Short Losses by World Champions, Part 2

By Matthew Grinberg, Founder of Alamogordo Chess Club

This week we embarrass the next three World Chess Champions Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe, and Mikhail Botvinnik.

Alekhine, Alexander – Tachtarov, 0:1, 1907

Ponziani’s Opening

At the time of this game, Alekhine was an unknown 15 year old.  If it were not for the two games he played against Alekhine in this tournament (they split) Tachtarov would be totally unknown.

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3!? The Ponziani is a little dubious since it takes away the queen knight’s natural developing square.

3… Bc5!? Setting himself up for White’s next move.

[Since White’s last move undermined the defense of his e-pawn, it is best to immediately attack it. 3… d5 4. Qa4 f6 5. d3 Nge7  -0.03|d17 Rybka4]

  1. Nxe5 Bxf2

[Or 4… Nxe5 5. d4  +0.38|d17 Rybka4]

  1. Kxf2 Nxe5 6. d4 Qh4 7. g3?! Creating an unnecessary weakness.

[Instead after 7. Kg1 Nc6 8. e5 d6 9. exd6 cxd6  +0.58|d18 Rybka4 White’s superior pawn structure and bishop pair give him the better position in spite of losing his castling privilege.]

7… Qxe4 8. Bh3?? Should the bishop be developed?  Yes, but it needs to stop the knight from going to d3 as well.

[8. Be2 Black appears to have nothing better than a perpetual check.  If he tries for more, White’s pieces will quickly come to life, while his own are bottled up. 8… Qf5 9. Kg2 Qe4 10. Kf2  +0.00 Rybka4]

8… Nd3 9. Kg1 Nxc1? Missing his chance to put the game away immediately.

[9… Qxh1! 10. Kxh1 Nf2 Ouch! 11. Kg2 Nxd1 12. Bg4 Nxb2 13. Bxb2  -3.25 Rybka4]

  1. Qxc1 Nf6 11. Kf2 O-O 12. Re1 Qd5 13. Re5 Qc6 14. Qf4? Overlooking Black’s next move.

[It’s still “a game” after 14. Kg1 d5 15. Bg2 Bd7 16. Qd2 Rae8  -1.19|d15]

14… d6! There is no good answer to the double threat of Bxh3 and dxe5.

  1. Rf5 Bxf5 16. Bxf5 Rae8 17. Nd2 Re7 18. Qh4 Rfe8 19. Bd3 Qd7 20. d5 Re5 Again Alekhine faces a double threat, Rxd5 or Rh5 followed by Rxh2+. This time he resigns. [0:1]

Wiersma, E. – Euwe, Max, 1:0, 1920

Queen’s Gambit

Euwe was an up and coming 19 year old when he lost this game.  The game was from an eight game match against a relatively unknown player, Wiersma.  Wiersma had his fun this game.  Euwe won the other seven games.

  1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 c5 3. c4 e6 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 e5 6. Nf3!? Okay, but…

[slightly better is  6. Ndb5 as played later in the same match. 6… a6 7. Qa4 Bd7 8. cxd5 Nc6 9. dxc6 Bxc6 10. Qb3 axb5 11. e4  +0.22|d16 Rybka4]

6… d4 7. Nd5 Nf6 8. Bg5 Be6 9. e4 So, he wants to secure the position of his knight on d5.  We’ll see about that!

9… dxe3?? Yes, this does undermine the position of the knight, but unfortunately for Euwe, Wiersma has no intention of keeping it there.  Euwe resigned rather than face the embarrassment of White’s next move.

[The position would have been equal after 9… Nbd7 10. Bd3 Bd6 11. O-O O-O  +0.00|d16 Rybka4]


[Instead, after 10. Nxf6! Black has to lose his rook on h8, or his queen, or be checkmated. 10… gxf6 (10… Ke7 11. Ng8 Ke8 12. Qxd8#; 10… Qxf6 11. fxe3! Black can’t move his queen! 11… Nc6 12. Bxf6 gxf6  +6.71|d15 Rybka4) 11. Qxd8 Kxd8 12. Bxf6 Be7 13. Bxh8  +5.03|d16 Rybka4]


Izmailov, P. – Botvinnik, Mikhail, 1:0, 1929

Queen’s Gambit, Cambridge Springs Variation

Botvinnik at the age of 18 is playing in his second USSR Chess Championship.  His opponent, P. Izmailov, was never heard from before or since.  Botvinnik also lost a 19 mover to Ilya Kan in the same tournament.  It just wasn’t his tournament.

  1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 d5 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. Nc3 c6 6. e3 Qa5 By transposition we reach the Cambridge Springs Variation, named after the great tournament held in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania in 1904.
  2. Qc2 Bb4 8. Nd2 O-O 9. Be2 b6!? Dubious since it cuts off the retreat for the queen.

[9… dxc4 10. Bxf6 Nxf6 11. Nxc4 Qc7 12. O-O  +0.18|d15 Rybka4]

  1. O-O Bxc3 11. bxc3 Ba6 12. Bf4 This move is somewhat of a non-sequitur. The bishop was well placed where it was, attacking the knight. On f4 it is attacking nothing.  When your opponent plays such a move you have to ask yourself, “Why did he do it?”

12… Rac8? Clearly Botvinnik didn’t ask himself the question, else he wouldn’t have played this move.

[12… c5 13. a4 cxd4 14. cxd4 Rfc8 15. Rfc1  +0.41|d15 Rybka4]

  1. Bd6! Due to the threat of 14. Bb4, winning the queen, Black can’t save the rook. 13… c5 14. Bxf8 Nxf8 Botvinnik decides to throw in the towel. […] [1:0]

Would I consider this position to be resignable?  No.  Would Botvinnik play on if he had to do over again?  Probably.  But I know the feeling.  When you make a ridiculous blunder like that early in the game, you just feel like you want to get the heck out of there.

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