Notes on a lecture by NM Scott Massey at the Kenilworth Chess Club
NM Scott Massey delivered his lecture on the famous Moscow 1925 tournament and the beginnings of Soviet Chess on October 6, 2005 at the Kenilworth Chess Club (see photo here). As always, his lecture was very well researched and demonstrated several fascinating games. Most of our attention was focused on the games of Ilyin Zhenevsky (or Genevsky) who figured very prominently in the history of Soviet Chess as one of the chief organizers of government funds for chess education, GM support, and tournaments. His games in the event, especially against Lasker and Capablanca, were also very interesting and quite suggestive of the ways in which Western players of the time may have influenced the developing Soviet School.
Scott's implicit thesis was that the Soviet School of Chess that developed before and after WWII got its most important principles from the best Western players of the time via the series of Moscow tournaments, beginning with Moscow 1925. Basically, the Soviet School of Chess was not fully a native creation but derived from the West. It's actually a rather convincing idea once you look closely at the games themselves. After all, it was Lasker, Capablanca, Torre, and Reti who most played like members of the Soviet School of Chess at the tournament! It took the Soviets themselves over a decade to catch up, and part of how they did so was by inviting the Western players to their tournaments.
As always, Scott used the opportunity to reflect on the history and society. Some of his discussion of the emergent Soviet chess system was inspired by Daniel Johnson's "Cold War Chess" (originally in Prospect). He also read a large number of other books, including the following:
Here are the chief games he either showed or referenced during
Ilyin A Zhenevsky - Emanuel Lasker [B80]
Moscow International Tournament/Moscow (8) 1925
Now however 3... d5?! allows White to gain open lines and a lead in development after 4. exd5 (4. d4!?)
4... exd5 5. Bb5+ Nc6 6.
At the cost of a tempo, Black can keep the position closed by 5... e5
Bogoljubow points out that this move guards the c4 square which often causes inconveniences for White in other variations, where Black sometimes posts his Knight at that square. The move also supports a later advance with Pc4 to help control the d5 square. 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4
11... >= Rfd8!=
White threatened to use tactical means to achieve positional ends by Nxc6 and Nd5, because of the double attack on the Queen and the Bishop at e7 with check. For example, 12... h6? 13. Nxc6 Bxc6 14. Nd5 Qd8 (14... Qxd2? 15. Nxe7++-) 15. Nxe7+ Qxe7 16. Rfe1 Rfd8 17. c4 and White has the two Bishops, a powerful bind on the position, and chances to attack the weakened pawn at d6.
Clearing the way for the c4 advance and offering a trade of Queens that can only benefit White, especially since it would aid him in doubling Rooks on the d-file. White has also accurately calculated that Black cannot safely grab the pawn at a2... Perhaps instead 13. Ncb5 or 13. a3
...or can he? Bogoljubow writes: "A stange combination by Lasker. But Black gets a very solid position after the resulting Queen sacrifice." Based on the result of the game, it does not seem right for Bogoljubow to give this move a dubious "?!" mark, especially since alternatives are no more clear. Lasker's willingness to accept an imbalance of material in this game is very much like the type of materially imbalances explored by the Soviet School of chess--in particular, the so-called "Soviet Exchange Sacrifice."
a) 13... Qh5?! 14. Nf4 Qh6 15. Nb5 e5 16. Ne2 Qh5 (16... Qxd2 17. Rxd2 Nb4 18. c4 Bxb5 19. cxb5 Nxa2 20. Ra1 Nb4 21. Rxa7) 17. c4 a6 18. Nbc3 Ng4 (18... Bh3!? 19. f3) 19. h3 Nf6 20. g4 Bxg4!? 21. Ng3! Bxd1 22. Nxh5 Bxh5 23. Nd5 Nxd5 24. exd5 Nb8 25. f4! Stoyko 25... Nd7 26. fxe5 Nxe5 (26... dxe5 27. d6) 27. Bxe5 dxe5 28. d6!! Rfd8 29. c5 Rxc5 30. dxe7
c) According to Steve Stoyko, modern thought suggests that Black can survive a hedgehog formationwith 13... Qxd2! 14. Rxd2 a6 (14... d5?! now or never 15. exd5 Nxd5 16. c4 Nb6 17. Rfd1 ) 15. c4 Rfd8 etc.
"I don't like this" says Stoyko.
Boboljubow writes that "White proceeds too much by force and disregards his own King's safety. Correct was 18. Nxc6 " perhaps with the idea of building a Queenside initiative by 18... Bxc6 (18... bxc6 19. Ra1 ) (18... Rxc6 19. Ra1 a6 20. Qb4 ) 19. Nd4 Bd7 20. Qa5
Stoyko suggests that this is an old fashioned and overly static way of playing the position, especially considering that Black had opportunities for ...b5 or ... d5 breaks.
Bogoljubow writes, "Lasker now won the Exchange and conducted the endgame simply and energetically to victory." When the Knight retreats, Black will fork Queen and Rook by Nc2.
to protect the g-pawn and the back rank, but it's all over:
Bogoljubow concludes that this is a game that shows Lasker the tactician in the best light. The Queen sacrifice in this gam was very creative. Lasker's fighting spirit, his desire to create unbalanced positions, and his desire to create difficult and unusual problems for his opponent would become hallmarks of the Soviet style.
Jose Raoul Capablanca - Ilyin A Zhenevsky [B25]
Moscow International Tournament/Moscow (7) 1925
This game is fascinating and has attracted many commentaries over the years, especially by the Soviets. You wold hardly know that it is Capablanca conducting the White pieces, since we more typically see him playing in classical and technical style, exchanging into positionally advantageous endgames rather than developing sacriicial attacks on the King. This game was very influential on the Soviet School of chess precisely because it showed a different side of Capablanca. And Zhenesky's counter-punching play in this game was also widely celebrated. The game became a model for the "defense by counter-attack" play typical of the Soviet School.
"Black wants to control the d4 square for as long as possible" writes Bogoljubow.
Another sign of the weak opening preparation by the early Soviet players. This pawn advance wastes time. "More energetic is 8... Rb8 " writes Bogoljubow, since the Rook thus is removed from the long diagonal and is prepared to suppot the pawn's further advance up the field.
"In order to avoid the exchange of Bishops by Bh6."
the Rook is misplaced here.
"White plays all out to attack on the Kingside, while Black plays equally to attack the Queenside." Who will break through first?
"White is slightly ahead in his attack, and his target is more important" said Massey pointing to Black's King.
As the notes suggest, this move is not as bad as most claim. Bogoljubow writes that "this loses at least two tempi in developing the attack, but it is difficult to suggest how the front line is to be supplied." If 19. h4 with the idea Bh3 then 19... Nde5! Fritz suggests 19. Qf2! e5 (19... e6!? 20. Nxe6 fxe6 21. f7+ Kh8 22. fxe8=Q Rxe8~~) (19... exf6?! 20. Nd5->) 20. Nd5 Nb6 21. Bd2 bxc3 22. bxc3 Rb8 23. N1e3 and suddenly White's pieces are working well together. Another improvement might be 19. fxe7 Nxe7 20. Nf2 (or 20. h4)
"White must begin to move the Rook!" writes Bogoljubow. But the Rook plays an impotant defensive role, holding the line against Black's counter-attack.
Though this is still not bad, there were three other moves to consider, two likely winning:
a) Bogoljubow writes: "Capablanca indicates that better was 25. Bh3?! but if Black answers simply 25... Rdb8! it is difficult to see how White develops his attack or averts catastrophe on the Queenside."
b) White appears to have a winning resource here, which I found with the aid of Fritz: 25. Qe1! Ng4! (25... Rdb8? 26. Qh4! Rb1 27. Rxb1 Rxb1 28. Kf2!!+-) 26. Rf3! (also possible is 26. Qh4!? Nce5 27. Re1 followed by Nf2 as described below) 26... Rdb8 27. Rc1!! The critical move--creating a line of defense at c1 that prevents Black's Queenside attack from penetrating to the Kingside.(27. Rh3 Rb1 28. Rxb1 (28. Qh4 Nh6 29. Rxb1 Rxb1 30. gxh6 Rxd1+ 31. Kh2 Kh7 ) 28... Rxb1 29. Bf1!? Qxa2 30. Be2 Nce5 31. Qh4 Nh6 32. gxh6 Ba4! ) 27... Rb1 (27... Qa4 28. Rh3 Rb1 29. Qh4 Nh6 30. Nf2) 28. Rh3 Qa3 29. Qh4 Nh6 30. Ne2!!+- Qxa2 31. gxh6! White has eno ugh time to let the defensive line collapse, though he could instead hold fast with(31. Bf1!? Rxc1 32. Bxc1 Rb1 33. Nf2!+-) 31... Qxe2 32. h7+ Kh8 33. Bh6+- and the deadly threat of Bg7+ forces Black to suffer large material losses. White might try here
Likely time pressure, since the control was 30 moves in 2 hours. "Out of despair, White tries to get a Tower to the h-file before he is finished" writes Bogoljubow.
a) 27. Re1! with the idea of Nf2 still holds out hope for the attack. 27... Rdb8 28. Nf2 Nxe3? (28... Nxf2 29. Kxf2+-) (28... Nxf6 29. gxf6 Qxc3 30. N4h3! (30. Rac1) ) 29. Rxe3+- Rb1+ (29... Qxc3) 30. Rxb1 Rxb1+ 31. Kh2+-
b) Best may be 27. Bf3!! first discovered by Baskov and reported in an article in 64 (1930). 27... Nxe3 (27... Rdb8 28. Bxg4 Rb1 29. Rxb1 Rxb1 30. Be2 Qxa2) 28. Nxe3 Rb2 29. Ne2 Nxd3!! (29... Bb5 30. Kg2 Nxf3 31. Kxf3 Bxd3 32. Ng3 Qb5 33. c4 Bxc4 34. Nxc4 Qxc4 35. Rh1 Qd3+ 36. Kg4+-) 30. Rf2 (30. Kg2 Nf4+ 31. Kg3) 30... Nxf2 31. Kxf2+-
c) 27. Bd2! Stoyko 27... Rdb8 28. Bh3 (28. Bf3 Rb1) 28... Rb2 29. Nxb2 Rxb2 30. Nxe6!! (Khalifman gives 30. Bc1 Nh2 31. Bg2 Rxg2+ 32. Kxg2 Nxf1 33. Kxf1 Qxc3 34. Rb1 Nxd3) 30... fxe6 31. Rad1 Qxa2 32. Bxg4 Rxd2 (32... Nxg4 33. Qxg4) (32... Bf7 33. Rf2 Nxg4 34. Qxg4 Rb1 35. Rh2 Qa1 36. Rxb1 Qxb1+ 37. Kf2 Qxd3 38. Be1) 33. Bxe6+
"Eliminates the last hinderance to the afformentioned plan."
Made at the time control. There was once a debate over whether 30. Kh2 might still win, but it likely does not: 30... Rb2! (30... dxe5? 31. Nxg6 (31. Rf3 Qxe4 32. Rh3) 31... fxg6 32. Rf3 Qxf3 33. Bxf3 Rd7 34. Kg3) 31. Rae1 Qc3 32. Kh1 (32. Rc1 Qxe5 33. Rf3 Rxg2+ 34. Kxg2 Qb2+) (32. Rf3 Qxf3) 32... dxe5
Prepared to surrender the Queen, a la Lasker!
"The Queen sacrifice destroys the last mate hope; now Capablanca must believe in the overwhelming power of the Black position!"
"Black's doubled Rooks are an awesome power which cannot be fought off." Better 36. e5 Bb4!! Why exchange one of your Rooks? (36... Rd3 37. Qe4 Rf2 (37... Bc5? 38. Qxc4) 38. Qa8) (36... Rh2+ 37. Kg1 Rxa2 38. Rxa2 Rxa2) (36... Rxa2 "because you win the a-pawn and it has a clear field with the support of the Bishops" 37. Rxa2 Rxa2 38. Qd4 Bb5 39. Be4) 37. Qb6 Bc3 and Black gets a mating attack.
"A sensational game of the first rank! Zhenevsky excellently conducted the defense as well as the counter-attack. He fully earned the point over Gandmaster Capablanca." There is no question that Capablanca missed a win, but Zhenevsky's counter-attack was very nicely played and typical of the Soviet School.
Jose Raoul Capablanca - Mikhail Botvinnik [D51]
Simultaneous Exhibition/Leningrad 1925
This game was played on the rest day at the half-way point of the Moscow 1925. Capablanca had taken the train to Leningrad the night before to play a simultaneous exhibition against the next generation of Soviet players. He lost 4 and won few with a number of draws, suggesting that the younger generation was rising in strength. One of the four winning players in the simul was a future Soviet and World Champion: the young Mikhail Botvinnik.
An interesting transposition to Nimzo-Indian positions.
Aggressive play by the future champ, but it does leave Black with an isolated pawn, which has both strengths and weaknesses.
This is very dangerous with so many lines opening on the Queenside.
Relatively best might be 10. Rc1!
Black is left with an additional pawn and the better position. The rest is a matter of technique as they say, yet it is impressive how much Botvinnik already had at age 14!
Carlos Torre - Solomon Gotthilf [D43]
Moscow International Tournament/Moscow (10) 1925
Torre biographer Velasco writes, "This premature development of the Black queen Bishop was a common mistake in this line at the time. Correct is either 4... dxc4 or 4... e6 ." Obviously the Soviets suffered from a lack of opening preparation in this tournament. Yet deep opening preparation would soon become one of the hallmarks of the Soviet School. Yet it was Torre who was the better prepared, having demonstrated this refutation of 4...Bf5? in Torre-Opocensky Marienbad 1925.
Capablanca recommended 6... Bc8!
9... Nc6 A game played during the period of Soviet chess domination continued instead: 10. Bd2 Qxb3 (10... Nb4 11. Rc1 ) 11. axb3 Bc2 12. Bc3 b5 13. e3 Rb8 14. Ra6 Nb4 15. Rxa7 Bxb3 16. Ne5 Nc2+ 17. Kd2 b4 18. Nd7 (18. Bd3!?) 18... bxc3+ 19. Kxc3 Rb4 20. Nxf8 Kxf8 21. Bd3 1-0 Korchnoi-Ruderfer, Riga 1975. As Velasco points out, "Clearly, the great Victor Korchnoi had studie the games of Carlos Torre!" Indeed, the Korhnoi game is the mirror image of the present one, with a Soviet player demonstrating the vast superiority of his opening preparation over the Western player.
Black wants to recover his pawn, but in the process he risks losing the Bishop.
Black cannot rescue the Bishop without making major concessions:
Holding d3--there will be no escape!
To exploit the resulting pin on the c3-Bishop, but White remains well ahead in material.
The ending is absolutely hopeless for Black. Torre said of this game that it was "the most classical one I have played so far. Basically it is a very simple game, but its beauty lies in its harmony. At the beginning White had a very simple plan: to take advantage of Black's dubious 4th move with the Bishop. The rest of the game is a natural unfolding of this idea." Such strategic coherence would also become a hallmark of the Soviet style once they had advanced enough in basic tactics and opening theory.
Efim Bogoljubov - Solomon Gotthilf [D12]
Moscow International Tournament/Moscow (18) 1925
Bogoljubow won this tournament, but he proved himself no Soviet when he immediately moved to Germany where he wrote the tournament book. There is a letter exchange between him and the Soviets where he explains that he simply cannot live under Soviet conditions, which were never up to European standards. Many players, esecially Jews, left the Soviet Union during this time and that is likely why it took them so long to become as formidable and organized as they had become a decade later in the next major Moscow event.
Not good, as especially well illustrated in the Torre - Gotthilf game.
7... >= Nfd7!
and White must win material since if the attacked Rook at g6 moves the Knight falls to f4.
Ilyin A Zhenevsky - Richard Reti [B05]
Moscow International Tournament/Moscow (17) 1925
The Alekhine Defense is a hypermodern line that was developed during this time by European players and picked up first in the West, even by the classical throwback Frank Marshall. Though the Soviets would become known for their own great opening experiments and analyses, it was the Western players who introduced the most experimental lines at the Moscow 1925 tournament. Could they have been the Soviets' inspiration?
Surrendering the center prematurely. The Soviet is obviously flustered by Reti's opening. 6. c4
The game started out hypermodern but turns rapidly classical. This position could have arisen from the Scandinavian.
"Black plays the whole game with great vigor." This is a standard classical tactic in these positions.
Are we sure that this is he hypermodern master Richard Reti playing the Black pieces?
The conclusion might be 24.bxc6 Nxf2+ 25.Qg4 Rxg4#
Games in PGN