Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Capablanca Making It Look Easy

I've been working on Alekhine's tournament books for NY 1924 and Nottingham 1936. I've finished the first, but am still adding the annotations to my "Master Games" database (a real pain, because all the annotations are footnotes, so there's a lot of page flipping involved). I'm about halfway through the Nottingham book.

I keep finding that it's the little details that I find the most interesting. I don't retain much about the games as a whole, even if it won a brilliancy prize. Yet Alekhine can mention in a footnote "This move loses a tempo", and I can appreciate how such minor inaccuracies can lead towards a loss.

Similarly, I'm once again impressed by the elegance of Capablanca's endgames, especially against weaker players. One of my favorite chess books was Capablanca's Best Chess Endings by Chernev. If there is one player's style I would most like to emulate, it's Capablanca's ability to accumulate advantages and then win the endgame. A lot of the moves in these endgames feel natural, or even simple.

Here is a snippet from the game Thomas-Capablanca, Nottingham 1936, after White's 25. a4?

White's last move has weakened the b-pawn, and Capablanca proceeds to nail it down as a weakness:

25...Bxd4 My instinct would have been to retain the bishop, because there will be play on both sides of the board. Fritz seems to want to keep the bishop as well. 26. Rxd4

Alekhine gives 26.cxd4 Re1 27. Kg2 Rxf1 28. Kxf1 Ke7 29. Rc3 Kd6 30. Rc5 Rb8 31. Ra5 Rb6, which completely ties White up.

I looked briefly at 27. Rxe1 (instead of Alekhine's 27.Kg2) 27... Rxe1+ 28. Kg2 Rc1 29. Re3, where the white rook cuts off the king from running to the queenside. However, Black's majority is on the kingside and it looks like Black can work on both sides of the board towards a win.

Now, however, Capablanca's crisp play nails down the new weakness:

26... c5 27. Rd2 Rb8 28. Rb1 a5

The b-pawn is a fixed weakness, whereas Black's e-pawn isn't really weak. The king will move towards the queenside and help protect it. Black's king is then well placed in the center, whereas White's king is off to the side keeping an eye on Black's majority.

Capablanca concluded by playing on both sides of the board, using both his majority on the kingside and White's weaknesses on the queenside. The game concluded: 29.Kg2 Ke6 30. Rc2 Kd6 31. f3 g5 32. Kg3 h5 33. h4 gxh4+ 34. Kxh4 Re3 35. Kg3 c4 36. b4 axb4 37. cxb4 Rb3 0-1

The "simple idea" here for me was fixing the backwards b-pawn as a weakness. However, we can see a number of other classic themes in this example: mobilization of a pawn majority; play on both sides of the board and the principle of two weaknesses; centralizing the king; control of an open file.


chesstiger said...

Capablanca was an endgame specialist. There goes a story that at a tournament journalist and even grandmasters were following a game which had reached the endgame. Everybody felt there was something in the game but couldn't pinpoint it.

Capablanca walked in and looked what was happening. A smile occured on his face. Then he calmly walked to the demonstration board set up in the press room and moved some pieces while saying 'on this squares the pieces belong' and then walked out of the room.

Now that Capablanca had shown them the way the variations were flying thru the room. Now they knew for what to play it became easy.

Capablanca said that one has to solve endgames in phases. First you have to reach that position with your pieces, second that position, third that position and so on until the opponent gives up.

tanc (happyhippo) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tanc (happyhippo) said...


That is a great endgame example! It encompasses all the different ideas to form a coherent strategy.

Capa definitely made it look very easy! I would've struggled to find the correct moves myself. The trading of the bishop definitely looked counter-intuitive at first sight as chess players are usu. taught to retain the bishop as it's a much more effective piece than the Knight in endgame scenarios.

Thank you.

transformation said...

where and how did you manage to find the Alekhine New York Book? This is out of print, very expensive, if not impossible to find?

Kasparov, as you probably know, said that it is one of his favorite chess books!

nottingham! yes, that one, i already own. such beautiful, bold face, old school printing. what a jewel of typesetting and eligant artifice!

warmly, dk

Grandpatzer said...

dk: Both Alekhine books I found in used book stores in Madison, Wisconsin years ago. NY was $3.98.

I found a lot of books there that turned out to be rather valuable as years went on. Some that come to mind are the Encyclopaedia of Chess Middlegames, a couple of the Averbakh Comprehensive Chess Endings series (Pawns; Minor pieces) for about $6 each, an old copy of Fischer's 60 games, and the "Mastering the Spanish with the Read and Play Method" book by King and Ponzetto. I think I at one point had the opportunity to buy the Mastering the King's Indian book as well, but never got it b/c I don't play it. Now it's a hard-to-find classic.

I got the Averbakh books at a newly-opened Barnes&Noble when I was in Madison. When they first opened, they actually bought and sold used books as well.

One thing I miss about Madison is crawling through the used book stores, looking for hidden gems.

transformation said...