17 September 2006

Réti learns a lesson from Capablanca

While looking for other references to the game Kaufmann and Fähndrich vs. Capablanca (started in Double blunders can be instructive, the current game in Capablanca's games 'to be studied'), I found that it was ending no.19 in 'Capablanca's Best Chess Endings' by Irving Chernev. There the game was attributed to Fähndrich and Kaufmann playing against Capablanca and Réti.

Chernev introduced the game with a story that Réti was surprised when Capablanca refused to consider a natural developing move at one point in the game. Where had I seen this story before? It was in game 31 of 'The Development of Chess Style' by Dr. Max Euwe. The story concerns the position shown in the diagram.

Vienna 1914
Capablanca and Réti

Kaufmann and Fähndrich
(After 14.Qd1-e2(xN))
[FEN "r2q1rk1/pp3pp1/5n1p/2bp4/6bB/2N2N2/PPP1QPPP/R4RK1 b - - 0 14"]

Euwe wrote,

Here Reti commented as follows: "A position was arrived at here in which the opportunity presented itself to develop a hitherto undeveloped piece and indeed with an attack. The move 14...Re8 would have had that effect and was in accordance with the principles prevailing when I grew up and which corresponded almost entirely with Morphy's principles (for he would, without considering, have chosen that move). To my great astonishment Capablanca would not even consider the move at all. Finally he discovered the following maneuver by means of which he forced a deterioration of White's Pawn position and thereby later on his defeat."

Capablanca's move was 14...Bd4. The game continued 15.Qd3 Bxc3 16.Qxc3 Ne4 17.Qd4 g5 18.Ne5 Bf5 19.f3. Euwe assigned the last move a '?' and remarked,

A weak move; White could simply have played 19.Bg3. Against this Capablanca gave the following variation: 19...Nxg3 20.fxg3 Bxc2 21.Ng4 f5 22.Ne3 Be4 23.Rad1 Qb6 24.Nxd5 Bxd5 25.Qxb6 axb6 26.Rxd5 Rxa2, and Black has won a Pawn -- wlich happens to be virtually worthless.

Capablanca's assessment of the variation was that Black has 'a very slight advantage'. Later in his notes Euwe remarked,

A model of enterprising play in every phase of the game. "With this game," said Reti,"began a revolution in my conviction as to the wisdom of the old principle, according to which in the opening every move should develop another piece. I studied Capablanca's games and realized that contrary to all the masters of the period he had for some time ceased to adhere to that principle." Here, however, we must add that we do not unreservedly agree with Reti's judgment on this remarkable game, for it is not clear that the advantage obtained from the maneuver 14...Bd4 is absolutely forced.

Nine good players out of ten would play 14...Re8. Why wouldn't Capablanca? After learning that the game was played by both Capablanca and Réti, a fact that Capablanca neglected to mention, I found the game on Chessgames.com. The searches both on 'Capablanca' and on 'Reti' failed to locate it. To play through the complete game see...

Fahndrich / Kaufmann vs Reti / Capablanca, Vienna consultation 1914

...where the kibitzers mention that Réti's comments first appeared in his book 'Modern Ideas in Chess'.

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