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Thursday, April 5, 2012


Many players consider the following game one of the best ever played even though Nezhmetdinov’s combination may have been unsound.  I recommend that rather than playing over it on a computer you print out the game and play over it with an actual chess set so that you can better appreciate it. GM Andrew Soltis, in his book The 100 Best Chess Games Of The 20th Century Ranked, Soltis ranks it Number 2 and Salo Flohr considered it to be one of the finest games ever played in over-the-board competition.

You can try playing over and analyzing it with an engine, but it remains so complicated that to find the truth is likely to take more time than you have, so I recommend just playing over it for enjoyment.

Spending too much time studying this game could cause your head to explode!

Lev Polugaeyevsky - Rashid Nezhmetdinov
Russian Federation Championship
Sochi, 1958

1.d4 Nf6
2.c4 d6
This opening is the Old Indian
3.Nc3 e5
Nezhmetdinov played this defense quite often despit the fact that he has to be ready for an early exchange of Q’s.
4.e4 ….
Nezhmetdinov preferred 4.Nf3 and the book line is 4…Nbd7.  Also very interesting is 4...e4.
This loses a tempo but it’s forced because if 5.Nb5 c5 gives Black a slight advantage.
Of this move Soltis wrote, "This begins an ambitious plan of development for White. Black has given up center control in exchange for a slight initiative - but if White solves
all of his opening problems, his space edge will begin to count."  In several of his games, Polugayevsky successfully played this idea coupled with a fianchetto of his QB.
7.b3 White’s plan is dominate the dark squares.
8.Bb2 0-0
Black is slightly ahead in development but his position is somewhat cramped.
"White has not decided where to castle yet." - Soltis
With this move Black begins probing the White position in the hopes of inducing a weakness. 
According to John Emms, "White's two pawns in the middle (e4, & c4) create a strong bind in the center, and typical moves from Black will allow White to catch up in development and gain a comfortable advantage. Black must seek activity as soon as possible, and the move, 9... Ng4; is the perfect way to do this. Now Black has ideas of ...Qh4 and Nge5 and the pawn break...f5

9...Nb4 10.Bb1 c6 11.Nge2 d5 12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Nxd5 Nbxd5 14.exd5 Qxd5 15.Qxd5 Nxd5 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Be4 was tried in Roussel-Bologan, Edmonton 2005

9...Ne5 10.Bc2 a5 11.Nge2 a4 12.Rd1 axb3 13.axb3 Nfg4 14.Nd4 Qh4 15.h3 f5 as in Bobula- Muzychuk,Wroclaw

In Alatortsev-Boleslavsky, 18th USSR Championship, 1950, White played 10.Nf3 and after 10…Nge5 11.Be2 Nxf3+ 12.Bxf3 Nd4 13.Bd1 f5 Black had the initiative.  This amazing game continued: 13.Bd1 f5 14.exf5 Bxf5 15.Ne2 15...Nxe2 16.Bxe2 Bxb2 17.Qxb2 Qg5 18.g3 Rae8 19.0-0 Bh3 20.f4 Bxf1 An amazing sacrifice in a seemingly tranquil position based on White's weaknesses of his light squares. 21.fxg5 Rxe2 22.Qc3 Bg2 23.Qd3 Bf3 24.Rf1 Rg2+ 25.Kh1 Bc6 26.Rxf8+ Kxf8 27.Qf1+ Rf2 White resigned

Of this move Nezhmetdinov wrote, “Despite the usual conceptions of opening strategy, proceeding from the concrete peculiarities of the position, Black makes an early move with the Q without completing the development of his pieces, thus making White determine the position immediately.  Now the game enters a period of violent tactical complications”
Several other authors have given this move an exclamation point. Soltis didn’t.  In fact, he didn’t even comment on it.  Certainly this move is the sharpest and there is significant risk for both side.

Houdini likes 10...Nce5 as played in Reilly-McNab, London 1993  which was eventually drawn.  After 10…Nce5 Houdini thinks Black has about half a  Pawn advantage which would mean he has seized the initiative.  Interestingly Houdini initially considered 10…Qh4 but rejected it after a few seconds thought although it’s evaluation only dropped by about a quarter of a P.

This move is too risky. More siolid is 11.g3.  After 11.Ng3 the N has made two moves to get to a square from which it will probably have to move again. In fact Geller also preferred 11.g3.

Nezhmetdinov rejected 11…Nce5 because of 12.Bc2 Bh6 13.f4 because after White castles long he has good prospects. Actually 11…Nce5 isn’t that bad. 
Not 11...f5 because of 12. f4! and if 12...Nxh2 13. Nce2 and 0-0-0." - Soltis.

Some annotators have called this castling into it adding that White may not have much choice at this point. However 12.Be2 leaves him with a solid position.  Soltis claimed 12.Be2 Bh6 13.Qd1 f5 leaves White with a poor game, but that claim may be a bit of a stretch.

“In this position few would refuse the ‘easily winning” move 12…Ng4.  It appears that after 13.h3 Nf2 Black might win a Pawn in the unceasing attack…If you consider the position more deeply, you can understand that all is not as simple as it appears to be at first sight.  After 12…Ng4 13.h3 Nxf2 14.Qxf2 Bd4 White may suddenly sacrifice his Q for two minor pieces: 15.Qxd4!! Nxd4 16.Nd5!  Here the usual material considerations recede into the background and the concrete peculiarities of the position come to the foreground.  Despite Black’s solid material advantage, White’s position is in no way worse than that of Black and psychologically a sudden turn of events is only in White’s favor.” – Nezhmetdinov
Actually, Nezhmetdinov’s idea that White could sacrifice his Q is incorrect.  After 12...Ng4 13.h3 Nxf2 14.Qxf2 Bd4 15.Qxd4 Nxd4 16.Nd5 f5! 17.Bxd4 Qxg3 White really has no compensation for his Q and so Black is much better.

This move has been called the beginning of a deep plan of defense and given a “!’ by some while in his book Super Nezh, Damsky says, “White has to defend, but the move palyed was not the best.” and he recommends 13.exf5 and suggested by Houdini which rates the position after 13.exf5 at =0.05.  The move played weighs in at -0.60.

Nice! The dark-squared Bishop leaves the long diagonal for a possibly inconsequential line of attack. However on g7 the B was adequately opposed by White’s B on b2.  With 13…Bh6 he gains a tempo.
13…Nxd3 14.Qxd3 Bd4+ 15.Kh1 fxe4 16.Ngxe4 Be5 17.Qd5+ Kh8 18.f4 doesn’t lead anywhere for Black.

14.Qd1 f4
This seals the dark-squared Bishop out of the attack and may not be the best idea. If 14...Be315.Kh1 f4 Black has a nice attack.

15.Nge2 g5
16.Nd5 g4

This move looks very risky, but it is by far the best. After any safe move (say 16...Rf7) the game is fairly level.

Preventing the g4-g3 advance and gaining space for defense. "White is lost if he allows 17...g3; 18. h3, Bxh3; or an attack along the h-file after ...Kh8; & ...gxf3." - Soltis.

After 17.Nxc7 g3 18.h3 Bxh3 19.gxh3 Qxh3 Black is winning - John Emms
"Good enough to keep the initiative ... " - Emms.

18.hxg3 Qh3

White gains vital space on the K-Side for the defense of his King.
19... Be6
"An imaginative idea." - Emms.
“The amount of calculation required to play this move is massive.” - Life Master AJ Goldsby
“A witty resource.” – Damsky

If he plays 19…Nf3+ 20.Kf2 Qh2+ Ke3 and the White K has escaped Black’s clutches.

Soltis, Emms and Damsky award this move a question mark. The other possibilities of 20.Bxe5 and 20.Bb1 have been greatly analyzed with the latter move getting the nod as the best try.  Black would get a dangerous attack, but White is not without defensive resource. There has been a tremendous amount of analysis spent on what White should play here and the best evaluation is probably “unclear.”
Houdini 1.5 x64 gives the best line as 20.Bxe5 Nxe5 21.Kf2 Qh2+ 22.Ke3 Qh3 23.Nxc7 Rxf4 24.Rxf4 Bxf4+ 25.Nxf4 Qxg3+ 26.Kd4 Qxf4 27.Nxa8 Qf6 28.Ke3 Qh6+ 29.Kd4 Qf6 30.Ke3 which is in Black’s favor.
20. Nxc7 has been considered bad and given little attention by analysis who state that after 20...Rxf4 Black has a winning attack but it is not that clear. Houdini’s analysis runs:  20.Bxe5 Nxe5 21.Kf2 Qh2+ 22.Ke3 Qh3 23.Nxc7 Rxf4 24.Rxf4 Bxf4+ 25.Nxf4 Qxg3+ 26.Kd4 Qxf4 27.Nxa8 Qf6 28.Ke3 Qh6+ 29.Kd4 Qf6 30.Ke3 0.00/15 ; 20.Nxc7 Rxf4 21.gxf4 g3 22.Nxg3 Qxg3+ 23.Kh1 Qh4+ 24.Kg1 Bh3 25.Qd2 Rf8 26.Bxe5 Nxe5 27.Qf2 Qg4+ 28.Kh1 Bxf1 29.Rxf1 Nxd3 30.Qh2 Bg5 winning, but because this is such a long variation, improvements can likely be found.

It’s interesting that after 20.Nxc7 GMs John Emms and John Nunn did not find a forced win for Black.

Black takes time out of his busy schedule to defend c7 and avoid a check at d5. Is this the only move?

Neither Soltis or Emms analyze any alternatives to this move but Goldsby writes:  “Follow this line of thought: If Black is going to sacrifice his Rook on f4 anyway, isn't the move ...Rf7; just a waste of one tempo in this position?”

Goldsby considers 20...Bxd5, giving reams of analysis and concludes, “If this analysis holds up, then this is a forced win ... and a big improvement over 20...Rf7.”

Goldsby may be right.  A quick, and therefore not 100% reliable analysis by Houdini 1.5 x64 seems to confirm his claim though: 20...Bxd5 21.cxd5 Rxf4 22.Nxf4 Qxg3+ 23.Kh1 Qh4+ 24.Kg2 Bxf4 25.Rxf4 Qh3+ 26.Kg1 Qg3+ 27.Kh1 Qxf4 28.dxc6 Qh6+ 29.Kg2 Qh3+ 30.Kg1 Nf3+ 31.Kf2 Qh2+ 32.Ke3 bxc6 33.Kd3 Re8 34.b4 d5 35.Kc3 a5 36.a3 h5 37.Kb3 axb4 38.exd5 Re3+ 39.Ka2 is winning for Black.

Soltis also gives this move the “!” It is White's only hope is to run away from the attack and at the same time it threatens Rh1 winning the Black Queen.

Much worse would be: 22.Ke1 Nf3+ 23.Rxf3 gxf3 24.Nf6+ Kf8; 25.e5 dxe5; 26.Qd3, f2+; 27.Kd2 27...Rxf6 with a won game for Black.

This move eliminates a key defender. Black has to act before White begins to strike
back with Rh1

23.cxd5 Nb4
24.Rh1  Rxf4!!
"Sunk in deep thought for a long time, I understood that I was to say goodbye to all hope and that I was lsoing a game that would be spread all over tghe world." - Polugayevsky
"The White King will be dragged all over the board to its doom." - FM G. Burgess.
"A fabulous move which is the start of a long combination, forcing the White King
to trudge up the board to its death." - John Emms.

Goldsby makes the interesting observation that in the year 2001 with the best computer programs, even if you give them several minutes, did not find this move.  Today they recommend it as a matter of routine!

There really isn’t much choice here.

26.Kd4 Bg7
Black doesn’t have a lot of pieces left for his Q and now makes this quiet move.  Nezhmetdinov points out Black's threat is 27...b5 which eliminates c4 as a flight square
and thereby threatens 28...Nec6 mate. Black also has a second mating idea:
27...c5+; 28. dxc6, bxc6; and 29...c5.
"A whole Queen down, Nezhmetdinov produces a deadly quiet move. The main
threat is the simple 27...b5; followed by 28...Nec6#." - Emms

Unfortunately this may be analysis by result.  The fact is after 26...c5+ 27.dxc6 b5 28.Bd3 Nexc6+ 29.Kc3 Bg7+ 30.Kd2 Rxd3+ Black wins.

It seems that after 26…Bg7 White may have had an adequate defense.

Polugaeyevsky thought his next move was forced to stop b5, but with 27.Ng1 c5+ 28.dxc6 Nexc6+ 29.Kc4 Bxb2 30.Qxd6 White actually stands better.

However, Black has a better line after 27.Ng1.  Now he should play 27…Rxg3 28.Ne2 Rf3 29.Ng1 Ned3+ 30.Kc4 Nxb2+ 31.Kxb4 a5+ 32.Kb5 Rc3 with a winning attack.

28.dxc6 bxc6
29.Bd3 Nexd3+
30.Kc4 d5+
31.exd5 cxd5+
32.Kb5 Rb8+
33.Ka5 Nc6+
34. Resigns

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