The Mysterious Affair in Moscow.

The Mysterious Affair in Moscow.

| 43 | Opening Theory

This amazing story started 75 years ago and isn’t solved even today.  Most of its participants took their secrets to their graves.  As years pass, many more victims will be claimed.  But let me start from the beginning…


Part One


In 1934, the World famous Grandmaster Rudolf Spielmann played in a tournament in Maribor where he lost a game to Rejfir (who was much weaker than Spielmann). In this game Rejfir played against the Panov Attack in the Caro-Kann and introduced an interesting novelty as early as move 6! Spielmann was so impressed that he was almost begging his opponent to show the analysis of the novelty.  Reportedly, Rejfir agreed to share his knowledge and got a bottle of a very expensive wine in return. Here is the game and Rejfir's analysis:


Part Two.
The very next year the Soviet Chess Federation organized the biggest event of the year- the Moscow International 1935.  As the rumour goes, the driving force behind the organizers was Stalin, and therefore the prize fund and the playing conditions were probably the best that chess players of that time could imagine. All the World's top players were invited, except Alekhine.  Why not him?  Just a couple of years before the tournament Alekhine abandoned his Soviet citizenship to avoid the Red Terror, and therefore, despite all his requests to play, he got a firm "Nyet" as the response.
Spielmann was amongst the invited players. In the very first round he was supposed to play the Soviet icon - Michael Botvinnik!  When Spielmann learned that he was supposed to play Black, he was delighted.  He knew that Botvinnik would play his favorite variation for sure! And so the game began...

Part Three.
After this short game the move 6...Qb6 was awarded a big fat question mark in all opening manuals and mainly forgotten.  But... more than thirty years later in the Soviet Championship, GM Bagirov played this dubious move again but instead of grabbing the b2 pawn he captured the central d4 pawn.  And, by the way, he played it against Polugaevsky, who was one of the World's best players and, according to Kasparov, one of the best theoreticians of all time!  Lo and behold Polugaevsky decided to avoid a theoretical discussion and took a draw as quickly as possible.

Part Four.
When Polugaevsky gets nothing out of the opening playing White people notice, and therefore 6...Qb6 was seen again in tournaments.  Lets see what the Enciclopedia of Chess Openings says about it.  It quotes the game

Schardtner -  Sallay, 1969 published in the Chess Informant #7. After the moves

6... Qb6 7. cxd5 Nxd4 8. Be3 e5 9. dxe6 Bc5 10. exf7+ Ke7 11. Bc4 Bg4 12. Qc1 Bf5 13. Bxd4 Bxd414. Qd2 Rhc8 15. Qe2+ Kf8 16. Nf3 it evaluates the position +/- which means White has a significant advantage.  Want to see how White finished off his opponent? Thanks for asking! Here is the game:


Guess who was the author of this chapter of the ECO (Enciclopedia of Chess openings) ?  Botvinnik!!
So, is 6...Qb6 good or bad after all?
Unfortunately, all the great chess-players mentioned in this story left us already, but maybe a new computer-assisted generation will solve the secret?

Part Five.
 This game was played already in the new Millennium. Both players are rated above 2400 FIDE (an International Master level)

In this game Black used the original Rejfir analysis.  But what about Big Bad Moscow game Botvinnik-Spielmann that practically nuked the variation?  I can accept that the White player didn't know this game, but what about the Black player?
Since he followed the Rejfir analysis, he clearly knew what he was doing, so what he was going to do against 8.Rc1? 
Did he have an ace up his sleeve or was it just a pure case of chess bluff?  We will never know it.  What we know for sure is that this variation will keep claiming new victims!

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