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Ilya Rabinovich vs Alexander Alekhine
USSR Championship (1920), Moscow RUS, rd 13, Oct-21
Queen's Indian Defense: Kasparov Variation (E43)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Jan-05-05  MonsieurL: Why not 34. Be3? Black's rooks are unable to fence in White's king right away because of the black e pawn. The black knight cannot be moved, gaining white a valuable exchange! What say you? :)
Jan-05-05  clapperrail: 34 Be3?? losses the queen to 34 ... Nf3+. If 35 Kf1 Nd4+.
Jan-05-05  KingV93: I believe 34...Nf3+ wins the white queen.

Great game, AA dropping material for the attack.

Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <MonsieurL>: <Why not 34. Be3?> Black has 34. Be3 Qc1+ 35. Kh2 Nf1+ winning a lot of material.
Jan-05-05  MonsieurL: <beatgiant> A MUCH better combination, since the other 34 ... Nf3+ can be responded to with 35 Qxf3. I was trying to learn by asking others. Thank you for your sight! :)
Jan-05-05  panigma: Why not 18.♕xc4? I see the pawn fork that will occur and white will lose the rook, but won't white be compensated by gobbling up the black queenside pawns (and threatening the black rook on a8)? I do not see any immediate mating threat that may occur from this. Thoughts, anyone?
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <panigma>:
On 18. Qxc4 d5 19. Qxc7 dxe4 threatens exf3 breaking up the kingside, and then 20. fxe4 Rxf1+ 21. Kxf1 Rf8+ leads to mate, or 20. f4 Qe2 21. Bc1 Qxa2 and it is Black who gobbles pawns.
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <panigma>:
Correction. I claimed 18. Qxc4 d5 19. Qxc7 dxe4 20. fxe4 Rxf1+ 21. Kxf1 Rf8+ "leads to mate," but a computer check showed White can stave off mate with 22. Ke1 Qb5 23. Bf4 g5 24. Qe5!

So in the above line, simply 21...Qd1+ winning the bishop is correct.

Apr-17-06  notyetagm: 17 ... ♘xc4! snatches a pawn for free due to the threat of a pawn fork (18 ♕xc4? d5 19 ♕b5 a6).
Oct-26-06  anodin: Can anyone tell me why is it called the Kasparov variation though it is played in 1920 ?
Oct-26-06  MrPatzer: <anodin: Can anyone tell me why is it called the Kasparov variation though it is played in 1920 ?> Openings aren't necessarily named after the first person to use it. People played the French Defense before the Paris Chess Club allegedly invented it.

If you want a real laugh, look up the first example of Alekhine's Defense in the database. A very famous fellow who would never be mistaken for Alekhine.

Mar-15-07  outplayer: I would play 14.fe4.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Going into this 13th round game, Alekhine was in first place a point ahead of Abram Rabinovich and a point and a half ahead of his opponent here, Ilya Rabinovich and Pyotr Romanovsky. With Alekhine scheduled to play Ilya in this 13th round and then Abram in the following round, the final result in this first USSR championship was very much in doubt, especially since Ilya had defeated Alekhine in their only previous meeting.

By winning this game, Alekhine--with no only two games to play-- remained 1.5 points ahead of Romanovsky (who won his game in this round) and was was now two full points ahead of Abram Rabinvich (who lost his 13th round game). None of the other competitors had a chance to catch Alekhine. Alekhine went on to defeat Abram in the 14th round, thereby clinching first place.

Ilya Rabinovich, it should be noted, was a formidable player. He later shared first place with Levenfish in the 9th USSR Championship (1935).

The instant game was an exciting tactical battle. Playing over the game with the White pieces (i.e., from I. Rabinovich's perspective), I got a notion of what it must have been like to confront Alekhine over-the board. He constantly created threats (including surprise mating ideas) that kept me glued to the board. And this, of course, is a game played by the 1920 Alekhine, about seven years before he reached his full strength.


1. d4 Nf6
2. Nf3 b6

A Queen's Indian!

3. c4 e6
4. Nc3

In his commentaries on this game (there are two very similar Alekhine commentaries for this contest), Alekhine expressed his preference for 4. g3 ("Rubinstein's system") either here or on his next move. There is, of course, nothing wrong with Rabinovich's 4. Nc3 and 5. e3.

4... Bb7
5. e3 Bb4
6. Qc2 Ne4
7. Bd3 f5

click for larger view

"...Black has brought about a position, favorable to himself, of the Dutch Defense." (Alekhine)

I like Black's position was well, but objectively chances were about equal at this point.

8. 0-0

The alternative discussed by Alekhine in his commentary (8. Bd2 BxN 9. BxB 0-0 10. 0-0-0 a5) is also about even but--as Alekhine notes--allows Black to seize the initiative, as Alekhine demonstrated in a later game against Samisch.

8... BxN

8...NxN 9. bxB BxN (f3) 10. gxB Bd6, which messes up White's King-side, looks slightly better. But, as will be seen, Alekhine had his reasons for choosing the text, which kept his Knight on e4 and allowed him to conjure up an attack seemingly from nowhere (I certainly didn't see it coming).

9. bxB 0-0
10. Nd2

"The only way to enforce the advance of the e-pawn." (Alekhine)

click for larger view

10. Nd2 certainly looked good to me, and the computers give White a small edge after this move. But, as throughout his career, Alekhine now created all sorts of difficult complications and tension in the position.

10... Qh4


click for larger view

Alekhine's move may or may not be better than the simple 10...NxN. But note how drastically the dynamics of the game have changed after this single move.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: One pitfall to avoid is 11.g3 Ng5, when the interpolation of 12.e4 is well met by 12....fxe4.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

11. f3

As Alekhine pointed out in his commentary, 11. g3 would run into 11...Ng5! This move is not quite as strong as Alekhine claimed, since White can equalize with 12. d5 (a move not mentioned by Alekhine). But Alekhine's tactical genius is revealed by the fact that White cannot take the Queen which leads to mate in one [12. gxQ Nh3 mate]. The plausible looking 12. e4? was, as Alekhine further noted, a loser after 12...fxe4! (since 13. gxQ [pretty much forced] loses to 13...Nh3+ 14. Kg2 exB+ 15. KxN dxQ and White's position is a mess).

What an incredible conception by Alekhine!

I see that <perfidious> has likewise recognized the dangers after 11. g3

After 11. f3, the position was:

click for larger view

11... NxN
12. BxN

click for larger view

12... Nc6

"12...c5 would not be so good, because of 13. d5!" (Alekhine)

Agreed, but even stronger for White after 12...c5 would be the (at first glance) ugly looking 13. dxc5 since 13...Na6 allows White to win a pawn or two [14. cxb6 axb6 15. Rfb1 Nc5 16. Rxb6 Be4 17. BxB (but not 17. fxB? fxe4 after which Black is much better) fxB 18. Be1 Qf6 19. f4] while 13...bxc5 allow White to obtain a clear edge with 14. Be1 Qf6 15. Rb1

All in all, Alekhine was quite right to shun 12...c5?

But best for Black, and leaving White with only a small edge (he would have the two Bishops) was 12...d6.

After 12...Nc6, the position was:

click for larger view

13. e4

Rabinovich could have secured much the better chances with either 13. Rae1 or 13. c5.

13... fxe4

click for larger view

14. Bxe4

Both Alekhine and <outplayer> claim that 14. fxe4 is better. But both moves have their merits and both yield a tiny edge for White. If 14. fxe4, Black secures near equality with 14...d6, but not with Alekhine's suggested 14...e5. Following Alekhine's proposed line: 15. d5 Ne7 16. c5 Ng6 [as Alekhine explains, 16...bxc5? loses to 17. d6 (or, better yet, 17. Qb3) ] and now 17. a4 or 17. Qb3 or even 17. Bc4 all leave White with a clear advantage and are far superior to Alekhine's 17. cxb6 which does not lead to any real White edge after 17...axb6.

After 14. Bxe4, the position was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <KEG....I see that <perfidious> has likewise recognized the dangers after 11. g3....>

In the 1980s, I often played the Black side of the Nimzo-Indian and this subvariation of 4.e3 b6 was a favourite, though no-one ever played 11.g3 against me.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

14... Na5

Definitely best, but it would not have yielded any plus against best play by White.

15. Rae1

Better, as noted by Alekhine, was 15. BxB NxB and now White, if anyone, has the edge with 16. Rfe1 (Alekhine's suggestion) or 16. Rae1 or 16. Be1. 15. Bd3 was also good for White.

Alekhine claims Black is better after 15. BxB because of White's doubled c-pawns. but White's c5/d5 phalanx also gives him possibilities of advancing, so on balance the c-pawns are probably no real weakness.

White's actual move (15. Rae1) did ultimately result in loss of a pawn, but the game is very double-edged and even with this second-best move, Rabinovich had chances to keep the game in balance.

15... BxB


16. RxB Qh5

click for larger view

17. Qa4?

Alekhine claimed that here there was "no satisfactory defense" for the White c-pawn. But he seems to have overlooked the strength of 17. c5 (e.g., 17...Nc4 18. Qd3 NxB 19. QxN bxc5 20. Re5 with about even chances).

Alekhine only considered 17. Re5 as an alternative to 17. Qa4?, but even that does not lead to the "virtually won end-game" Alekhine claimed would have resulted: e.g., 17...Rf5 (17...Qg6 may be stronger than Alekhine's move, but it hardly yields anything close to a winning position for White) 18. RxR QxR 19. QxQ exQ 20. c5 and Black is nowhere close to a win with either 20...Nc4 21. Bf4 c6 22. Kf2 or 20...fxc5 21. dxc5 Rc8 22. Bf4 Kf7 23. Rd1.

After 17. Qa4?, however, Rabinovich--even if not theoretically lost--was in trouble.

17... Nxc4


click for larger view

"Now Black has every justification for anticipating victory, yet in spite of his advantage in material it is not easy to achieve it, for the adverse position shows no weak point." (Alekhine)

18. Re2

As Alekhine and <notyetagm" have pointed out, 18. QxN? runs into 18...d5 and it now 19. Qb5 [19. Rh4 QxR 20. Qxc7 was slightly better, but almost not sufficient to salvage the game] a6!

Questions were raised on this site as to whether Rabinovich could have played 18. QxN d5 19. Qxc7, but--as pointed out here by <beatgiant>--Black now wins with 19...dxR 20. fxe4 [20. f4 Qe2 would not save the day] RxR+ 21. KxR Qd1+.

18... b5
19. Qb3

19. Qd1 may be slightly better, but White is still in big trouble.

19... Qf5
20. Rfe1 Rab8

click for larger view

21. Bc1 a5
22. Re4 a4
23. Qd1 Rbe8

click for larger view

"Having consolidated the dominating position of his Knight, Black now prepares an action in the center which will enable him to shatter the hostile position, although allowing his opponent apparent chances." (Alekhine)

24. Qe2

The position is very difficult, and perhaps 24. d5 or 24. Rh4 were better. But in all the variations I examined, White's position is precarious, if not actually lost.

24... c5


As always, Alekhine chose the sharpest and most complicated plausible line. 24...c6 or 24...Rf6 may be simpler. But there is no clear win for Black in any of the variations, and the text led to amazingly complicated tactics in which Rabinovich lost his way (as did I in trying to wind my way through the labyrinths of problems Alekhine's move presents for White).

In any case, after 24...c5, the position was:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  nizmo11: <perfidious> <this subvariation of 4.e3 b6 was a favourite, though no-one ever played 11.g3 against me>
I also used to play 4...b6, and even got the position after 11.g3?! in a blitz game. I played 11..Nxd2 (not my invention, but mentioned somewhere) That game went 12.Bxd2 Qg4, and now White must play the ugly 13.f4. The funny variation is 11..Nxd2 12. gxh4? Nf3+ 13.Kg2 Ne1+ 14.Kg1? (Kg3) Nf3+! 15.Kg2 Nxd4+and Nxc2
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

25. Be3 cxd4
26. Bxd4 e5


"The beginning of extremely interesting complications." (Alekhine)

26...Qd5 was a good alternative.

After 26...e5, the position was:

click for larger view

27. f4


"Undoubtedly the best chance." (Alekhine)

Alekhine was entirely correct in saying that 27. Bxe5 would have been bad because of 27...d5.

Alekhine was also correct that 27. Bc5 was no great shakes in light of 27...d5 28. RxN [28. Rg4 and 28. Rh4 were not much better] bxR 29. BxR QxB, but it was hardly as calamitous as the text.

The best chance for Rabinovich was probably 27. Qd1, a move not discussed or seemingly considered by Alekhine. It is the choice of both Fritz and Stockfish, but not a move likely to be tried in the heat of battle. Nor is it clear that 27. Qd1 would have saved the day.

One thing is certain: Rabinovich's 27. f4, Alekhine notwithstanding, was bad, and White was never really in the game after this weak effort.

After 27. f4, the position was:

click for larger view

27... d6!

Very well and precisely played by Alekhine.

27...d5 looks tempting, but--as Alekhine pointed out--it would have given White chances: 28. Rxe5 NxR. But here White should play 29. fxN with chances to save the game despite being the exchange down. By contrast, Alekhine's suggested 29. BxN gets crushed by 29...g5! since 30. fxg5?? falls to 30...RxB since 31. QxR??? leads to mate in three for Black after 31...Qf2+

28. h3

"Again threatening Black's e-pawn, which he will at once defend in an indirect manner.

click for larger view

28... Re6


Alekhine's clever move works, but probably simpler and better was 28...Rf7.

29. fxe5 dxe5

click for larger view

30. Bc5!


"Not 30. Bxe5 Rfe8 31. Rf1 Qg6 32. RxN [32. Qf2 NxB was also hopeless--KEG] RxB and wins." (Alekhine)

"The text-move appears full of promise, seeing that the Black Room cannot leave the f-file." (Alekhine)

After 30. Bc5, the position was:

click for larger view

Black can perhaps win here with what Alekhine called "a mere defensive move" (30...Rff6); i.e., 30...Rff6 since 31. Rb1 loses to Alekhine's 31...Nd2 ]32. QxN QxR 33. Qd8+ Kf7 34. Qd7+ Kg6 35. Rb4 Qe1+). But perhaps White could save the day here with 31. Rd1 or 31.Qd1.

All of that, however, became moot when Alekhine played something much stronger that led to more of the sort of intense complications in which Alekhine thrived.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

30... Rf7!


If 30...Rd8? 31. Rf1 Qg6 32. Rg4 would force Black to scramble to save the game, since 32...Qh6 would lose to 33. Qf2. The only saving move would be 32...Qe8.

Alekhine's move, by contrast, was a killer:

"The initial move of a sacrificial combination intended to yield a decisive attack." (Alekhine)

After 30...Rf7!, the position was:

click for larger view

31. Rb1

"Seemingly recovering his pawn with a good game, for 31...Nd2 is now impossible on account of 32. QxN, threatening Qd8+, etc." (Alekhine)

However, and as will quickly be seen, the text loses to Alekhine's superb planned defense and counter-attack.

Rather than the doomed text, the best chances were offered by 31. Rd1. It is doubtful that even 31. Rd1 would ultimately save the day, but it was certainly superior to the text.

31... h6

This, as Alekhine noted, parries the threat of mate:

click for larger view

32. Rxb5?

This leads to an immediate catastropje. 32. Rd1 was the stouest resistance, but would ultimately lose after 32...Rg6.

32... Nd2!


A killer move:

click for larger view

33. Rxa4

Alekhine was correct that White has no defense. But his analysis was (for Alekhine), remarkably flawed. He only considers 33. Rg4 and 33. Re3. The former loses to 33...Qc2. But 33. Re3, though hopeless, would work wonderfully if Black responded with 33...Rg6? (Alekhine's move) after 34. Rd3 [not Alekhine's suggested 34. Rb8+? Kh7 and White's attack is done] Qf1+ 35. QxQ RxQ+ 36. Kh2 Rd1 37. Rd8+ Kh7 leaving White with a fighting chance to survive.

33. Rbb4 is perhaps best

After 33. Rxa4, the game was quite over:

33... Qc2!


"After this move, which explains the forgoing sacrifice of two Pawns, White is lost owing to [his] inability to withdraw his Rooks to secure the defence of his first rank." (Alekhine)

click for larger view

I will cover the remaining mop-up operation by Alekhine in my next post on this game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

34. Ra8+

There is nothing to be done, so why not give a spite check!

34... Kh7
35. Kh1

The only way to prolong the game even a few moves.

35... Rf1+

click for larger view

36. Bg1 RxB+!


A pretty finish. Alekhine could also have won less dramatically with 36...Ref6

37. KxR Qc1+

click for larger view

38. Kf2

38. Kh2 Nf1+ would also not have been much fun for White.

38... Rf6+
39. Ke3

"If 39. Kg3 Nf1+. Now Black's next move wins the Queen or mates." (Alekhine)

39... Nb1+


click for larger view


Aug-10-22  Sirius69: Its easy to be critical of Alekhine's analysis if you're using a chess engine and not your own mediocre chess faculties. Alekhine was a human chess engine!
Aug-11-22  aliejin: one of the worst stupid
are the ones who "evaluate" something that happened in the past (a century in this case)
with current standards and current resources

I'm fine with using software to analyze and learn but not to judge people from the past who completely lacked of our possibilities

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <perfidious>Should I bother to respond?
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <KEG>, entirely up to you; for my part, I have seen no reason.

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