Szabo’s best game

May 4, 2017 Matthew Sadler No comments exist

A few weeks ago, I talked about my visit to the Max Euwe Centre in Amsterdam and my purchase of the Hungarian Grandmaster Szabo’s (excellent) book of his Best Games. A reader Carsten Hansen mentioned that Szabo considered his game against Pirc to be his best achievement of his early years so I thought it would be interesting to analyse. I thought right! As always, a playable version of this game is available at


Szabo,Laszlo – Pirc,Vasja

Premier Hastings 1938/1939


1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0–0 Be7 8.d3 0–0 9.Be3 Bg4 10.a4 a5 11.Rc1 Rc8 12.Nb5



What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of the moves a4, …a5? Firstly, Black gains a stable outpost on b4 for one of his knights; secondly, White’s chances of organising a pawn break on the queenside have now gone which adds an extra element of safety to Black’s position. White’s knight on b5 is also less stable than Black’s knight on b4 as Black can potentially chase the knight away with …c6. However, as long as White is careful to place a rook quickly on the c-file, Black will not find …c6 easy to organise. This means his knight will be rooted to c6 and he will need to constantly keep one piece in touch with the c7 pawn. In general, I prefer White’s side of the deal slightly.


12…Nd5 13.Bc5 Bxc5 14.Rxc5



I was surprised at how powerful the exchange of dark-squared bishops seems to be for White. Of course, I realised that the dark-squared bishop was probably White’s worst minor piece and that he was happy to exchange it, but I had thought that Black would also be happy to exchange off his own dark-squared bishop which didn’t seem to be doing much either. 2 factors tip the balance in White’s favour:

  1. White gains access to the c5 square which he can occupy right away with a major piece. c5 is very close to Black’s position. From c5 the rook puts pressure on Black’s centre (d5,e5) and queenside (a5,c7) while Black cannot drive the rook away easily.
  2. The exchange of dark-squared bishops weakens the solidity of Black’s central dark squares which in turn increases the strength of White’s d4 break.






Not mentioned by Szabo





The strongest. The alternatives are less convincing:


a) 15.Rxd5 Qxd5 16.Nfd4 Qc5;


b) 15.Ng5 Ndb4 (15…Qxg5 16.Bxd5 Nd4 17.Nxd4 exd4 18.Bxf7+ is the idea) 16.f4 The only way to try and justify Ng5 16…Nd4;


c) 15.h3 Bh5 (15…Be6 16.Rxc6 bxc6 17.Na7 Ra8 18.Nxc6 Qd6 19.Ncxe5 This doesn’t feel like an advantage for White due to his weak queenside. Komodo leaves it 0.00) 16.d4


c1) 16.Rxc6 bxc6 17.Na7 Ra8 18.Nxc6 Qd6 19.Qc2 is suggested by Komodo. Should be reasonable for Black though.;


c2) 16.Nfd4 Nxd4 17.Rxd5 Nxe2+ (17…Qf6 18.Nxd4 exd4 19.Rxh5 is the idea) 18.Kh2 Qf6 wins for Black


16…exd4 17.Nfxd4 Ncb4 transposes to 15.d4




a) 15…e4 16.Ne5 Nxe5 17.dxe5 Rxe5 18.Qd4 f6 19.Bxe4 is a little edge for White according to Komodo


b) 15…Bxf3 16.Bxf3 e4 17.Bg4 Ra8 18.Rxd5 Qxd5 19.Nxc7 Qxd4 20.Qb3 Qb4 21.Qxb4 Nxb4 22.Nxe8 Rxe8 23.Rc1 g6 24.Bd7 Re7 25.Bb5 is an edge for White according to Komodo…







16…Nxd4 17.Qxd4 is a clear advantage for White

16…Ndb4 17.Nxc6 Nxc6 18.Qxd8 Rcxd8 19.Nc3 is a clear White advantage according to Komodo


17.h3 Bh5



a) 18.Nf5


was one of the interesting lines that occurred to me. Black cannot chase the knight on b5 away with …c6 due to Nbd6.


18…Bxe2 19.Qd4 Qg5


a1) 19…Nf6 20.Qxd8 Rcxd8 (20…Rexd8 21.Ne7+ Kf8 22.Nxc8 Bxf1 23.Kxf1 is better for White according to Komodo. My line) 21.Ra1 (21.Nxc7 Bxf1 (21…Ne4 My line. Also good for Black) 22.Nxe8 Nd7) 21…Bxb5 22.axb5 I thought some compensation – Komodo not really impressed 22…Nbd5;


a2) 19…Qf6 20.Qxf6 (20.Bxd5 Qxf5 21.Bxb7 Qxh3 22.Bg2 Qh6 Couldn’t find anything good against …Qxf5) 20…Nxf6 21.Rfc1 (21.Ra1 Bxb5 22.axb5 b6) 21…Nd3 22.Rxc7 Nxc1 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Ne7+ Kf8 25.Nxc8 Nd7 is equal according to Komodo




20.Ne3 Komodo 20…b6 21.Rxd5 Nxd5 22.Bxd5 Rcd8 is good for Black according to Komodo


20…Qxf5 looks nice for Black;


b) 18.Na7 Ra8 19.Rxa5



I saw it, and couldn’t find anything wrong but had problems believing this one!


19.Bxd5 Nxd5 20.Ndc6 bxc6 21.Nxc6 Bxe2 (21…Qf6 22.Qxd5 Bxe2 I assumed this would be fine for Black, but Komodo thinks better for White! 23.Rfc1 Bf3 24.Qf5) 22.Nxd8 Bxd1 23.Rxd1 Rexd8 24.Rdxd5 Rxd5 25.Rxd5 I thought a small edge for White




19…b6 20.Nac6;

19…c5 20.Rxc5 Rxa7 21.Qb3 Looked tricky for Black to me: Komodo agrees;

19…Qd7 I started to get nervous about moves like this… Komodo thinks this is just good for White 20.Qb3 c6 21.e4


20.Naxc6 bxc6 21.Nxc6



21…Qxa5 22.Nxa5 Bxe2


21…Nxc6 22.Rxd5;

21…Rxa5 22.Nxd8 Rxd8 23.g4 Bg6 24.e4


22…Rxa5 23.Qd2


23.Qd2 Bxf1 24.Kxf1 Rxa5


24…Rad8 25.Kg1 Komodo (25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Qc1 was my line)


25.Bxd5 Rxd5 26.Qxb4 is clearly better for White. My line, and Komodo’s too!


c) 18.Nc3



This move of Komodo’s did not occur to me and is by far the simplest


18…c6 19.Nxd5 cxd5 20.Rxc8 Qxc8 21.Qd2


is an edge for White according to Komodo


15.Bxf3 Ndb4 16.Qc1 Qe7


Wrongly given as 16…Qd7 in Chessbase




Position after White’s 17th move, Szabo-Pirc Hastings 1938/9


An interesting placement of the queen on the central / kingside dark-squares that I’ve seen before a couple of times. For example, Aronian put his queen on f4 against Giri in a recent game.




a) 17..Rcd8 Was my original idea, aiming to play …Rd7 to defend c7 from a more active position, supporting a future …Nd4


18.d4 Threatening both dxe5 and d5


18.Bxc6 Nxc6 19.f4 was another idea (19.d4 Nxd4 20.Rxe5 Qb4 looked alright for Black) 19…f6 20.fxe5 fxe5 didn’t look very much to me;




18…exd4 19.Qxe7 Nxe7 20.Rxc7




19.Rxe5 Nxf3+ 20.exf3 might also be something for White though it is a shame to ruin White’s kingside pawn structure




19…Nxf3+ 20.Qxf3 Rd7 21.Qxb7


20.Rxd7 Nxf3+ 21.exf3 Qxd7 22.Qxe5 White’s extra pawn is doubled, but still extra!


b) 17..f5 18.Bxc6 Nxc6 19.f4



My idea again, exploiting Black’s weakened central dark squares, and Komodo’s #1 choice in this position!




19…Rfe8 20.fxe5 Nxe5 21.Rxf5 and 21…Nf3+ doesn’t work as the rook on f5 covers the rook on c5


20.Qxe7 Nxe7 21.Rxf4


and White wins a pawn


21…c6 22.Nd6


Going back to 17…Rfe8, you understand Black’s play now! Black defends the queen on e7, ready to meet d4 …exd4, Qxe7 with …Rxe7 when everything stays protected.


18.Rfc1 f6




Again my plan… and then I suddenly realised…


19.Na7 Nxa7 20.Rxc7 picks up a pawn


20…Qf6 21.Bxb7


21.Qxa7 Nxd3 was my line of course, and still good.




21…Rd4 22.Be4 Qa6 23.Qg5 Rf8 24.Qe7 wins according to Komodo


22.dxe4 Rd4 23.Bd5 Nxd5 24.exd5 Rd1+ 25.Kg2 Qd8 26.Qxe8+ Qxe8 27.Rxd1 is a clear advantage for White according to Komodo!




With the threat of Na7!





To prevent the knight from moving to a7.




White had the opportunity now of the stunning 20.Na7 (thank you Komodo!)





20…Nxa7 21.Rxc7 Qd6 22.Bxb7 doesn’t surprise you when you’ve seen the other lines!


21.Bxc6 Rea8


21…Nxc6 22.Rxc6 b6 23.R1c4 is a clear advantage for White according to Komodo


22.Be4 c6


In principle, Black has got what he wants by moving his knight off the c-file and blocking White’s pressure there with …c6, but he has paid a price: his rooks are awfully placed!


23.d4 will be very awkward for Black


Missing the tactical opportunity of Na7 – and thus unable to break through by queenside pressure alone – White starts on a manoeuvring phase. On the one hand, he uses a typical method to loosen Black’s position: he brings his troops annoyingly close to Black’s very borders (Qe4) and hopes that Black can be provoked into driving away his pieces. White assumes this will open up new channels for his better-placed pieces. It’s an echo of White’s placement of his rook on c5 on the 14th move. At the same time, White has a number of small ideas:


  1. h4–h5 to gain space on the kingside and tie Black down a little there
  2. Bringing the queen to c4 (after Rc5) maybe achieving the exchange of queens. White could then try to add more pressure to the queenside by reshuffling his pieces with something like Nc3, Rb5, Ne4–c5 or Na3, Rb5, Rcc5 and Nc4. As I thought of this idea, a powerful example of this type of shuffling pieces around a key square came to my mind. I first read about it in Herman Grooten’s recent book “Chess Strategy for Club Players: The Road to Positional Advantage”. It’s the game Stean-Planinc, Moscow 1975. After seeing how White shuffles his pieces around b3 and c4 with decisive effect, you can understand how White might want to use the b5 / c5 / c4 squares here for the same effect.

1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.Be2 Nf6 5.Nc3 0–0 6.0–0 c6 7.a4 a5 8.Be3 Na6 9.Nd2 Nb4 10.Ncb1 e5 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Na3 Be6 13.Nac4 Bxc4 14.Bxc4



Watch how many pieces make use of this square!


14…Qd7 15.f3 Nh5 16.g3 Rad8 17.Bb3



Retreating to b3 to free c4 for the knight


17…c5 18.Qe2



Getting into contact with c4


18…b6 19.Rfd1 Qc7 20.c3 Nc6 21.Nc4



Occupying c4 with the knight


21…Nf6 22.Na3



And vacating it immediately for…the queen!


22…Na7 23.Qc4 Rfe8 24.Kg2 h6 25.Rxd8 Rxd8 26.Rd1 Rxd1 27.Bxd1



The bishop vacates b3 for the queen…


27…Bf8 28.Be2 Kg7 29.Qb3 Ne8 30.Ba6 Nd6 31.Qd5 Ne8 32.Nc4



And now the knight returns to c4


32…Nf6 33.Qxe5 Qd8 34.Bf2 g5 35.Bb7 Kh8 36.Bd5 Kg8 37.Qf5

1–0 Stean,M -Planinec,A Moscow 1975




Black falls into White’s trap at once!


20…Na2 21.Rxc6 bxc6 22.Rxc6 is pointed out by Szabo




intending to regroup with …Re7 (defending c7) and …Rd8 seems most tempting to me. Black is then best prepared to play …Nd5 or ..Nd4 (possibly in combination with …f5) when the opportunity arises.




freeing c4 for the White queen if Black plays …f5 (21.h4 f5 22.Qe3 Re7 looks annoying for White)




21…f5 22.Qc4 the exchange of queens robs the Black e and f-pawns of any attacking strength.


22.h4 Rd8


is still solid for Black


21.h4 Kg7 22.Qe3 f5 23.Qg5


23.Na7 was even stronger here as White also has the bonus weakness that Black’s has created on his kingside.


23…Rxa7 24.Bxc6 Rea8 25.Bg2 c6 26.f4 wins the e5 pawn


23.h5 immediately also looks strong as the rook on c4 can swing to h4 when White is suddenly launching a kingside attack!]


23…h6 24.Qd2


White’s play is lacks a little direction at this point, but he is still making progress …h6 has created another weakness in Black’s king’s position on g6, and this introduces a very dangerous possibility for White.


24…Rad8 25.Qe3


25.Bxc6 Nxc6 26.Rxc6 bxc6 27.Rxc6 Rd7 28.h5 g5 29.Qxa5



with Qa6 to follow was very dangerous! In effect, the weakening of Black’s kingside enables White – at minimal material cost – to install his impregnable rook on c5 one square closer to Black’s position on c6. White’s material investment has ensured that the rook is also impregnable on this square.




25…Rd7 was more logical and active, as 26.Na7 can be met by 26…Nd4]


26.h5 g5 27.g4


Very thematic, but again now or on the previous move, White could win very easily with 27.Bxc6 Nxc6 28.Rxc6 bxc6 29.Rxc6 Rac8 30.Qa7 threatening either Qxa5 or Qa6 with total control of the position


27…e4 28.dxe4


28.Nd4 was a Komodo shot I hadn’t seen! 28…Rf8 (28…Nxd4 29.Rxc7) 29.Nxc6 Nxc6 30.gxf5 exf3 31.Rxc6 Qxe3 32.Rg6+ wins


28…f4 29.Qc3+ Kg8 30.e5 Rad8 31.Rc5


Szabo switches the last 2 White moves around in “My Best Games of Chess”. White’s play isn’t optimal in the coming phase (and he has already missed a number of good chances) but he always maintains a clear advantage. The next moment of interest occurs with a slightly hasty transposition to a pawn ending.


31…Qf7 32.e6 Rxe6 33.Rf5 Qe7 34.Qc4 Rd7 35.Nc3 Kg7 36.Nd5 Nxd5 37.Bxd5 Rf6 38.Rxf6 Qxf6 39.Bxc6 bxc6 40.Qxc6 Rd1+ 41.Kg2 Rxc1 42.Qxc1 Qb6 43.Qc3+ Kf7 44.Qc4+ Kf6 45.Qb5


45.Qe4 Kg7 46.Qe7+ Kg8 47.Qe8+ Kg7 48.Qb5 would have been a much improved version of this ending as Szabo points out. Now things get very thrilling!


45…Qxb5 46.axb5 Ke5





47.Kf3 Kd4 48.e3+ fxe3 49.fxe3+ Kd5


wins for Black according to Szabo, but it isn’t clear why! I think White is still in good shape!


49…Kd3 50.e4 Kc4 51.e5 Kd5 52.e6 Kxe6 53.Ke4 wins; 49…Kc5 50.e4 Kxb5 51.e5 c5 52.Ke4 Kc6 53.Kf5 Kd7 54.Kg6 Ke6 55.Kxh6 wins


50.e4+ Ke5 (50…Kc5 51.e5 Kxb5 52.Ke4 Kc6 53.Kf5 Kd7 54.Kg6 wins a tempo by threatening Kf7; 50…Kd4 51.b3) 51.Ke3 a4 52.Kd3 Kf4 53.Kd4 Kxg4 54.e5 Kf5 55.Kd5 g4 56.e6 Kf6 57.b6 cxb6 58.Kd6 g3 59.e7 g2 60.e8Q g1Q 61.Qf8+ wins




47…Kd4 48.Kf2 a4 49.e3+ fxe3+ 50.Ke2 Kc4 51.Kxe3 Kb3 52.f4 gxf4+ 53.Kf3




53…Kxb2 54.g5 hxg5 NOT with check 55.h6 a3 56.h7 a2 57.h8Q+


48.Kf2 Kd4 49.Ke1 Kc4 50.e3


50.Kd2 Kd4 51.b3 was better according to Szabo


50…fxe3 51.Ke2 Kd4 52.b3 Kc3 53.f4 gxf4 54.g5 Kd4



Missed by Szabo!


55.gxh6 f3+ 56.Kxf3 Kd3 57.h7 e2 58.h8Q e1Q 59.Qd8+ Kc3 60.Qxc7+ Kxb3 61.b6 Qd1+ 62.Kg3 Qxh5 63.b7


Szabo states that Black resigned here, but Chessbase gives a few more moves.


63…Qg5+ 64.Kf3 Qf5+ 65.Ke3 Qg5+ 66.Kd4




Quite a few mistakes but a very exciting and interesting game!

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