Hort's Master Game

I have been watching The Master Game from the BBC over the past few weeks, and reading the books covering the first six series, and I think it is really helping me with my thought process in chess. I am trying now to make the move that the position requires -- or that chess (or Caissa) requires. One of my favorite games from The Master Game series was the following from Series 5, which demonstrates a good way of approaching a line of the Caro Kann that is played by amateurs from time to time. Vlastimil Hort as white almost effortlessly dominates his opponent by simply making good moves at every turn. It's the type of game that repays close study, like a game of Capablanca's.

Vlastimil Hort - Helmut Pfleger [B15]

BBC TV Master Game, Series 5/London, England (1) 1980

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ exf6!?

Tartakower's move. Jack Peters remarked that this line "resembles a gambit" where "Black 'sacrifices' his chances in a King-and-pawn endgame for improved middlegame play." Though Black's kingside majority is damaged, he has easy development.



6. c3

Securing the d-pawn so that White can build an attacking battery with Qc2 and Bd3. White can also try to exchange Queens to head for an advantageous ending by 6. Bc4 planning Qe2+, but Black gets a step on him with 6... Qe7+! (Black usually plays 6... Bd6 but then the simple 7. Qe2+ leads to favorable exchanges for White; however, an interesting alternative is 6... Nd7 as Korchnoi successfully defended in a game from his 1978 World Championship match with Karpov, which continued 7. Ne2 Bd6 8. O-O  O-O 9. Bf4 Nb6 10. Bd3 Be6 11. c3 Nd5 12. Bxd6 Qxd6 13. Qd2 Rad8= 1/2-1/2 Anatoly Karpov-Viktor Korchnoi/m 1978 (63)) 7. Qe2 Be6 8. Bd3 (8. Bxe6 Qxe6=) 8... Qc7 (8... Nd7) 9. Qf3 Bd6 10. Ne2 Nd7 with easy development and good chances.


6... Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Ne2 Nd7

Tartakower himself went down to speedy defeat in an early game with the line after 8... Qc7 9. Qc2 g6?! 10. h4! Re8 11. h5 Bg4?! (11... f5 12. g4!) 12. hxg6 fxg6 13. f3 Be6 14. Bxg6! Re7 (14... hxg6 15. Qxg6+ Kf8 16. Qxf6+ Qf7 17. Rh8#) 15. Bxh7+ Kf8 16. Qg6 Rf7 17. Qg8+ Ke7 18. Bg6 Bg3+ 19. Kd1 Bh2 20. Bxf7 Bxf7 21. Qh8 Bd6 22. Rh6 1-0 Znosko-Borovsky-Savielly Tartakower/Paris FRA 1925.


9. Qc2 h6

As in the Tartakower game above, 9... g6?! provides too easy a target for White's attack after 10. h4! Re8 11. h5 Nf8 12. Bh6 Be6 13. O-O-O! Qa5 (13... Bxa2?! 14. c4!) 14. a3 Qc7 15. hxg6 fxg6 16. Rh4 Qf7 17. Rdh1 f5 18. Nf4 Bb3 19. Qd2 Re7 20. g4 Bxf4 21. Bxf4 fxg4 22. Rxg4 Be6 23. Rgh4 Bf5 24. Bd6 Rd7 25. Be5 (25. Bxf8!) 25... Re8 26. f4 c5 27. Kb1 c4 28. Bc2 Qe6 29. Ka1 b5 30. Bxf5 Qxf5 31. Qg2 Rf7 32. Rh5 Qe6 33. Rf1 Rd8 34. f5! Qd5 35. Qg4 Qc6 36. Rg1 Rfd7 37. Qh4 Qf3 38. fxg6 hxg6 39. Rh8+ Kf7 40. Qe1! 1-0 Nick DeFirmian-Steven M Odendahl/Philadelphia (USA) 1988.


10. Bf4

More in keeping with White's kingside attacking plan is to avoid exchanges by 10. Be3 Re8 11. O-O-O Nf8 12. Kb1 Be6 13. c4 Rc8 14. Nc3 a6?! 15. c5! Bc7 16. Be4 Bg4 17. f3 Bh5 18. d5! 1-0 Zbynek Hracek (2595)-Eduard Meduna (2441)/ Extraliga Vysehrad-Opava 2004 (37).


10... Bxf4 11. Nxf4 c5

As Hort notes, better was 11... Re8+ 12. Ne2 after which he planned to castle kingside. Now he can castle queenside with real attacking prospects.


12. O-O-O! Qa5

Pfleger did not like 12... cxd4 13. Bh7+! (13. cxd4 Nb6 14. Kb1 Qd6) 13... Kh8 14. Rxd4


13. Kb1 Nb6



14. d5!

The best way to create an imbalance in the position -- White gains a potentially strong passed pawn and, as William Hartston notes, the pawn's advance "has the effect of cutting the board in two by disrupting lines of communication" between the queenside and kingside.


14... Bd7 15. Bf5

Logically trying to exchange off a blockader of his passed d-pawn, but Black should probably exchange Bishops. Perhaps 15. c4 might have been better, securing the queenside and the passed pawn before seeking exchanges.


15... Bb5!?

Black is on the defensive against White's passed d-pawn but might hold the endgame after 15... Bxf5 16. Qxf5 Rae8 17. Rhe1 (17. Qg4 Qa4!) (17. d6 Re5) 17... Qb5 18. Rxe8 Rxe8 19. Qd3 c4 (19... Nc4?! 20. b3) 20. Qd2 (20. Qd4? Na4) 20... Rd8 -- though White should have better chances because he can now try to attack on the kingside.


16. Rhe1 Nc4

Threatening to win the Exchange by 17...Ba4 since 18.b3?? Na3+ would win the Queen.


17. Qc1 Qb6?!

Black is still in the game after the standard "blockade" move 17... Nd6! e.g.: 18. Bd3 Rae8 (18... Bxd3+?! 19. Rxd3 b5 20. Nh5) and White might even fall into a trap by 19. c4? Rxe1 20. Rxe1 Nxc4! 21. Bxc4 Bxc4.


18. Ka1 Nd6 19. Bb1!

Planning Qc2 threatening mate and beginning a strong attack on Black's King.


19... Rfe8 20. Nh5! Rxe1

Black exchanges material to lessen White's attacking chances, but the passed d-pawn becomes an even stronger force in the ending.


Not 20... Be2?? 21. Qc2 Hort, or 20... Re5? 21. Nxf6+! gxf6 22. Qxh6 Pfleger.


21. Rxe1 Re8 22. Re3! Rxe3 23. Qxe3 Ne8

Letting up the blockade to defend against the threat of Qg3.


24. Ng3 Qc7

24... Nd6 25. Ne4 Nxe4 26. Qxe4.


25. c4! Bd7

As Pfleger notes, not 25... Bxc4?? 26. Qxe8# nor 25... Ba4? 26. Qa3 Bd7 27. Qxa7 .


26. Qe7 Ba4

In the video, Hort comments: "He wants to get rid of my queen but he's not careful. I see a very important diagonal for me now, c8 to h3. He cannot properly block my pawn. I have just to exchange queens so that his knight is not blockading. His two pieces will be very unco-operative...."



27. Qxc7! Nxc7 28. Bf5 b6 29. b3!

Hort notes that this is much more precise than 29. Bc8?! Ne8 30. b3 Nd6! and the blockade returns.


29... Be8


30. Bc8!

The threat of d6-d7 is unstoppable, so Black resigned. Hartston notes: "An elegant win for Hort... Whenever Black seemed to be solving some of his problems, the Czech grandmaster found more ideas to cause trouble until Pfleger's game collapsed."



[Michael Goeller]

download pgn

Game in PGN


Jack Peters, "Tartakower Variation." Caro-Kann Defense, by Raymond Keene, et. al. RHM Press (1980): 39-57.

Jeremy James and William Hartston, The Master Game: Book Two, British Broadcasting Corp. (1981): 74-77.

Read more about The Master Game at my blog.

Copyright © 2014 by Michael Goeller