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May 2, 2013

Best move is one that forces clear, easy win

— Alexander Alekhine is considered one the greatest chess players of all time. He was the World Chess Champion from 1927 to 1935 and again from 1937 until his death in 1946. He was born in Moscow 1902 and as an adult became a French citizen.

This week’s position is from Alekhine’s game against Efim Bogoljubow in 1922. Bogoljubow is white; Alekhine, black. Alekhine found the best practical move in this position. It forces simplification and an easy uncomplicated win with little risk of error or escape for his opponent. With this hint in mind, please try to find black’s best move.

Black’s queen and four pawns to white’s rook, knight and two pawns gives black a significant material advantage. Black can increase that advantage and capture white’s f4 pawn. Black may also make other moves that improve black’s position. Regardless of which of these moves black plays, the position remains complicated. Complications create increase the risk of error – e.g., falling prey to a knight fork. This may let white escape with a draw or a win.

The best move is one that forces a clear, easy win. Easy is the operative word, because it makes the possibility of error remote. This is what Alekhine saw and moved his queen to e2.

If white does not capture the queen, black soon mates white. Either black mates with the queen and pawn on g2 or black overruns white by advancing the f3 pawn to f2. Bogoljubow thus captured black’s queen with his rook, which was in turn taken by black’s f3 pawn.

The only way for white to stop black’s new e2 pawn from promoting is to move his king to f2. The king threatens black’s pawn, which captures white’s knight and promotes but is immediately gobbled up by black’s king.

The resulting endgame leaves both kings racing toward the front lines where the pawns are. After black’s king reaches e6, white’s queen reaches e4. Black then checks white with its d6 pawn by moving it to d5.

This check forces the white king to move away from f5. After the white king retreats, black’s king occupies f5, soon takes white’s f4 pawn, and easily promotes a pawn. This is why Bogoljubow resigned after the pawn check from d5. For example, play could proceed after the check as follows: 1.Kd4 Kf5; 2. Kxd5 Kxf4; 3. Kd4 f5; 4. Kd3 kg3 and the black king escorts the f4 pawn to f1.

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