05 October 2006

Planning: Nimzowitsch - Capablanca, St.Petersburg 1914

Continuing with Capablanca's games 'to be studied', this next game shows how a good plan can overcome a material deficit. The game was also no.81 in Kasparov's 'My Great Predecessors, Vol.1'.

The first thing is to note is the similarity between the diagrammed position and the Benko Gambit; 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 Bxa6 is a straightforward example of the Benko. White has an extra a-Pawn, but is subject to pressure on the a- and b-files. The Bishop on g7 plays an important role in limiting White's options.

Capablanca played 13...O-O and commented,

Black is a Pawn behind, but all his forces are now deployed and ready for maneuvering, while White, who had to make three moves with his Queen in order to win a Pawn, is therefore very backward in his development. Nimzowitch, it is true, does not make the best moves now, but I believe he has been unjustly criticized for losing this game, although none of the critics have given a satisfactory line of procedure. They have all suggested moves here and there; but the games of the great masters are not played by single moves, but must be played by concerted plans of attack and defense, and these they have not given.

St.Petersburg 1914
Capablanca, Jose Raul

Nimzowitsch, Aron
(After 13.0-0)
[FEN "2r1k2r/Q1pq1pbp/2pp1np1/8/4P3/2N5/PPP2PPP/R1B2RK1 b k - 0 13"]

Nimzowitsch played 14.Qa6. The first question is 'to what purpose'? Is the Queen better positioned on the a6-f1 diagonal than on the a7-g1 diagonal?

Kasparov criticized the move with, 'A waste of a tempo. Tarrasch suggested 14.Bd2 to answer 14...Rfe8 or 14...Qe6 with 15.f3 and when convenient 16.Qf2, and he doubted whether Black had compensation for the Pawn.' After quoting the whole of Capablanca's note to 13...0-0, he continued, 'Let's support Tarrasch's idea (14.Bd2) with a concrete plan: b2-b3, a2-a4, and Rad1; if ...c5 then the Queen escapes via a6 and the Black Knight has to guard the d5-square.'

Computers are incapable of formulating a plan. When I asked mine to analyze the position, it gave 14.f3, 14.Qe3, 14.Qa6, 14.Rd1, and 14.Qa4, as its first five suggestions. The move 14.Bd2 was not among the first ten suggestions. All of the top moves were valued in a very narrow range. The game continued 14...Rfe8 15.Qd3. Capablanca:

This makes the sixth move with the Queen out of fifteen played so far. Evidently White's plan is to consolidate his position and finally win with the extra Pawn. He fails, however, to take the best measures against Black's plan, which consists in placing his Rooks in the open lines, bringing his Knight around to c4, if possible, and through the combined pressure of the Bishop, the two Rooks and Knight, and the Queen if necessary against the a- and b-Pawn, to regain his material, keeping the upper hand at the same time. The plan is masked by the direct attack against the e-Pawn.

That correctly describes the strategy behind the Benko Gambit. After 15...Qe6 16.f3 Nd7, Capablanca noted,

Now the Bishop's line is open and the Knight threatens to come to the Queenside for the attack against the a- and b-Pawn. It is doubtful if White has any longer a good line of defense. At any rate, I believe that the best he can hope for is a draw.

Later in the game he remarked,

I have chosen this game as an example of position play. The apparently simple moves are in reality of a very complicated nature, and they all obey a preconceived plan. Such games are in fact of the highest and most difficult type, and only the connoisseur can fully appreciate them.

That is why I included the game with the others 'to be studied'. To play through the complete game see...

Aron Nimzowitsch vs Jose Raul Capablanca, St Petersburg 1914

...on Chessgames.com.

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