Chess tournaments Chess strategy Computer chess Chess players FIDE Chess variants Chess rules and history

Alekhine's Defence

Alekhine's Defence
a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Moves 1.e4 Nf6
ECO B02-B05
Origin Alexander Alekhine, Budapest 1921
Named after Alexander Alekhine
Parent King's Pawn Game

Alekhine's Defence is a hypermodern chess opening that can begin with the moves:

1. e4 Nf6

Black tempts White's pawns forward to form a broad pawn centre, with plans to undermine and attack the white structure later in the spirit of hypermodern defence. White's imposing mass of pawns in the centre often includes pawns on c4, d4, e5, and f4. Grandmaster Nick de Firmian observes of Alekhine's Defence in MCO-15 (2008), "The game immediately loses any sense of symmetry or balance, which makes the opening a good choice for aggressive fighting players."

The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO) has four codes for Alekhine's Defence, B02 through B05:

History

The opening is named after Alexander Alekhine, who introduced it in the 1921 Budapest tournament in games against Endre Steiner and Fritz Sämisch. Four years later, the editors of the Fourth Edition of Modern Chess Openings (MCO-4) wrote:

Nothing is more indicative of the iconoclastic conceptions of the 'hypermodern school' than the bizarre defence introduced by Alekhine ... . Although opposing to all tenets of the classical school, Black allows his King's Knight to be driven about the board in the early stages of the game, in the expectation of provoking a weakness in White's centre pawns.

In addition to Alekhine, another early exponent of the defence was Ernst Grünfeld.

Use

The popularity of Alekhine's Defence waxes and wanes; currently it is not very common. De Firmian observes, "The fashion could quickly change if some champion of the opening takes up the cause, as the results Black has obtained in practice are good." The opening's current highest-rated proponent is Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk, although Lev Alburt played it at grandmaster level almost exclusively during his career and was responsible for many contributions in both theory and practice. De Firmian writes, "Currently Grandmasters Shabalov and Minasian use the opening with regularity, while Aronian, Adams, and Nakamura will use it on occasion. In the past, great players such as Fischer and Korchnoi included the defense in their repertoire, leading to its respectable reputation."

Variations

After the usual 2. e5 Nd5, three main variations of Alekhine's Defence use 3.d4, but there are other options for White at this point. Two of the most common versions are the Exchange Variation and the Four Pawns Attack. The Exchange Variation continues 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6. White has some space advantage. Black can capitalise on the half-open centre with ...g6, ...Bg7 with ...Bg4 eventually being played. The Four Pawns Attack continues 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4. White has a somewhat larger space advantage though the centre is not fixed. Black has a number of options. Black can play ...Qd7 with ...0-0-0 and ...f6 putting pressure on White's d pawn. Black can play ...Nb4 with ...c5 hoping to exchange the d pawn. Finally, Black can play ...Be7 with ...0-0 and ...f6 attacking the centre. Minor variations include O'Sullivan's Gambit, 3.d4 b5 (intending 4.Bxb5 c5 5.dxc5?? Qa5+), and 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4, the Balogh Variation.

Four Pawns Attack: 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Four Pawns Attack 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4

The Four Pawns Attack is White's most ambitious try, and the variation which perhaps illustrates the basic idea of the defence best: Black allows White to make several tempo-gaining attacks on the knight and to erect an apparently imposing pawn centre in the belief that it can later be destroyed. The game can become very sharp since White must either secure his advantage in space or make use of it before Black succeeds in making a successful strike at it. Black must also play vigorously because passive play will be crushed by the White centre. The Four Pawns Attack is not particularly popular because many White players are wary of entering a sharp tactical line which Black may have prepared. The main line continues 5...dxe5 6.fxe5 Nc6 7.Be3 Bf5 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nf3

An alternative is the sharp Planinc Variation, 5...g5!?. Black hopes for 6. fxg5? dxe5, wrecking White's centre and leaving him with weak pawns. The line is named after grandmaster Albin Planinc, who championed it in the 1970s. Template:Citatation needed It was then taken up in the 1990s by correspondence player Michael Schirmer, whose games were noted in a recent book on Alekhine's Defence by notable British GM and Alekhine exponent Nigel Davies.

Exchange Variation: 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Exchange Variation 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6

The Exchange Variation is less ambitious than the Four Pawns Attack. White trades pawns, accepting a more modest spatial advantage. Black's main decision is whether to recapture with the solid 5...exd6, which will lead to a fairly strategic position, or the more ambitious 5...cxd6 when Black has a preponderance of pawns in the centre. The third recapture 5...Qxd6 is also possible since the fork 6.c5 can be answered by 6...Qe6+, but the line is considered inferior since Black will sooner or later need to deal with this threat.

In the sharper 5...cxd6 line, Black usually aims to attack and undermine the white pawn on d4, and possibly c4 as well. To do this, a usual plan involves a fianchetto of the king bishop to g7, playing the other bishop to g4 to remove a knight on f3 which is a key defender of d4, while black knights on b6 and c6 bear down on the white pawns on c4 and d4. Cox gave the game Jainy Gomes vs. Guillermo Soppe to illustrate Black's intentions.

A popular setup from White to prevent Black's plan is the Voronezh Variation (named after the Russian city Voronezh, where the line was invented, by players such as Grigory Sanakoev). The Voronezh is defined by the opening sequence 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 cxd6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.Rc1 0-0 9.b3. White's setup delays kingside development so that Black has trouble developing pieces in a fashion that harasses White's pieces and assails the centre pawns; for instance there is no knight on f3 which can become a target after ...Bg4, and no bishop on d3 which may be a target after ...Nc6-e5. While 9...Nc6?! is Black's most common reply according to ChessBase's database, after 10.d5 Ne5 Black's knight lacks a target, and will soon be chased out with f2-f4, and this line has scored very poorly for Black. The main line in the Voronezh, and the second most common reply, is 9...e5 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Qxd8 Rxd8 12.c5 N6d7 (This retreat is forced since 12...Nd5?? loses the knight due to the 13.Rd1 pin) when Black must play carefully to unentangle and challenge the White pawn on c5. Other lines against the Voronezh include 9...f5 leading to sharp play. Other solid moves such as 9...e6, ...Bd7, ...Bf5, and ...a5 are possible as well. According to John Cox, the 9...e5 line is adequate, but Black needs to know the line well.

The Voronezh was recommended by John Emms and noted as a big problem by Nigel Davies, leading many players to opt for the more solid 5...exd6 line.
However, the line offers Black less opportunity for counterplay. In this line Black usually develops the king bishop via ...Be7 and ...Bf6, because Bg5 can be bothersome against a fianchetto setup with ...g6 and ...Bg7, e.g. 6.Nc3 g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Bg5.

Modern Variation: 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Modern Variation 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3

The Modern Variation is the most common variation of the Alekhine Defence. As in the Exchange Variation, White accepts a more modest spatial advantage, and hopes to be able to hang on to it. There are a number of possible Black responses:


In most variations, Black can play ...Bg4 to transpose into the 4...Bg4 line.

Balogh Variation: 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Balogh Variation 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4

The first recorded use of this variation was on August 13, 1929, in Carlsbad, Bohemia. Esteban Canal was white and Edgard Colle was black. White resigned after Black's 40th move.

Unlike several other sidelines, 4. Bc4 is fairly popular. The line contains some traps that can snare the unwary. For example 4...dxe5 5.dxe5 Nb6?? loses the queen to 6.Bxf7!. Instead, the main line is 4...Nb6 5.Bb3, when Black has usually played 5...dxe5 6.Qh5 e6 7.dxe5 (the "old main line" according to Cox) or 5...Bf5 when White can among other things try the obstructive pawn sacrifice 6.e6. In either case, White obtains attacking chances, and so Taylor recommends 5...d5 followed by 6...e6 to reach a position akin to the French Defense.

Two Pawns Attack: 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Two Pawns Attack 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5

The Two Pawns Attack (also known as the Lasker Attack or the Chase Variation) is also an ambitious try. White may gain attacking prospects, but it might cost a pawn to do so. White's pawns on c5 and e5 secure a spatial advantage, but the d5 square has been weakened. Unlike the Four Pawns Attack, the White centre is not as fluid and the game takes on a more strategic character.

Aesthetically, 4.c5 looks positionally suspect, since White's pawn advances have severely weakened the d5-square. White's intention is to grab space and mobility so that those strategic deficiencies are of little consequence.

Black must play 4...Nd5, whereupon White will usually challenge the knight with moves like Bc4 and Nc3. Black can defend the knight with ...c6 or ...e6, sometimes playing both. Typically, Black then challenges White's pawns on e5 and c5 with moves like ...d6 and ...b6.

The statistics presented by Cox show this variation scoring poorly for White, with all of Black's main defenses scoring at least 50%.

Two Knights Variation: 3.Nc3

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Two Knights Variation 3.Nc3

The Two Knights Variation is a variation where White immediately accepts doubled pawns after 3...Nxc3 for some compensation. After 4.dxc3 this compensation is rapid piece development. Although the line after 4...d6, challenging the e-pawn often can lead to fairly dull positions, the position remains open and Black can quickly succumb with poor defense, for example after 5.Bc4 dxe5?? 6.Bxf7+!, White wins the queen on d8. After 4.bxc3 White's compensation for the doubled pawns is a big centre that can be used as a basis for a kingside attack. The resulting pawn structure leads to position similar to that of the Winawer variation of the French Defense.

If Black does not want to defend against White's attacking opportunities against 3...Nxc3 4.dxc3, then 3...e6 is a reasonable alternative that was Alekhine's choice when meeting the Two Knights, and this defense has been advocated by Taylor. If White plays 4.d4, then 4...Nxc3 forces White into the bxc3 line reminiscent of the French. If 4.Nxd5 exd5, Black will quickly dissolve the doubled pawns with ...d6, and the resulting position will tend to be drawish.

Minor sidelines after 2.e5 Nd5

In Endre Steiner-Alexander Alekhine, Budapest 1921, the first high level game with the Alekhine Defense, White played 3.d4 d6 4.Bg5. Cox recommends 4...h6 5.Bh4 dxe5 6.dxe5 Bf5, followed by ...Nc6 and ...Ndb4, targeting c2.

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
4.Bg5 from Steiner-Alekhine

Another rare line, but one that scores well in practice is 3.d4 d6 4.Be2, preventing Black from playing 4...Bg4 while retaining the option of making the pawn advance f2-f4.

a b c d e f g h
8
8
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
3.c4 Nb6 4.a4

After 3.c4 Nb6 4.a4, White aims at chasing the Black knight away followed by a pawn sacrifice that impairs Black's development, for example by 4...d6 5.a5 Nd7 6.e6. It is possible for Black to allow this, but it is simpler to prevent it by 4...a5. White's main continuation is to deploy the queenside rook for duties on the kingside with 5.Ra3, followed by Rg3 at some point when the attack on g7 is supposed to tie Black down from developing the bishop to e7. However, after 5...d6 6.exd6 exd6 7.Rg3 Bf5, Black can carry through with 8...Be7 anyway, since after 9.Rxg7 the rook would be trapped and lost to 9...Bg6 and 10...Bf6. The idea for this unusual early "rook lift" probably originated with the well-known American International Master Emory Tate. Women's World Champion Grandmaster Maria Muzychuk, World Junior Champion GM Lu Shanglei and GM Nazar Firman have experimented with this line and achieved some success with it.

Alternatives to 2...Nd5

After 2.e5, the 2...Nd5 is almost universally played. The two other knight moves that do not hang it to the queen on d1 are 2...Ng8 and 2...Ne4.

Alternatives to 2.e5

Instead of chasing Black's knight, White may defend the e4-pawn, either directly or through tactical means.

Read more:

COMMENTS
Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy