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Selected Endgames of
by Arthur E. Holmer
Jose Raul Capablanca (1888-1942) was the third official World Champion, holding the title from 1921 to 1927. He was a player of consummate skill in the endgame and often went years without a loss. He is rightly regarded as one of the best players of all time. For readers interested in Capablanca’s life and times, the best modern biography is by Miguel A. Sanchez, Jose Raul Capablanca-A Chess Biography, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2015. For readers interested in a detailed treatment of his best endings, an excellent source is by Irving Chernev, Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, Dover Publications, NY, 1978. And, finally, readers may be interested to read about a direct connection between Capablanca and CCLA that is documented in Bryce D. Avery’s excellent work, Correspondence Chess in America,2 McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2000. On p. 37 Avery describes several Capablanca simultaneous displays that were sponsored by CCLA in 1918. Capablanca was impressed with the level of CCLA players and commented that the best way to learn to play chess is to join the Correspondence Chess League of America.
This game is Aron Nimzowitsch-Jose Raul Capablanca, Exhibition Game, Riga, Russian Empire, 1913. According to Sanchez, in Jose Raul Capablanca-A Chess Biography, p.194, (9),”After a series of exhibition games (in St. Petersburg, Russia), the Cuban traveled to Riga, Latvia, where he offered simultaneous displays on December 25 and 26, and of a total of 51 games, he just lost 2. On December 30, Capablanca defeated Nimzowitsch spectacularly in an offhand game despite the presence of opposite-color bishops.” Capablanca then continued his tour in Russia. So this game was played in the middle of a tour of several simuls, as an exhibition.
Initial notes are from Capablanca, My Chess Career, Game No. 22, p. 105,4.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bc4 Bc5 5. d3 d6 6. Bg5 Be6 7. Bb5 h6 8. Bh4 Bb4 9. d4 Bd7 10. O-O Bxc3 11. bxc3 g5
"There were a dozen select spectators around our table, one of them Nimzowitsch's father, a fairly good player, and they looked at one another when they saw the bold course I was pursuing, reckless on my part, they thought, and bound to bring disaster, especially after my next move 12...Nxe4, when I had not castled and my King was in the center of the board."
12. Bg3 Nxe4 13. Bxc6 Bxc6 14. dxe5 dxe5 15. Bxe5 Qxd1 16. Raxd1 f6
“The key to my maneuver in this variation. I had counted on it, together with 17...Kf7, when I played 11...g5”.
17. Bd4 Kf7 18. Nd2 Rhe8
“Notwithstanding the Bishops of opposite colors I did not hesitate to exchange. Those who wish to learn should do well in carefully studying this game. It is one of the finest endings I ever played, and I have had very often the great pleasure of hearing my opponent pay tribute to the skill displayed by me in winning it”.
19. f3 Nxd2 20. Rxd2 Rad8 21. g4 Bb5 22. Rb1 Ba6 23. Rbd1 Re2 24. Rxe2 Bxe2 25. Re1 Bxf3 26. Rf1 c5 27. Bxf6 Rd1 28. Be5 Rxf1+ 29. Kxf1 Bxg4
“The ending is now won by force”.
Grandmaster Reuben Fine continues the endgame discussion with No. 436 in Basic Chess Endings, p. 201,6.
|Position after 29. ... Bxg4|
White to play, Black wins.
GM Fine notes “The classical illustration of this type of superiority (One Passed Pawn (Actual or Potential) and Play on the Other Wing) is No. 436”. “If White’s pawn were at b2 instead of c3 Black would have no winning hopes at all. As it is, Capablanca worked out the following magnificent conclusion:
30. a4 Ke6!! 31. Bb8 a5
(much better than 31. … a6; the point will soon be clear)
(if 32. Bc7 b5! 33. axb5 a4 34. c4 a3 35. Ba5 a2 36. Bc3 Kd6! And 37. ...Be6 and both pawns go the way of all wood; so Black is left with passed pawns on both sides)
32. … Kd5 33. Kd2
(or 33. Bc7 Kc6! 34. Bxa5 b6)
33. … Bd7 34. Bc7 Kc6 35. Bd8 b6 36. c4 Kb7 37. Kc3 Bxa4
(the rest is not difficult)
38. Kb2 Bd7 39. Kb3 Be6 40. Kc3 a4 41. Kd3 Kc6 42. Kc3 g4 43. Bh4 h5 44. Bg3 a3 45. Kb3 Bxc4+!! 46. Kxa3
(if 46. Kxc4 a2 47. Be5 h4 48. Kb3 g3! 49. hxg3 h3! Or 49. Kxa2 g2! And Black queens)
46. ... b5, etc. The two pawns win easily.
If White had not started with 30. a4 but some other play, such as 30. Ke1, Black would still have won but not so easily”.
Irving Chernev continues the ending discussion in Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games p. 67,5. He also likes 45. … Bxc4 and clearly explains why the move is so powerful. So, let’s move the position back to just after 45.Kb3.
|Position after 45. Kb3 ...|
45. ... Bxc4+!
“Sparkling play! White must not take the Bishop, as the sequel (after 46. Kxc4) would be: 46. … a2 47. Be5 h4 48. Kb3 g3! 49. hxg3 (or 49. Kxa2 g2) h3 50. g4 h2, and though both Pawns are en prise, only one may be captured next move while the other Pawn Queens.
46. Kxa3 b5 47. c3 Kd5 48. Bf2 Be2
Vacates c4, a good square for the King.
49. Kb3 Bd1+ 50. Kb2 Kc4 51. Kc1 Bf3 52. Kd2 b4 53. cxb4 cxb4
Black has lost his passed pawn on the Rook file, but one has sprung up on the Knight file in its place.
54. Bh4 Be4 55. Bf6 Bg6 56. Bh4 b3 57. Bf6
If instead 57. Kc1 to head off the Pawn, the continuation is 57. … Kd3 58. Kb2 Bf7 59. Bg5 Ke2 60. Bf6 Kf3 61. Bh4 Kg2 62. Bg3 h4 63. Be5 g3 64. hxg3 hxg3, and White must give up his Bishop for the Pawn, after which Black’’s King comes back to b4 and a3, and helps the Pawn become a Queen.
57. ... h4!
The impudent Pawn is immune to capture as 58. Bxh4 loses instantly by 58. … b2.
58. Ke3 g3 59. hxg3
If 59. Kf3 to approach the Pawns, 59. … Be4+ banishes the King from the neighborhood.
59. ... h3 60. Kf2 Bf5
A necessary precaution to prevent the Knight Pawn from advancing without loss.
61. g4 Bxg4 62. Kg3 Kd3 63. Kh2 Kc2 64. Kg3 b2 0-1
The King moves to c2, winning the Bishop for the Pawn, and then marches over to the King-side, and forces the last Pawn to the queening-square.
A magnificent display, one of the finest of Capablanca’s many fine endings”.
It is hard to believe that a game of this level and complexity was offhand and played in an exhibition.
The following game is William Winter-Jose Raul Capablanca, Hastings, England, 1919. According to Sanchez, Jose Raul Capablanca- A Chess Biography, p. 230,9, ”Another of Capablanca’s memorable games at Hastings 1919 was played in the fifth round. In it appeared a recurring theme in the Cuban master’s productions: a piece entombed. Capablanca addressed this topic later in his book Chess Fundamentals.” In fact, Capablanca devotes a chapter to this game: chapter 24, p. 94, Chess Fundamentals,3 and gives this introduction: “Very often in a game a master only plays to cut off, so to speak, one of the pieces from the scene of actual conflict. Often a Bishop or a Knight is completely put out of action. In such cases we might say that from that moment the game is won, because for all practical purposes there will be one more piece on one side than the other. A very good illustration is furnished by the following game.”
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bb4 5. O-O O-O 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. d3 Bd6 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 c5
Capablanca notes in Chess Fundamentals, p. 973: “To prevent d4 and to draw White into playing Nd5, which would prove fatal.” In Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, p. 115,5, Chernev adds: “A deceptively strong move! It creates a strong point at d4, meanwhile preventing White from advancing his d-pawn”.
10. Nd5 g5
Capablanca comments on p. 98, Chess Fundamentals,3,, “After this move White’s game is lost”.
11. Nxf6+ Qxf6 12. Bg3 Bg4
Chernev notes (Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, p. 115,(5)): “This completes the blockade of the King’s wing, which Capablanca had planned”.
13. h3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 Qxf3 15. gxf3 f6
|Position after 15. ... f6|
Capablanca comments (p. 98, Chess Fundamentals,3), “A simple examination will show that White is minus a Bishop for all practical purposes. He can only free it by sacrificing one pawn, and possibly not even then”.
16. Kg2 a5 17. a4 Kf7 18. Rh1 Ke6 19. h4 Rfb8
Capablanca comments (p. 99, Chess Fundamentals,3), “There is no necessity to pay any attention to the King’s side, because White gains nothing by exchanging Pawns and opening the King’s Rook file”.
Chernev adds (Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, p. 116,5): “I love this move! It seems almost contemptuous of any efforts White might make to whip up an attack on the King-side. Apparently nothing on that side even interests Black at this time”.
20. hxg5 hxg5 21. b3 c6 22. Ra2 b5 23. Rha1 c4
Chernev notes in Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, p. 116,5): “This offer of a pawn is perfectly safe, as Black can always get the Pawn back by ... Rb4”.
24. axb5 cxb3 25. cxb3 Rxb5 26. Ra4 Rxb3 27. d4 Rb5 28. Rc4 Rb4 29. Rxc6 Rxd4 0-1
Chernev notes in Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, p. 116,5: “The rest could go like this: 30. Rc2 a4 31. Rca2 a3 32. Kf1 Rb8 33. Ke2 Rb2+ 34. Rxb2 axb2 35. Rb1 Ba3 (protects the key pawn) 36. Ke3 Rc4 37. Kd2 Rc1 and Black wins”.
An amazing example of envisioning a plan and executing it with seemingly effortless technique.
Sanchez quotes the September 1, 1919 Morning Post, ( in Jose Raul Capablanca-A Chess Biography, p. 230,9) ”To discern or create a microscopic weakness in the opposing ranks, and to concentrate on it without troubling to make attacking combinations, until the weight of the position would force a climax, seems to be a simple plan, but it needs a Capablanca to put it into effect”.
This game is Jose Raul Capablanca-Savielly Tartakower, New York 1924. It was played during the sixth round of the tournament on March 23, 1924. This tournament is considered to be one of the strongest and most famous tournaments ever held in New York City.
The notes attributed to Alekhine, Chernev and Reti are from Alekhine, Alexander, New York 1924, Russell Enterprises Inc., Milford, CT, 2009, Sixth Round Chapter, (1), Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, Dover Publications, NY, 1978, p. 145, (5), and Masters of the Chessboard, Russell Enterprises Inc., Milford, CT, 2006, p. 157, (8), respectively.
Chernev introduces the game as follows: “Search the annals of chess from the days of Philidor to the reign of Karpov, and you will find no more ending equal to this for demonstrating the power of a Rook on the seventh rank. It packs in more instruction than the thousand Rook and Pawn endings that Capablanca is said to have studied in his youth”.
Game 3. cont'
1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 f5 3. c4 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. Nc3 O-O 6. e3 b6 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. O-O Qe8 9. Qe2 Ne4 10. Bxe7 Nxc3 11. bxc3 Qxe7
“The exchanges have left White with a weakness in the form of a doubled Pawn on the bishop file”. --Chernev
12. a4 Bxf3 13. Qxf3 Nc614. Rfb1 Rae8 15. Qh3 Rf6 16. f4 Na5 17. Qf3 d6 18. Re1 Qd719. e4 fxe4 20. Qxe4 g6 21. g3
“White makes suitable ppreparations for the advance of the King Rook Pawn”. --Chernev
21. ... Kf8 22. Kg2 Rf7 23. h4 d5 24. cxd5 exd5 25. Qxe8+ Qxe8 26. Rxe8+ Kxe8
“Capablanca plans to activate his Rook by swinging it over to the h-file, from where it may reach the all-important seventh rank”. --Chernev
27. h5! ...
“This is the calamity--the Rook now enters the hostile camp”. —Alekhine
27. ... Rf6 28. hxg6 hxg6 29. Rh1
“White plays logically to utilize his advantage on the K-side and very properly does not concern himself with the weakness of the Q-side. Black, on the other hand, makes a defensive move which he could perhaps have omitted”. -- Reti
29. … Kf8 30. Rh7
|Position after 30. Rh7 ...|
“The seventh rank, the ideal location for a Rook! The Rook is in position to attack any Pawn that has not yet moved or to get behind any Pawn that has moved, and threaten it with capture. More than that, the Rook is in possession of the 7th Rank Absolute, which says Nimzowitsch, means that the Rook confines the enemy king to the eighth rank”. --Chernev
30. ... Rc6 31. g4
“Anxious nature might have moved the King towards the queenside, but Capablanca adheres to the principle of aggression that governs rook endings”. -- Reti
31. ... Nc4 32. g5
“He gives his opponent the opportunity of winning a pawn. But Capablanca has confidence in the passed pawn which he obtains”. -- Reti
32. ... Ne3+ 33. Kf3 Nf5 34. Bxf5
“Simple and compelling”. -- Alekhine
34. ... gxf5
|Position after 34. ... gxf5|
This diagram is also given as No. 6.159 on p. 245 in Fundamental Chess Endings, (7). Mueller and Lamrecht give detailed analysis of the position and possible variations. It is worth studying to consider the incredible complications found in this position.
“Now comes a brilliant a move as was ever played in a Rook and Pawn ending, a move Capablanca must have visualized long before this position”. --Chernev
“It is extremely instructive to see how Capablanca is no longer in the least concerned about material equality, but thinks only of supporting his passed pawn”. --Reti
36. Kh4 Rf3 37. g6 Rxf4+ 38. Kg5 Re4 39. Kf6
“Note that White disdained the capture of the f pawn. Now it acts as a buffer against annoying checks”. --Chernev
“It is a frequently available finesse in such positions not to capture hostile pawns, but to pass them by in order to be protected in the rear against checks by the rook”. -- Reti
39. ... Kg8 40. Rg7+ Kh8 41. Rxc7 Re8 42. Kxf5
“Again the simplest. Kf7 would not yet have been disastrous because of Rd8, etc”. -- Alekhine
42. ... Re4 43. Kf6 Rf4+ 44. Ke5 Rg4 45. g7+ Kg8
“After exchanging rooks, White would win still more easily”. -- Alekhine
46. Rxa7 Rg1 47. Kxd5 Rc1 48. Kd6 Rc2 49. d5 Rc1 50. Rc7 Ra1 51. Kc6 Rxa4 52. d6 1-0
“The continuation would be 52. … Rd4 53. d7 Rc4+ 54. Kb7 Rd4 55. Kc8 and the pawn becomes a Queen next move”. --Chernev
“Capablanca's management of the endgame gives the impression of being so natural that one easily forgets the difficulty of such precise play. The difficulty is chiefly psychological. In chess, as in life, one is so accustomed to place value on the material factors that it is not easy to conceive the idea of indulging in pawn sacrifices when there is so little available material”. --Reti
This game is Jose Raul Capablanca-Alexander Alekhine, World Championship, 29th Match Game, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1927. Chernev notes in Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, p. 183,5, “Capablanca won the third and seventh games of this match in blazing, combinative style-quite in the manner of his great rival, Alekhine. But this game is pure, genuine, authentic Capablanca — the kind of game that only Capablanca could produce. Capablanca applied pressure right from the start of the game. Alekhine was left with a lone isolated Pawn on the Queen side, and this Pawn fell on the 28th move. After a great deal of complex maneuvering, a position was reached where Alekhine had Bishop and three Pawns against Capablanca’s Knight and four Pawns. Capablanca was in his element. And handled the ending in his customary elegant style. His Knight dances about, preparing the way for the advance of his passed Pawn. Meanwhile, Alekhine’s King is forced further back, until it can retreat no more. Capablanca wins the ending as though he were demonstrating an endgame study. It is as beautiful an ending as you will ever see, and richly deserves the adjective ‘magnificent’.
The game notes are from Chernev, Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, Dover Publications, NY, 1978, pp. 183-190 5.
1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 c6 6. Nf3 Qa5 7. Nd2 Bb4 8. Qc2 dxc4 9. Bxf6 Nxf6 10. Nxc4 Qc7 11. a3 Be7 12. g3 O-O 13. Bg2 Bd7 14. b4 b6 15. O-O a5
“’A surprising move for Alekhine to make.’ says Winter. There are some tricks and traps, but Capablanca’s reply is more than adequate and changes the complexion of affairs”.
“Avoids all tricks and traps with this move, which gains control of the board, and threatens to win the c Pawn by 17. Nb5”.
16. … axb4 17. axb4 Rxa1 18. Rxa1 Rc8 19. Nxd7
“One may wonder why Capablanca exchanges a piece so beautifully posted as this Knight is, for a Bishop that has no mobility to speak of. But two Bishops can become awfully dangerous, even when they seem to doing nothing but looking on”.
19. … Qxd7 20. Na4 Qd8 21. Qb3 Nd5 22. b5
“A strong move that eventually wins a Pawn”.
22. ... cxb5 23. Qxb5 Ra8
“The b Pawn is doomed, and triply protecting it is to no avail”.
24. Rc1 Ra5 25. Qc6 Ba3 26. Rb1 Bf8 27. Bxd5
Capablanca removes the knight, which is a defender of the b6 pawn. It is interesting to note that Capablanca published many times his preference for bishops over knights, but here, the position rules.
27. … Rxd5 28. Nxb6
“Capablanca has won a Pawn, but the win is difficult, as all the Pawns are on the same side of the board”.
28. … Rd6
|Position after 28. ... Rd6|
“Capablanca’s long-range plan is to post his pieces where they will be most effective, then at the most opportune time advance his center pawns with a view to acquiring a passed Pawn on the d file. This Pawn would then be escorted with the most utmost care to the queening square”.
29. Qb7 h5 30. Nc4 Rd7 31. Qe4 Rc7 32. Ne5 Qc8 33. Kg2 Bd6 34. Ra1 Rb7 35. Nd3 g6 36. Ra6 Bf8 37. Rc6 Rc7 38. Rxc7 Qxc7 39. Ne5 Bg7 40. Qa8+ Kh7 41. Nf3 Bf6 42. Qa6 Kg7 43. Qd3 Qb7 44. e4 Qc6 45. h3 Qc7 46. d5 exd5 47. exd5 Qc3
|Position after 47. ... Qc3|
“Alekhine offers to exchange Queens prompted by these considerations: a) the Queens hinder an attempt to blockade the passed Pawn with the Bishop; b) the Queens allow White to start a King-side attack, assisted by the Knight; c) with the Queens off the board, the long range Bishop would be more than a match for the short stepping Knight. In any case it a fine illustration of Alekhine’s genius for defense”.
48. Qxc3 Bxc3 49. Kf1 Kf6 50. Ke2 Bb4 51. Nd4 Bc5 52. Nc6 Kf5 53. Kf3 Kf6 54. g4 hxg4+ 55. hxg4
|Position after 55. hxg4 ...|
A critical position has been reached.
55. … Kg5
“The losing move, according to most critics, and Alekhine himself. Alekhine says that he could have drawn easily with Bd6. If there is a draw after 55. … Bd6, it is not easy”. Sanchez, p. 346 (9), gives 55. … Bd6 56. Nd8 Bc7 57. g5+ Kxg5 58. Nxf7 Kf6 59. d6 Bb6.
“A powerful move, after which Black must lose his f-Pawn”.
56. ... Bd4 57. Nxf7+ Kf6 58. Nd8 Bb6 59. Nc6 Bc5
“So how does Capablanca proceed now? He finds the master move that wins”.
“Brilliant! With so little material on the board, Capablanca sacrifices a valuable Pawn!”.
60. … Bxf2 61. g5+ Kf7 62. Ne5+ Ke7 63. Nxg6+ Kd6 64. Ke4 Bg3 65. Nf4 Ke7 66. Ke5 Be1 67. d6+ Kd7 68. g6 Bb4 69. Kd5 Ke8 70. d7+ 1-0
“A classic of endgame play, wherein the Knight, directed by the phenomenal wizardry of Capablanca, gives a virtuoso performance”.
|1. Alekhine, Alexander, New York 1924, Russell Enterprises Inc., Milford, CT, 2009.|
|2. Avery, Bryce D., Correspondence Chess in America, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2000.|
|3. Capablanca, J.R., Chess Fundamentals, Hartcourt Brace, New York, 1921.|
|4. Capablanca, J.R., My Chess Career, Dover Publications, New York, 1966.|
|5. Chernev, Irving, Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings-60 Complete Games, Dover Publications, NY, 1978.|
|6. Fine, Reuben, Basic Chess Endings, David McKay Company, New York, 1941, Benko Revised Edition, Random House, New York, 2003.|
|7. Mueller, Karsten, Lamprecht, Frank, Fundamental Chess Endings, Gambit Publications, London, 2001.|
|8. Reti, Richard, Masters of the Chessboard, Russell Enterprises Inc., Milford, CT, 2006.|
|9. Sanchez, Miguel A., Jose Raul Capablanca-A Chess Biography, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2015.|