(Chess Curiosities 1985, updated 1998)

A question every chess player the least bit inclined towards the bizarre has at some time asked is: what is the greatest number of queens that have ever appeared in a game simultaneously?
    The standard answer has always been the following game.

Alekhine - Grigoriev, Moscow 1915
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.exf6 hxg5 7.fxg7 Rg8 8.h4 gxh4 9.Qg4 Be7 10.g3 c5 11.gxh4 cxd4 12.h5 dxc3 13.h6 cxb2 14.Rbl Qa5+ 15.Ke2 Qxa2 16.h7 Qxbl 17.hxg8Q+ Kd7 18.Qxf7 Qxc2+ 19.Kf3 Nc6 20.Qgxe6+ Kc7 21.Qf4+ Kb6 22.Qee3+ Bc5 23.g8Q blQ
The position in diagram 1 must be among the most often printed in chess literature. But however grotesque it is, its fame also rests on the move Alekhine played here: 24.Rh6!! A coup de repos as he himself termed it; a quiet move with a rook amidst the immense potential of five queens. It threatens 25.Qd8 mate, and Black is lost in all variations:
    a) 24...Bxe3 25.Qd8+ Kc5 and now White can choose from two different mates in 3; 26.Qfd6+  Kd4 27.Q8f6+ Ne5 28.Qfxe5 mate (Alekhine), or 26.Qxd5+ Kb6 (Kxd5 27.Qd6 mate) 27.Qd8+ Kc5 28.Qfd6 mate.
    b) 24...Qxf1 25.Qb4+ Qb5 (Kc7 26.Qg3+ and quickly mate) 26.Qd8+ Ka6 27.Qa3+ and I will follow Alekhine who, in his My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923, gave this a diagram (diagram 2). It is mate in two more moves.
    c) 24...a6 (or a5) 25.Rxc6+ bxc6 (25...Kxc6 26.Qe6+ and mate in 2) 26.Qd8+ Ka7 27.Qde7+ Bb7 (Kotov) and Black has staved off mate, at the cost of still being a queen down in the endgame.
    d) 24...Qe4+ 25.Q3xe4 dxe4+ 26.Kg3 Qxf1 27.Qb3+ and White wins easily.

Unbelievable. But not everything which is unbelievable is true for that reason alone and this holds for Alekhine's famous five queen game in two ways. In the first place, the game is a fake. It was never played. It is a pure concoction of Alekhine's, and he must have had it in mind when in 1929, in his preface to the autobiography of the French player and study composer Lazard, he wrote: 'I would like to be able to create alone, without the necessity, as in games, of adjusting my plans to those of the opponent, in order to create something that will remain. Oh! this opponent, this collaborator against his will, whose notion of Beauty always differs from yours and whose means (strength, imagination, technique) are often too limited to help you effectively! What torment, to have your thinking and your phantasy tied down by another person!'

Exactly how Alekhine created this game alone makes an interesting story, unearthed for the first time by the American chess historian dr. Buschke, in a series of articles in Chess Life in the early fifties.
    The 1915 Championship of the Moscow Chess Club was played in the last months of the year. In this forgotten tournament, won by Alekhine with 10.5 out of 11, there were but a few other players whose names have survived: Zubarev, Nenarokov and, the best known among them, N. D. Grigoriev (1895-1938). Grigoriev was to become famous as a theoretician and composer of endgames (he is still regarded as one of the greatest authorities on pawn endgames), and as a publicist he was for many years chess editor of Izvestya. He was also a strong player, winning the Moscow Championship in 1921 and 1924. The year of his early death suggests he was a victim of Stalin's purges.
    In the sixth round of that 1915 tournament, the game Grigoriev - Alekhine was played. Note: Grigoriev was White, Alekhine Black. It was an interesting game, and Alekhine analysed it for the February 1916 issue of the national Russian chess paper of the time: Shakhmatny Vyestnik.

Grigoriev - Alekhine, Moscow, 13 november 1915
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.exf6 hxg5 7.fxg7 Rg8 8.h4 gxh4 9.Qg4 Be7 10.g3 c5 (see diagram 3) 11.0-0-0 And not 11.gxh4 as above. Alekhine commented: 'I had planned to answer 11.gxh4 with 11...Bf6, because 11...cxd4 would have led to complications which were very hard to calculate and which would probably not have been advantageous for Black. Here is an example of the fantastic variations that could have arisen after this move.' And, move for move, he gave the five queen game, accompanied by a diagram after 23... blQ with the words Black (Alekhine) on top and White (Grigoriev) underneath.
    So, in its original publication, Alekhine lost the five queen game.
    In the meantime, the real Grigoriev - Alekhine continued (exclamation and question marks by Alekhine) 11...Nc6 12.dxc5 Qa5(!) 13.Kbl e5? 14.Qh5 Be6 15.Nxd5? Bxd5 16.Rxd5 Nb4! 17.Rxe5 Qxa2+ 18.Kcl 0-0-0 19.Bd3 Qal+ 20.Kd2 Qxb2 21.Ke3 Bf6(!) 22.Qf5+ Kb8 23.Re4 Nxd3 24.cxd3 Bd4+ 25.Kf4 Qxf2+ (0-1)

So far so good. The five queen 'game' had been published and not one untrue word had been written. But later, Alekhine must have deplored not having actually played this game and, perhaps to save his readers from having to share this sadness, he included it in his 1927 book, My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923. As game 26 there, we find Tarrasch-Alekhine, Petersburg 1914 which begins: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Ne3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 When Tarrasch plays 5.exd5, Alekhine annotates: 'Interesting, too, is Chigorin's continuation: 5.e5 h6 6.exf6 hxg5 7.fxg7 Rg8 8.h4 gxh4 with the improvement 9.Qg4! instead of 9.Qh5. A game played by the author in Moscow, 1915, continued as follows...' He then reproduced the five queen game, illustrated with no less than three diagrams - as many as for Tarrasch-Alekhine itself, a game of forty-nine moves.
    There are more mystifications in this book (on page 240 there is a game Alekhine - Tenner, mate in fifteen moves, which according to Tenner was really a post-mortem of a twenty-three move draw), but maybe we should not be too prudish over hoaxes. With his marvelous five queen game, Alekhine added something to chess literature that would not have been added had he only given it as a variation. And note: he did not mention Grigoriev as the loser of that game, nor even himself as its winner. With his 'game by the author', he only half lied, calculating correctly that his reputation as a genius would take care of the other half. Who else but the author himself could have been the one showered with exclamation marks? - the 1916 volume of Shakhmatny Vyestnik wasn't on everybody's coffee table.
    It would have been logical, then, if as a result of Alekhine's book, a game Alekhine - NN had made the rounds. But it was, and still is, almost always quoted as Alekhine - Grigoriev. This seems odd: if Alekhine didn't mention Grigoriev, then how did this name come to be attached to the famous five queen game? And how was it possible that 'Alekhine - Grigoriev' was in some cases published even before Alekhine's book appeared in 1927? Buschke found it in a 1925 book by J. DuMont and, investigating this, he came close to the solution: Alekhine had personally shown the game to DuMont, somewhere in 1923.
    What happened then was probably this. On various occasions, Alekhine showed the game to acquaintances, and his phrasing of its provenance may have lent itself to misunderstanding. From 'something that might have happened in a game of mine against Grigoriev' to 'Alekhine - Grigoriev' would of course have been but a little step.

A queer note is that Grigoriev himself has certainly seen the five queen game, but seems not to have recognised it. In a 1927 issue of Shakhmatny Listok, as the leading Russian chess paper was named by then, Alekhine's book was reviewed and the five queen game (v. NN this time) was reproduced from it. This review was preceded, on the same page, by a game analysed by the very same N. D. Grigoriev. He was an editor to Shakhmatny Listok, and it is more than likely he contributed the five queen excerpt from Alekine's book - he had also reviewed it in his column in Izvestya. In neither case was there any suggestion that he saw a connection between the five queen game and his 1915 game against Alekhine.

Left: Shakhmatny Vyestnik, February 1916, article by Alekhine. Grigoriev is White, Alekhine is Black.
Right: Shakhmatny Listok, 1927. Alekhine is now White, NN is Black. Note Grigoriev's byline in the piece above—he probably contributed the one about Alekhine - NN too.

The reverse also happened. In 1930, Grigoriev published an analysis of a game Grigoriev - Verlinsky (Moscow 1930), again with 9.Qg4 in the MacCutcheon Variation. And now he did quote his old game against Alekhine (remembering wrongly that it continued 10.g3 Be7 11.0-0-0 Bf6) but he did not mention the five queen game.
    So Grigoriev knew the five queen game, but it never occurred to him it had anything to do with Grigoriev - Alekhine, Moscow 1915. It is a sad idea - Grigoriev enjoying that wonderful game, putting it in his columns, never suspecting it was to immortalise him as a loser.

But not only is 'Alekhine - Grigoriev' one of the most successful hoaxes of chess history, there is also something else wrong with it. It is a case of mass suggestion. The beautiful coup de repos 24.Rh6 which has earned Alekhine countless exclamation marks, does not win. (See diagram 4.)
    Above, I analysed four possibilities: Bxe3, Qxf1, a6(a5) and Qe4+. They all lose. In none of the sources where I have seen this game is there any mention, let alone analysis, of the one move that strikes the eye at once: 24...Bg4+ With tempo, Black defends against the mating threat. It costs a bishop, but in a position so heavy with material, this is of minor importance. 25.Qgxg4 Bxe3 26.Qxe3+ (26.Qb4+? Qxb4 27.Qxb4+ Kc7 28.Qd6+ Kb6 and White might as well take the perpetual with 29.Qb4+ right away, because 29.fxe3 Qe4+ 30.Kf2 Re8, eventually followed by d4, doesn't leave him any chance of winning, while after 29...Qc5 Black could try for a win himself) 26...Qc5 (See diagram 5.)
    White is a bishop up, but Black has two connected passed pawns for it, with his rook already well placed behind one of them. White still does have something of an attack, but the general impression is that Black should not have too much trouble drawing. Here are some variations:
    a) 27.Be2 Qxe3+ 28.fxe3 and now 28...Rf8+ 29.Kg2 Qel 30.Qd4+ Kc7 31.Qxd5! is dangerous for Black, but 28...Kc5 seems good; the position is then extremely tense, with chances for both sides.
    b) 27.Kg2 Qxe3 28.fxe3 Qb2+ 29.Be2 a5 or 29.Khl Rh8 and it is hard to believe in White's winning chances.
    c) 27.Qe2? Qf8+ 28.Qf4 Qxf4+ 29.Kxf4 Qcl+ 30.Qe3+ Qxe3+ 31.Kxe3 a5 and the a-pawn warrants at least a draw.
    d) 27.Qgd4
        dl) 27... Qf5+ 28.Kg2 Rg8+ 29.Khl Qxd4 30.Qxd4+ Kc7 31.Qh4 a5 or Rf8 followed by a5 and Black should have enough counterchances for the small material deficit.
        d2) 27...Rf8+ 28.Kg2 Rg8+ 29.Kh2 Qxd4 30.Qxd4+ Kc7 31.Qf4+ Kb6 32.Qe3+ Kc7 33.Qe2 a5 34.Nf3 a4 again with unclear play.
    e) 27.Qxc5+ Kxc5 (see diagram 6.) Black's king appears to be dangerously placed, but in fact it is hard to get a shot at it, and Black threatens Qxf1 as well as Ne5+. 28.Kg2 seems the best, when Black has two main possibilities.
        el) 28... Qe4+(?) 29.Qxe4 (29.f3 Qxg4+ 30.fxg4 a5 should be good for Black) 29...dxe4 30.Rh5+ Kd6 31.Bc4 and Black is in trouble
        e2) 28...a5 29.Rh5 (threatening Qc4+) Qb4 (perhaps even b5 is playable) 30.Qe6 Rd8 31.Nf3 and it seems a4 is possible and Black is no worse.

Analyses of positions like this are hazardous and White may have a better continuation somewhere, but as far as I can see, 24.Rh6 does not win because 24...Bg4+! assures a draw.

Looking back at the position after 23...b1Q (diagram 1), how does White win? He is a queen up against a bishop, which suggests a win should be there, and for a long time I thought the simple 24.Qxd5 was the solution. (See diagram 7.)
    If now 24...Qxf1 25. Q3b3+ Qxb3+ 26. Qxb3+ Qb5 27.Qxb5+ Kxb5 28.Ne2 and Black has only two pieces and one pawn for the queen while his king is in a very bad way: White wins.
    If 24...Bxe3 25. Qxe3+ Kc7, then 26.Bd3 wins outright, as I wrote in my Dutch book Nieuwe Schaakkuriosa, and in an article in Chess Life and Review. This is a terrible blunder; after 26...Qxd3, eventually followed by Ne5+, Black wins, as I discovered in 1977 when I used the position after 23...b1Q in a solving contest in Schaakbulletin, the more interesting forerunner of New in Chess.
    One reader, Gieske tried (instead of 26.Bd3??) 26.Qf7+, but after Bd7 27.Q7f4+ Kc8 28.Rh8+ Nd8 29.Rxd8+ Lxd8 30.Qf8+ Kc7 31.Qe5+ Kb6 Black is saved in all variations by the counter check on c6, e.g. 32.Qd4+ Ka5 33.Qa3+ Ba4 34.Qe5+ b5 35.Qac3+ Qxc3 36.Qxc3+ Kb6 and White has nothing better than the perpetual.
    White may have an improvement in this variation, but that is beside the point as after 24.Qxd5, Black has (instead of 24... Bxe3) 24...Qbd1+! giving him the advantage, as was analysed by an American reader, Keston, and the Dutch endgame composer Rol. After 25.Qxd1 Qxd1+ the position of diagram 8 is reached.
    And now:
    a) 26.Be2 Bxe3 27.Qxe3+ Qd4 and Black is better.
    b) 26.Qe2 Nd4+
        bl) 27.Qxd4 Qxd4 28.Qb5+ Kc7 29.Rh7+ Kb8 and Black is better.
        b2) 27.Kg2 Nxe2 28.Rh6+ (diagram 9)
            b2a) 28...Bd6 A fantastic, typical computer move suggested by Rebel. Both after 29.Rxd6+  Kc7! and 29.Qxd6+ Qxd6 30.Rxd6+ Kc7 Black remains a pawn up, but Rebel refuted its own brillancy: 29.Qb4+ Kc7 30.Qc4+ is good for White.
            b2b) 28...Ka5 29.Bxe2 Qd4 After this simple continuation, Black is also a pawn up, and has nothing to fear.

What then after 23...b1Q (diagram 10)? Does White have a win at all?
    It's dangerous, as 24.Qd2?? Qd1+ 25.Qxd1 Qxf2 mate proves. Some readers tried 24.Qe2, but this is refuted by 24...Q1b3+ 25.Kg2 Bh3+ and Black wins, or even by 24...Bh3 directly.
    And after 24.Ne2 Bxe3 25.Qxe3+ Qc5 26.Qxc5+ Kxc5 27.Qf8+ Kb6 Black is two pawns up, while his king is no more exposed than White's.
    Finally, there are two ways White can save the attacked Qe3 without retreating it: 24.Qg7 and 24.Qgg3 After either of these Black cannot play 24...Bxe3 because of 25.Qc7+ and quickly mates. But in both cases, Black answers with 24...Qxf1 (see diagram 11.) Black then has two bishops plus two pawns for the queen and a dangerous attack; it seems White can barely draw. With the Qg3 at g7, White would even lose at once, as apart from 25...Bxe3, 25...Qxf2+ and mate is then threatened. Interposing Qc7+ would not help.
    Also in diagram 11, interposing Qc7+ is of no use. So White must play 25.Qd2 (what else?), but after Qxd2 26.Qxd2 Nd4+ 27.Qxd4 (27.Kf4 Bd6+) Bxd4 28.Qd6+ Kb5 29.Qxd5+ Bc5 30.Qb3+ he should be glad if there is a perpetual.

So the story is not that good - Alekhine's beautiful 24.Rh6 does not give away the win. It is the best move, even if the five queen game cannot be won by it against best play. Admittedly, in such a complicated position, no analysis can claim to the final truth; a win might conceivably be demonstrated some day - but in a sense, this is beside the point because if we go back just one move, we have the position of diagram 12:  23.Bd3! and Black can resign.

When I once showed some of these variations to Jan Timman, he was not so impressed by this mass suggestion. 'One needs five queens to analyse such a position properly,' he said. 'Who has five queens?'

PS 1998:  Jan Timmans remark: 'Who has five queens' has an answer today: we don't need five queens, we have computers. I have Rebel. Together with him, I discovered that even that last variation, 23.Bd3 (diagram 13) is not so clear: 23...Bg4+ (again!) 24.Kxg4 Bxe3 25.Qxe3+ d4 26.Bxc2 dxe3 27.fxe3 Rg8 28.Rh7 Nb4 29.Bb1 Nd5 and who knows what will happen.
    PS 15 May 2005: Kirill Kryukov says: "Shredder knows what will happen - White wins", e.g. 30.Kf5 Nc3 31.Ld3 a5 32.Nf3 Kc5 33.Kg6 etc. But he also shows that Black can indeed draw: 23...Bxe3 24.Bxc2 (24.Qxe3+ d4 25.Bxc2 dxe3 26.g8Q Bg4+ 27.Qxg4 Ne5+ etc.) Bxf4 25.g8Q Bg4+ 26.Qxg4 Ne5+ 27.Kxf4 Nxg4 28.Kxg4 Rc8 29.Bd3 Rc1 30.Rh6+ Kc5 31.Ne2 a5 etc.

To find a clear win for White, we have to go back a little further in the five queen game. At move 20 (diagram 14), Rebel found a convincing one: 20.g8Q If then 20...b1Q 21.Qgxe6+ Kc7 22.Qfxe7+ and quickly mate. 20...Ne5+ also loses quickly: 21.Kg2 Nxf7 (Nxg4 22.Qxe6+) 22.Qxf7 Kc6 23.Qe8+ and mate in a few moves again. So Black must play 20...Qe4+, but he's still lost: 21.Qxe4 dxe4+ 22.Kg2 b1Q 23.Qe8+ and White wins. (Kryukov adds that White can also win at move 22 with the surprising and brilliant 22.Bd3! There follows Qxd3+ 23.Qee3+ Qxe3+ 24.Qxe3+ Bc5 25.Qb3+ Kc7 26.g8Q Nd4+ 27.Kg2 Bh3+ (27...Nxb3 28.Qg3+) 28.Kxh3 Rxg8 29.Qxb2 and Black can resign.
© Tim Krabbé 1985, 1998

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