Classic Game – Who needs Clergymen, anyway

Aron Nimzowitch - Siegbert Tarrrasch, St Petersburg 1914

This game is included in our classic game as a natural follow-on from our post on the Greek Gift:

  • Aron Nimzowitch was a founding father of the school of systematic chess development and was one of the first authors to really put into writing the core fundamentals of chess study.

    Despite playing a fine set of developing moves, he makes a small inaccuracy with Nh4?! which costs him a tempo! Tarrasch's aggressive handling of the rest of the game is amazing.

  • Whilst not the first example of the double bishop sacrifice, we see the core principles of the greek gift in action!
  • The final king hunt alone is worthy of inclusion in this section!

No black bishops were spared in this attack.

[Event "St Petersburg 1914"] [White "Nimzowitch, Aron"] [Black "Tarrasch, Siegbert"] [Site "Russia"] [Result "0-1"] [Date "1914"] 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.c4 e6 4.e3 {A solid opening from both players, fighting for control of the centre with pawns.} 4...Nf6 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.0-0 Bd6 7.b3 0-0 8.Bb2 b6 9.Nbd2 Bb7 {More or less symmetrical development. The bishops are both aiming at the relevant g2-h2 and g7-h7 squares. Both sides have great central control.} 10.Rc1 Qe7 11.cxd5 {White wants to make use of the rook on c1} 11...exd5 12.Nh4 {On a mission to either get the f5 square, winning the bishop pair or create a weakness with ...g6. This could later help the fianchettoed bishop on b2.} 12...g6 13.Nhf3 Rad8 {Unfortunately, the time investment of 2 moves to black's 1 has allowed black to easily complete development with only a small concession.} 14.dxc5 bxc5 {We now have one of those positions with "dynamic c and d pawns". If black can use them to open up the white position, he is likely better. If not, they will become a target and need constant supervision in the endgame.} 15.Bb5 Ne4 16.Bxc6 (16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Nd2 Bb8! {lines up the rook against d1 and prepares a later Qd6 and black has the initiative.}) 16...Bxc6 17.Qc2 {White has given up the bishop pair so targets the centre. If black hesitates with Rfe8, 18. Nxe4 and the c6-bishop is locked out.} 17...Nxd2 18.Nxd2 {Now we are looking at the Greek Gift ideas from our tactics pages! The king has no defending units around! Unfortunately, it would take time to get the c6-bishop and d8-rook into the attack. Plus we want to use those central pawns. If we can also lock out the b2 bishop, that would be great...} 18...d4! 19.exd4 {Now we evaluate a greek gift idea - well, after 19...Bxh2+ 20.Kxh2 Qh4+ 21. Kg1 and we have ideas of hitting g2 and Rd5-h5 so there is some potential but is there enough?} 19...Bxh2+! 20.Kxh2 Qh4+ 21.Kg1 Bxg2!! {Exclamation for bravery! The threat is Qh1# and there is a forced perpetual at the least after 22. Kxg2 so it's safe.} (21...Rd5 22.Nf3! {and white is firmly in control. Black is dead lost. The game continuation is the only one that works!!}) 22.f3 (22.Kxg2 Qg4+ 23.Kh2 Rd5 24.Qxc5 Rh5+ 25.Qxh5 Qxh5+ 26.Kg3 Qg5+ 27.Kf3 Qxd2 {Just like the famous Lasker double bishop sacrifice game, there is further material investment possible at the end, adding to the tactical justification for the sacrifice.}) 22...Rfe8 (22...Bxf1 {must have been tempting but black's foot is on white's throat so} 23. Rf2 Qh1# {and} 23. Kxg2 Re2+ 24. Kg1 Qh2# {so Tarrasch just heightens the pressure.}) 23.Ne4 Qh1+ 24.Kf2 Bxf1 25.d5 (25.Rxf1 Qh2+) 25...f5 {opening lines, making a mating net...} 26.Qc3 Qg2+ 27.Ke3 Rxe4+! 28.fxe4 {The finish here is beautiful. Of course, Nimzowitch wants mate on g7 and defending would get white back in the game, so the attack must roll on.} 28...f4+ 29.Kxf4 Rf8+ 30.Ke5 Qh2+ 31.Ke6 Re8+ 32.Kd7 Bb5#
Tarrasch rightly deserves recognition for this fine attacking game.

Key Lessons from the Game?

We would like to focus on three particular ideas from this game which are quite instructive:
  1. Tempi and why they are important!
  2. Creating the conditions for an attack
  3. How to best attack on an open board

Tempi and why they are important

Nimzowitch was an absolute expert on planning and the value of pieces, best squares etc.
f5 is weak and if he can get a knight there unchallenged, the exchange of knight for d6 bishop would definitely benefit white. Sadly after 12...g6 13. Nf3, white has taken two tempo to allow black to guard f5. OK, it does open the long diagonal but can white utilise this?

Better was Re1, with development and allowing some Nd2-f1-g3 manouevres.

Creating the conditions for an attack!

Black's development is good and the pieces are looking at the right squares. Even better here would be the f8-rook on e8 but 18...Rfe8 allows 19. Qc3! creating counterplay and allowing some lateral defence, so time is of the essence.

The bishop on c6 is screaming here - "I want to see g2!" so Tarrasch obliges. There are other reasons the d4 advance is good:

  • Occupies more space (see later Rd8-d5-h5 ideas)
  • Stops Qc3 ideas very forcefully
  • Puts the 'vulnerable' central pawns to dynamic use!
After the advance, as we saw from the Greek Gift tactic, black's attack is just winning. The best white can do is the game line and prolong the agony!

Attacking on an open board

Full credit to Nimzowitch for fighting on and creating counterplay in this game. In the given position, Tarrasch cannot consider defending. Even one lost tempo here could cost the game!

The attack to end the game is very instructive. 26...Qg2 means 27. Ke3 is forced (27. Ke1 Qe2#) taking the king into the centre of the board.

27...Rxe4+ is very nice (although 27...Qg1 also closes lines for the defender and wins). Let's face it, Rxe4 is a sexier move!

After 28. fxe4, Tarrasch gives an absolute master class in mating the open king. This belongs in the puzzle books! 28...f4+! 29. Kxf4 (forced) Rf8+ (checking on the open file) 30. Ke5 Qh2+ (closing off one diagonal) 31. Ke6 (no way back) Re8+ 32. Kd7 Bb5# (32. Kf6 Qf4# or 32...Qh4#)

A very enjoyable and instructive attacking game.