27 September 2006

Combination: Capablanca - Bernstein, St.Petersburg 1914

The game Capablanca - Bernstein, St.Petersburg (preliminary) 1914, is the second in the series of Capablanca's games 'to be studied', between these two opponents. The first was Combination: Capablanca - Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911. The game was also featured as no.83 in Kasparov's 'My Great Predecessors, Vol.1'.

From the diagram the game continued 15.Bg3 fxe5. Here Capablanca remarked,

Black has regained the Pawn, but an examination of the situation will show that White has an overwhelming position. All his pieces are in play, some in a defensive and others in an attacking position, even the Bishop which does not seem to do much will soon be very effective, while Black has not yet castled and his Queen Rook and Queen Bishop are undeveloped. It is now up to White to take advantage of the position before Black has time to deploy his forces.

This verbal assessment shows how the Cuban judged a position. The Bishop 'which does not seem to do much' is the piece on d3.

St.Petersburg 1914
Bernstein, Ossip

Capablanca, Jose Raul
(After 14...f7-f6)
[FEN "r1b1k2r/2qn2pp/p1p2p2/1pb1P3/4PBn1/2NB1N2/PP3PPP/2RQ1RK1 w kq - 0 15"]

After 16.b4! (the '!' symbols are Capablanca's) 16...Ba7, he noted,

A careful examination will show that Black could not safely take the Pawn on account of Nd5. The object of White's previous move is accomplished. The Bishop no longer holds two diagonals, one offensive and the other defensive, but only one, and as he has weakened the defense of his King it is now time to carry on the assault.

If 16...Bxb4 17.Nd5 Qd6 18.Nxb4 Qxb4 19.Rxc6 O-O 20.Rc7, although Kasparov gives 20.Bc2. After 17.Bxb5! axb5 18.Nxb5 Qd8 19.Nd6+ Kf8 20.Rxc6 Nb6 21.Bh4!, we come to the position that prompted me to include it in 'games "to be studied"'. Capablanca:

This is to my mind the finest move in the game, though all annotators have overlooked this fact. Before making it I had to plough through a mass of combinations which totalled at least a hundred moves. The text combination is one of them, and I had to see through the whole thing to the end before I decided on this move. Otherwise the simple continuation 21.Nxe5 would have been adopted.

The point is that 21...Qd7 (forced), allows 22.Nxc8!, although 22.b5 with the threat of 23.Nxc8 is simpler. After 22...Qxc6 23.Qd8+ (23.Nxa7 Rxa7 24.Qd8+ Qe8 25.Qxb6 also wins), Capablanca caught Bernstein's King in a mating net and won on the 43rd move.

To play through the complete game see...

Jose Raul Capablanca vs Ossip Bernstein, St Petersburg 1914

...on Chessgames.com.

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