22 August 2006

Combination: Capablanca - Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911

Continuing with Capablanca's games 'to be studied', the diagram shows a position where Capablanca played a combination that he considered 'one of the longest and most difficult ever played over the board'. The same position was chosen by Kasparov as the starting point for game 76 of 'My Great Predecessors, Part I'.

Capablanca played 22.Ne2, sacrificing a Pawn to 22...Qxa2. He mentioned,

22...Qb6 instead of the text move, would have simplified matters, but at any rate White would have had the superior position.

As we will will see below, this is the first of several points where Kasparov disagreed with the Cuban.

San Sebastian 1911
Bernstein, Ossip

Capablanca, Jose Raul
(After 21...Nc5-e6)
[FEN "4rr2/p1pb1ppk/2ppn2p/q4N2/3NP1P1/1P2QP2/P1P4P/3RR1K1 w - - 0 22"]

After 23.Neg3, White's plan was clearer: the Knight is headed for h5. Bernstein grabbed a second Pawn with 23...Qxc2. Here Capablanca wrote,

This second capture is disastrous; as Lasker has pointed out, it was necessary to play 23...f6, to be followed by 24...Rf7 in case White continues the attack with Nh5.

After 24.Rc1 Qb2 25.Nh5, he remarked,

The march of this Knight is most remarkable. Even now it looks inoffensive, and yet it is the Knight that is going to decide the game.

Now Black played 25...Rh8. Capablanca:

There was nothing better. If 25...g5 26.e5 f6 27.Qd3 and with proper play White will win. I do not give the variations because they are very long and complicated.

This remark is why I decided this game deserved 'to be studied'. The third World Champion has left the analysis as an exercise. He also explained why 25...g6 is not satisfactory:

26.Qxh6+ Kg8 27.e5 gxh5 28.gxh5 and White wins because there is no way to stop one of the Rooks from checking in the open g-file.

After 25...g5 26.e5 f6 27.Qd3, it appears that Black's best is 27...Kh8. This could be followed by 28.Rc2 Qa3 (28...Nc5 29.Rxc5 also needs to be investigated) 29.Nh4 gxh4 30.Qg6.

The game continued 26.Re2 Qe5 (forced) 27.f4 Qb5 28.Nfxg7. Capablanca:

Now at last the result of the moves of the Queen Knight are clearly seen. This move marks the turning point of the long combination initiated on the 22nd move.

Now Bernstein blundered with 28...Nc5. Capablanca:

Weak. I expected 28...Nxg7, when would have come: 29.Nf6+ Kg6 30.Nxd7 f6 31.e5 Kf7 32.Nxf6 Re7 33.Ne4, and Black's position is untenable. A careful analysis and proper comparison will show that this combination is one of the longest and most difficult ever played over the board.

After 29.Nxe8, Black was lost but played on until the checkmate became unavoidable a few moves later.

Kasparov disagreed with Capablanca at several key points, starting with the Cuban's assessment of 22...Qb6. Of Capablanca's remark after move 25, the 13th World Champion wrote,

A typical comment: the third world champion did not greatly favor long and complicated variations! Yet no one has shown how after 25...g5 26.e5 f6 27.Qd3 Kh8!, White wins. But what is more important -- no one has shown what he is to do after 25...g5 26.e5 Nf4!, for example 27.Nxf4 Rxe5 28.Nd3 Rxe3 29.Nxb2 Rxb3, with an excellent game for Black.

He also analyzed 25...Rg8 and concluded that 'the only question is whether White can save the game.'

A few moves later, Kasparov gave a long analysis of 'the cool defense' 28...Rd8!, showing that, even after the previous inaccuracies, Bernstein had chances to save the game. This variation is worthy of a more detailed look, which will have to wait until another time.

To play through the complete game see...

Jose Raul Capablanca vs Ossip Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911

...on Chessgames.com.

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