistible play from Alekhine!