10 January 2017

Alekhine -- Levenfish 1912

Reading Alexander Alekhine's Best Games (1996) this morning, I became caught up studying a miniature. Alekhine -- Levenfish, St. Petersburg 1912 was decided in nineteen moves. Naturally, Levenfish's errors merit attention for anyone who plays the Benoni Defense, and perhaps also for players of the Modern.

After 14...Qxb2
Alekhine,Alexander -- Levenfish,Grigory [A43]
St Petersburg Winter-B St Petersburg, 1912

1.d4 c5

Alekhine criticizes this move, claiming, "White at once obtains a great positional advantage by simply advancing the centre pawns."

2.d5 Nf6 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 g6 5.f4 Nbd7?!

5...Bg7 is the normal move.

6.Nf3 a6?!

With this move, this game becomes unique in the database.

6...Bg7 7.e5 dxe5 8.fxe5 Ng4 9.e6 fxe6 has been played at least eleven times. Alekhine gives this line to 9.e6, but then has 9...Nde5 10.Bb5+. His line has been played at least twelve times with ten White wins. It seems that 9...fxe6 may be better, although here, too, White has done well.

White to move


White already has a clear advantage, according to Branko Tadic, and Goran Arsovic, Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2015), where this game is number 166. Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955) has it as well, but the annotations are limited to the last two moves. Tadic and Arsovic mark Black's fifth and sixth moves as dubious. Anyone seeking to play this line as Black would be well to note the urgency of playing Bg7 straight away.

7...dxe5 8.fxe5 Ng4 9.e6

Searching positions with 6...Bg7 in the ChessBase database this morning brought up several games that reached the position via a move order from the Modern Defense. White did well in those games, too, and this e5-e6 thrust was frequently played in those games.

9...Nde5 10.Bf4

Black to move


Black might have tried 10...Bg7. Here Tadic and Arsovic offer 11.Nxe5 Nxe5 12.Qe2 with advantage for White. For his part, Alekhine offers 11.Qe2 Nxf3+ 12.gxf3 Nf6 13.exf7+ Kxf7 14.O-O-O "with an overwhelming advantage for White." John Nunn, who converted Alekhine's games to algebraic and culled from the two volumes of My Best Games to produce Alexander Alekhine's Best Games, suggests an improvement for Black in the line Alekhine gives. Instead of 12...Nf6, Nunn recommends 12...Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qxd5 as "more testing". But even here, White gets a strong attack with 14.fxg4! Qxh1 15.O-O-O Qc6 16.exf7+ Kxf7 17.Bg2.

11.gxf3 Nf6 12.Bc4 fxe6

While my coffee was still hot this morning, I spent a little time looking at 12...b5 13.Nxb5 axb5 14.Bxb5+. White ends up a pawn ahead with a strong position.


Black to move


Alekhine presents the alternative 13...Qxd1+ 14.Rxd1 Bg7 15.Bc7 O-O 16.Bb6, where, "White wins a pawn, at the same time maintaining all his pressure."

13...Qa5 might be playable, although White still has an edge.

The computer likes Black's move until it sees Alekhine's brilliant fifteenth move.

14.Qe2! Qxb2?

Tadic and Arsovic give 14...Bg7 15.O-O-O with a clear advantage for White. Certainly, Black's last chance was to resist the poisoned pawn.


Black to move

Alekhine's double rook sacrifice had to be calculated before playing 14.Qe2. Black, too, needed to see the consequences in order to avoid 13...Qb6

15... Qxa1+

Perhaps Black can survive with 15...Bg7 16.O-O-O O-O 17.Bd6!

Now, we have finish that is reminiscent of Anderssen's Immortal Game.

16.Kf2 Qxh1 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Qd2+ Bd7 19.exd7 1–0

Black can delay, but no longer prevent checkmate.


  1. Wow, this game is beautiful. Qe2 with idea Nb5 would never have occurred to me.