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Monday, April 2, 2018

A Classic From Capablanca

 
    It must have been 1976 when I visited one of the chess clubs in Chicago (memory fails as to which one). I say 1976 because that's when the book I bought was published. I remember parking my car on the street in a neighborhood where you hope your car is still there when you get back. 
    While walking down the street to the club I passed a fellow in a filthy white Nehru jacket and white pants who looked remarkably like John Grefe. After arriving at the club I discovered that it was John Grefe; he was there playing a match against Richard Verber. I was too early for the start of the game and didn't want to wait around and watch...remember my car. I have never been able to find any details of the match. After some browsing at the club bookstore I purchased a book, The Endings in Modern Theory and Practice by Peter C. Griffiths and left. There does not seems to be any reviews on this book, but it was one of the few endgame books that I actually studied...browsing through it the other day showed there was a lot of underlined text and marginal notes. Even today I think this is a good book on endings, but apparently it never got much recognition.
     But that's not why I am here. One of the positions that caught my eye was from the game Capablanca-Tartakower, New York 1924 and it was one that was underlined and had notes penciled in. 
    With curiosity aroused, I decided to take a look at the whole game and that's when I discovered that it has received a lot of attention over the years. Aside from Alekhine's notes when it was played, there was a lot of attention given the ending, much of which turned up on blogs and web sites about 10-12 years ago and Fritz 4 and Junior were the engines used in the analysis.
     In a newspaper column Irving Chernev said this game was in the top 50 of the best games of all time. It appears in Soltis' book The 100 Best where he gives it 13 “!” and it's in The World's Greatest Chess Games by Nunn, Emms, and Burgess.  Salo Flohr called it one of the great masterpieces ever, Smyslov said it was one of the finest Rook-and-Pawn end-games ever played and Alekhine described it as a monument to (Capablanca's) superlative skill in the ending.
     Curious to see the whole game and see what Stockfish 9's opinion was, I spent a few hours over the next two days playing through the game. What makes the ending interesting (and instructive) is that most of the time we win endings because of a material advantage, but in this one Capablanca exploits a positional advantage. 
     As it turned out, it wasn't just the ending that was fascinating and instructive, the whole game was! Much of the analysis I looked at was either pre-engine or was done by engines of two decades ago, so was pretty much useless. Also, much of the commentary was pretty old, so as was often the case the result and the fact that Capablanca was the winner had some influence on the comments. 
    In the introduction to this ending in his book, Griffiths points out that one should not be afraid to make a temporary material sacrifice to set up a powerful passed P or get a R on the absolute seventh rank. In this game Capablanca gets both plus his King jumps into the action.  The game is very instructive and even if you aren't interested in actually learning anything, you can't fail to appreciate his play. 
   As for the tournament, in December 1923, following an aborted attempt to arrange a World Championship match between Capablanca and Alekhine, Hermann Helms, the general manager of the Hotel Alamac and the secretary of the Manhattan Chess Club, set about organizing a tournament to rival Cambridge Springs of 1904. The double round tournament took place in the Hotel Alamac from the 16th of March to the 18th of April 1924. Capablanca was expected to win but and aging Lasker (55-years old) snared first by a 1.5 point margin and lost only one game, to Capablanca who finished second.

1) Lasker 16.0
2) Capablanca 14.5
3) Alekhine 12.0
4) Marshall 11.0
5) Reti 10.5
6) Maroczy 10.0
7) Bogoljubow 9.5
8) Tartakover 8.0
9) Yates 7.0
10) Edward Lasker 6.5
11) Janowsky 5.0

Don't neglect to play over this game!! Preferably with a real chess set!

2 comments:

  1. Was that the old Chicago Chess Club, located in a somewhat seedy office building in the Chicago Loop? When I first learned chess at age 19, and got to where I could beat my friends, I made a trip to the Chicago Chess Club, where I was genially crushed, game after game, by a man named Gerard Womsley, I believe, who must have been around 90 years old. I got quite an education

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  2. After all this time I can't remember, but it was definitely not the Chicago Chess Club. Back in 1964 I played there a few times while stationed at the Navy's Hospital Corps school in Great Lakes.

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