Eliot Hearst and John Knott blog about blindfold chess
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Three by Alekhine, Two Excellent and One Perhaps His Worst

Almost all experts on the history and play of blindfold chess consider Alexander Alekhine the best simultaneous blindfold player ever. He was also the only world-record-holder, with respect to the number of games played simultaneously without sight of the board, to hold the world championship in regular chess (1927-1935, 1937-1946). Here we present three of his games from world-record-setting blindfold displays, 26 at once in 1924 in New York and 28 at once in Paris in 1925. The opposition in the New York exhibition was extremely strong, against individual players, but the opposition in Paris, against teams of players from French chess groups, was also tough. Alekhine expressed the opinion that his opponents in New York were generally stronger than in Paris, which the Parisians disputed. We agree with Alekhine, on the basis of the available games and the quality of his opponents in New York, which may have been strongest array of players ever to face a blindfold exhibitor. The stories of these displays may be found in our book, as well as all the games we could unearth from them.

Here we present three games, two gems from the New York display and another from the Paris exhibition, in which Alekhine probably made the worst blunder he ever made in a blindfold event. So no one is perfect! The games are from our book (Numbers 140, 142, and 155 in our games section). The annotations are ours and one source for each game is given at the game’s end.

GAME 140
A. Alekhine — M. Pinkus
New York, April 27, 1924 (26 opponents)
Sicilian Defense

1. e4 c5 We should point out that Milton Pinkus, not Albert S. Pinkus, was Alekhine’s opponent in this game. They were brothers and Albert was one of the U. S.’ s best players in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s. Albert (1903-1984) won his game from Alekhine in this 1924 blindfold display, one of only five losses he suffered against the very strong opposition. Unfortunately we could not locate the score of that game. Milton was a strong player who rarely participated in organized tournaments. 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Be2 g6 7. 0–0 Bg7 8. Be3 0–0 9. Nb3 Bd7 10. f4 Rc8 11. Bf3 Re8 12. Qd2 Alekhine stated that this move was “inexact” and that 12. Qe2 was to be preferred, the main reason being that Black can now reply with 12. ... Na5!. After 12. Qe2 this move would not have been any good because of 13. Bxa7. 12. ... Ng4? A mistake since it permits 14. f5 and the consequent weakening of Black’s kingside. 13. Bxg4 Bxg4 14. f5! Threatening to win the B on g4 by h3 followed by g4. 14. ... gxf5 15. Bh6 e6 16. Bxg7 Kxg7 17. h3 Bh5 18. exf5 exf5 19. Nd5! Alekhine considered this his best move in the game. Instead of playing 19. Rxf5 and regaining his sacrificed pawn, he chooses to keep the bishop “imprisoned” on the kingside and to make the square f4 more available for his own pieces. 19. ... Re2 20. Qf4 Bg6 After 20. ... Rxc2 21. Nd4 is very powerful, as is 21. Ne3. 21. Nd4 Nxd4 22. Qxd4+ We have found a problem with the game score from here until the 27th move. In his book On the Road to the World Championship 1923-1927 Alekhine gives the next few moves as 22. ... f6 23. c4 b6 24. b3 Qf8 25. Rad1 Rd8 26. Rfe1 Re5 but the New York chess editor Hermann Helms, as well as Skinner & Verhoeven (1998), give the game’s score as we continue below. The same position is reached by the 27th move in either case. We wonder whether it is possible that Alekhine recalled the game from memory and mixed up the order of moves, since he is believed to have annotated various games blindfolded, without an actual score or board in front of him. Oh, the habits of a blindfold champion! Since we do not know what was the cause of this discrepancy, we refrain from comments until the 27th move is reached. 22. ... Re5 23. c4 Qf8 24. b3 b6 25. Rad1 Rd8 26. Rfe1 f6 At this point we are back on track for the two variants of the game score. 27. Nf4 An ideal square for the knight and threatening Ne6+. 27. ... Qe7 28. Rf1 Re4 29. Qc3 Qe5 30. Qc1 Alekhine states that Black’s last few moves may seem “aggressive” but they have “achieved nothing” because he still possesses crippled pawns and an incarcerated bishop. 30. ... Kf7 31. h4 Playing 31. Rd5 just before this move would have been more efficient in ending the game quickly. 31. ... Qc5+ 32. Kh1 Bh5 33. Rd5 Qc8 34. Nh3 Preparing for the queen to travel to h6. 34. ... Bg6 35. h5 The alternative 35. Qh6 would have been met by the move 35. ... Kg8 36. h5? Rh4. 35. ... Bxh5 36. Rdxf5 Bg6 37. Rxf6+ Kg7 If instead 37. ... Kg8 then 38. Qh6 is overwhelming. 38. Qc3 Kg8 39. Qg3 Rg4 40. Qf2 Be4 41. Nf4 Qb7 Allowing a quick win but after 41. ... Qa8 42. Qe2 Rg5 43. Re6 would win anyway. However, Alekhine does not mention the alternatives 41. ... d5 or ... Re8, which may hold the game for Black.


42. Ne6! Now mate or loss of Black’s queen cannot be stopped. 42. ... Bxg2+ 43. Kh2 Black resigned here. A likely finish is 43. ... Kh8 44. Rf8+ Rxf8 45. Qxf8+ Rg8 46. Qxg8+ followed by mate. 1-0 [Skinner, L. M., & Verhoeven, R. G. P. (1998). Alexander Alekhine’s chess games, 1902-1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, p. 229]

GAME 142
A. Alekhine — A. Berman

New York, April 27, 1924 (26 opponents)
Vienna Game (Irregular)

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Bc5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Nxe5 Bxf2+ 5. Kxf2 Nxe5 6. d4 Ng6 7. Bc4 d6 8. Rf1 Be6 9. Bd3 Qf6+ 10. Kg1 Qxd4+ 11. Kh1 c6 12. Qe2 Nf6 13. Be3 Qe5 14. h3 h5 14. ... Nh5 would cause White more problems. 15. Bg1 Ke7 15. ... 0-0 was probably superior to posting the king in the center, especially against Alekhine! 16. Bh2 Qg5 17. Rad1 Ne5 18. Bf4 Qg6 19. Qe1 Really a nice move, allowing the knight to return to e2 and thence to f4 or d4 and also permitting White’s queen to enter on the queenside. 19. ... Ne8 20. Ne2 Perhaps Alekhine did not realize the strength of 20. Nd5+ cxd5 21. Bxe5 dxe5 22. exd5. 20. ... f6 21. Nd4 Rd8 22. Qb4 Rd7 23. Bxe5 fxe5 24. Nf5+ Bxf5 25. exf5 Qf6 26. Bc4 b5 27. Be6 Rb7 28. c4 c5 29. Qa5 Nc7


30. Rxd6! Na8 Of course if 30. ... Kxd6 31. Rd1+ Ke7 32. Rd7+ would give White an excellent game. Good also would have been 31. Qd2+ 31. Rfd1 Obviously White now has a winning position. 31. ... Nb6 32. Qxb5 Rc7 33. Rd7+ Nxd7 34. Rxd7+ Rxd7 35. Qxd7+ Kf8 36. Qc8+ Ke7 37. Qxc5+ Ke8 38. Qc6+ Kf8 39. Qc8+ Ke7 40. Qxh8 Alekhine had hesitated playing to win this rook because Black’s next move seems to give him excellent chances for a draw by perpetual check—with White’s queen so far from the main battleground. 40. ... Qg5 41. f6+ A flashy move but either 41. Qa8 or Bd5 are simpler and would allow White to escape perpetual check by enabling the queen or bishop to return to g2 after White eventually plays g3. 41. ... Qxf6 After 41. ... Kxe6 42. Qxg7 Qc1+ 43. Kh2 Qf4+ 44. Qg3 with a probably winning endgame. On 41. ... gxf6 42. Bd5 would be the appropriate answer. 42. Qxh5 Qf1+ 43. Kh2 Qf4+ 44. Kg1 Qc1+ 45. Kf2 Qxb2+ 46. Kg3 Qc3+ 47. Kh2 Kxe6 48. Qe8+ Kf6 49. Qf8+ Kg6 50. c5 e4 51. Qe8+ Kf5 The moves ... Kf6 or Kh6 would keep the game a better fight. 52. Qf7+ Kg5 53. h4+ Kg4? If Black played 53. ... Kh6 54. Qf4+ Kh7 55. Qxe4+ followed by c6 would win soon. 54. Qg6+ Finally White has a forced win. 54. ... Kf4 55. Qg5# Black fought hard, but… 1–0 [Skinner, L. M., & Verhoeven, R. G. P. (1998). Alexander Alekhine’s chess games, 1902-1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, p.229]

GAME 155
A. Alekhine — Ecole Polytechnique Paris
Paris, February 1, 1925 (28 opponents)
Queen’s Pawn Game

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 e6 4. Nc3 c5 5. dxc5 Bxc5 6. a3 0–0 7. b4 Be7 8. Bb2 a6 9. h3 Nc6 10. Be2 b5 11. 0–0 Bb7 12. Nb1 Not really a “retreat” but a way of placing the knight soon on a more effective square, b3. By opening the bishop’s diagonal, the move also helps stop Black from playing e5. 12. ... Rc8 13. Nbd2 Qd6 14. Nb3 Nd7 15. Nfd4 Nce5 16. Na5 Ba8 17. a4 Nc4 18. Nxc4 bxc4 19. b5 Rfe8 20. Bc3 e5 21. Nc6? Throwing away a pawn for nothing. At this point Alekhine must have falsely believed Black’s queen had never moved and still remained on d8. This becomes blatantly obvious in his choice of a 23rd move, but probably also influenced his selection of some previous moves. 21. ... Bxc6 22. bxc6 Rxc6


23. Qxd5?? Probably the biggest one-move blunder ever made in a world-record-setting blindfold display. As noted, Alekhine must simply have forgotten that Black had moved his queen to d6 on his 13th move. If Black’s queen were still at d8,White would have obtained the superior position by this capture. 23. ... Qxd5 Alekhine’s blunder is the kind you would expect to see in players who are just beginning to try blindfold chess and perhaps facing only one or two opponents at once, not 28! 0–1 [Skinner, L. M., & Verhoeven, R. G. P. (1998). Alexander Alekhine’s chess games, 1902-1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, p. 232]

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