Chess Terms
Alekhine's Gun

Alekhine's Gun

Alekhine's gun? Did the former world champion bring a gun to a tournament?! No, don't worry. However, this piece configuration should be feared! Let's find out what Alekhine's gun really is.

Here is what you need to know about Alekhine's gun:


What Is Alekhine's Gun? 

Alekhine's gun is a well-known piece configuration that is created when a player places their heavy pieces on the same file, thereby creating a battery—specifically by placing the queen behind both rooks.

Alekhine's gun
White has created Alekhine's gun on the d-file.

This piece configuration was named after former world champion Alexander Alekhine, who made it famous after he used it to defeat Aaron Nimzowitsch in their game played at San Remo in 1930. Alekhine completed the configuration after playing 26.Qc1 in this game:

Alekhine's gun
Alekhine creates his famous piece configuration after 26.Qc1.

The position has become more than difficult for Black, who is facing a lost game. Alekhine made short work of Nimzowitsch from this position and won in just four more moves. Here is the full game: 

Why Is Alekhine's Gun Important? 

Alekhine's gun is important because it creates powerful pressure on a file. Heavy pieces (rooks and queens) operate best on open and half-open files, so if you can place all three of your heavy pieces on the same file, you can likely either control the file or tie down your opponent's pieces to a target on that file.

In the game between former world champions GM Anatoly Karpov and GM Boris Spassky played in 1979, we can see an example of a player's pieces being tied down while trying to defend against Alekhine's gun. The following position was reached after Spassky played 21...Rd8:

Alekhine's gun
What is Karpov's best plan here? Alekhine's gun, of course!

Spassky has an isolated queen's pawn on d5, but everything else seems to be in order. Karpov decided to put maximum pressure on this pawn by playing 22.Rd3, the first step in creating Alekhine's gun. After 25.Qd1, Karpov has created the gun:

Alekhine's gun
Alekhine's gun achieved.

As you can see, almost all of Spassky's forces must defend the poor pawn on d5. After torturing Spassky for some time, Karpov eventually won this d5-pawn and the game. Here is the full game for your enjoyment.

So far we have seen examples of Alekhine's gun on a fully open file (Alekhine-Nimzowitsch 1930) and on a half-open file (Karpov-Spassky 1979), but is it a good idea to set up Alekhine's gun on a file that is likely to open up in the near future? Absolutely, this is a great idea as well and was seen in one of the biggest moments in chess history.

After a 20-year absence from the chess world, GM Bobby Fischer returned to the chessboard for a rematch with Spassky (whom he had defeated in the 1972 World Chess Championship). The chess world was crazed and curious about how Fischer would play and what he would do. Well, what would you do if you had the world's eyes upon you and your chess game? Play a well-known and popular opening (in this case the Ruy Lopez Breyer variation) and then drop an Alekhine's gun!

The following position was reached after Spassky's 21...Re8:

Alekhine's gun
How can Fischer begin to construct Alekhine's gun?

Here Fischer started re-organizing his heavy pieces to create Alekhine's gun on the a-file, which is currently closed but can be opened by either side by exchanging pawns. Fischer started to configure Alekhine's gun with 22.Ra3:

Alekhine's gun
Alekhine's gun construction has begun on the a-file.

A few moves later, Fischer had fully loaded up Alekhine's gun on the a-file with 26.Qa1:

Alekhine's gun
Fischer's 26.Qa1 completes Alekhine's gun.

In the game, Spassky felt the pressure and sacrificed a piece for two central pawns. Fischer played brilliantly and won the game, and it was reported that grandmasters were seen with tears in their eyes as they were overwhelmed with joy. Here is the entire game:

Test 

Now that you know what Alekhine's gun is and why it is important, we can test your abilities to create the gun. In the following position from the 2014 World Championship match between GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Viswanathan Anand, White is standing very well. Anand has just played 27...Rb7. How can Carlsen create Alekhine's gun to dominate the e-file even more?

Alekhine's gun
How can White create Alekhine's gun?

Yes! 28. Qe2 creates Alekhine's gun and maintains a large advantage for White.

Alekhine's gun
Carlsen's 28.Qe2 creates Alekhine's gun.

In our final test example, we see GM David Anton Guijarro leading comfortably against the talented GM Nihal Sarin in their game from the 2020 Tata Steel Challenger's tournament. After Black's 52...Kh8, how can White create Alekhine's gun?

Alekhine's gun
White to move and create Alekhine's gun.

Correct! 53.Qd1 creates Alekhine's gun and offers a queen trade in a winning position.

Alekhine's gun.
White's 53.Qd1 creates Alekhine's gun.

Conclusion 

You now know what Alekhine's gun is, why it is important, how to recognize it, and more! Check out this great Chess.com video by GM Dejan Bojkov, this article by GM Daniel Naroditsky, or this article by GM Gregory Serper for more information on Alekhine's gun.