HomeLearn to Play ChessImprove Your GameChess HistoryChess for FunChess Blog

1907 Lodz - Rotlewi vs. Rubinstein
Every Move Explained

This game was played in 1907 at Lodz (Poland) between George Rotlewi and Akiba Rubinstein. Rotlewi had the White pieces, Rubinstein the Black.


When chess players speak of chessboard artists, they usually include Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961). His play was based on a profound insight into chess logic that escapes all but the greatest players. Reuben Fine wrote,

We are filled with a sense of the tragic when we review Rubinstein's career. Here is a man who might have been [world] champion (though Lasker was certainly a greater master) but was never given the chance. More important, in so many of his games we are carried away by their classic perfection and feel impelled to say: Better chess cannot be played by mortal man. And yet first prizes, later even third and fourth prizes, escaped him all too often. The tragedy of Rubinstein arose because he played too much beautiful chess and too little winning chess.

George Rotlewi (1889-1920, sometimes written 'Rotlevi') is, somewhat unfairly, best known for this loss to Rubinstein, a game dubbed 'Rubinstein's Immortal Game'.

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


The 1890's and 1900's saw a gradual adoption of 1.d4 as an important alternative to 1.e4, which had always been the preferred move among top players. Staunton's Handbook, a 19th century primer first published in 1847, devoted more than 300 pages to a discussion of 1.e4, but only a dozen pages to 1.d4.

At the great London tournament of 1883 (won by Zukertort 3.0 points ahead of Steinitz), 242 games were played. Of these, 181 started 1.e4, and only 25 started 1.d4. At the equally great St. Petersburg tournament of 1909 (where World Champion Lasker and Rubinstein tied for first 3.5 points ahead of the next players), 175 games were played. The move 1.e4 was White's choice 104 times, while 1.d4 was used 68 times.

Both Rotlewi and Rubinstein opened 1.d4 more often than 1.e4, although the King's Pawn opening was seen from time to time when they played White. A small number of games between the same two players has survived; Rotlewi opened 1.d4 every time he had White.

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

Next move: 1...d5 • For more about Black's responses to 1.d4, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Queen's Pawn Openings.


Throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, Black's response to 1.d4 was nearly always 1...d5. Like 1.d4, it plants a Pawn in the center and prepares the development of two pieces. It also makes 2.e4 more difficult, which would give White a great advantage if allowed on the second move.

Of the 68 games that opened 1.d4 in the St. Petersburg 1909 tournament, 56 of them continued 1...d5. Another six continued 1...Nf6, while the other games saw 1...f5, 1...c5, and 1...g6. A modern tournament would show a preponderance of games continuing 1...Nf6.

In the period of his career where he was among the world's best players, Rubinstein nearly always replied 1...d5. Later he dabbled with 1...Nf6, but 1...d5 remained his first choice even then.

The opening 1.d4 d5 is known as the Closed Game, because the two Pawns in the center will remain in the center for a long time, blocking the action of the other pieces. This is in contrast to 1.e4 e5, which is known as the Open Game, where the center Pawns are frequently swapped off the board within the first few moves.

Next move: 2.Nf3 • For more about White's responses to 1...d5, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Closed Game.


After 1.d4 d5, the most popular move is 2.c4, known as the Queen's Gambit. The most popular move for Black is then 2...e6, the Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD). Black can also play 2...dxc4, the Queen's Gambit Accepted (QGA).

In the QGD, the game often continues 3.Nc3 Nf6, attacking and defending Black's d-Pawn in turn, followed by 4.Bg5, developing a piece and adding to the pressure on d5 by attacking that Pawn's defender. Black often answers 4...Be7, in order to recapture on f6 with the Bishop. Now the moves 5.e3 O-O 6.Nf3 (or 5.Nf3 O-O 6.e3) lead to a standard QGD position that has been played countless times.

Instead of 4.Bg5, White can play 4.Nf3. Now 4...Be7 5.Bg5 O-O heads into the same standard QGD position. Black can, however, vary with 4...Bb4 or 4...c5, since the pressure on f6 is missing.

Instead of 3...Nf6, Black can play 3...c5, a controversial variation called the Tarrasch Defense, after the name of the strong German player who championed it. It is controversial because after 4.cxd5 exd5, White forces Black to play with an isolated d-Pawn, a curious feature of the Pawn structure that is an obvious weakness offset by less obvious strengths. Now after 5.Nf3 Nc6, the move 6.g3, known as the Rubinstein Variation, is considered the strongest way to play against the Tarrasch Defense.

The move 2.Nf3 often transposes into one of the QGD variations just discussed. This is especially true if on the next move White plays 3.c4.

Next move: 2...e6 • For more about Black's responses to 2.Nf3, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Queen's Pawn Game with 2.Nf3.


By not playing 2.c4, which threatens 3.cxd5, White allowed a larger number of possible reponses to Black. After 2.Nf3, the moves 2...Bg4, 2...c5, and 2...Nc6 have been tried, all leading away from standard QGD paths. The move 2...Nf6 is also possible, inviting White to continue with the QGD.

The move 2...e6, as played in the game, also invites the QGD, but with a twist. Unlike 2...Nf6, it prepares an immediate 3...c5, avoiding the isolated d-Pawn.

A slight downside of 2...e6 is that it shuts in the Bishop on c8. As we've seen, this is normal in the QGD. In fact, Black's Queen Bishop is rarely developed to f5 or g4. One reason is that its absence from the Queenside weakens the light-colored squares there, making them vulnerable to an attack by c2-c4 and Qd1-b3.

Next move: 3.e3


The move 3.e3 may look innocent enough, but it represents a significant decision by White. All of the standard QGD variations discussed on 2.Nf3 are no longer possible.

First, the move Bc1-g5 is now impossible. This means that White's dark-squared Bishop will be developed on d2 or, as is more likely, on the long a1-h8 diagonal.

Second, the move 6.g3 against the Tarrasch Defense (the Rubinstein Variation) is less effective. White has already declared the intention of developing the light-squared Bishop on the a6-f1 diagonal, rather than on the long a8-h1 diagonal.

White can, of course, continue on subsequent moves with c2-c4 and Nb1-c3, attacking the Pawn on d5. The move Bc1-g5, however, attacking a defender of that Pawn, is no longer possible.

Next move: 3...c5


Black continues with the plan initiated by 2...e6. If White plays 4.dxc5, Black recaptures with the Bishop.

The move 3...c5 also prepares to develop the Knight with ...Nc6. In closed games, the Knight is normally not developed to its natural square before its own c-Pawn has advanced two steps. This is true both for White (Nb1-c3 after c2-c4) and for Black (Nb8-c6 after c7-c5).

Next move: 4.c4


Two moves later than in a standard QGD, White advances to c4. As we just saw with 3...c5, the move 4.c4 is played before the Knight blocks it by Nb1-c3. Unlike 2.c4, the Pawn on c4 is already protected by the Bishop on f1.

The central Pawn position is full of tension. Both players' c- and d-Pawns are prepared to capture the opponent's c- and d-Pawns.

Here it is useful to make a routine observation about the capture d4xc5 or ...d5xc4. In either case, the Pawn can be recaptured immediately by the King's Bishop. If that Bishop has already moved, then the side recapturing will have lost a move : one move to develop to e2 (e7 for Black) or d3 (d6), plus one move for the recapture, means that it took two moves for the Bishop to arrive on c4 (c5).

If both players lose a move in recapturing with the Bishop, then neither will have lost any time with respect to the opponent. If one player loses a move, but the other player doesn't, then it will be as if the player losing a move has simply granted two consecutive moves to the opponent.

If Black now plays 4...Nf6, the position will be symmetrical. Symmetry often carries a slight disadvantage for the player moving second, who must always be alert that the other player might break the symmetry with advantage by capturing.

Next move: 4...Nc6


Black declines to establish symmetry with 4...Nf6 (there was no compelling reason to so) and instead develops the other Knight to its natural square.

Can't White now play 5.cxd5 exd5 (not 5...Qxd5 6.Nc3), saddling Black with an isolated d-Pawn, as mentioned in the notes to 2.Nf3? Of course, this is possible, although it doesn't lead to the Rubinstein Variation, since White has already played e2-e3 instead of g2-g3. The continuation might be 6.Nc3 Nf6 with an equal game.

Next move: 5.Nc3


White also develops the Knight to its natural square, keeping the central tension. The Knight move attacks the d-Pawn, threatening d4xc5, after which the d-Pawn would be attacked three times but defended only twice.

Next move: 5...Nf6


Black develops the other Knight to its natural square. This defends the d-Pawn from the discovered attack by d4xc5.

The position is now completely symmetrical. Both players have used their first five moves to achieve the same objectives, although in a different move order than after 1.d4 d5.

Now the ideal strategy for both sides is a waiting game involving the further development of the Kingside. White would rather not lose a tempo with 6.Be2 (6.Bd3 would lead to the same) 6...dxc4 7.Bxc4. A good move here is 6.a3, preparing to develop the Bishop on the long diagonal after a timely d4xc5 followed by b2-b4. This forces the same waiting game on Black.

Next move: 6.dxc5


White loses patience and captures the c-Pawn prematurely. As explained in the previous notes, this allows Black to develop the Kingside Bishop with the gain of one tempo.

Next move: 6...Bxc5


Black recaptures the Pawn, while developing the Bishop and preparing to castle O-O.

Next move: 7.a3


White wants to develop the Queenside Bishop on the long diagonal. The plan is to play b2-b4, attacking the Bishop on c5, then Bc1-b2.

White avoids Be2 and Bd3, hoping that Black will capture ...dxc4. Then Bxc4 will recover the Pawn without losing a tempo on development of the Bishop to an intermediate square.

Next move: 7...a6


Since the position remains almost symmetrical, Black can use the same plan as White. The move 7...a6 prepares an eventual ...b5 and ...Bc8-b7, developing the Queenside Bishop on the long diagonal, just like White intends to do. Black could also have castled O-O first and played ...a6 later.

Even if Black never carries through the idea of ...b5, the Pawn on a6 is useful defensively. After b2-b4, it stops White from playing a further b4-b5, attacking the Knight.

Next move: 8.b4


The move 8.b4 attacks the Bishop on c5, opens the long a1-h8 diagonal to develop the Bishop, and claims some space on the Queenside.

Next move: 8...Bd6


Black has three acceptable retreat squares for the Bishop: a7, e7, and d6. The unacceptable squares are f8, 'undeveloping' the Bishop, and b6, blocking the b-Pawn, which will soon move to allow ...Bb7.

Of the acceptable retreat squares, Black plans to develop the Queen to e7, removing that square from consideration. On a7, the Bishop would be looking at a strong e3-f2 Pawn chain, reducing its power on the a7-g1 diagonal.

On d6, the Bishop has an open line to h2. White will soon be castling O-O, when the square h2 will become sensitive to attacks by the Black pieces. After considering the further course of the game, Black decides that d6 is the best square to retreat the Bishop.

Black is not afraid of 9.cxd5 exd5, when 10.Nxd5 is bad because of 10...Nxd5 11.Qxd5?? Bxb4+.

Next move: 9.Bb2


White continues with the plan initiated by 7.a3 and 8.b4. On the long diagonal, the Bishop will make the Black King uncomfortable after castling O-O.

Next move: 9...O-O


Black completes development of the Kingside by castling there.

Now White is again faced with the problem of developing the Kingside. The move 10.Bd3 (10.Be2 leads to the same) allows 10...dxc4 11.Bxc4, when White loses a move with the Bishop. Now 11...b5 12.Bd3 Bb7 13.O-O is again a symmetric position. This time it is Black to move, proof that White has lost a tempo.

One idea now is 10.cxd5 exd5 11.Bd3 (or 11.Be2). Wrong again would be 10.cxd5 Nxd5 11.Nxd5? exd5 12.Qxd5?? Bxb4+. The variation 10.cxd5 exd5, looks especialy tempting because it gives Black an isolated d-Pawn, a weakness in the endgame.

The problem is that, with all of the pieces still on the board, the endgame is nowhere in sight. Black would abandon the idea of ...Bb7, and play the Bishop on the c8-h3 diagonal. The move ...Be6 would prepare ...Ne4, when the Black Knight is planted dangerously on White's side of the board. An exchange by Nc3xe4 allows ...d5xe4, when the Black Pawn on e4 attacks the White Knight on f3. Once that Knight moves away, White's castled King would be exposed to a dangerous attack. White decides that the isolated d-Pawn would be too strong in the middle game, and avoids it.

Another idea is 10.c4-c5, avoiding a further ...d5xc4. In this case, the Black Bishop would retreat to c7, where it supports both ...b6 and ...a5, weakening the White Queenside Pawns. The game would then revolve around Black's efforts to win one of these Pawns, when White would be thrown on the defensive.

All things considered, White's best now is probably 10.Bd3, accepting the loss of a tempo.

Next move: 10.Qd2


Faced with a multitude of inferior plans, White tries to avoid all of them. Avoiding them just puts off the same choice of inferior plans to the next move.

White has one hope: that Black now plays ...d5xc4, allowing the immediate recapture by Bxc4. Hoping for a bad move by the opponent is the strategy of a desperate player. Since White's position was far from desperate, the strategy is wrong.

The problem with 10.Qd2 is that the Queen is not well placed on d2. If the Queen is forced to move later, White might lose a tempo moving it to a square that could have been reached in a single move. A Black Rook on d8 or a Knight on e4 would be the sort of move requiring the Queen to move again.

If White wants to move the Queen now, the only safe square is b3. Even on b3, the Queen would present an object for attack, but it would be safer than on d2.

Next move: 10...Qe7


In contrast to White's struggle to find good moves, Black's moves follow a definite plan. Not only is the Queen safe on e7, its development leaves d8 free for the development of a Rook. A Rook on d8 will threaten the Queen on d2 by ...d5xc4 and ...Bd6xb4 (or Bd6xh2).

It is now clear that White's 10.Qd2 was not well considered. To make matters worse, White is again faced with the same inferior choices that were available on the 10th move.

Next move: 11.Bd3


Finally realizing that Black is not going to capture on c4 until White loses a tempo in the recapture, White proceeds with the development of the Bishop.

Next move: 11...dxc4


Black captures on c4. In order to avoid losing a Pawn, White is now forced to recapture immediately with the Bishop.

Next move: 12.Bxc4


White recaptures the Pawn. White's moves 11.Bf1-d3 and 12.Bd3xc4 can be compared to Black's 6...Bf8xc5. White has taken two moves to accomplish the same maneuver that Black did in one move, thereby losing a tempo in the race to develop the pieces.

Next move: 12...b5


Black continues with the same plan that White executed earlier with 8.b4 and 9.Bb2, developing the Queenside Bishop on its long diagonal. The move 12...b5 attacks the Bishop on c4, forcing it to retreat.

Next move: 13.Bd3


The Bishop retreats to the equivalent square that Black chose with 8...Bd6, probably for the same reason. On d3, the Bishop exercises some pressure on Black's castled King by attacking the Pawn on h7.

Next move: 13...Rd8


Black continues to develop. The Rook move 13...Rd8 places a Rook on an open file and aims at White's Queen. If the Bishop moves off d6, the White Bishop on d3 would be pinned.

Next move: 14.Qe2


White moves the Queen out of range of the Black Rook, thereby losing a tempo. White has taken two moves -- 10.Qd1-d2 and 14.Qd2-e2 -- to place the Queen on a square that it could have reached in one move.

In the chess opening it is important that the pieces be developed as economically as possible. Moves that lose time are almost always to be avoided.

Next move: 14...Bb7


Black continues to develop, moving the Bishop to the long diagonal that was prepared with 12...b5. The Black Bishops are developed on adjacent diagonals, both aimed at the White Kingside.

Next move: 15.O-O


White completes the development of the Kingside, and moves the King into safety. The King might be a little uncomfortable with the Black Bishops aimed in its direction, but there was no choice for castling. Because of the many open lines on the Queenside, castling O-O-O is too dangerous.

Once again the position of the two armies shows a curious symmetry. The Pawn structures are identical, the Queens and minor pieces have all been developed to equivalent squares, and the Kings are both castled Kingside. Only the placing of the King's Rooks are different. The White Rook is sitting on its castling square, while the Black Rook has already moved to the d-file. This means that Black is one move ahead of White.

Since Black is a move ahead, and is also on move, we can conclude that White has lost two moves since the game started 1.d4 d5. The first move was lost with the respective captures and recaptures on c4/c5, where White took two moves to Black's one move. The second move was lost with the development of the Queens to e2/e7, where White again took two moves to Black's one.

Chess logic says:

  • When White loses a move in the opening, the White/Black roles switch. For example, 1.e3 e5 2.e4 reaches the same position as 1.e4 e5, except Black is on the move.
  • When Black loses a move in the opening, matters are more serious, because Black already starts the game a move behind.

The current game, where White has lost two moves, is equivalent to Black losing one move. White is clearly in trouble. How should Black take advantage of this?

Next move: 15...Ne5


Chess logic says that when one player has a lead in development, that player should attack. Chess theory says that an attack should be aimed at the opponent's weak points.

Where are White's weak points? One weakness is the castled King's position, which has two Bishops aiming at it on open diagonals. Another weakness is the Bishop on d3, which is protected only by the Queen.

Black's last move 15...Ne5, attacks both of those weaknesses. First, it threatens to win a piece with 16...Nxd3; White can't recapture 17.Qxd3, because of 17...Bxh2+, with a discovered attack on the Queen. Second, it threatens to capture the Knight on f3. That Knight is attacked by two minor pieces, but defended by Queen and Pawn. Although the Knight is adequately defended, either ...Nxf3 or ...Bxf3 must be answered with g2xf3. That would ruin White's Kingside Pawn structure, giving Black more targets for a subsequent attack.

White now has two reasonable moves: 16.Nxe5 and 16.Ne1. The move 16.Ne1 is inferior because it prevents the Rook on f1 from moving to one of the center files. White would have to undertake a defensive maneuver -- moving the Bd3 out of attack, then moving the Ne1 off the back rank -- to proceed with activation of that Rook.

Next move: 16.Nxe5


In order to avoid further difficulties, White's move 16.Nxe5 is forced. White appears to have escaped the worst, but the position has changed significantly. The Knight on f3, which was the main defender of White's Kingside is going to disappear from the board. Its absence leaves the Pawn on h2 defended only by the King, and opens the a8-h1 diagonal for the Bishop on b7. That Bishop now strikes at the Pawn g2, which is itself defended only by the King.

Next move: 16...Bxe5


Black must recapture the Knight immediately to avoid losing a piece. Black now threatens ...Qd6, with a double attack on d3 and h2. If it were Black's move, both 17...Qd6 and 17...Bxh2+ would win a Pawn.

Next move: 17.f4


White meets the threatened double attack by closing the b8-h2 diagonal. While addressing the immediate problem, it creates a new weakness on the a7-g1 diagonal, which had previously been unassailable because of the e3-f2 Pawn chain.

A better move would have been 17.Rfd1, anticipating the double attack 17...Qd6 by protecting the Bishop a second time.

Next move: 17...Bc7


Black retreats the attacked Bishop to its best square. On c7, the Bishop prepares to transfer to the newly weakened a7-g1 diagonal, where it would pin the Pawn on e3. The Bishop also avoids interfering with its own Rooks, which would be the case on b8 and d6.

Next move: 18.e4


After closing the b8-h2 diagonal on the previous move, White now closes the a8-h1 diagonal. The f-Pawn is thereby weakened slightly, but it is protected by the Rook on f1 and unlikely to be attacked a second time.

We can't know for sure, but White might have been pleased with this position, and considered himself to have escaped the worst. The Pawns on e4 and f4 not only block the two Black Bishops, they also threaten to advance to e5 and/or f5, opening Black's King position to White's own Bishops.

Next move: 18...Rac8


Black brings the last undeveloped piece into play. The Rook only appears to be blocked on the open c-file; this will change after ...Bb6+.

Next move: 19.e5


White starts to initiate counterplay by attacking the Knight. Since both the g4 and h5 squares are attacked by the White Queen, the Knight must apparently move to e8, where it will be out of play, or to d7, where it interferes with its own Rook on the d-file, or to d5, where it interferes with its own Bishop on b7.

After any of these three moves, White will be able to continue Nc3-e4. Along with further moves in the direction of the Black Kingside by White's Queen and Rook, together with f4-f5, White can dream of a swift counterattack.

Next move: 19...Bb6+


Before retreating the Knight, Black places the dark-squared Bishop on an open diagonal, checking the enemy King. The Bishop move 19...Bb6+ also opens the c-file for the Rook on c8.

The Black Bishops are still well coordinated. They are on adjacent diagonals, aimed at the White King position.

Next move: 20.Kh1


White has four legal moves to escape the check. The three moves that block the check on the diagonal would all lose material, leaving only one move to retain the material balance.

Next move: 20...Ng4


This move is undoubtedly a surprise to anyone playing through this game for the first time. Instead of retreating, the attacked Knight lunges toward the White King.

If White now captures 21.Qxg4, Black recaptures the lost minor piece with 21...Rxd3. On d3 the Rook would threaten either to win material on c3 or to continue to d2, with a double attack on b2 and g2. White would be unable to meet both the threat on c3 and the threat on d2.

Not only does 20...Ng4 escape the attack on the Knight, it also threatens 21...Qh4. This would force White to sacrifice the Queen to avoid immediate mate on h2.

Next move: 21.Be4


The move ...Qh4 gets much of its strength from the threat of checkmate on h2. Since this can't be parried by g2-g3 or h2-h3 because of the pin on g2 by the Bishop, White blocks the influence of that dangerous piece by closing the diagonal.

Next move: 21...Qh4


Black threatens mate in one move by 22...Qxh2.

Next move: 22.g3


White protects against the threatened mate by opening the second rank. This lets the Queen protect the Pawn on the vulnerable h2-square.

White appears to be holding the position, but there is a problem. One of White's pieces is overburdened with defensive tasks. Can you tell which one?

Also worth noting is that 22.h3 would fail to defend successfully for the same reasons that 22.g3 fails.

Next move: 22...Rxc3


Black plays another stunning sacrifice, this time of Rook for Knight. If White plays 23.Bxc3, then 23...Bxe4+ checkmates. White's capture 24.Qxe4 allows mate by 24.Qxh2.

It is now obvious that the White Queen was defensively overburdened. The exchange sacrifice 22...Rxc3 removed one defender of the Bishop on e4. The only other defender, the White Queen, was also busy protecting against mate on h2.

The exchange sacrifice wasn't the only sacrifice in Black's last move. The Black Queen is also en prise.

Next move: 23.gxh4


White captures the Queen, hoping that Black has miscalculated a variation. The move 23.Bxb7 would fail to 23...Rxg3, for reasons similar to the game.

Next move: 23...Rd2


Black's sacrifices are cascading, one after another. The move 23...Rd2 leaves both Rooks, the Knight, and a Bishop en prise. Its point is to deflect the White Queen from the defense of the light-squared Bishop.

Now the move 24.Bxb7 would fail to 23...Rxe2, after which one of the Black Rooks will deliver checkmate on h2.

Next move: 24.Qxd2


White captures the attacking Rook, which both threatens the Queen and pins it to h2, where the Rook would deliver mate. The Queen will defend the check ...Bxe4 by moving to g2 and blocking the Bishop's diagonal.

Next move: 24...Bxe4+


Black's Bishops coordinate to deprive the White King of its escape squares. While one Bishop checks, the other prevents the King from running to g1.

Next move: 25.Qg2


White can parry the check in two different ways. The move 25.Rf3 would be followed by 25...Bxf3 and 26.Qg2.

Next move: 25...Rh3


This has been the beautiful point behind many of the sacrifices. The Rook threatens mate on h2. It can't be captured by the Queen, which is pinned on g2. White can delay mate for a few moves by blocking the Bishops on their diagonals, but the Bishops just capture the blocking pieces and maintain the same mate threat.

White resigned.

Next move: 0-1

For all games in the 'Every Move Explained' series, see
Improve Your Game.