A short blog post about a classic book by two famous Soviet masters, Grigory Levenfish and Pyotr Romanovsky, on one of the most celebrated chess matches of all time. Some brief biographical details on Romanovsky are also presented.
Among the oldest and most prized books in my collection is Levenfish & Romanovsky’s survey of the 1927 World Championship match between José Raúl Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine. It was published in Leningrad by Shakhmatnyi Listok, the forerunner of Shakhmaty v SSSR, in 1928, with a print run of 5000 copies.
The book is 131 pages long and contains detailed analyses of all 34 games of the match, which was famously won by the émigré Russian master by the score of +6, -3, =25.
I have translated the annotations to several of the games, and those to two of the most famous – the 11th and the 29th – can be downloaded at the links below.
(I may present further translations in the future, as time permits.)
(The 11th match-game, as it appears in the book.)
Both these games featured the same opening – the Cambridge Springs Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The 11th is one of the most famous in chess history. Levenfish and Romanovsky summarise it as follows:
In the intensity of the struggle, in the richness of ideas nested within it, one of the most remarkable games not just in the present match, but in the entire history of chess. Such a game Capablanca had not lost in the whole of his chess career. Usually his opponents could not withstand the prolonged, unrelenting pressure of the World Champion. Here for the first time he crossed swords with an opponent who not only did not give him a single moment but, on the contrary, displayed amazing resourcefulness and exploited the slightest inaccuracy of his play. The moral effect of the game told throughout the further course of the match. For the first time Alekhine managed to find the Achilles’ heel in the method of play of Capablanca, and in the following games he confidently went in for complications, feeling in them the master of the situation.
Surprisingly, Alekhine himself did not rate the game highly. In his famous work My Best Games of Chess, 1924-1937, he writes:
In my opinion this game has been praised too much, the whole world over. It was doubtless very exciting both for the players – who were continuously short of time – and the public. But its final part represents a true comedy of errors in which my opponent several times missed a draw and I missed about the same number of winning opportunities. In short, but for its outstanding sporting importance (it became, in fact, the crucial point of the match), I would hardly have included it in this collection.
However, Alekhine’s analysis is demonstrably faulty in places, and this may have influenced his opinion. Critically, he considered that the move 61.Kg2 led to a draw, staying that “after this Black can achieve nothing more than a drawn queen endgame with three pawns against two on the same side”. However, he presents no analysis to support this, while Levenfish and Romanovsky convincingly demonstrate a win for Black.
Alekhines’ final combination in the game was exceptionally beautiful. Capablanca resigned at the 66th move, when faced with immediate mate. The final position would have been as follows:
The 29th game was a much drier, technical affair. Capablanca introduced an opening improvement, saving a couple of tempi in comparison with the 11th game, and thanks to some incautious play by Alekhine he soon developed strong positional pressure and won a pawn. However, Alekhine defended superbly, and thanks to favourable simplification he was able to steer the game to an objectively drawn ending. However, with the draw in his grasp he took the wrong course, and Capablanca capitalised on the mistake to take the full point.
(The 29th match-game, as it appears in the book.)
Grigory Yakovlevich Levenfish (1889-1961) was the subject of an earlier blog post, which interested readers can find here.
Pyotr Arsenievich Romanovsky (1892-1964) was Levenfish’s rival in Leningrad during the 1920s and 1930s. Twice USSR champion (in 1923 and 1927), in 1934 he became the first chessplayer in the Soviet Union to be awarded the title ‘Honoured Master of Sport’, and in 1957 he would also gain the title of ‘Honoured Trainer’. He was a well-known teacher and commentator in Soviet chess circles throughout his career. A translation of his classic book Mittelshpiel‘ (‘The Middlegame’) has recently appeared in English, while his autobiographical Izbrannie Partii (‘Selected Games’), published in Moscow in 1954, deserves to be better known.
In this photo, taken at Leningrad in 1934, Levenfish and Romanovsky are seated 1st and 2nd from left, in the front row. On Romanovsky’s left is Vladimir Alatortsev. 5th from the right, standing, is Aleksandr Ilyin-Zhenevsky.
Romanovsky was to survive the terrible wartime blockade of Leningrad. However, in the space of 20 days in January 1942, his wife and four daughters all perished. Romanovsky himself was found half-conscious in the family’s dacha on Krestovsky Island. He was later evacuated across the ice of Lake Ladoga (where, incidentally, the master Aleksandr Ilyin-Zhenevsky had been killed earlier in the war) and put on a train headed east. At Aleksandrov (Vladimir province) he was found by his old student, Vladimir Alatortsev, and hospitalised. Romanovsky regained consciousness after a further four days and was transferred to a sanitorium in Ivanovo, where he eventually recovered. By the end of the war he was again competing at the highest level in the Soviet Union, qualifying for the final of the 14th USSR Championship (Moscow, 1945).
(The frontispiece of Romanovsky’s ‘Selected Games’.
Biographical details on Romanovsky are from the biographical work Pyotr Romanovsky (authored by I. Z. Romanov, released in 1984 by the state publishing house ‘Fizkultura i Sport’ as part of its ‘Black Series’), and Andrew Soltis’ work Soviet Chess 1917-1991 (McFarland, 2000).
Alekhine’s analysis of the 11th match-game appears in My Best Games of Chess, 1924-1937 (Bell, 1955).