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Monkey Business in Chess

If the first player wants to monkey around in the chess opening he can play 1.b4, the Orangutan Opening. We know that Savielly Tartakower dubbed this debut after "consulting" an orangutan at the Bronx Zoo, and accordingly ventured 1.b4 the next day (on March 21, 1924) against Geza Maroczy. Tartakower got a fine position but, through no fault of the sage simian, only scored a hard fought draw.

As it happens, this New York 1924 tournament is rather famous - the best players were present, including the reigning World Champion Capablance, former World Champion Lasker and future World Champion Alekhine. The latter, Alexander Alekhine, edited the tournament book and annotated each game. Let's then follow his commentary as Tartakower introduces the Orangutan Opening into international chess competition.

Tartakower-Maroczy, New York 1924

[Event "New York"] [Site "New York"] [Date "1924.??.??"] [Round "4"] [White "Tartakower, Saviely"] [Black "Maroczy, Geza"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "Alekhine, A."] [PlyCount "113"] [EventDate "1924.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "7"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. b4 {[An old move, the chief drawback of which is the fact that White discloses his intentions before knowing those of his opponent. He need not necessarily be at a disadvantage, thereby, but is not that altogether too small a satisfaction for the first player?]} e6 ({It is not clear why Black at the very start should close the diagonal to his Queen's Bishop. More logical at all events seems to be} 1... d5 {at once.}) 2. Bb2 Nf6 3. b5 d5 4. e3 Be7 5. f4 {[White has a definite opening purpose - the command of the black square. To neglect development on that account, however, is surely unsound strategy, which, too, with more energetic counter-play, would have met with its punishment.]} O-O 6. Bd3 ({Why post the Bishop on a bad spot when first of all the Knight may be developed} 6. Nf3 {to a good one?}) 6... a6 ({More energetic utilization of the adversary's eccentricities here would have been} 6... c5 { for then (apart from 7.bxc6 bxc6, which clearly would have been equivalent to an avowal of bad play) White would have had only a choice between 7.c4 and further development by means of 7.Nf3. In the first case} 7. c4 ({In the second, however, after} 7. Nf3 a6 8. a4 c4 9. Be2 axb5 10. axb5 Rxa1 11. Bxa1 Qa5 12. Nc3 Bb4 13. Qb1 Nbd7 14. O-O Nc5 {etc., the opening of the a-file would in any case have given promise of greater initiative than before the move 6.c5.}) 7... dxc4 8. Bxc4 Nbd7 {etc., White's backward d-pawn would be a clear positional disadvantage.}) 7. a4 axb5 8. axb5 Rxa1 9. Bxa1 Nbd7 (9... c5 {was still strong, even though in the variation} 10. bxc6 bxc6 {etc., the disappearance of the a-pawns and the Rooks would hve been rather a relief for White. The leap of the Knight to e4, prepared by the text-move, leads to nothing, as the Knight may easily be dislodged.}) 10. Nf3 Ne4 11. O-O f5 12. Be2 {[Now Black as a matter of fact has no adequate compensation for the weakness of his black squares.]} Nd6 13. Qc1 Bf6 14. Na3 ({The Knight will remain here for a long time inactive and exposed. After the immediate} 14. Ne5 {however, Black would have been able to reply with} Bxe5 15. fxe5 Nc4 $1 16. Bxc4 dxc4 17. Na3 Nb6 {[%cal Yd8d5] followed by 18...Qd5, etc.}) 14... c6 15. bxc6 bxc6 16. Ne5 ({After} 16. Nd4 {there could have followed} Nb8 {and after} 17. c4 {then} Ba6 {etc. After the text move, through the forced sequel of which the square e5 is yielded to Black, the game takes on a drawish character. }) 16... Bxe5 17. fxe5 Nf7 18. d4 Ng5 19. c4 Ba6 20. Re1 Qa8 21. Bc3 ({White wrongly hesitates to strike out and in consequence is placed slightly at a disadvantage, e.g.} 21. cxd5 cxd5 (21... Bxe2 22. dxe6) 22. Nb5 Bxb5 23. Bxb5 { followed by} Rc8 {and 24...Nb6, would have made the peace pact easier for him.} ) 21... Rb8 22. Qc2 Ne4 23. Bd3 Rb7 ({If} 23... Nb6 {at once, then} 24. Ra1 { and if} Nxc3 25. Qxc3 Na4 26. Qa5 {etc.}) 24. Rc1 Nb6 25. Be1 ({Now} 25. Ra1 { could have been answered by} Ra7) 25... h6 26. Bxe4 ({He should have perpared for this exchange, which could not have been avoided in the long run, with} 26. h3 {for now Black can obtain a decisive advantage.}) 26... dxe4 ({Correct would have been} 26... fxe4 27. cxd5 ({if} 27. c5 Bd3 {etc., and the black pieces would force an entrance}) 27... Qf8 $1 28. Bf2 Qxa3 {whereupon neither} 29. Qxc6 ({nor} 29. dxe6 Bb5) ({nor} 29. dxc6 Rc7) 29... exd5 {need have been feared by Black. The text move not alone permits the victory to slip out of hand, but even affords the opponent a chance in the center, which, with a little care, however, attains no decisive significance.}) 27. Qc3 Nd7 28. Rb1 Rxb1 29. Nxb1 Qb7 30. Na3 Qb6 ({Inasmuch as Black connot avoid and exchange of Queens, he would have done best to prepare for counter-play on the Kingside with} 30... Kf7 {[%cal Yg7g5] followed by ...g7-g5, etc.}) 31. Bd2 Kf7 32. g3 Nf8 ({Loss of time!} 32... g5 {could have been played without hesitation. Thereupon White would have been obliged to exchange Queens, as the complications associated with} 33. g4 {would have been in favor of Black, for instance:} fxg4 34. Qc2 Nf8 35. Qxe4 Qb3 {etc.}) 33. Qb4 Qxb4 34. Bxb4 Nd7 35. Ba5 g5 36. Kf2 Ke8 ({Here there is nothing for the King to do. With} 36... Kg6 {the game could have been easily drawn, as the White King, on account of the possible ...f5-f4, could not then wander off to the Queenside of the board.}) 37. Ke2 c5 ({Hereupon Black actually gets a lost position, because the White King will at last come into play. After} 37... Kf7 {the game would still not have been lost.}) 38. Nb5 Kf7 ({Black dare not take this intruder, for, after} 38... Bxb5 39. cxb5 {and 40.Bc7, his Knight would be captured through the advance of the b-pawn. Consequently, there remains nothing for him except to seek safety on the Kingside.}) 39. Kd2 cxd4 40. exd4 f4 41. Nd6+ Kg6 42. Kc3 e3 43. Kd3 {[Threatening to win a pawn with 44.Ke4, which is first of all prevented by the next move of Black's Knight.]} Nb8 44. Ke4 Nc6 45. Bc3 e2 { [As easily to be seen, Black's line of play is dictated.]} 46. gxf4 gxf4 47. Bd2 ({White, who until now has conducted the interesting endling faultlessly, permits victory to slip from him here. Correct would have been} 47. Be1 $1 { whereupon the advance of the center pawns would have been decisive:} f3 48. d5 exd5+ 49. cxd5 Ne7 50. e6 Kf6 51. Bh4+ Kg6 52. Ke5 Kh5 53. Be1 Kg6 54. Nf7 { etc. With the text move the opponent is presented with the tempo he needed for a draw.}) 47... f3 48. Kxf3 ({Likewise} 48. Be1 {no longer leads to the goal after} Nb4 $1 49. Kxf3 Nc2 {followed by} 50. Kxe2 Nxd4+ {and White's remaining extra pawn would not suffice for a win.}) 48... Nxd4+ 49. Ke3 Nf5+ 50. Kxe2 Nxd6 51. exd6 Bxc4+ 52. Ke3 Bb5 53. Kd4 h5 54. Kc5 Ba4 55. Kb6 Kf7 56. Kc7 Ke8 57. Bf4 1/2-1/2


So is 1.b4 merely a chump chimp move, or is it really played by the top bananas in chess? Well, the Orangutan Opening is also known as Sokolsky's Opening (quite a strong player), and a goodly roster of titled chess players have gone 1.b4 on the first move. Among the rank and file I have myself aped these Masters and played 1.b4 monkeyshine on several occasions. In fact, there is now a threat to fling those chess droppings into the next installment!



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