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Semion Alapin vs Frank James Marshall
Monte Carlo (1901), Monte Carlo MNC, rd 4, Feb-08
Queen's Gambit Declined: Albin Countergambit. Alapin Variation (D08)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  Chessical: Marshall innovates as Black in the Albin, but careful play by his opponent denies him the tactical game he seeks. He misses his chance to equalise, and then is always on the back foot going into an ending two pawns down.

<7. Nbxd4> Bb4+ 8. Bd2 Nge7 9. a3 Bxf3 10. Nxf3 Bxd2+ 11. Qxd2 Ng6 12. g3 Qe7 13. Bg2 seems to give White lasting pressure.

Marshall would have been better off by playing the natural <17... O-O>; e.g. 18. Qc2 Bf6 19. Bf5 Qd6 20. Bd2 g6 21. Bd3

It is strange that Marshall overlooked his opponents little combination with <21...Rd8> as such a move was meat and drink to him.

<30. Rc1!> Bd6 31. Rxc7+ Bxc7 32. Re7+

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: As I mentioned in earlier posts, Monte Carlo 1901 was the beginning of what Andrew Soltis has called Marshall's "sophomore slump," on which Marshall came down to earth after his fabulous debut at Paris 1900. This was a useful education for Marshall, who ultimately learned that he couldn't expect to blow away the Europeans masters with a few snappy tactical flourishes.

Through the first three rounds at Monte Carlo 1901, Marshall's "lesson" consisted of being held to two draws (draws were replayed at this tourney) by Tchigorin in Round 1 and to draws in Rounds 2 and 3 by Winawer and Gunsberg (he would later lose both these replays).

His first loss at Monte Carlo, however, occurred in this game against Alapin. Alapin exploited Marshall's inexperience and desire to complicate at all costs.

Alapin would always prove a tough foe for Marshall. Including this game, Marshall's record against Alapin was 3 wins, 4 losses, and one draw.

The most critical points in this game were highlighted by Chessical on this site back in 2009. I will try to fill in the few gaps in his excellent analysis.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e5?!

The Albin Counter-Gambit, which was popular at the time. As will be seen, Alapin had a little surprise planned for Marshall in this opening.

3. dxe5 d4
4. Nf3 Nc6

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This is the normal position in the Albin Counter-Gambit.

5. Nbd2

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"This was the first game with 5. Nbd2." (Tournament Book).

Before this game, 5. a3 was considered "Usual" according to the Tournament Book, which said that the text was an improvement.

As a theoretical matter, 5. a3 or 5. g3 are probably best. But the text is also good, and having a surprise line in the opening is always useful.

Incidentally, this game was not actually the first appearance of 5. Nbd2. It was played earlier that year in Esser-Oland.

The move apparently impressed Marshall, who later played it no fewer than 7 times as White. The move was also later used by Pillsbury (three times), Schlechter (twice) and by Alapin himself on a later occasion. So far as I can determine, the move has not been played since 1933.

5... a5

"Now superfluous [in the absence of 5. a3--KEG]. 5...Be6 is worth considering." (Tournament Book).

5...a5 was played in Esser-Oland. Did Marshall know that game? Did Alapin? If the answer to the latter question is yes, then Alapin had prepared an improvement.

The simple 5...Qe7 was probably best. The Tournament Book's suggested 5...Be6 is likely better than Marshall's move, but inferior to 5...Qe7.

6. Nb3

Better than Esser's 6. g3.

6... Bg4

Marshall's pugilistic instincts are clear from the outset. But 6...Bb4+ (despite the Tournament Book's claim that is "does nothing" in light of 7. Bd2) was probably best. 6...Qe7 was also better than the text.

7. a3

As Chessical has correctly noted on this site, 7. Nbxd4 was better, and gives White good prospects of hanging onto the extra pawn (albeit with a mangled King-side pawn structure in some variations). After the text, Marshall regained the sacrificed pawn, but Alapin retained a small edge with minimal attacking chances for Black--perhaps the reason Alapin chose this line against his over-eager young opponent.

7... BxN

Restoring material equality at the cost of giving Alapon the two Bishops.

8. exB a4
9. Nd2 Nxe5

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"Black has won back his pawn but White has in exchange a strong [overstatement--KEG] positional advantage." (Tournament Book).

As became clear from what followed, Alapin understood the position far better than Marshall, and soon built a winning advantage.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

10. f4! Nc6

10...Nd7 is no real improvement.

11. Bd3 Qe7+

Perhaps Marshall relied on this move to tie up Alapin's pieces or force the trade of Queens. If so, he was in for an unpleasant surprise.

12. Kf1!

Alapin correctly noted that he can castle slowly with g3 since Marshall had no White square Bishop.

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12... Nf6
13. g3 Qd7

13...Qd6 or 13...Qc5 were better.

14. Kg2

All according to plan.

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14... Be7

The choice between this and 14...Bd6 is a close one. I prefer the latter move.

15. Nf3

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15... h5?!

"?"--(Tournament Book)

"Black should castle instead of chasing an attack." (Tournament Book).

A typically impetuous move, characteristic of Marshall at this developing stage of his career (and to some extent,later as well). 15...0-0, as suggested by the Tournament Book, was indeed much better, though Alapin would still have had much the better game.

16. h4?!

An overreaction to Marshall's wild 15...h5?! Alapin would have had an overwhelming advantage by playing the simple 16. Re1 immediately and not creating weaknesses in his own camp.

16... Ng4

Nothing daunted, Marshall proceeded with his (questionable) attempt to break through on the King-side.

17. Re1

Better late than never.

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17... Na5?!

"Marshall would have been better off by playing the natural 17...0-0." (Chessical).

18. Bc2!

"!"--(Tournament Book)

18... Nxc4

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19. Qxd4?

With 19. Nxd4!, Alapin would have had a strategically won game (e.g., 19. Nxd4 Nd6 20. Nf5 NxN 21. QxQ+ KxQ 22. BxN+ Ke8). After the text, Marshall still had life.

19... QxQ

"Black cannot seriously avoid the Queen exchange." (Tournament Book(

20. NxQ Kf8

He had to get out of the pin on the e-file.

21. Bd3

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Marshall's position was difficult but--thanks to Alapin's careless 19th move--he still he plenty of counter-chances. In this position, however, Marshall blundered after which--though the game dragged on for another nearly 40 moves--Marshall was doomed to defeat.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

21... Rd8?

"?"--(Tournament Book).

"An error which costs a pawn." (Tournament Book)

It is strange that Marshall overlooked his opponent's little such a move was meat and drink to him." (Chessical)

The text was indeed a serious mistake that lost and pawn and ultimately the game.

The Tournament Book claimed that 21...Nd6 was best here. But after 22. Bd2 White would be much better. Marshall should have played 21...Nb6. 21...Bc5 would also be superior to Marshall's move and to 21...Bd6, but 21...Nb6 was clearly best.

After Marshall's 21...Rd8?, the position was:

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White to move and win:

22. Ne6+!

"!"--(Tournament Book)

22... fxN
23. Bxc4

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23... Bc5

This counter-demonstration by Marshall delayed--but did not avoid--the loss of a pawn.

24. f3

Even better than 24. Re2, which also wins.

24... Nf6

Marshall was in trouble in any case, but 24...Nh6 offered stiffer resistance.

25. Bxe6

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Alapin has won a pawn. In addition, he has the two Bishops and better attacking chances. This all adds up to a position he should win hands-down.

25... g6
26. f5!

"!"--(Tournament Book)

"Alapin plays the ending with precision." (Tournament Book)

At this stage of the game, Alapin did play extremely well. Later, while in no way imperiling his winning position, Alapin failed to find the fastest route to victory, and so the game was prolonged.

The text was a powerful--and temporary--pawn sacrifice that could have led to a quick finish.

26... gxf5
27. Bg5

"!"--(Tournament Book)

The text was indeed pretty. the simpler 27...Bxf5 was also sufficient to win.

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27... Bd4

27...Kg7 or 27...Re8 would have made Alapin's task a bit more difficult, but the win would not be in doubt.

28. Rad1!

"!"--(Tournament Book)

"Threatening RxB." (Tournament Book)

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Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

28... Kg7
29. Bxf5 Bc5

29...Kf7 was perhaps better, but Alapin at this point had the game in hand, the position after 29...Bc5 being:

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Alapin was again a pawn up, and now--as Chessical showed on this site 10 years ago-- could have finished Marshall off with the powerful 30. Rc1! If then 30...Bd6 (I see nothing better) 31. Rxc7+! BxR 32. Re7+ Kf8 33. RxB Rd6 34. Rxb7 after which with three pawns for the exchange (soon to be four once the Black a-pawn falls) the game would be over.

But, perhaps because he was at the move 30 time control, Alapin missed Chessical's lovely combo and instead played:

30. Bc2

This wins also, but Alapin now faced a longer day at the office.

30... RxR

30...Rhe8 would have made Alapin's task a bot more difficult.

31. BxR Ra8

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From here, play got a little ragged (but without Alapin losing his winning advantage), and the players stumbled around for a few moves until they decided to trade Rooks:

32. Bc2

32. Re5 was better.

32... Ra6
33. Re2

33. Re5 was again better.

33... Kf7
34. Re5 Bd4
35. Rb5

Alapin had managed to mangle his piece coordination a bit, lengthening the winning process.

35... Re6

35...b6 was better.

36. Kf1 Rb6

He might have tried 36...b6

37. RxR cxR

37...BxR was probably best, though holding no long-term prospects of surviving.

After 37...cxR the position was:

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These types of minor piece endings can be arduous, so Marshall was justified in playing on despite his having no legitimate hopes of saving the game.

38. Bc1!

Even better than 38. Bxa4 or 38. b3. Alapin wanted to win the a-pawn for nothing.

38... b5

This delayed but did not avoid the loss of a second pawn.

39. Bd3 Nd5

39...Nd7 was perhaps slightly better.

40. Bxb5

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40... Ne3+

Hoping perhaps for 41. BxN? BxB 42. Bxa4 Bc1 with chances to draw in the Bishops of opposite color ending despite being two pawns down (after the fall of the White b or a pawn.

41. Ke2

Alapin was not about to fall for that cheapo.

41... Nf5
42. g4

"!"--(Tournament Book)

42... hxg4
43. fxg4 Nxh4
44. Bxa4

44. Kd3 was more precise. After the text (which also wins), the position was:

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Marshall, from here, made Alapin prove he could win from this position.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

44... Ng6
45. Kd3

45. Kf3 was simpler.

45... Bf2

Analysis of Marshall's play at this point is of doubtful value. Marshall undoubtedly knew he was dead lost and was messing around trying to deflect Alapin from a winning procedure.

46. Ke4! Ke6
47. b4

47. Bb3+ or 47. g5 seem faster. The text, however, doesn't spoil anything.

47... Kd6
48. Bd2 Bg3
49. Bb3

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Slowly but surely, Alapin was making progress.

49... Be5
50. b5

50. a4 or 50. g5 were more accurate.

50... Bb2
51. Bb4+ Kc7
52. a4 b6

Giving Alapin another target. Best to leave the pawn at b7 and let White figure out how to win.

After 52...b6 the position was:

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53. g5

53. a5 was perhaps faster.

53... Ne5
54. Be6

Once again, pushing the a-pawn would have been faster.

54... Nd7

Marshall must have been losing patience. Allowing the trade of Bishop for Knight reduces the position to one even a beginner could probably handle.

55. BxN KxB

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Marshall could have spared himself the rest.

56. Kd5 Ke8
57. Ke6 Bg7
58. Bd6 Bc3
59. g6 Bg7
60. Bc7

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