Miniatures to Memorize: Catalan System – 1: V. Kramnik vs A. Karpov (Zurich 2009)


Miniatures to Memorize is a series of short games (30 moves or fewer) that I highly recommend beginner- and intermediate-level players to commit to memory during their opening preparation. Some games show how to quickly punish your opponent’s natural-looking but inaccurate moves, while others demonstrate how easily you can go wrong and completely blunder your game. Presently, the series covers my favourite openings: the London and Catalan Systems for White and the French, Dutch, and King’s Indian Defenses for Black. I hope you enjoy and learn from these as much as I did.

I strongly urge you to follow along on a physical chess set. In case that is not convenient, and only in that case, use the lichess interface below. In case the interface does not load, you can go directly to the study linked in the appropriate section below.



Sharp Enough to Cut a Boa Constrictor

Two Russian legends of positional play, World Champion Vladimir Kramnik and World Champion Anatoly Karpov face-off against each other in a rapid game. It makes all the noise in the chess world when Karpov resigns in only 17 moves. Nicknamed “the Boa Constrictor” for his space-controlling style that completely paralyses the opponent’s play, Karpov goes for a signature Karpovian queenside-expansion in this game as well. However, the position is so sharp, the Boa bleeds fast and heavy.

Why should you memorize this game?

As White

The Catalan System can give rise to sharp middlegame positions, requiring deep and precise calculations. It is one of the few openings that offer opportunities for zwischenzugs (in-between moves), which can give significant dynamic, and sometimes (as you’ll see in this game) long-term material advantage. No wonder the theory of the Catalan is so deep that even players who frequently employ it as White are not always aware of all the hidden possibilities. This game demonstrates how even a former World Champion – someone known for his deep understanding of middlegame positional play – can overlook the nuances of this opening.

I choose this game to kickstart the series since it offers two positions with instructional value: The first requires creating a subtle strategic imbalance in the position, and the second, an aggressive tactical combination. And both, in my opinion, are difficult to commit to even if you find the idea over the board. You might need the calm guts of a World Champion to play them.

As Black

With the Catalan System, it is predominantly Black who decides the nature of the middlegame – whether to keep the position closed (making it a slow maneuvering game), or to open it up (leading to sharp tactical play). So, should you choose to open the position, you should be familiar with all the latent attacking possibilities available for White. While most of Catalan theory encourages Black to gain space on the queenside, it also warns against premature expansion, especially when piece-harmony is less-than-ideal. This game demonstrates how easily you can get this part wrong.

Now, let’s jump into the game.

Pull out your chess set

If you don’t have one, or it is super-inconvenient right now, you can use the lichess interface below. In case you can’t see it, go to the study page directly.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Entering the Catalan System.

3…d5 4.Bg2 Be7 Black prefers to keep the center closed till he castles to safety.

5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 With Kings safe, now Black goes for the undefended pawn, opening the position.

7.Qc2 Developing the Queen and immediately pressuring the c4 pawn.

7…a6 Black decides to give up the pawn for a queenside expansion with tempo on the White Queen.

8.Qxc4 White accepts the waste of time to rebalance material.

8…b5 9.Qc2 Bb7 Challenging the powerful Catalan bishop on g2. Also, in many lines, with the Knight controlling the e4-square, the Bishop can put pressure on the c2 Queen.

10.Bd2 A common Catalan maneuver, clearing the c1-square for the Queen, from where she can continue to control the semi-open c-file and pressure the backwards c7 pawn. This maneuver also leaves White the opportunity to put the Bishop on the long diagonal without committing the a- and b-pawns to light squares. This retains control over the dark-squared real estate on the queenside.

10…Bd6 This is where the game becomes really interesting. As the Bishop moves to a square where it can have attacking prospects, it leaves behind a key defensive role it was playing. Protecting the f6 Knight.

11.Bg5 White immediately puts pressure on the newly created weakness. White can create an advantageous positional imbalance by trading the dark-squared Bishop for the Black Knight, as a majority of his pawns have dominant control of the dark squares in his position, blunting Black’s dark-squared Bishop.

11…Nbd7 Overprotecting the Knight once more. If White takes, Black can recapture with the Knight, which will then continue to play the key defensive role of protecting h7.

12.Nbd2 White brings in another attacker to pressure the f6-Knight.

12…c5 Black decides to gain more space, probably confident that he has two defenders of the c5-pawn (d7-Knight and d6-Bishop) to White’s two attackers (d4-pawn and c2-Queen). A trade will be advantageous to Black. However, this is a critical positional mistake.

13.Bxf6 The d7-Knight is overloaded! If it recaptures on f6, his c5-pawn will fall. So, he’s forced to recapture either with the g7-pawn (compromising his King’s safety) or the Queen (misplacing it on an awkward square).

13…Qxf6 Black decides to go with the option that seems visually better. But again, this is a critical error. This time, it’s tactical. Can you find White’s idea?

14.Ne5 White strikes! Two of Black’s pieces are undefended: the b7-Bishop and the d7-Knight. With one move, White immediately attacks both. What’s more, either of White’s captures will come with an attack on the major pieces.

14…Bxg2 15.Nxd7 Forking the Queen and the Rook.

15…Qxd4 This is probably the variation Black had in mind when he allowed the 14.Ne5 tactic to play. Black argues here that with Rooks of both sides hanging, Black will be a pawn up if a trade happens. If, instead, White takes the g2-Bishop, the d7-Knight is as good as trapped after Rfd8 and Rab8.

16.Kxg2 Rfd8 As planned. However, he misses that White actually has a way of retaining that Knight. After White’s next move, Black resigns.

17.Nf3 1-0 Black resigns. Why does Black resign here? Because there’s no good square for the Queen that doesn’t allow White’s d7-Knight to escape. 17…Qb4 is the best try. Other options fail almost immediately. [17…Qg4 18.Nxc5 White is happy to trade down even further. Other tries: 17…Qd5 Walks into a fork. And 17…Qa4 allows the Knight to escape via b6 to either a4 or c4, after a Queen-trade on a4.] 18.Qxa4 bxa4 19.Nb6 18.Ng5 (threatening mate on h7.) 18…g6 (defending mate but freeing up f6 for the d7-Knight.) 19.Nf6+ Kg7 20.Nfe4 and the Knight escapes. White will consolidate his position and win being a piece-up.


From my Chess Preparation Journal, dated 13-January-2021.

Miniatures to Memorize: French Defense – 5: J. Polgar vs F. Berkes (Budapest 2003)


Miniatures to Memorize is a series of short games (30 moves or fewer) that I highly recommend beginner- and intermediate-level players to commit to memory during their opening preparation. Some games show how to quickly punish your opponent’s natural-looking but inaccurate moves, while others demonstrate how easily you can go wrong and completely blunder your game. Presently, the series covers my favourite openings: the London and Catalan Systems for White and the French, Dutch, and King’s Indian Defenses for Black. I hope you enjoy and learn from these as much as I did.

I strongly urge you to follow along on a physical chess set. In case that is not convenient, and only in that case, use the lichess interface below. In case the interface does not load, you can go directly to the study linked in the appropriate section below.



Judith’s Queen Trap

In the final cautionary tale in this series, we have a rather modern game, featuring arguably the best female Chess player in history. It is particularly memorable because her opponent tries to trap her Queen by dangling a poisoned Rook, but completely misses the counter-trap Judith has been laying all along.


Why should you memorize this game?

As White

This game enters the Burn Variation of the Classical French, and Black achieves early equality. Because of Black’s solid structure, finding middlegame plans will depend primarily on the imbalances White chooses to introduce. Giving up the Bishop-pair for a Knight is hardly a favourable trade in most French positions. However, in this particular case, White demonstrates how it can force Black to spend two important tempi to regain solidity. White uses those tempi to accelerate development and start an attack.

Even more instructive are two points in the middlegame where White could have suffered heavy material loss after petered out attacks, resulting in completely losing positions. Each give two important lessons:

Positional Awareness: With the White King castled queenside on c1 and the Queen on d2, Black has several menacing threats along the h6-c1 diagonal. So, remaining mindful enough not to get your Queen trapped is critical.

Attacking Move Order: After sacrificing material for opening lines, you might not always have the luxury to follow-up with a natural-looking but slow attack. You have to find the deepest move-tree of forcing lines that maintain advantage.

As Black

This game traces the thin line between a solid and a passive position. Aiming for solidity at the cost of piece-activity may restrict your underdeveloped pieces from joining the defense against a quick attack. It is better to develop all pieces to non-ideal squares than to spend important tempi getting the already-developed pieces to their “ideal” squares.

The game is also a caution against “plan blindness”. Don’t get so caught up in your own plan that you don’t look for the best moves your opponent can play. Remember the advice? “When you find a good move, look for a better one.” Do that for your opponent’s moves as well.

Now, let’s jump into the game.


Pull out your chess set

If you don’t have one, or it is super-inconvenient right now, you can use the lichess interface below. In case you can’t see it, go to the study page directly.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Entering the Burn Variation.

4…dxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 The first imbalance in the opening. Bishop for a Knight.

6…Bxf6 Black chooses to preserve the pawn structure, since he has plans of castling kingside. This does give White to rebalance by taking the Bishop with the Knight.

7.Nf3 White prefers to keep the piece-imbalance and prioritize development. Though the Bishop for Knight trade is not favourable in most French positions, here White argues that Black’s Bishop is misplaced.

7…O-O 8.Qd2 Nd7 Preparing to place the Knight on f6, it’s most natural defensive post for the castled King. Also, with White preparing to castle queenside, Blacks a-b-c pawns are left unobstructed to storm ahead.

9.O-O-O Be7 Preserving the Bishop and making way for the Knight. This was Black’s first positional mistake. Black should have prioritized development of the other pieces, especially “bad” light-squared “French Bishop.”

10.Bd3 While Black spends important tempi developing his pieces to their natural squares, White finishes her development with four active attackers eyeing the kingside. However, though passive, Black’s position is solid after Nf6.

10…b6 Now it is a move too late to develop the light-squared Bishop. White’s Bishop is already eyeing that h7 square. Black has to move Nf6 here to shut down kingside play. Instead he suddenly woke up to the passive “French Bishop” on the queenside. White will not let him get away with this tardiness.

11.Neg5 First shot fired.

11…h6 Black defends with an active move, which removes the pawn from the targeted square and establishes a grip on the critical g5 square essential to White’s attacks. Alternatively, capturing the Knight may have been a more solid defense, but it is unclear if Black is in time to defend against a White h-pawn running up the file. [11…Bxg5 12.Nxg5 Nf6 13.h4 and White has an attack.]

12.Bh7+ In a far-seeing critical move, Polgar forces the King to the h-file, which might open up with check after a h2-h4 thrust to recapture on g5 if Black captures the Knight.

12…Kh8 13.Be4 Retreating with tempo on the a8 Rook. The next move is critical for Black.

13…hxg5 Disregarding the hanging a8 Rook, Black takes the Knight. With a strong attack brewing on the kingside, Black signals that he is okay being an exchange down so long as it permanently removes one of White’s menacing attackers (the Knight) and temporarily misplaces another (the Bishop) on the opposite corner of the board.

14.g4 Say what?! Polgar calls Black’s bluff and refuses to take the hanging Rook, though she’s already down a piece. This is the move we memorize the game for. Let’s explore what could have happened had she captured the “poisoned Rook”. [14.Bxa8 g4 If you move the Knight, you lose the Queen after Bg5. If you move the Queen out of the way, you’ll lose the Knight and White will lose her attack. It is precisely to prevent this g5-g4 pawn thrust that White played g4 herself, fixing the Black pawn on g5.]

14…Rb8 With the Queen Trap foiled, now the Rook is indeed hanging.

15.h4 Ready to shred open the h-file with check.

15…g6 Creating a dark-coloured escape square for the King to elude checks from White’s light-squared Bishop. Also, it will make way for the f8 Rook to counter White’s heavy pieces on the h-file. The alternative, taking on h4, leads to a losing position even with best play. [15…gxh4 16.g5 f5 17.Qf4 fxe4 18.Qxh4+ Kg8 19.Qh7+ Kf7 20.Qh5+ g6 21.Qh7+ Ke8 22.Qxg6+ Rf7 23.Rh7 Bxg5+ 24.Nxg5 Qxg5+ 25.Qxg5 Rxh7 26.Qg6+ Rf7 27.Qxe6+ Kf8 and White has the more active position]

16.hxg5+ Kg7 17.Qf4 Eyeing the h2 square.

17…Bb7 Trying to exchange at least one attacker, either the e4 Bishop or the f3 Knight to blunt White’s attack. Alternatively, Black could have tried to fight for the h-file, but it isn’t much better. [17…Rh8 18.Rxh8 Qxh8 19.Ne5 and the Bishop protects h1. Rook can come in and regain control of the open file.]

18.Rh7+ White sacrifices more material to bring the King back to the h-file. Black has to accept the Rook, as Kg8 walks into a Mate in 7. Find it as an exercise.

18…Kxh7 19.Qh2+ Brilliant move. Extremely instructional moment: pay attention to move order. The more natural-looking Rh1 doesn’t work as there is no continuation of the attack after Kg7. In fact, Rh1 is completely losing. [19.Rh1+ Kg7 20.Qh2 Bxg5+ 21.Nxg5 Qxg5+ 22.f4 Qxg4 23.Bxb7 Rxb7 and White is down too much material.]

19…Kg8 Kg7 would have walked into a more forcing line. [19…Kg7 20.Qh6+ Kg8 21.Bxg6 21.Rh1 Bxg5+ 22.Nxg5 Qxg5+ 23.Qxg5 Bxe4 Bxg5+ 22.Nxg5 Qxg5+ 23.Qxg5 Rfe8 24.Be4+ Kf8 25.Rh1 f6 26.Rh8+ Ke7 27.Rh7+ Kd6 28.Qg7 Rbd8 29.Bxb7 and White is up material with overwhelming attack.]

20.Rh1 Bxg5+ Prolonging the inevitable.

21. Nxg5 Qxg5+ 22.f4 Qxf4+ 23.Qxf4 Bxe4 24.Qxe4 1-0 Black resigns.


From my Chess Preparation Journal, dated 19-December-2020.

Miniatures to Memorize: French Defense – 4: George Henry Mackenzie vs George Mason (Paris 1878)


Miniatures to Memorize is a series of short games (30 moves or fewer) that I highly recommend beginner- and intermediate-level players to commit to memory during their opening preparation. Some games show how to quickly punish your opponent’s natural-looking but inaccurate moves, while others demonstrate how easily you can go wrong and completely blunder your game. Presently, the series covers my favourite openings: the London and Catalan Systems for White and the French, Dutch, and King’s Indian Defenses for Black. I hope you enjoy and learn from these as much as I did.

I strongly urge you to follow along on a physical chess set. In case that is not convenient, and only in that case, use the lichess interface below. In case the interface does not load, you can go directly to the study linked in the appropriate section below.



Mackenzie’s Immortal Game

I know, I know. Yet another cautionary tale? Yeah. Perhaps it is the tragedy of the French Defense that it gives rise to some of the most beautiful miniatures, albeit for White. This game, universally recognized as Mackenzie’s Immortal is sometimes also known as “The Lure of the Lady,” because it features a rather strange-looking move. Black allows White to ruin the pawn structure in front of his castled King, and then the King, instead of retreating to a safe corner, actually steps forward in anticipation of the White Queen. But what really steals the show is the picturesque checkmating combination at the end.


Why should you memorize this game?

As White

Exchange Variations of the French are notorious for early equality. Which is probably why French Defense players become quite happy when they see it on the board. White has only a handful of ways to poke into the position and elicit an inaccuracy. This game demonstrates one such. Though it will be rare for a prepared player today to fall for this, it is nonetheless a masterclass in punishing Black’s complacency after gaining early equality.

As Black

You might be familiar with positions arising from the Lputian Variation or the Burn Variation that call for getting the g-pawn out of the way and using your Rooks on the semi-open g-file to attack White’s castled king on g1. However, in most of those positions, your own king is either chilling (rather precariously) in the center on d7 or is castled queenside on c8 or b8. Opening up the g-file with the King castled on g8 is on-the-face an extremely dangerous proposition. You might not get enough time to scoot over to h8. So, your aggressive play on the kingside to create an imbalance and gain advantage might backfire.

Now, let’s jump into the game.


Pull out your chess set

If you don’t have one, or it is super-inconvenient right now, you can use the lichess interface below. In case you can’t see it, go to the study page directly.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.exd5 The Delayed Exchange. Players of the Classical variation are familiar with this line, though the often played continuations result in equal positions. But we wouldn’t be memorizing this game if it was a boring draw, would we?

4…exd5 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.Bd3 O-O 7.O-O Nc6 8.Bg5 Ne7 Blunder. White can now capture on f6 and ruin Black’s pawn structure in front of the castled king. It is unclear if Mason considered this and allowed it, hoping to shut in the position with Ng6 in the short-run and then using the semi-open g-file later for his rooks to attack White’s castled King. Bold man, if he did. Better would have been counter-pinning the white knight on f3, constraining White’s kingside mobility. The critical line here also opens up the king’s position, but White cannot immediately take advantage of it until it dislodges the pin. With Black’s own queen centralized, the position would have been roughly equal. [8…Bg4 9.Nxd5 Bxh2+ 10.Kxh2 Qxd5 11.Bxf6 gxf6 12.c3 and equal.]

9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nh4 Clearing the path for the Queen to enter the attack. Also, should Knight on e7 jump to g6 to glue in the position, White can exchange his own Knight. With the light-squared bishop eyeing the h7 square, several checkmate threats may emerge.

10…Kg7 Anticipating that the White Queen would soon enter the party, the King steps forward to extend a welcoming hand. “The Lure of the Lady”, remember? This is the critical move. Black is probably just clearing the path for the rook (or both rooks), which can possibly be a strong counter-attack, while the King escapes via f8 to the relatively safer center. Alternatively, Black could have scooted over to h8 and play the game a pawn down with a damaged kingside pawn structure. [10…Kh8 11.Qh5 f5 12.Nxf5 Nxf5 13.Bxf5 Bxf5 14.Qxf5 c6 15.g3 and White is slightly better]

11.Qh5 Rh8 Black probably wants to bring both rooks into play, hence keeping g8 free.

12.f4 Clearing the path for a rook lift-and-slide: f1-f3-g3

12…c6 Adding a defender to the weak central pawn. Perhaps, best would have been to stick to the original plan, if it was so, of Ng6 [12…Ng6 13.Nxd5 Bxf4 14.Nxf4 Qxd4+ 15.Kh1 Nxf4 16.Nf5+ Bxf5 17.Qxf5 Nxd3 18.cxd3 and equal]

13. Rf3 Ng6 14.Raf1 Qc7 Pressuring the b8-h2 diagonal, but also clearing the back rank to connect rooks after the bishop is developed.

15.Ne2 With all play shut on the queen-side, White brings in his last piece also into the attack.

15…Bd7 16.Ng3 Rag8 And this is the moment we memorize this game for. Black probably played this move to let the king run without disconnecting his rooks. But now he’s completely lost. Mate in 6, with the White Queen leading the charge. Can you find the complete combination?

17.Qh6+ Kxh6 18.Nhf5+ Bxf5 19.Nxf5+ Kh5 20.g4+ Kxg4 21.Rg3+ Kh5 22.Be2# 1-0 White wins by checkmate.


From my Chess Preparation Journal, dated 17-December-2020.

Miniatures to Memorize: French Defense – 2: A. Alekhine vs A. Nimzowitsch (San Remo 1930)


Miniatures to Memorize is a series of short games (30 moves or fewer) that I highly recommend beginner- and intermediate-level players to commit to memory during their opening preparation. Some games show how to quickly punish your opponent’s natural-looking but inaccurate moves, while others demonstrate how easily you can go wrong and completely blunder your game. Presently, the series covers my favourite openings: the London and Catalan Systems for White and the French, Dutch, and King’s Indian Defenses for Black. I hope you enjoy and learn from these as much as I did.

I strongly urge you to follow along on a physical chess set. In case that is not convenient, and only in that case, use the lichess interface below. In case the interface does not load, you can go directly to the study linked in the appropriate section below.



Russian Roulette with Alekhine’s Gun

This game is another cautionary tale for the French player, but this time it’s a serious battle of technique between two positional world champion-level players, Alexander Alekhine and Aaron Nimzowitsch. This game is all about the often-invisible aspects of Chess: space and time. And we get to see a glimpse of the famed Alekhine’s Gun: the Rook-Rook-Queen battery on a file.


Why should you memorize this game?

As White

By choosing the French Defense, Black concedes a minor space advantage to White on move 1 itself. This game is a prime example of how to positionally dominate with that space advantage and to do so in time before Black can gain sufficient counter-play. This game will require White to have some understanding of Black’s middle-game plans arising out of a main line French: the Winawer Variation. However, for the completely uninitiated who does not have much time to study the theory, having this game in memory can drill the importance of acting fast against the French setup.

As Black

A key idea of the Winawer Variation is exchanging the Black dark-squared Bishop for White’s Knight on c3. This game prepares you for when White chooses to preserve the Knight, exchange dark-square Bishops and gain significant queen-side space before you can develop your pieces that side. You will also see how your response to a critical question about trading pieces on move 8 can easily convert a completely equal position into a completely losing one. So, pay close attention to moves 8-12.

Now, let’s jump into the game.


Pull out your chess set

If you don’t have one, or it is super-inconvenient right now, you can use the lichess interface below. In case you can’t see it, go to the study page directly.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 Entering the mainline of the Winawer variation.

4.e5 c5 Striking immediately in the center, à la Advance Variation.

5.Bd2 Ne7 6.Nb5 White chooses to preserve the Knight instead of the Bishop. The Knight already has an outpost on d6, as is often the case in positions arising from the central advance-pawn bind.

6…Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 O-O 8.c3 Maintaining control of the center. White’s dominance is conditional on maintaining the central bind.

8…b6 Black tries to solve the problem of the bad French bishop by making room for its development. Black would enjoy exchanging it for White’s strong light-squared bishop, which can move freely between White’s pawn chain on dark-squares.

9.f4 Attacking immediately on the king-side where White has a significant space advantage. With the Black King castled that way, White has clear targets for a pawn storm. As there is no real activity on the queen-side yet, White may choose to castle that way in the future.

9…Ba6 Continuing with his plan to exchange. An important question to consider: Is Black okay exchanging the Bishop for the Knight, which has potential to become a monster when planted on d6? At this point, the position is completely equal. So, how Black responds to the question will determine the tilt of the game.

10.Nf3 White continues development, leaving Black with the same question.

10…Qd7 Black answers with “All of the above.” by bringing in another attacker to the b5 Knight. If White allows it, why not eliminate both active pieces?

11.a4 Of course, White doesn’t.

11…Nbc6 With all pawns on dark-squares and with the latest a2-a4 move, White has created some gaping holes on his queenside light-squares. Black jumps in with the Knight, aiming for the b3 hole, which would make castling queen-side pretty dangerous.

12.b4 This is the pawn break that makes this game so memorable. White decides to pre-emptively strike and bust open the queen-side before Black can coordinate an attack there.

12…cxb4 13.cxb4 Opening up c-file for his rook.

13…Bb7 Making way for the a-pawn.

14.Nd6 White moves preemptively again, clearing way for its own pawns, gaining a lot of queenside space and smothering the Black pieces in. Combined with the king-side space advantage, White can soon launch several attacking combinations. The Queen and Bishop could line-up on the b1-h7 diagonal, the f3 Knight could jump to g5 and pressure h7 even further. The a1 Rook can lift-slide via a1-a3-g3.

14…f5 Realizing White’s plans, Black shuts down the king-side, blunting the b1-h7 diagonal. The e5 pawn can’t capture en passant, as the d6 Knight would hang.

15.a5 White continues with his queen-side expansion. The pawn can’t be captured as b4-b5 will push the Black Knight to the back rank, disconnecting the rooks and further cramping Black’s pieces. The White Queen can then comfortably move into the position by capturing on a5. [15…bxa5 16. b5 Nb8 or Nd8 17. Qxa5]

15…Nc8 Black tries the seemingly principled move. When cramped, trade pieces. But this immediately weakens his position. And White punishes the inaccuracy. Trying to open up the queen-side to relieve some of the cramp is also not much better. [15…bxa5 16.b5 Nb8 and the a5 pawn is an easy grab.]

16.Nxb7 Letting the c8 Knight capture the d6 Knight would have hung the pawn after it recaptured on d6. But why choose to trade with the bad, lifeless b7 Bishop instead of the c8 Knight, which could potentially be dangerous jumping around the closed center? One, the bishop could find new life via the a6-f1 diagonal, even trading itself off for White’s Bishop, which can be an excellent attacking piece. Two, leaving the Knight on c8 would keep the Rooks disconnected. The c8 Knight does not have any squares to jump to on the queen-side, where White is coordinating his attack, and will have to return the way it came. Three, since the Queen will have to recapture on b7, White can push a6 with tempo.

16…Qxb7 17.a6 Moving with tempo and cramping Black further by taking away the b7 square.

17…Qf7 18.Bb5 Developing with tempo again. The c6 Knight has no forward jumps. It must retreat, or be defended. White can pile up the pressure with Rac1.

18…N8e7 19.O-O Castling, bringing the last piece into the game. Now Alekhine can double up on the c-file.

19…h6 Too slow. White is focused on the queen-side. And though Ng5 would come with tempo on the Queen while pressuring the weak e6 pawn, the Queen can safely defend it on g6. And then the Knight can be kicked out with h6. Best was probably to start doubling on the c-file yourself, before White. This game is all about timing. [19…Rfc820.Rac1Nd821.Bd7Rc4 and White is better.]

20.Rfc1 Rfc8 21.Rc2 Qe8 Overprotecting the Knight in anticipation of Rac1. But now Black’s position is completely lost. White will be able to set up the famed Alekhine’s Gun on the c-file and Black will not have enough defenders. The next few moves is just a professional display of technique by the World Champion. It is said that one of the toughest challenges in chess is winning a winning position. Alekhine shows us how.

22.Rac1 Rab8 Honestly, I don’t understand this move. Even Stockfish says this was the best move in the position. Shows me how much I have to learn. Anyway, the line I’d recommend is not much better or worse in terms of evaluation, but more human to understand. [22…Rc7 23.Rc3 Rac8 24.R1c2 Qd8 25.Qc1 Nxb4 26.Rxc7 Rxc7 27.Rxc7 Na2 28.Qc2 Nb4 29.Qc3 Na2 30.Qc2 Nb4 31.Qd2 Qxc7 32.Qxb4]

23.Qe3 Leaving the option open to shift the queen to the king-side.

23…Rc7 24.Rc3 Qd7 25.R1c2 Kf8 26.Qc1 With the Black king walking to the queen-side, White goes all-in with the queen-side attack.

26…Rbc8 27.Ba4 Making room for the nail in the coffin: the pawn thrust b4-b5.

27…b5 Pushes b5 himself to prevent White.

28.Bxb5 Ke8 29.Ba4 Again making room for b4-b5 at the opportune moment.

29…Kd8 30.h4 1-0 Black resigns. Black is in zugzwang, so White patiently passes the move. [30…Nxd4 31.Bxd7 Rxc3 32.Nxd4 Rxc2 33.Nxc2 Kxd7 34.b5 When the dust settles, Black is down a lot of material.]


From my Chess Preparation Journal, dated 17-May-2020.

Miniatures to Memorize: French Defense 3: A. Nimzowitsch vs S. Alapin (St. Petersburg 1914)


Miniatures to Memorize is a series of short games (30 moves or fewer) that I highly recommend beginner- and intermediate-level players to commit to memory during their opening preparation. Some games show how to quickly punish your opponent’s natural-looking but inaccurate moves, while others demonstrate how easily you can go wrong and completely blunder your game. Presently, the series covers my favourite openings: the London and Catalan Systems for White and the French, Dutch, and King’s Indian Defenses for Black. I hope you enjoy and learn from these as much as I did.

I strongly urge you to follow along on a physical chess set. In case that is not convenient, and only in that case, use the lichess interface below. In case the interface does not load, you can go directly to the study linked in the appropriate section below.



Nimzowitsch’s Morphyesque Miniature

While in the previous game featured in this series, Nimzowitsch found his French Defense position squeezed by Alekhine’s masterful play, in this game he shows he’s no pushover. Playing with the White pieces, he unleashes his own aggressively positional (yeah, hence Morphyesque) attack, but with time instead of space.


Why should you memorize this game?

As White

This game is a beautiful demonstration of attacking with the most invisible weapon in the chess arsenal: time. It prioritizes development by gaining tempo on the opponent pieces and critical squares, slows down opponent’s development by baiting already developed pieces with juicy material, and finally sacrifices a piece to initiate a deadly attack before Black has an opportunity to castle away to safety.

As Black

By yielding king-side space to White, the French Defense also imposes constraints on development. In many cases, if you’re not precise with the 5-6 opening moves, you’ll find yourself unable to castle. This is why most coaches of the French Defense advise to prioritize development over material if you find yourself out of your preparation. This cautionary tale demonstrates how your greed for material advantage may quickly turn into a checkmate in the center.


Pull out your chess set

If you don’t have one, or it is super-inconvenient right now, you can use the lichess interface below. In case you can’t see it, go directly to the study page.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.exd5 Entering the Delayed Exchange line of the Classical Variation.

4…Nxd5 5.Nf3 c5 This is a key decision in the Delayed Exchange: How do you want to undermine White’s pawn structure? Try to get rid of the central pawns, as is tried here OR trade Knights and double the c-pawns, albeit at the cost of strengthening White’s center. [5…Nxc3 6.bxc3]

6.Nxd5 This is where the fun begins. White trades Knights knowing Black can rebuild the center with exd5. But White gains control of the critical e3 square for its Bishop, which can develop with pressure on c5 pawn.

6…Qxd5 Black takes with Queen to add a defender to the c5 pawn. [6…exd5 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Bxd7+ Nxd7 9.O-O Be7 10.dxc5 Nxc5 and white is slightly better (9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Qxd5 and white is slightly better)]

7.Be3 As planned.

7…cxd4 Black chooses to capture at the cost of losing the option to develop its own Bishop with tempo. In essence, White developed his Bishop with tempo and made Black lose one tempo.

8.Nxd4 White wants to win another tempo by developing its light-squared Bishop with check. So, recapturing the pawn with the Knight protects the critical b5 square while simultaneously pressuring c6 to prevent Black from blocking check by developing the b8 Knight to its most natural square.

8…a6 Almost a forced move to take control of the b5 square.

9.Be2 Preparing for a King-side castle. But what is this? Is that a juicy pawn on g2?

9…Qxg2 Black gets greedy and goes for it. It was in this position that Nimzowitsch writes in his notes, “…the consequences will be dire.” And that is what makes this game so instructive.

10.Bf3 Black has of course calculated that the Queen can escape this harrassment. What he missed is that this too is just a sneaky developing move with tempo. White has no interest in the Queen.

10…Qg6 11.Qd2 Making way for a queen-side castle, which will also line the Rook and Queen into an impressive attacking battery on the open d-file.

11…e5 Black can feel the crisis. All his pieces are on the back rank. So, he tries to solve all his troubles by freeing up the e6 square for his Bishop and by chasing the White Knight away so he can develop his b8 Knight to c6.

12.O-O-O Boss move!! Sacrifices Knight for tempo to set up the Rook-Queen battery.

12…exd4 Black again succumbs to greed. That’s the theme of this game. One player is greedy for time, the other for material.

13.Bxd4 White’s advantage in development is simply too great now. Black is already completely losing.

13…Nc6 Black tries to develop with tempo now, while protecting the d8 square to avoid checkmate. Except it completely misses White’s plan.

14.Bf6 Moving out of the way and protecting the d8 square again. Now it is a Checkmate in 12. Game Over. While the game finishes in fewer moves, find as an exercise the most resilient line from Black that prolongs the inevitable.

14…Qxf6 Uh-oh. Now its Mate in 3. Do you see it? Don’t worry if you don’t. Even Nimzowitsch missed it. But he went for a flashier Mate in 5.

15.Rhe1+ Be7 16.Bxc6+ Kf8 17.Qd8+ Bxd8 18.Re8# 1-0 White wins by checkmate.


From my Chess Preparation Journal, dated 18-April-2020.

Miniatures to Memorize: French Defense – 1: A. Alekhine vs A. Asgeirsson (Reykjavik 1931 Simul)


Miniatures to Memorize is a series of short games (30 moves or fewer) that I highly recommend beginner- and intermediate-level players to commit to memory during their opening preparation. Some games show how to quickly punish your opponent’s natural-looking but inaccurate moves, while others demonstrate how easily you can go wrong and completely blunder your game. Presently, the series covers my favourite openings: the London and Catalan Systems for White and the French, Dutch, and King’s Indian Defenses for Black. I hope you enjoy and learn from these as much as I did.

I strongly urge you to follow along on a physical chess set. In case that is not convenient, and only in that case, use the lichess interface below. In case the interface does not load, you can go directly to the study.



Alekhine punishes the French

The first game in the French Defense series is a cautionary tale. World Champion Alexander Alekhine shows his opponent in a simultaneous exhibition match at Reykjavik, Iceland, how easy it is to find oneself out of preparation within three moves.


Why should you memorize this game?

As White

Being a 1.e4 player, you probably face the 1…e5 or 1…c5 in most of your games. Meaning, there is a good chance you aren’t paying that much attention to the 1…e6 French. If your opponent is well-prepared, they can quickly puncture your position. But you’re already overwhelmed by the extensive theory around your Ruy Lopez, Italian Games, and the countless Sicilian variations.

So, you need an easy-to-learn counter against the French. One strategy is to throw Black off their preparation as early as you can. This means focusing not on the main variations, but on the rather obscure sidelines. This game has become the theory around one such. As of writing, fewer than 5% of French Defense games on lichess, played between players rated under-2000, follow this line and 83% of those games are won by white.

As Black

You already know that the French has the reputation of being a rather “narrow” opening, albeit with a lot of “depth”. Meaning, most games evolve into only a handful of variations (Classical, Advance, Winawer, Tarrasch, and Euwe), though each of these has theory going up to 20 moves. So, you might have convinced yourself that you’ve smartly minimized your preparation time by avoiding all the 1…e5 and 1…c5 theory. You prepare the five variations listed above and chill, as you’re fairly convinced that white probably doesn’t know theory beyond move 5 or 6.

So, you keep winning (unless you blunder your middle- or endgame) until you face an opponent who plays a sideline you never considered memorizing. You will soon find yourself trying to hold on to the general ideas of the French, trying to play it as a system irrespective of White’s moves, trying to make sense of why the same plans aren’t working, and you’ll have a losing position by move 15.

This problem becomes exacerbated, particularly as you move up the ratings ladder. Higher rated opponents may not be fully conversant with the main variations, but they are almost always guaranteed to have one weapon against the annoying French that shows up on their board from time to time.

So, if you’ve made the French a part of your lifelong repertoire, you have to divorce yourself from the “narrow” reputation, and have a general sense of multiple sidelines.

Now, let’s jump into the game.


Pull out your chess set

If you don’t have one, or it is super-inconvenient right now, you can use the lichess interface below. In case you can’t see it, go to the study page directly.

1.e4 e6 And we enter the French territory.

2.Nc3 Alekhine tries to throw his opponent out of preparation with a rarely played continuation of the French Defense. Usual replies are 2.d4 and 2.Nf3

2…d5 Continuing in the typical French Defense style. Though, 2. …c5 might have been a more positional move, preventing d2-d4.

3.d4 Nf6 4.Bg5 Another rare move. The e4-e5 advance is more typical.

4…Be7 Counter-pinning the c3 Knight might have been a better try as Bxf6 can be followed by Qxf6 without damaging the pawn structure. On the other hand, white does run the risk of a doubled c-pawn after Bxc3.

5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.Nf3 O-O 7.e5 Be7 8.h4 Alekhine is in no hurry to castle. Instead he sets up a deadly trap to pressure the h7 pawn and open the h-file for his rook through a fishing pole maneuver, as eventually did happen in the game.

8…Re8 Asgeirsson probably realized the threat, but his response was to create room for his king to escape. Instead, better response could have been c7-c5, counter-striking in the center. [8…c5 9.dxc5 Nd7 10.Bd3 Nxc5 11.Bxh7+ Kxh7 12.Ng5+ Kg6 (Preventing Qh5) 13.Qg4 Bxg5 14.f4 f5 15.exf6 Kxf6 16.hxg5+ Ke7 and white is only slightly better.]

9.Bd3 c5 Too late. Now, better would have been simply h7-h6, removing the pawn from the target square, and potentially keeping the h-file closed.

10.Bxh7+ Kxh7 11.Ng5+ Bxg5 12.hxg5+ Kg8 Moving up the board is not any better. [12…Kg6 is Mate in 4. Find it as an exercise.]

13.Qh5 Kf8 King starts running away. The rook slide seems to be paying off.

14.O-O-O Getting the king to safety, but more importantly connecting rooks. With the center closed, might double up on the h-file.

14…Ke7 15.g6 Completely busting open the king-side. Remember, this is just move 15.

15…a6 Not sure if this is a waiting move or a passive attempt to prevent the knight from joining the attack on the queen-side via b5.

16.gxf7 Rf8 17.dxc5 Nd7 Attempting to pressure the weak c5 and e5 pawns and also add another defender to the queening square, so the rook can potentially move. The Queen could also be developed to c7 to further pressure the pawns.

18.Rxd5 Although completely winning, maybe Nxd5+ was more forcing as it comes with check. [18.Nxd5+ exd5 19.Qg5+ Nf6 20.Rxd5 Qxd5 21.exf6+ Kxf7 22.Qxd5+ and white is completely winning]

18…Qa5 [18…exd5 19.Nxd5+ Ke6 20.Qg6+ Nf6 (20…Kxd5 walks into Mate in 7. Find it as an exercise.) 21.exf6 Kxd5 22.fxg7 Bg4 23.gxf8=Q Qxf8 24.Qxg4 Kxc5 25.b4+ Kd6 26.Rd1+ Ke7 27.Rd7+ Kf6 28.Qf4+ Ke6 29.Rd3 Rd8 30.Qe4+ Kxf7 31.Qf5+ Ke8 32.Qh5+ Qf7 33.Re3+ Kf8 34.Qh6+ Qg7 35.Rf3+ Kg8 36.Qe6+ Kh8 37.Rh3+ Qh7 38.Qf6+ Kg8 39.Rg3+ Qg6 40.Rxg6+ Kh7 41.Qg7#]

19.Qg5+ Kxf7 20.Rh7 Black still can’t capture the rook on d5, as it will hang mate in 2. Find the mate.

20…Rg8 21. Rd4 Capturing the knight here is a blunder. [21.Rxd7+ Bxd7 22.Qf6+ Ke8 23.Rxg7 Rxg7 24.Qxg7 Bc8 and black is material up and better]

21…Qxc5 22.Rxd7+ Why does Rxd7 work now when it didn’t in the last move? What has changed? The black queen is now on c5, which means the white knight can join the attack with tempo via the c3-e4-d6+ jumps.

22…Bxd7 23.Ne4 Qb4 As the Queen is lost anyway, a last attempt could be to bring the rook in to capture the knight. [23…Rac8 24.Nd6+ Qxd6 25.exd6+ but white is completely winning.]

24.Nd6+ Kf8 This walks into Mate in 2, but the more resilient defense isn’t much better. [24…Qxd6 25.Qf6+ Ke8 26.Qg6+ Kd8 27.exd6 and white is completely winning.]

25.Qf6+ 1-0 Black resigns. [25…gxf6 26.Rf7#]


From my Chess Preparation Journal, dated 5-April-2020.