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Peter Romanovsky vs Grigory Levenfish
USSR Championship (1920), Moscow RUS, rd 1, Oct-04
Caro-Kann Defense: Bronstein-Larsen Variation (B16)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: This game was played in the first round of the first USSR Championship, and makes a wonderful precursor of all the excitement, hard fighting, brilliancies and blunders that were to follow.

After an unbalanced opening set up an opposite-side castling situation with mutual pawn storms, this position was reached after <34.e5>:

click for larger view

Now 34...Rxh2 should win for Black, but that's much too simple when a beauty like <34...Rg3+> is available. The rook has to be taken (35.Ke4 Qg2#), but 35.Kxg3 is mate in one and <35.hxg3 Qg2+ 36.Kg4 Rd8> looks suicidal.

However, <37.Qh7> saved the day. White had to give up the queen after <37...Rh8 38.Qxh8+ Bxh8>, but the truth was revealed when <39.Rxb7> showed which king was actually vulnerable.

Black hustled the queen back with <39...Qe2+ 40.Kh4 Qa6>, but <41.Rb8+ Kc7 42.Bd2> was the finishing touch. 43,Ba5+ would lead to White remaining with an extra rook that could easily stop Black's h-pawn, hence resignation.

Such games are why the Caro-Kann is played by those seeking death-defying thrills and excitement.

Aug-09-09  Jason Frost: <Such games are why the Caro-Kann is played by those seeking death-defying thrills and excitement.>

Great end to the game, although not sure it is the prototypical Kann.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: Turns out there's an anecdote about this game, related by Cafferty and Taimanov in their book, "The Soviet Championships":

<Finally, Levenfish mentions that he was a victim of Alekhine's eloquence. During his game with Romanovsky in the first round, he was walking about when Alekhine came up to him and commented, "Aha, you have prepared a rook sacrifice to force mate." At that point Romanovsky made his move, Levenfish hurried back to the board and made the sacrifice, only to see to his horror that the enemy king had a loophole.>

Well, maybe Alekhine shouldn't have been making comments like that, but I still think it's mostly Levenfish's fault. Romanovsky's move was <34.e5>, which prepared the crucial defense.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Messiah: What a game!
Apr-12-19  cunctatorg: Aha; the Bronstein-Larsen variation of the Caro-Kann back at 1920!!
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: It is impossible not to share the enthusiasm of <Phony Benoni> and <Messiah> for this game--warts and all.

Romanovsky finished in 2nd place in this 1st USSR Championship, and Levenfish ended up in 3rd, one point behind Romanovsky. Thus,this game effectively decided second place (behind Alekhine).

The commentary of <Phony Benoni> on the conclusion of the game after 34. e5 is comprehensive, including as it does not only analysis of the game but also reference to Alekhine's bizarre comment to Levenfish after 34. e5 that may explain the latter's losing blunder.

The flaw in Levenfish was cleverly spotted by Romanovsky. His nice recovery at this point absolves him of some of his weak play before that allowed Levenfish to build a winning advantage. While I have little to add to the analysis of <Phony Benoin> from 34. e5 to the finish, there were errors earlier in this exciting game, including other opportunities for Levenfish to close out the game even bedore his faulty Rook sacrifice on move 34.

Levenfish and Romanovsky were fairly evenly matched. Including this game, Levenfish's lifetime record against Romanovsky was 4 wins, 3 losses, and 4 draws.

1. e4 c6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 dxe4
4. Nxe4 Nf6
5. NxN+

click for larger view

5... gxN

5...exN looks sounder to me than busting up the King-side. But both moves are frequently played, and Levenfish's choice here allowed him to post his Rook on g8 and work up what should have been a winning attack.

6. Be3

6. c3 was almost certainly best. That move, along with 6. Nf3; 6. Ne3; 6. Bc4; 6: Be2; and 6. g3 are all given as possible lines in MCO-13. The text is not even mentioned.

The text was first played by Janowski against Carls at Mannheim 1914. Levenfish was apparently impressed (why I don't know) and played the move 16 years later. In any case, the text is a rare bird in tournament play.

6... Bf5

Bronsteinr played this move with success in the 1964-1965 USSR Championship. Nonethelss, 6...Qb6 looks best.

7. Bd3

Still following Janowski--Carls, Mannheim 1914. 7. Nf3 looks more natural and better.

7... Bg6

Was he hoping Romanovsky would swap Bishops here and clean up his King-side pawn structure?

7...Qa5+ followed by 8...BxB was much better. Even 7...BxB was better than the time-losing text.

8. Ne2

An awkward way to develop this Knight. Romanovsky doubtless wanted to keep both Ng3 and Nf4 as options.

8. Na6

Clumsy. 8...Qa5+ was a better way to try to take advantage of White's dithering. 8...e6 was another good choice.

After 8...Na6, the position was:

click for larger view

9. BxN

After this lemon, any edge White still enjoyed was gone. Did Romanovsky actually miss the simple combination by which Levenfish avoided doubling his Pawns on the Queen-side?

9. 0-0; 9. c3; and even 9. Qd2 were all better than the text.

9... Qa5+

Of course.

10. Qd2

Slowly but surely, Romanovsky began to build a bad position for himself. 10. c3 surely made more sense.

10... QxB
11. 0-0 e6

Levenfish should surely have prepared his King-side attacking possibilities (now that Romanovsky had committed himself and castled King-side) with either 11...0-0-0 immediately or 11...Rg8.

click for larger view

Following Levenfish's doubtful 11th move, Romanovsky had time to organize his position and achieve at least equality. But the diagrammed position above would prove to be as good as it would get for him until Levenfishs' losing blunder on move 34. Romanovsky quickly ran the above position into the ground and soon found himself in desperate--and probably theoretically hopeless shape, as Levenfish built what should have been a crushing attack.

Dec-15-19  Carrots and Pizza: If I was playing black here, I would have seriously considered 19...Qd5 threatening mate on g2. White can defend pretty easily with 20.f4 but this further exposes his king. In any case, it seems like a better idea than winning a b-pawn, giving White an open file to the black king.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post II

The play to this point had not been very inspired, but the game was still up for grabs. But now Romanovsky played carelessly (to put it mildly) and allowed Levenfish to build up what should have been a winning attack.

12. Ng3?

Awful. This gave Levenfish a target to exploit in going after the White King. Romanovsky had plenty of good options: e.g., 12. Rfc1; 12. Nf4; 12. b3, etc.

12... 0-0-0

Levenfish could also have played 12...h5 immediately. In either case, the attack is in full swing.

13. Qc3

Romanovsky was seemingly oblivious.

13... h5

One of many ways to continue his assault. Levenfish could also have played 13...Rg8. 13...Qa4 pressuring the White c-pawn was another way to harrass White.

click for larger view

14. Rfe1?

Romanovsky played this portion of the game as if in a fog. His position was difficult but not yet critical, and he should have braced for the advancing hordes with 14. f3 or 14. h4.

14... Qa4

This attack on the c-pawn certainly looks strong, but I would have marched on with 14...h4 (followed by 15...Rg8). Levenfish had his open g-file, and probably should have used it ASAP.

15. Re2?

Failing to take advantage of the reprieve that Levenfish's last move afforded him. Romanovsky should have either defended with 15. Rac1 or counter-attacked with 15. d5?! The text was hopeless.

15... h4!

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16. Nf1

Depressing, but 16. Nh1 was even worse.

16... Qb5!

The text, which took advantage of the undefended White Rook on e2, was even better than the thematic 16...h3. That further pawn advance would come next.

17. Qe1

Leaving the b-pawn to its fate, but 17. Rd2 would run into 17...Bb4; and 17. Re1 would be even worse after the inevitable 17...h3.

17... h3

As Bobby Fischer would have said, White is busted:

click for larger view

18. g3

18. Ng3 Qxb2 would have been even worse.

18... Bh5

With the White forces disorganized, 18...Qxb2 was very strong at this point and almost certainly best.

19. Rd2

Disliking playing punching bag as I do, I might have tried 19. f3?! here and after 19...Bxf3 20. Rf2 Bh5 21. b3 hoped for the best. Still probably a clear losing proposition, but more to my taste that Romanovsky's idea, which left White's position in ruins:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

19... Qxb2

I agree in spirit with the idea of <Carrots and Pizza> of 19...Qd5 and not opening the b-file for White. But after 20. f4 (which he correctly identifies as White's best response) I'm not sure that Black has all that much. Of course, Levenfish had to take great care once he played 19...Qxb2 that White did not manage to get an compensating (or winning) attack along the b-file. Indeed, for a while it appeared that Romanovsky's attack would materialize rapidly, and in fact he eventually win the game via an attack on the b-file. But, as will be seen, Levenfish's move ultimately yielded him enough to win. But, for a while, Romanovsky made the most of the opportunity <Carrots and Pizza> has pointed out.

20. c4! Qa3
21. c5! Bg6

click for larger view

22. Qe2

Romanovsky seemed to be on the correct tact, but the text was too slow. 22. Qd1 or 22. Rc1 were better ways to follow up 20. c4 and 21. c5.

22... Be4
23. f3

Creating new weaknesses for himself.

23... Bd5

click for larger view

24. Rb2??

Huh? Was this really played? Doesn't it leave the f3 pawn hanging? (since if 24...Bxf3 25. QxB the White Rook on b2 would be hanging).

24... Bg7??

If the game score is correct, Levenfish missed the simple 24...Bxf3. Even 24...e5 or 24...Bc4 were better than the text.

The game was still almost certainly won for Black,but after the text Romanovsky could play on for at least a while.

25. Rab1

No more hanging Rook now, so no more chance to swipe the White f-pawn. Meanwhile, Romanovsky has doubled his Rooks on the b-file. This--through a few bizarre twists of fate--would ultimately win the game for him.

25... Rd7

click for larger view

26. Nd2?

Too slow. Come what may, Romanovsky had to go for broke on the b-file with 26. Rb4 or perhaps 26. Qc2 first.

26... f5

Even better than the also devastating 26...Bxa2 27. Kf2 BxR 28. NxB. White would then be down the exchange, but he still would have a chance to draw first blood.

27. Kf2?

27. Nb3 or 27. Nf1 just might have allowed Romanovsky to resist for a while. Now, by contrast, Levenfish overwhelmed him.

The position was now:

click for larger view

Black to play and win.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

27... f4!
28. gxf4

click for larger view

Looks like game over, right?

28... Bf6?

This didn't blow the win, but why not the simple and crushing 28...Rg8.

29. Ne4?

Perhaps the winning mistake, since by failing to guard g3 with 29. Nf1, it left the door open for Levenfish's fatal miscalculation on move 34. Objectively, however, the text was terrible. Romanosvky should have tried to hang on and defend with 29. Nf1. The text allowed Levenfish to trade off the White Knight with what should have been fatal consequences for Romanovsky.

29... BxN
30. fxB

The intermediate move, 30. Rb3, would not have been any better after 30...Qa5 31. fxB Rg8.

30... Rg8!

click for larger view

31. Rb3 Rg2+
32. Kf3 Qa5

click for larger view

33. Qd3

Probably the worst square for the Queen, but it now shouldn't have made much difference since Levenfish had an easy win.

33... Qxa2

This should certainly have won without difficulty, but 33...Qd8! was sheer murder. If then, for example, 34. e5 then 34...Bxe5 35. fxB Qh4 leaves the White King in a mating net from which it could not escape.

The text, however, was good enough, leaving the position was follows:

click for larger view

Anyone want to volunteer to play the White position here? Romanovsky was willing to play on. Levenfish had missed so many wins by this point, continuing the game was probably worth a try.

34. e5

This was seemingly hopeless, the position now being:

click for larger view

As <Phony Benoni> pointed out on this site over 10 years ago, Levenfish had an easy win here with the not so subtle 34...Rxh1. He could also have won just as easily with 34...Bh4.

But it was here that Alekhine, who was busing beating Grigoryev at his board, walked by the board in our game and--as reported by Cafferty/Taimanov (quoted by Phony Benoni)-- said to Levenfish: "Aha, you have prepared a rook sacrifice to force mate."

Indeed, 34...Rg3+ does seem to place White in a deadly mating net. But, as Phony Benoni has already pointed out, there was a vicious fly in the ointment.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

Perhaps believing Alekhine, or perhaps hoping to win the brilliancy prize, Levenfish played the fatal:

34... Rg3+ ??

This pretty Rook sacrifice had a devastating refutation.

35. hxR

"The Rook had to be taken (35. Ke4 Qg2 mate), but 35. KxR Qg2+ is [also] mate in one." (Phony Benoni)

The text also looks fatal, but apparently Romanovsky had looked a bit deeper.

35... Qg2+
36. Kg4 Rd8

36...Bxe5 37. fxB h2 38. Ra3 h1(Q) 39. RxQ QxR 40. Ra3 would not have been much fun for Black, and the text superficially seemed to win immediately, the position now being:

click for larger view

37. Qh7!!

Romanovsky saved the day (and won the game) with this cute Queen sacrifice.

37... Rh8

37...h2 was also hopeless.

38. QxR+ BxR
39. Rxb7

click for larger view

"The truth was revealed when 39. Rxb7 showed which King was actually vulnerable." (Phony Benoni)

39... Qe2+

"Black hustled the Queen back." (Phony Benoni)

But, as Phony Benoni has explained, this was too late.

40. Kh4

Romanovsky could also have just played 40. Kxh3.

40... Qa6
41. Rb8+

"The finishing touch." (Phony Benoni)

41... Kc7
42. Bd2

White's position was so strong that even 42. Kxh3 would have been good enough to win.

After 42. Bd2, the position was:

click for larger view


"43. Ba5+ would lead to White remaining with an extra Rook that could easily stop Black's h-pawn, hence resignation." (Phony Benoni)

Not a great performance by Romanovsky, but he plugged away in a seemingly hopeless position, and then struck when Levenfish erred. On this occasion, at least, Levenfish saw deeper into the position than did passing spectator Alekhine. (Or did Alekhine see 37. Qh7 and hustle the theoretically more dangerous--at this stage of their careers--Levenfish.

Dec-30-19  Sally Simpson: ***

Hi keg.

34... Rg3+ ??

'Perhaps believing Alekhine...'

Levenfish says he was hypnotised by Alekhine's comment and as soon as Romanovsky played 34.e5 he played 34...Rg3+ so quickly he did not even write down White's 34th move on his score sheet.

Later Levenfish berates himself for heeding Alekhine. He adds discussing games in progress is unsporting and never saw Lasker, Tarrasch or Botvinnik discussing games whilst playing further adding:

"Meanwhile there are grandmasters and masters who are ready to discuss the situations on their board after every move. Supposedly this makes them 'outgoing personalities." (Soviet Outcast, page 57)


Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Sally Simpson>Thank you for this addition to this curious tale.

The practice of one player speaking to another during a game is indeed shoddy at best. But Levenfish shouldn't have allowed himself to be hypnotized by Alekhine, who was at best a spectator who couldn't be expected to have seen everything.

Alekhine should probably have been penalized (though I would need to see the rules in effect to make a final judgment). But I have little sympathy for Levenfish, who should have known better.

Dec-30-19  Sally Simpson: ****

Hi Keg,

Levenfish does say Alekhine meant no malice.

However when a tactical genius strolls past you and unexpectedly says:

"A-ha, preparing mate at g2." Then it can cloud you somewhat.

Alekhine was waiting on his opponent to move in N Grigoriev vs Alekhine, 1920 when the incident happened.

Phoney B. has spotted an amusing link when Alekhine and Levenfish met in Round 6 of the same tournament.

Alekhine vs Levenfish, 1920 (kibitz #6)


Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <Sally Simpson>In the case of this sort of transgression, I do not think lack of malicious intent is much of a defense. If in fact Alekhine's quickie analysis were correct and his comment had led Levenfish to the winning combination, wouldn't that be even worse?

Thank you for whetting my appetite for Alekhine's game with Levenfish, which I will get to in due course.

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