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1927 New York - Alekhine vs. Marshall
Every Move Explained

This game was played in 1927 at the New York international chess tournament between Alexander Alekhine and Frank Marshall. Alekhine had the White pieces, Marshall the Black.


In 1927, Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) won the World Championship by beating J.R. Capablanca in a 34 game match. He was not the favorite to win. Earlier in the same year, the two protagonists had met in a six-player, quadruple round robin international tournament at New York. Capablanca won the event with an undefeated +8-0=12 score, 2 1/2 points ahead of runner-up Alekhine (+5-2=13), whom he beat +1-0=3 in their individual mini-match.

After the longer World Championship match Alekhine surmised, 'I did not believe I was superior to him. Perhaps the chief reason for his defeat was the overestimation of his own powers arising out of his overwhelming victory in New York, 1927, and his underestimation of mine.' (Oxford Companion to Chess, p.68)

Our present game was played in the 18th round of the New York event. Going into the round, Alekhine was tied with Aron Nimzovitch (1886-1935), also considered a strong contender to challenge Capablanca. Alekhine's opponent was Frank Marshall (1877-1944), the reigning U.S. Champion since winning a 1923 match against Ed.Lasker.

Alekhine played the White pieces.

Next move: 1.d4 • For more about White's first move, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Initial Position.


Alekhine, who played chess with an aggressive, attacking style, was equally comfortable opening with both 1.d4 and 1.e4. He had a slight preference for 1.d4, and sometimes started with 1.Nf3 or 1.c4.

For a discussion of the reasons behind 1.d4, see Every Move Explained, Letelier - Fischer 1.d4.

Next move: 1...Nf6 • For more about Black's responses to 1.d4, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Queen's Pawn Openings.


Like Alekhine, Marshall was also known for playing with an aggressive, attacking style. He favored 1.d4 when playing White, but was not adverse to opening 1.e4 when it suited him.

As Black against 1.d4, Marshall played both 1...d5 and 1...Nf6, with a preference for the 1...d5 closed openings. The ninth round game between the same opponents with the same colors started with the same moves.

For a more detailed discussion of the reasons behind 1...Nf6, see Every Move Explained, Letelier - Fischer 1...Nf6.

Next move: 2.c4


Alekhine usually answered 1...Nf6 with 2.c4, although he played 2.Nf3 from time to time. Since 2.Nf3 is almost always followed by 3.c4, this usually amounts to a transposition of moves without consequence. The ninth round game between the two players continued 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 d5, Alekhine winning in 45 moves.

For a more detailed discussion of the reasons behind 2.c4, see Every Move Explained, Letelier - Fischer 2.c4.

Next move: 2...e6 • For more about Black's responses to 2.c4, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Indian Defenses.

263 1.d4 127 1...Nf6 103 2.c4 25 2.Nf3


The move 2...e6 was Marshall's preferred response to 2.c4. His second string defenses had a tendency to be more offbeat. At the great New York 1924 tournament, where Alekhine finished third and Marshall fourth behind Em.Lasker and Capablanca, he had played 2...d6 against Alekhine.

The move 2...d6 often leads to the Old Indian Defense with ...e5 and ...Be7. In the 1924 game, the two adversaries continued 3.Nc3 g6 4.e4 Bg7 5.f4 O-O, reaching the Four Pawn Variation of the King's Indian Defense, drawn in 62 moves.

Two other eclectic moves that Marshall used were 2...d5, sometimes with the move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6, and 2...b6. His penchant for the offbeat is one reason why there are so many variations that bear his name, the Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez being the best known and historically most successful.

Next move: 3.Nf3 • For more about White's responses to 2...e6, see our tutorial Nimzo Indian or Queen's Indian?


Alekhine used 3.Nf3 and its twin, 3.Nc3, interchangeably. Of the six games the two players contested with Alekhine playing White and Marshall Black, our current game was the only one to reach the position shown in the diagram. When other opponents played 3.Nc3, Marshall played either 3...d5 or 3...Bb4.

After 3.Nf3, Black has three moves considered acceptable: 3...d5 (the Queen's Gambit Declined), 3...b6 (the Queen's Indian Defense), and 3...Bb4 (the Bogo-Indian Defense). The move 3...d5 would have transposed into the same variation that Marshall used against Alekhine in the ninth round, but in our current game Marshall tried a different move.

Next move: 3...Ne4


Marshall's choice -- possible after 3.Nf3, but not after 3.Nc3 -- was a rare move in 1927 and remains a rare move today. Alekhine, who included this game in his collection of Best Games 1924-1937, wrote, 'This unnatural and time-wasting move can be successfully answered in different ways. One of the simplest is 4.Qc2 d5 (or 4...f5) 5.Nc3.'

What compensation does Black get for moving the Knight a second time? Since White can't allow the Knight to stay on e4, where it strikes four squares in the White position, it will have to be exchanged. This will be done by exchanging a White Knight, where the most obvious candidate is the Queenside Knight by Nb1-c3 and Nc3xe4. After Nc3, Black can play ...f5, planning to recapture ...fxe4. This will give Black a strong Pawn on e4 and an open f-file for the Rook after castling O-O. The e4-Pawn can also be defended by ...d5, when Black appears to have a strong center.

Alekhine had tried 3...Ne4 in 1922. The game continued, 4.Nbd2 f5 5.e3 Bb4 6.Bd3 b6 7.a3 Bxd2+ 8.Nxd2 Bb7 9.Bxe4 fxe4, and became a tactical slugfest with 10.Qg4 O-O 11.Nxe4 h5 12.Qg6 Qh4 13.Ng3 Bxg2 14.Rg1 Qxh2 15.Ne2 Rxf2 (Vukovic - Alekhine, Vienna 1922).

Not disheartened by the current game, Marshall tried the same third move in the next round of the New York 1927 event. White continued 4.Qc2 (Vidmar - Marshall, drawn in 93 moves).

Next move: 4.Nfd2


Since Alekhine had played 3...Ne4 himself, he had undoubtedly studied the position for White. He wrote that 4.Nfd2 had 'the obvious idea of exchanging at e4 and developing the other Knight at c3. The present game proves rather convincingly the soundness of this scheme.' The Knight move also frees the f-Pawn for an eventual f2-f3, undermining the Black center.

In their book The Soviet School of Chess (1958), Kotov and Yudovich included an entire chapter on Alekhine; calling him 'Russia's Greatest Player'.

Alekhine widely introduced into his play two original and very important principles of strategy in the opening: illegitimate disruption of balance, and the concrete tactical opening. By applying them he was able to discern the subtlest features of a position and often to settle the outcome of a game in the early moves.

The authors then quoted Alekhine's notes to our current game.

Alekhine said of Black's third move, 'A move which contradicts all the principles. It entails the unnecessary assumption of certain obligations, which enables White, already on the next move, to work out the entire plan of further struggle. In short, it is typical of the opening mistake which I call "illegitimate disruption of balance".'

Next move: 4...Bb4


Black protects the Knight on e4 by pinning the Knight on d2. At the same time he prepares a small trap. Alekhine: 'A typical Marshall trap. If now 5.a3? Qf6! with an immediate win.'

Next move: 5.Qc2


White again attacks the Knight on e4 and prepares Nb1-c3 by protecting the c3-square a second time. Black must react to the attack on e4 or lose a piece.

Next move: 5...d5


Black defends the Knight on e4 and liberates d7 for the development of the Queenside minor pieces. The move 5...d5 has the slight drawback of allowing White to open the c-file with c4xd5, when the Pawn on c7 will be attacked by the Queen on c2. This could become a threat if the c7-Pawn is attacked a second time.

Next move: 6.Nc3


White develops a piece and attacks once again the Knight on e4. The Black Bishop on b4 can pin one or the other of the two White Knights, but it can't pin both.

Next move: 6...f5


Black defends the attacked Knight on e4. If White now captures on e4 with either Knight, Black will recapture ...f5xe4, opening the f-file for a castled Rook on f8.

The Black formation with Pawns on d5, e6, and f5 is reminiscent of the Stonewall formation in the Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5), where a Black Pawn is also placed on c6.

Next move: 7.Ndxe4


Alekhine: 'After this White will easily force the opening of the central files, by means of f3 and eventually e4. As he is better developed, this opening must secure him a substantial positional advantage.' By capturing with the Knight on d2 rather than the Knight on c3, White opens the diagonal for the development of the dark squared Bishop.

Next move: 7...fxe4


Capture toward the center! Here the application of the well known rule of thumb leaves Black with a solid center and opens the f-file. If instead 7...dxe4, the d-file would be far less useful to Black.

Next move: 8.Bf4


In order to continue with the development of the Kingside, White needs to play e2-e3. White first places the dark-squared Bishop outside the d4-e3-f2 Pawn chain, where it is more actively placed than inside that Pawn chain.

Alekhine also noted that the 'Bishop will protect the King's position against any sudden attack.' The master of attack doesn't forget his own King's defense.

Also worth noting is that the move 8.Bf4 aims another piece at Black's c-Pawn. Black will now have to take care against a sudden opening of the c-file by c4xd5.

Next move: 8...O-O


Black places the King in relative safety, develops the castling Rook on the f-file, and attacks the Bishop on f4. The contrast between Black's well coordinated, fully developed pieces on the Kingside and the undeveloped pieces on the Queenside is noteworthy.

Next move: 9.e3


White guards the attacked Bishop on f4 and prepares for the development of the light squared Bishop. The move 9.e3 makes more sense than 9.g3. On g2, the King's Bishop would have little effect against the chain of Black Pawns on d5 and e4.

The development of the Bishop on the a6-f1 diagonal also creates a tactical threat. White imagines exchanging Pawns on d5 followed by Nc3xd5, when ...Qxd5 is impossible because of the pin by Bc4, winning the Queen. To activate this threat fully, White has to break the pin on the Knight.

Next move: 9...c6


Black has also noticed the looming problem on the a2-g8 diagonal and takes an immediate counter-measure by guarding d5 a third time. The move 9...c6 also stops any sudden tactics aimed at capturing the Pawn on c7.

The downside of Black's move is that another turn has passed without addressing the development of the Queenside. In fact, the c-Pawn on c6 hinders Black's development, because both Queenside minor pieces must now pass through d7. This means that a piece moved to d7 must move off that square before the other piece can be developed. Three moves can be a long time in a chess game.

Alekhine wrote, 'White was threatening, by means of 10.a3 to force the exchange of the Bishop at b4 for the Knight. Not 10...Bd6 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.cxd5 exd5 13.Nxd5', when 13...Qxd5?? would be met by 14.Bc4.

Next move: 10.Be2


White completes the development of the Kingside minor pieces and prepares to castle. Castling to either side is still possible, although the King will be more secure on the Kingside.

An idea here is 10...c5. Unfortunately, Black can't afford to block the diagonal of the dark squared Bishop, because of 11.a3 Ba5 12.dxc5 d4 13.b4 dxc3 14.bxa5 Qxa5 15.Bd6. If 10...Bd6, to oppose the powerful Bishop on f4, White has easy play with 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.O-O and 13.f3.

Next move: 10...Nd7


Black decides to develop the Queenside Knight before the Bishop, followed by ...Nd7-f6. This will leave the Knight well placed on f6 and allow the Bishop to come to d7 in turn. The move 10...Nd7 has the defect of temporarily preventing the retreat of the Bishop to d6.

Next move: 11.a3


White uses the temporary weakness of d6 to alleviate Black's pressure on the Queenside. Since 11...Bxc3+ would leave White's dark squared Bishop in control of the dark squares and, after 12.Qxc3, allow White to castle O-O-O, Black is obliged to retreat.

Alekhine: 'I consider this as being sounder play than 11.O-O Nf6 12.f3 Nh5 13.fxe4 Nxf4 14.Rxf4 Rxf4 15.exf4 dxc4'.

Next move: 11...Be7


Black is forced to retreat to e7, and now envisions an exchange of Bishops by ...Bg5. The retreat 11...Ba5 followed by ...Bc7 doesn't work because the c6-Pawn would be pinned after the exchange of Bishops.

Forcing the retreat of the Bishop has given White's Knight and Queen the freedom to put pressure on the center. This will take on real force after f2-f3.

Next move: 12.O-O


White castles and awaits Black's next move. How will Black attempt to improve the position of the minor pieces, which are all placed passively?

Next move: 12...Bg5


Black's plan is to trade off the dark squared Bishops, play ...Nf6, and complete Queenside development with ...Bd7. Alekhine: 'There is hardly anything better.' If 12...Nf6, White will develop the last piece with 13.Rad1, followed by an assault on the center with f2-f3.

Next move: 13.f3


White's development is complete, while Black's development lags. White must take advantage of the lead in development before Black catches up.

To do that, White sacrifices a Pawn. If now 13...exf3, the sequence 14.Rxf3 Bxf4 15.exf4 transposes into the note to Black's 14th move.

Next move: 13...Bxf4


Black must exchange Bishops immediately. White was threatening f3xe4, when the Rook on f1 will defend the Bishop on f4.

Next move: 14.exf4


White recaptures the Bishop to avoid losing a piece.

Now the critical move is 14...exf3, attempting to keep an extra Pawn. Alekhine gave only 15.Rxf3 Nf6 16.c5, with the comment 'a sad alternative because of the weakness at e6. By the text move, in conjunction with the three following moves, Marshall tries to save his compromised game through combinative play.'

In his note, Alekhine didn't say what he planned after 15...dxc4 (instead of 15...Nf6). He allowed the variation and Marshall declined to play it. How does White continue the attack? If 16.Bxc4, then 16...Nb6 attacks the Bishop and the d-Pawn. If 16.Rd1, Black keeps the Pawn with 16...Nb6. What would you play on White's 16th move?

Next move: 14...Rxf4


Black avoids the complications of 14...exf3, and recaptures to keep the material balance. The reaction to White's next move will be to complicate the game in a different direction.

Next move: 15.fxe4


With this move, White achieves the type of position already foreseen on the fourth move. The Black Pawn on d5 is attacked three times and defended twice.

Next move: 15...Rxf1+


Before addressing the problem on d5, Black must see to the safety of the Rook on f4, which was en prise. The simplest solution is to exchange it.

Next move: 16.Rxf1


White recaptures the Rook with his other Rook, suddenly bringing it into play on the open f-file. Because of the lagging development on the Black Queenside, Black's second Rook is still out of play. One move ago the Rooks were balanced on the Kingside. Now White has an extra Rook in play.

How should Black continue? If 16...dxc4, White continues to build the attack with 17.Bxc4 Nb6 18.Qf2. If 16...Nf6, White forces the Knight to retreat and opens a path to the Black King with 17.e5

Next move: 16...e5


Black addresses the problem on d5 with tactics. Instead of defending his own d-Pawn, he creates an attack on White's undefended d-Pawn. The advance of the e-Pawn also opens the diagonal for Black's Bishop.

If now 17.dxe5, Black has 17...d4, while if 17.cxd5, then 17...exd4.

Next move: 17.Qd2


Alekhine: 'The initial move of the decisive maneuver.' White defends the Pawn on d4 and, seeing that the Black Pawn on e5 will soon be removed, prepares to bring the Queen into a Kingside attack with Qd2-f4.

If now 17...exd4, then 18.Qxd4; similarly, if 17...dxe4, then 18.Nxe4 exd4 19.Qxd4. The move 17...Qb6 fails to 18.c5.

Next move: 17...c5


Alekhine: 'Trying to increase the tension at any cost, as the Pawn exchanges would have rapidly proved disastrous.' Black abandons his d-Pawn to its fate and attacks d4 a second time.

The central Pawns make a pretty formation that can only be dissolved tactically. White's better development gives an advantage in the coming complications.

Now 18.Nxd5 fails to 18...cxd4 19.Qb4 (threatening Qe7, or first Ne7+, when the Black Knight will be in danger) 19...Nf6, and Black has escaped the worst.

Next move: 18.dxe5


White prepares the advance of the Queen to f4 and threatens an eventual e5-e6. The Pawn on e5 also prevents the Black Knight from continuing to f6.

If now 18...Nxe5?, White at least wins the d-Pawn and keeps the better game. The intermediate move 19.Qf4, tying the Knight to e5, might be even stronger.

Next move: 18...d4


Black moves the d-Pawn out of danger and attacks the White Knight. Black hopes to play ...Nxe5 on the next move, after the White Knight escapes the attack. A good continuation for Black would be 19.Nd5 Nxe5, followed by 20...Qd6.

Next move: 19.Qf4


White ignores the attack on the Knight and guards the e-Pawn, preventing 19...Nxe5. Alekhine: 'This sacrifice in conjunction with the "quiet" 21st move is doubtless the safest and quickest method to force a victory.'

Some typical variations arise if Black tries to win the Pawn on e5. The move 19...Qe8 allows 20.Nd5 Nxe5 21.Nc7, while 19...Qe7 20.Nd5 Qxe5 gives White a choice of mates: 21.Qf7+ Kh8 22.Qf8+ , or 21.Qxe5 Nxe5 22.Ne7+.

Next move: 19...dxc3


Black has nothing better than to accept the sacrificed piece. The White Knight won't be going to d5, where it participates in the Kingside attack, and the Black Pawn will threaten to promote if not recaptured.

Next move: 20.Qf7+


White pushes the King into the corner, where it is threatened with back rank mates on f8. This forces the Black Knight to stay on d7, where it prevents Black's other Queenside pieces from entering the game and participating in the defense.

The Queen check 20.Qf7+ also prevents Black from playing ...Qe7 and prepares e5-e6-e7

Next move: 20...Kh8


Black has only one move to escape the check.

Now Alekhine mentioned that 21.e6 was 'Tempting, but premature', because of 21...Nf6 22.e7 Qg8 23.Rxf6 Bg4! (23...Be6 also keeps Black out of trouble) 24.Qxg8+ Kxg8 25.Rd6 Re8!, when 26.Bxg4 fails to 26...c2.

Next move: 21.bxc3


White eliminates the only active element in Black's position. Alekhine: 'This move alone proves the correctness of the sacrifice.'

Black still can't untangle the Queenside. If the Knight moves 21...Nxe5??, then 22.Qf8+ mates. If 21...a5, to continue ...Ra6, White has 22.e6 Nf6 23.e7.

Next move: 21...Qg8


Black meets the threat of e5-e6-e7 and offers to exchange Queens.

Next move: 22.Qe7


White's second small sidestep with the Queen -- the first was 17.Qd2 -- avoids the exchange of Queens, guards the e-Pawn, prepares a place for the Rook on f7, and carries miscellaneous threats like 23.e6 Nf6 24. e5 or 23.Bg4.

The Knight is still tied to d7 to prevent Rf1-f8, pinning the Black Queen against its King.

Next move: 22...h6


Black makes a safety spot for the King to escape any imminent back rank mates and prepares a defensive trap: if now 23.e6, Black gets out of trouble with 23...Nf6 24.e5 Nh7.

Next move: 23.Bh5


White renews the threat of 24.e6. If 24...Nf6, then 25.Bf7 wins the Black Queen or forces the promotion of the e-Pawn.

If now 23...Qxc4, then 24.Bf7 attacks the Queen and threatens mate by 25.Qe8+. Other moves also lose to 24.Bf7 or 24.e6.

Next move: 23...a5


Helpless against the threat of e5-e6, Black makes one desperate lunge to finish Queenside development. Perhaps White will overlook something.

Next move: 24.e6


White continues with the main plan. Now 24...Nf6 loses to 25.Bf7 Qh7 26.Rxf6 gxf6 27.Qf8+ and checkmate next move.

Next move: 24...g6


Black would like to stop 25.Bf7, but opening the seventh rank leads to a different kind of disaster.

Next move: 25.exd7


White recaptures the sacrificed Knight and threatens Rf1-f8.

Next move: 25...Bxd7


Black meets the threat of Rf8, and hopes to stay in the game by exchanging Bishops.

Next move: 26.Rf7


White ignores the undefended Black Bishop and seizes the seventh rank. The threat is now 27.Qf6+ or 27.Qe5+. Black resigned.

In his notes, Alekhine mentioned that this game won a brilliancy prize.

Next move: 1-0

For all games in the 'Every Move Explained' series, see
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