20 February 2013

Chernev's Errors

Irving Chernev explains every single move in thirty-three games in his classic text, Logical Chess: Move by Move (1957).* It seem reasonable to expect, therefore, that his comments would expose the errors in each decisive game. In game 18, however, Chernev finds no clear flaws in Black's play before stating after White's 19.b4, "White has a won game, strategically" (116). Errors must have been made. If the annotator cannot identify the errors that led to loss, then the annotator has failed.

Noteboom, Daniel -- Doesburgh, Gerrit [D51]
Logical Chess, Move by Move #18 Holland, 1931

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5

Black to move


What were the alternatives?

With modern database numbers, we know that 4...Be7 is more popular, and played twice as often as 4...Nbd7. Is one move better than the other? Chernev explains why the knight would be ill-placed on c6.
At d7 it supports the other knight and helps prepare the advance of the c-pawn to c5. The b8-knight must not move to c6, where it obstructs the c-pawn. The c-pawn must be free to advance and attack White's centre.Chernev, 112.
If d7 is the correct square for the knight, then moving it there immediately seems appropriate. Do we know the best square for the dark-squared bishop? It may go on d6, but nearly always goes to e7 when White posts a bishop on g5.

Chernev's comment offers a clue to Black's failure: c5 was never played, and as a consequence, Black's light-squared bishop was locked out of the game.


Because Black did not play 4...Be7, White might believe the d-pawn is vulnerable. Chernev explains the "trap" set by Black. The d-pawn is perfectly safe.

5...c6 6.a3

b4 was another possible square for the bishop, but now that square is removed from consideration. Reading Chernev's comments, one gets the impression that Black's move order is the most precise. Nonetheless, soon, he will be lost strategically.

6...Be7 7.Qc2

Black to move

White's 6.a3 and 7.Qc2 are relatively uncommon moves, and yet Black's position is becoming critical. He has made no errors, but soon his game will be lost.


Here, and here alone, Chernev suggests an alternative for Black.
Instead of passive kingside castling, Black should have tried for counterplay by 7...dxc4 8.Bxc4 e5!, which disputes control of the centre and helps clear a diagonal for the c8-bishop. (113)
Chernev's advice to not rush into castling without considering the needs of the position is sound. His recommended line was played in 1991 (many years after publication of the book) and White won in 59 moves. See Soppe -- Bauza, Argentina 1991.

A better alternative might be the immediate 7...e5. Korchnoi -- Hector, Malmo 1996 continued 8.dxe5 Nxe5 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 cxd5 11.Bb5+ Nc6 12.Rd1 and perhaps here Black could castle, or secure the pawn with Be6. Hector played 12...a6 and Korchnoi maintained the initiative into the endgame.

Was castling the critical error in Noteboom -- Doesburgh?

8.Nf3 a6 9.Rd1 Re8 10.Bd3

Chernev offers a mini-treatise on the concept of development here.
With the entrance of this bishop, White's development is nearly complete. Notice that he plays no combinations of any sort, either to win material or to start an attack on the king, until most of his pieces are brought off the back rank and into play. It is only after these pieces are posted where they are most effective -- where they control the centre, enjoy their greatest mobility, and take possession of a good part of the important territory -- that White looks around for a combination, a stroke that will decide the game quickly. (113-14)
Black to move


Chernev finds no flaw in opening the d-file while White's rook eyes Black's queen along it. Rather, he points out a general principle in the Queen's Gambit: Black delays capturing the offered pawn until it gains a tempo. Castling early is a general principle, too, but Chernev found fault with that in this game. Here, perhaps, he might have guided the reader towards concrete analysis of the demands of the position.

Is 10...dxc4 a losing move? Perhaps not, but White's advantage is growing bit by bit, and this move does noting to resolve Black's looming problem: finding an ideal square for his light-squared bishop.

11.Bxc4 b5 12.Bd3

Chernev stresses that Black has gained a tempo by forcing White's bishop to move twice, and has gained a square for his light-squared bishop. He neglects to mention at this point in the game that if c6-c5 cannot be played, Black's bishop will be useless on b7.


12...c5 is impossible due to the discovered attack on the queen, as Chernev points out.

13.Bxf6 Nxf6

Chernev points out that capturing with the knight improves the mobility of Black's queen and light-squared bishop.


White, too, might have considered the concrete needs of the position before castling. Here, 14.Ne4 looks to be a stronger move.

14...Bb7 15.Ne4 Nxe4 16.Bxe4 f5 17.Bd3

Black to move

Chernev makes clear that Black must play c5 at some point, and he points out several moments when it was impossible due to tactics. Chernev did suggest the alternative move e5, which would have given Black's light-squared bishop mobility along the c8-h3 diagonal.

Chernev does not find Black's missed opportunity to play c5. Rather, he praises White's successful efforts to restrain this idea. Is Black's defense fundamentally flawed? Is this opening simply winning for White with precise play, including the relatively unusual moves 6.a3 and 7.Qc2?


17...Qd6 was Black's last chance to prepare c5. Chernev missed this opportunity. His only comment here: "Once again preparing the liberating pawn-push" (116).

Play might have continued 17...Qd6 18.Rc1 Rec8 19.b4 a5 when Black still cannot play c5, and White's pieces are better coordinated. Nonetheless, Black has some play.

18.Rc1 Rac8

Perhaps this rook was the wrong one. Both the a5 push and the c5 push offer Black some prospects of liberation.


Chernev notes, "White has a won game, strategically" (116).

19...Qd8 20.Ne5 a5

20...Bd6 or even Bf6 would be better here. Chernev mentions White's plan against Bf6.

White to move

Now White wins the game tactically.

21.Qb3 Bd6 22.Bxf5 Qf6 23.Bb1 Bxe5 24.dxe5 Qxe5 25.Rc5 a4 26.Qa2 Qd6 27.Qc2 Rcd8 28.Qh7+ Kf8 29.Bg6 Black resigns here. 1–0

Chernev's analysis guides the reader into his or her own analysis of the game. He offers clues to Black's failure. Although his analysis identifies one of three or four key positions where Black might have stayed in the game, his suggested improvements for Black's game leaves a player facing the Queen's Gambit without an adequate plan.

Is the Queen's Gambit simply winning for White? Chernev seems to lead his readers towards this conclusion.

*I am using the algebraic edition, first published in 1998.


  1. I bought a copy of Chernev's Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played a while back. You are inspiring me to buy Logical Chess Move by Move. I seem to remember finding it helpful as a teenager. Nonetheless, buying books is not enough. I have to find time to read them!

    1. I thought that I would finish the book by mid-January after racing through the first nine games before New Year's. However, the games get better through the book. Most are master vs. amateur, but the amateurs become stronger as one progresses through the book.

      I did manage two games in the past week, and am now past the mid-point in number of games and almost to the mid-point in pages in the book.