This article was produced for Dorset Chess in 1982 and it was reproduced in the ‘CHESS’ magazine in April 1986.
Many of the findings and analyses remain just as relevant today as they were almost 40 years ago and quite interestingly, Alexander Alekhine, the World Champion when this game was played almost 80 years ago, appeared to be ahead of his time as many of the moves played by him matched those chosen by today’s strong chess engines!
Have you ever thought about how players of different styles and strength decide on which move should be played in a given situation? This article may help by using a position from a high class international game and asking local players to provide their comments.
Before reading on, I would suggest that you study the position below for about 10 minutes, jot down your findings and then compare your thoughts and conclusions with those from the 1982 panel of 5 Dorset players of varying strengths who spent 10 minutes speaking their thoughts into a tape recorder (yes, it really was a tape recorder almost 40 years ago!). This article has been also been updated to now include a 2021 panel of 4 more Dorset players.
Martin Simons 06/03/21
White to move
1982 Panel plus their BCF (British Chess Federation) Grades
Steve Shutler 201
Miles Cowling 196
Russ Pegg 169
Ben Hirsch 160
Bill Shutler 135
2021 Panel plus their ECF (English Chess Federation) Grades
Peter Anderson 180
Alan Dommett 175 (est)
Jack Baskett 120 (est)
Andy Baskett 68
The Panels’ Conclusions
Steve Shutler – 201
After a few general comments about the position, Steve quickly became concerned with Black’s threat of Rd8 (or 0-0-0) and looked for a developing move which defended his d-pawn, hence 1.Be3. He later considered sacrificing the b-pawn with the resultant ‘tremendous position’ for White, and only then looked at other moves because he had a few minutes left on his 10 minute clock. He felt 1.d5 was too ambitious and 1.Ne5 left White with a bad ending. 1.Re1 was an enterprising idea which looks to open the e-file but thought 1…Nge7 comfortably defends.
Miles Cowling – 196
Miles began by stating White had a very good game but as time went on he changed his judgement to ‘unclear’ as every line for White seemed to have an antidote for Black. After running over the foundations of the position he felt that White had to play actively to exploit Black’s poor king position and lack of development. Miles then concentrated on 1.Re1 to prepare d5 or perhaps play 1.d5 immediately. However, his analysis suggested that these lines were faulty and he began to search for alternatives. After 10 minutes thinking he had not come to any firm conclusion.
Similar to Steve, Miles was not worried about losing a pawn after 1…Bxc3 then 2…Qxc3 but was worried about losing his d-pawn after 1…Rd8 (or 1…0-0-0). Hurriedly at the end, Miles settled for 1.Ne4 with the threat of 2.a3 hitting the bishop. As a caveat, Miles said he would have preferred to have spent longer analysing the position.
Peter Anderson – 180
Peter’s analysis was a little more in depth than any of the others on the panel. He also considered more options! He started by stating he would spend 20 minutes on the position, not the 10 minutes allocated, to try and make something work for White. Similar to Miles, Peter undertook an initial assessment and ran over the foundations of the position. Due to the potential pressure on White’s isolated d-pawn he felt Black could stand better unless White can strike quickly to take advantage of the lead in development. Peter’s ‘gut feeling’ main candidate move therefore became d5 to exploit this but sensed this is likely to lead to a simplification and a quick draw. He then considered h3, Bd2 and a3 but after analysing the position in more depth there was no firm favourite. Peter completed his analysis by stating that it all depends ‘if I was up for a scrap’!
Alan Dommett – 175 (est)
Alan quickly assessed that White has all the chances and options. He wanted to immediately force the issue with 1.d5 but soon became concerned with 1…0-0-0 in response. He believed White has to act proactively to maintain the initiative and improve the position so dismissed Bd2 and a3 as these seemed too slow. In the end Alan went for 1.Ne5 suggesting that White stood better after 1…Bxe2 2.Qxe2 Nxd4 3.Qe4. In fact he was not sure how Black could defend.
Russ Pegg – 169
Russell’s analysis was a lot like Alan’s but he wasn’t convinced that White was noticeably better. He too felt that White had to play actively and initially settled for 1.d5 but then preferred 1.Ne5 after a little more thought. He dismissed other moves and went back to 1.d5 as he wanted this to work although he rejected this move after some more analysis. This left 1.Ne5 which he analysed for the majority of his time. In conclusion he said ‘For a 169 patzer the position is unclear but roughly equal. I would play 1.Ne5’.
Ben Hirsch – 160
Surprisingly, Ben was the only one to believe at the start that White is definitely worse due to the isolated d-pawn and Black’s active piece play. He then immediately started considering ways to defend his knight on c3 but did not like 1.Bd2 or 1.Qd3 as he felt unable to support these moves with detailed analysis. He also thought of trapping the Black queen after it captures on c3 although he found no concrete way of achieving this. He considered 1.Ne5 too complex after spending 5 minutes analysing it, and, as a result, was reduced to paying scant attention to the alternatives. He finally settled for 1.Ne4 but believed that Black had the advantage after 1…0-0-0 owing to the subsequent pressure on White’s d-pawn.
Bill Shutler – 135
Bill began by saying he would be happy with White’s position, but, with feelings similar to Ben, he did not wish to lose a pawn after Black captures twice on c3. The remainder of his time was spent on 1.Bd2 and even though he was not sure what to do after 1…Bxf3 2.Bxf3 Nxd4 3.Bxb7 Rb8 he said he would play it ‘just to see what would happen’. Bill then stopped the tape two minutes early and said he would play 1.Bd2. He then shot down the pub (opening time!). It’s a good job there was no Lockdown then!
Jack Baskett – 120 (est)
Jack was very quick and positive. He immediately saw the threat that Black has to win a pawn by taking twice on c3 so thought it was an easy decision for White to initially play 1.Bd2 with the idea of perhaps following up with a3 and/or then with h3 to either kick the two Black bishops away or exchange for the knights on f3 and c3.
Andy Baskett – 68
Andy explained that he had seen a couple of recent videos which suggest you should always look out for checks, captures and threats. He couldn’t see any checks or captures for White and then considered Black’s main threat to win a pawn by exchanging twice on c3. He looked at 1.Qa4 but after the exchange, thought the knight on a4 would not be well placed. He also looked at 1.Bb5 to block the Black queen’s route across to the kingside but returned to Black’s threat to win a pawn on c3 which he concluded should not be allowed to happen. His main candidate moves then became 1.Bd2 and 1.Qd3 and felt that the latter would be better as it gave White more attacking options.
Summary of Lines Considered
1.d5 exd5 – Steve, Miles, Alan and Russ all thought this was too soon and Black had some advantage with Russ even claiming that Black would be winning. Peter explored this line further. After 2.Qxd5 Bxc3 3.Qe4+ Be6 4.bxc3 Qxc3 and White has good compensation but after 4…Nf6 (or 4…Nge7) Peter was not too sure – ‘White has active play but pawn weaknesses.’ Peter also considered 2.Nxd5 but became increasingly concerned with 2…Rd8.
1.Ne5 Nxe5 – Miles considered the resultant position advantageous for Black, whilst Ben thought that after 2.Bxg4 Nxg4 3.Qxg4 Bxc3 4.bxc3 Qxc3 5.Qxg7 was winning for White. Russ also thought White stood better. After 1…Bxe2 they all agreed Black was doing fine. However, Alan thought after 2.Qxe2 Nxd4 3.Qe4 White was a lot better.
1.Bd2 Bxf3 – Bill thought this was unclear after 2.Bxf3 Nxd4 3.Bxb7 Rb8. Alan thought 1.Bd2 was too slow, Miles and Ben thought Black had the advantage. Peter felt the move was interesting but may not be any stronger than 1.a3. Jack liked this move and Andy thought it was not as strong as 1.Qd3.
1.Be3 Bxf3 – Miles assessed this as unclear, Steve assessed as better for White. However, Black does not need to capture on f3.
1.Qd3 This was Andy’s preferred move as it kept open many attacking options. Ben did not like the pressure Black can build up on White’s d-pawn.
1.Ne4 – Miles considered this as unclear, Steve and Ben thought Black had the better game.
1.Re1 Nge7 – Miles and Steve favoured Black but Ben was uncertain.
1.Bb5 Andy considered this move as it could be followed up with 2.Qa4 getting the queens off and reducing Black’s pressure on White’s centre but did not like Black winning a pawn by trading twice on c3.
1.a3 Bxc3 – Alan thought this was too slow. Both Miles and Ben thought Black had the better chances whilst Peter felt after 2.bxc3 Qxc3 3.Bd2 Qb2 4.Rb1 Qxa3 5.Rxb7 the position was interesting but he could see nothing concrete for White.
1.h3 Bh5 and now 2.d5 exd4 3.Nxd5 which Peter thought looked more attractive than 1.d5 as there is no Be6.
All other moves 1.Bf4, 1.Nd2, 1.Qc2, 1.Qd2, 1.Qa4 were considered but rejected as being good or winning for Black or unclear.
So it was interesting that 15 moves were considered by the panel, quite a selection!
Comment on Player’s styles
It was fascinating to see how each member of the panel set about analysing the position and perhaps surprising that they all came up with differing answers.
Steve found his move by general feel for the position, and only then backed this up by analysis. He made it quite clear that in a real game he would have only spent about 5 minutes on the move.
Miles on the other hand said he would have spent a lot longer than the 10 minutes. His moves were selected by a combination of analysis and positional awareness.
Peter was similar to Miles explaining that he felt this was a key moment in the game and would spend 20 minutes analysing the position. He examined its key features and after some deep analysis, concluded the move to be played would depend on if he was up for a battle with either 1.Bd2, 1.a3 or 1.h3 or if he wished to settle for the draw with 1.d5.
Alan assessed the core mechanics of the position and concluded that White had to play proactively to gain any advantage then concentrated his analysis and calculations around supporting this.
Russ seemed to look at a wide spectrum of moves and found his move by a process of elimination. He may have also spent a long time over the position.
Ben was very methodical making an initial assessment and then looking at ways to minimise Black’s advantage.
Bill was less concise in his thinking and more acceptive of Black’s advantage but he hoped that something might crop up later on.
Jack chose to look for a move he liked to avoid losing a pawn and therefore found his candidate move quickly. He did not consider other options.
Andy looked at the basics of the position and then focussed on defending against Black’s threats.
Perhaps, some of the main takeaways are:
- The higher graded players generally assessed the position first in terms of who might stand better before launching into any analysis.
- The higher graded players quickly came to the conclusion that White had to react quickly, seize the initiative and take advantage of Black’s lack of development and possible exposed king otherwise Black’s pressure on White’s centre may tell.
- The other players either did not form an overall assessment or concentrated on how to tackle Black’s threats rather than try to seize the initiative to take advantage of White’s lead in development.
What Happened Next in the Game
The test position is after Black’s 9th move in a game between the World Champion, Alexander Alekhine (White) and Jiri Podgorny (Black) in 1943 and it was reached after the following opening moves.
1.e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Be2 cxd4 7. cxd4 e6 8. Nc3 Bb4 9. O-O Qa5
It is certainly double edged and very complicated. White’s plan is to create attacking chances against Black’s king whereas Black counterplay lies in the weakness of White’s isolated d-pawn. The move played by Alekhine was brilliant in that it looks completely harmless.
For those of you who prefer to follow the action on an interactive board, you can do so by clicking here.
10.a3! was played by Alekhine. The exclamation mark is for a move that does not appear to be threatening anything or is it? It is one of the current array of chess engines’ preferred moves.
The other alternative key moves analysed by the panel can be briefly assessed as follows:
A) 10.d5 exd5 11.Qxd5 Nf6 (11…Bxc3 12.Qe4+ Be6 13.bxc3 and the two bishops on an open board means White has the better position) 12.Qxa5 Bxa5 is about equal in a simplified and symmetrical position as pointed out by Peter.
B) 10.Ne5 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Nxd4 12.Qe4 (Alan’s analysis) then 12…Rd8! (all other moves are inferior and give White the advantage) and Black is perhaps a little better although the position is messy.
C) 10.Bd2 Nf6! and Black is holding up d5. If instead 10…Bxf3? (Bill’s analysis) then 11.Bxf3 Nxd4 (now 11…Nf6 allows 12.d5!) then 12.a3 (that move again!) Nxf3+ 13.Qxf3 Be7 14.Qxb7 maybe winning.
D) 10.Be3 Nge7 and again Black is holding up d5 so sits comfortably.
E) 10.Qd3 Nf6 and once again there is no d5 threat so Black is comfortable.
F) 10.Ne4 Nge7 11.a3 Nf5 and Black can look forward to putting pressure on White’s d-pawn.
G) 10.Re1 Nf6 and there is no d5 threat.
H) 10.Bb5 Bxc3 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 12.bxc3 Ne7 looks about equal with an opposite coloured bishop middlegame.
I) 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Bxf3 Nge7 White has the 2 bishops but Black is holding up d5.
J) 10.Bf4 Nf6 and Black’s development is being finished without White seizing the initiative.
K) 10.Nd2? Bxe2 11.Nxe2 (11.Qxe2? Nxd4 wins a safe pawn) Nf6 and Black is comfortable whilst White’s pieces look a bit clumsily placed.
L) 10.Qc2?! Bxf3 11.Bxf3 Nxd4 12.Qd1 Nxf3+ 13.Qxf3 Ne7 14.Qxb7 0-0 when Black has the more active game.
M) 10.Qd2? just looks positionally ugly.
N) 10.Qa4? Bxc3 wins a piece.
The game continued …
10…Nf6? Today’s chess engines suggest that Black should play 10…Bxc3! 11.bxc3 and only now 11…Nf6 to prevent White’s next move and this should hold but not 11…Qxc3? 12.Bd2 Qb2 13.Rb1 Qxa3 14.d5! Bxf3 (Alternatively 14…exd5 15.Nd4 Nxd4 16.Bxg4 is no better as Black’s king is worryingly exposed in the centre with White’s bishop pair dominating on an open board) 15.dxc6 Bxc6 16.Bb4 Qa2 17.Qd6 and despite being 3 pawns down White is completely winning.
Back to the main game with 11.d5! White opens the centre before Black can castle.
11…exd5 12.axb4! Qxa1 13.Nd2 The point of White’s 10th move! Now Black’s queen is in danger of being trapped with Nb3.
13…Bxe2 14.Qxe2+ Ne7 (14…Kf8! appears to be a more testing response and this line shows just how extraordinary deep Alekhine must have analysed as I am sure he would have played 15.Nb3 Qa6 16.b5 Qb6 17.Na4 Nd4! This seems to be Black’s trump card but after 18.Qd1! Nf3+ 19.Qxf3 Qxb5 20.Nac5 b6 21.Bh6! the complications are wild but in White’s favour!).
Back to the main game with 15.Re1 0-0 It seems this saves Black but 16.Nb3 (not 16.Qxe7? Rfe8 wins for Black!) Qa6 17.Qxa6 bxa6 18.Rxe7
The endgame has been reached with a big advantage for White. White’s minor pieces are far stronger than Black’s rook and pawn. Alekhine converted with his normal meticulous precision. For the remainder of the game please refer to the interactive board.
Alexander Alekhine (1892 to 1946)
Per Wikipedia, Alekhine was well known for his fierce and imaginative attacking style, combined with great positional and endgame skill. He was one of the greatest attacking players and could apparently produce combinations at will. What set him apart from most other attacking players was his ability to see the potential for an attack and prepare for it in positions where others saw nothing. By the age of 22, Alekhine was already among the strongest chess players in the world. During the 1920s, he won most of the tournaments in which he played. He became the 4th Official World Chess Champion in 1927 and except for a two year period between 1935 and 1937, he remained World Champion until his much talked about death in 1946.
To expect our local chess panel to analyse as deeply as Alekhine is a somewhat unfair and unrealistic ask but it does show how World Champions have the mental capacity to analyse variations at a much greater depth and very quickly too! Our panel found their moves according to their playing styles and strengths. Some were a bit more cautious, others less so, some provided a little bit of analysis, whilst others found their move on a general intuitive gut feel.
We all wonder how Alekhine found his moves?