Even the greats can get pigeonholed.
Hungarian star Geza Maroczy, born 150 years ago this year, was pegged early on as a defensive wizard who could grind out the wins but one who rarely trafficked in attacking brilliance. In fact, he’s perhaps best remembered today for the “Maroczy bind,” a dreaded pawn clamp on the center that slowly asphyxiates an unwary opponent.
The truth, as usual, is a lot more complicated and interesting. Maroczy came of age at the end of the 19th century and the end of the game’s romantic attacking period, took nearly a decade off in the prime of his career to focus on his day job as an engineer, and was still a force at the board when he came back to challenge a rising generation of hypermodern stars in the 1920s and 1930s.
Maroczy could certainly go on the offensive when the situation warranted, as shown in his demolition of the great Russian master Mikhail Chigorin — himself one of the greatest attacking players of his day — in a 1903 game. The Hungarian plays one of the sharpest openings out there — the Muzio Gambit — giving up two pieces in the first 10 moves for the attack.
Black goes wrong right away on 11. Bxf4 Bg6? (clearly trying to bolster the always problematic f7-square, but it’s a fatal tempo lost compared to 11…Be7 12. Rae1 Bg6 13. Bb5+ Kf8!, when on 14. Rxe7 Qxe7 [Nxe7?? 15. Bh6+ Kg8 16. Qf6] 15. Qg3 Kg7 16. Bxd6 Qe4! 17. Bxb8 Rxb8 18. Qxb8 Qxd4+ 19. Kh1 Nf6 and Black is winning) 12. Bb5+ Nd7 (Nc6? 13. dxc6 is crushing) 13. Rae1+ Be7 15. Bxd6 Kf8 — White’s pieces are beautifully placed, but he faces the question of how to prosecute the attack.
Maroczy finds the only way: 15. Rxe7! Nxe7 16. Re1 Kg7 (Qa5 17. Rxe7 Qxb5 18. Rxd7+ Kg8 [Ke8?? 19. Qe3+! Kxd7 20. Qe7+ Kc8 21. Qc7 mate] 19. Be5 Qxb2 20. h3 h5 21. d6 Qc1+ 22. Kh2 Rf8 23. Rxb7, and White is better) 17. Bxe7 Qa5 18. Qe2 Nf8? (losing; Black can fight on 18…h5 19. Bxd7 Qxd5 20. Qe5+ Qxe5 21. Rxe5 Bxc2 22. d5, though White’s bishop pair is brutally strong) 19. Bf6+!, when both 19…Kxf6 20. Qe5 mate and 19…Kh6 20. Qe3+ Kh5 21. Qg5 mate are out.
The finale: 19…Kg8 20. Qe5 h6 21. Bxh8 (White is now three pawns to the good and still has a raging attack) f6 22. Qe7 Kxh8 23. Qxf6+ Kg8 24. Re7, and Chigorin resigned facing inevitable mate.
Maroczy defeated a fellow positional genius in his win almost three decades later over young American star Isaac Kashdan from the 1931 Bled tournament. After 14. Qc2 b5?! (Black eventually challenges White’s queenside majority, but Kashdan winds up saddled with a chronically weak pawn on the half-open a-file) 15. c5 Bf4?! (better was 15…Bxg3 16. fxg3 a5 17. Rae1 Rfe8 with a solid position) 16. a4 Rb8 (a6? 17. axb5 axb5 18. Ba5 winning the exchange) 17. axb5 Rxb5 18. Ra6 Ra8 19. Rfa1, and Black is permanently on the defensive.
Kashdan tries a break in the center with 26. Qe4 e5!? (not surprisingly, White’s well-deployed army is better positioned to exploit the opening of the board), and Maroczy’s fine positional play produces the breakthrough tactic: 29. Bxc3 Rbb8 (Bxc5 30. dxc5 Nxc5 31. Qxe5 Qxe5 32. Bxe5 Nxa4 33. Rxa4 leaves White in charge) 30. Ra6 Rc8 (see diagram) 31. Nb6! Nxb6 (Nxc5 32. Nxa8! [dxc5?? Bxc5+ spoils everything] Nxe4 33. Nxc7 Rxc7 34. Rxa7, winning) 32. cxb6 Qb7 33. Rxa7 Rxa7 34. bxa7, winning the weak pawn.
White carefully controls the checks in the queen ending — another Maroczy specialty — and after 50. Kg3 Qc7+ 51. Qf4+, Black must trade down to a lost pawn ending; Kashdan resigned.
Maroczy-Chigorin, Vienna, May 1903
1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. Nc3 gxf3 6. Qxf3 d6 7. d4 Be6 8. Nd5 c6 9. O-O cxd5 10. exd5 Bf5 11. Bxf4 Bg6 12. Bb5+ Nd7 13. Rae1+ Be7 14. Bxd6 Kf8 15. Rxe7 Nxe7 16. Re1 Kg7 17. Bxe7 Qa5 18. Qe2 Nf8 19. Bf6+ Kg8 20. Qe5 h6 21. Bxh8 f6 22. Qe7 Kxh8 23. Qxf6+ Kg8 24. Re7 Black resigns.
Maroczy-Kashdan, Bled, September 1931
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nd7 7. Bd3 Ngf6 8. O-O e6 9. Qe2 Qc7 10. c4 Bxd3 11. Qxd3 Bd6 12. Bd2 O-O 13. Bc3 Rad8 14. Qc2 b5 15. c5 Bf4 16. a4 Rb8 17. axb5 Rxb5 18. Ra6 Ra8 19. Rfa1 Nb8 20. R6a4 Nd5 21. Ne2 Bh6 22. Ne5 g6 23. Nc4 Bf8 24. Bd2 Nd7 25. f4 f6 26. Qe4 e5 27. fxe5 fxe5 28. Nc3 Nxc3 29. Bxc3 Rbb8 30. Ra6 Rc8 31. Nb6 Nxb6 32. cxb6 Qb7 33. Rxa7 Rxa7 34. bxa7 Ra8 35. Qxe5 Rxa7 36. Rxa7 Qxa7 37. Qe6+ Qf7 38. Qxc6 Qb3 39. h3 Kf7 40. d5 Be7 41. Qe6+ Kf8 42. Bg7+ Kxg7 43. Qxe7+ Kh6 44. Qh4+ Kg7 45. Qd4+ Kf7 46. d6+ Qc2 47. d7 Qc1+ 48. Kf2 Qc2+ 49. Kf3 Qc6+ 50. Kg3 Qc7+ 51. Qf4+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.