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The Immortal Games of Capablanca

The Immortal Games of Capablanca

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by Fred Reinfeld, Sam Sloan (Introduction)

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Superbly annotated treasury includes 113 of the Cuban master's greatest games—against Marshall, Lasker, Euwe, many other formidable opponents. It also contains not only many games previously unavailable in book form, but a biography of Capablanca, his tournament and match record, and an Index of Openings.


Superbly annotated treasury includes 113 of the Cuban master's greatest games—against Marshall, Lasker, Euwe, many other formidable opponents. It also contains not only many games previously unavailable in book form, but a biography of Capablanca, his tournament and match record, and an Index of Openings.

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Ishi Press
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The Immortal Games of Capablanca


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1970 Beatrice Reinfeld
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14305-7


Match, 1902


In this match, Corzo adopted little-known lines in order to take advantage of his 12-year-old opponent's lack of book knowledge. However, Capablanca's use of sturdy common sense proved adequate to the situation—as it so often did throughout his career.

It is not apparent that White has adequate compensation for the piece; but the idea of the gambit is to develop rapidly and thus take advantage of the exposed state of Black's King.

In line with the previous note, B × P would be stronger.

White's King now finds himself in a situation which is even worse than that of his colleague. The manner in which the youthful player of the black pieces utilizes this circumstance is most impressive.

The point. If now 13 Q × Q?? B × Qch and mate follows. The unfortunate position of White's King now plays a decisive role.

Forcing the exchange of Queens by the threat of ... B—QB4, and thus bringing his QR into the game.

Threatening ... R × Kt! If now 17 P—Kt4, R × KtP!

Naturally not 20 ... R × P? 21 B—B4.

The resource on which White has relied, but it leads to a snappy finish.

Against 24 R—K1 there are various winning methods, as for example 24 ... B—R6; 25 B—K5 (if 25 R × B, Kt × Rch and the KKtP queens), R—Kt7ch; 26 K—B1, R—K7ch; 27 R × B, P—Kt7ch; 28 K—Kt1, R × Rch etc.

If now 26 K—Kt1, Kt—K7 mate.

White resigns; a remarkable game for a youngster.


Match, 1902


This game is perhaps the most remarkable of Capablanca's career: the arduous jockeying for position in the middle game, the delightful and carefully calculated Queen sacrifice and the ensuing accurate endgame play—all are worked out with a skill which is astounding in one so young.

Poor play, which gives White more freedom by clearing the K file for him. The proper procedure for Black was demonstrated many years later by Capablanca himself in one of the classic games of his mature period. (See Game No. 49.)

The last three moves have had little value aside from solidifying Black's game. But the prospects for his QB are dreary indeed!

This is a move which a more experienced player would avoid, as it allows Black to barricade the position with a subsequent ... Kt—K5. 12 P—QR3 (preventing ... Kt—QKt5) would have been preferable.

As this Knight will be unable to find a good post for the remainder of the game, ... Kt—K5 was more logical.

This "developing" move should have been postponed in favor of ... Kt—QKt5, leading to Bishops of opposite color and the removal of one of White's most useful pieces.

One can understand Black's desire for counterplay, but this move creates a disquietingly loose position on the long diagonal. True, this vital line is closed for the time being.

Well played. Black can never push by with ... P—B5, for then P—KR4! will follow with crushing effect. Hence the exchange of Pawns will eventually bring about the first break in the center leading to the opening of the long diagonal.

Now parting with this Bishop no longer matters because the opening of the long diagonal is much more important.

Forcing the opening of the long diagonal. White's pieces are all placed to the best advantage for getting the most out of this thrust.

Of course if 28 ... B × P; 29 R × B etc.

One cannot blame the youthful master for being carried away by the combinative possibilities of this interesting position; but there is a much simpler win with 29 Q—Q2, BxR; 30 P × Kt, QxBP (if 30 ... Q × Kt; 31 P—Q5ch! R—Kt2; 32 R—K8ch and wins); 31 P—Q5ch, R—Kt2; 32 Kt × P, Q—Kt3; 33 R—K7, R—KKt1; 34 Kt—B7ch winning easily.

Black is helpless in the grip of the pressure on the terrible diagonal. If 31 ... R—KB1; 32 Kt—Q4, Q × QP; 33 R—K8, Q × BP; 34 R × Rch, Q × R; 35 Kt × P and wins.

He has little choice. Against 32 ... Q—Q2 Capablanca indicates the neat win 33 Kt × P, Q × BP; 34 B × Rch, K—R2; 35 R—K7 winning the Queen (if 35 ... Q × P; 36 B—K5ch, K—Kt3; 37 R—Kt7ch, K—R4; 38 Kt—Kt3ch, K—R5; 39 R—B4ch, P × R; 40 R—Kt4 mate!).

The fireworks are over and the rest requires only moderate care; nevertheless White plays the final phase with a precision rarely seen in young players. The text keeps Black's King out of play, thus preparing for the victorious advance of the QP.

Or 42 ... K—Kt3; 43 Kt—B6, K—B2; 44 B—B7.

He plays on in vague hope that his inexperienced opponent will allow a stalemate.

If now 53 P × P? K—Q4 and White cannot win!

Hoping for 60 K—B6? P—Kt8(Q) and draws!

2a. Havana, 1902


This game was discovered just as the book was going to press. The beautiful combination makes it well worthy of inclusion in a collection of Capablanca's finest games.

An unusual continuation which has the drawback of blocking the QBP when the Bishop goes to QB3. But the young player's prime object was doubtless to avoid the pitfalls of a gambit.

Simply Kt—Kt3 (avoiding exchanges) was best.

Again the Knight should have retreated. The exchange only helps Black.

Not 11 ... P—K4? 12 Kt × P, Kt × Kt; 13 P × Kt, B × KP; 14 B × Pch etc.

Trappy. If 13 B × P? B × Kt! 14 P × B, P—Kt3; 15 B × P, P × B; 16 Q × P, KR—Kt1. (! )

Again provoking the sacrifice of the Bishop for three Pawns. The invitation shows a good understanding of the position, as Black's piece will outweigh the Pawns. White's best course was 14 P—KB4.

... R—KKt1, gaining a tempo, was more exact.

White can expect nothing from such dawdling. The more energetic P—KKt4 was called for.

Black's pieces are all in good play, and the value of White's Pawns is negligible.

A blunder—but how many players could prove it?! R—K2 had to be tried.

Truly magnificent play from a thirteen-year old! If now 28 B—R3, R—Kt8ch! leads to mate; or if 28 B—Kt1, R × Bch! If 28 R × P, P × B; 29 R × B (or 29 R—K3, B—Q5; 30 R—Q3, R—Kt8ch; 31 R × R, R × R mate), B × Kt and mate follows.

Decisive, for if Black is allowed to capture the Rook, White will be unable to retake. On other moves, Black's next leaves his opponent defenseless.


And mate next move. Very snappy!


New York, 1906 (Team Match)


It is curious that despite its rather low repute, the Steinitz Defense in this opening was the favorite of three successive World Champions: Steinitz, Lasker and Capablanca. The excellent results they achieved with it may, however, be attributed to their ability rather than to its merits.

In view of the cramped character of Black's game, it had come to be felt that White ought to avoid exchanges. However, this is more effectively accomplished with 9 B—B1 rather than with the text.

White's position still seems quite good; but the fact is that he has forfeited most of his opening advantage, as will soon be made clear by Capablanca's energetic play.

Avoiding the trap 14 ... Kt × KP? 15 R × Kt, Q × Kt; 16 R × R, Q × Q; 17 R × Bch!

Whenever Black can satisfactorily advance this Pawn in the Steinitz Defense, there has been something wrong with his opponent's play.

Black's pieces come to life. 17 B—K3 would be refuted by ... Kt × BP.

Smashing up White's imposing center formation.

On 19 P × P, Kt × P(B5); 20 Kt—K7ch (or 20 R × Rch, R × R; 21 Q—QB3, Q × Kt; 22 Q × B, Kt—K7 and wins), Capablanca intended 20 R × Kt; 21 P × R, Kt × Q; 22 P × R(Q)ch, Q × Q; 23 P × Kt, Q—R5; 24 P—KR3, Q—Kt6 and mate follows.

Establishing a won position.

B—B3 would have held out longer. Black wins now without any trouble.

White resigns. An impressive victory by the youthful master.


Match, 1909 (6th Game)


Despite Capablanca's inferior treatment of the opening, this is one of the finest games of his whole career. It was this game which first impressed the chess world at large with Capablanca's phenomenal ability.

An unusual and unnecessary move. The immediate P—Q4 is in order.

And this reply is also somewhat questionable, as the Bishop may be embarrassed later on with P—KR3. Black would do better, very likely, with ... P—KKt3.

Again rather conservative; P—Q4 is logical.

The plan initiated with this move deserved a better fate than it had in the actual play. Even better, however, seems Tarrasch's suggestion 8 ... P—QR3; 9 B—R4, P—QKt4; 10 B—Kt3, P—Q4 and Black has freed himself—the logical result of White's fourth and fifth moves. In that event the sequel might be 11 P × P, Kt × P; 12 P—KR3, B—R4; 13 P—Kt4 B—Kt3; 14 Kt × P, Kt × Kt; 15 R × Kt, Kt—B5 recovering the Pawn advantageously.

Now the dubious aspect of 4 ... B—Kt5 comes to the fore.

Some annotators have recommended 10 ... P—B4 here, but this introduces Pawn weaknesses which will prove disastrous for Black. For example, Capablanca indicates the line 10 ... P—B4 11 P × P, B × P; 12 Kt × B, R × Kt; 13 P—Q4! P × P (if 13 ... B—B3 14 B—Q3 wins the exchange); 14 B × Kt, P × B; 15 Kt × P and wins.

Not only is the Knight powerfully posted here, but it cannot very well be captured because of the resulting opening of the KKt file.

But this weak move robs Black's eighth move of all value. Dr. Lasker has pointed out that the proper continuation 12 ... Kt—Kt4; 13 K—Kt2, Kt × Kt; 14 Q × Kt, B—Kt4; 15 R—R1, B × B; 16 QR × B, Kt—K2; 17 P—KR4, P—KB3 would have given Black far better prospects.

Worse and worse. The opening of the KR file should have been avoided, because only White can make use of it. From now on Capablanca handles the game in irreproachable style.

Naturally striving to free himself, but even this attempt turns out to White's advantage.

What is Black to do against the coming doubling of White's Rooks on the KR file? 18 ... P × P would relieve him of his later embarrassment about the protection of the QP, but after 19 P × P the resulting open lines would only be available to White.

As Marshall has been positionally outplayed, he has recourse to a tactical swindle: he hopes for 19 B × KKt, Q × B; 20 P × P, B × Kt; 21 P × R, B × KtP with a Pawn for the exchange, in addition to attacking chances and a free position. But now comes the finest move of the game:

19 Q—K3!!....

Black's reply is forced, for if 19 ... Kt—R2; 20 Q—R3 with the murderous threat of Kt—R4.

Capablanca has now created a serious weakness in Black's position on the diagonal leading to his King. His next two moves exploit that weakness.

Making room for the development of the QB, which in turn prepares for the ultimately decisive doubling of the Rooks on the KR file.

Preparing a defense along the second rank, and incidentally hoping to drive White's KB off the terrible diagonal.

White's pieces are all beautifully posted, while Black's forces have wretchedly small scope. Nevertheless Black's position gives an appearance of defensive solidity which is rudely dispelled by the following fine move:

27 Q—B3!....

This soon proves fatal because the presence of the Bishop was vital to the defense of the white squares on the King-side; but how else was Black to guard the QP? If 27 ... P × P; 28 P × P, R—K1; 29 Q—R3 and the sacrifice of the exchange by R—R8 will win quickly.

This move, intended to bolster the other wing, only facilitates his downfall. But there was no defense against the infiltration of White's heavy pieces.

A despairing attempt to prevent R—R7. If 30 ... Kt—K2; 31 R—R8ch, Kt × R; 32 R × Ktch, Kt—Kt1 33 Q—R7, K—B2; 34 B × KtP! wins. Now comes a crisp finish.

On 31 ... Kt × R White wins easily with either 32 B × Kt or 32 R × Kt.

Black is helpless against R—R8ch.

A masterpiece.


Match, 1909 (8th Game)


This charming game deserves to be better known. It illustrates one of the most important accomplishments of the first-rate master—that of being able to slash his way through the tactical complications which often follow the attainment of a positional advantage.

In later years this defense was to become fashionable in the more precise form 3 ... P—QR3; 4 B—R4, P—Q3. Capablanca counters with what is currently considered the best reply.

This is not best, as it gives White's Pieces too much scope and leaves Black with a lifeless game, despite his two Bishops. Preferable is 6 ... P-B3, a move to which Capablanca was himself partial in later years (see for example Game No. 104). However, Marshall's dislike for such close positions is proverbial.

It is irksome to have the QB tied to the defense of the QBP, but the text does not help matters, as it weakens the Pawn structure and leaves Black's Q4 accessible to White's pieces.

Partly because he wishes to avoid an eventual Kt—Q5, and partly because in reply to .. Kt—B3 he fears P—K5; but the text has the drawback of weakening the QP.

Forced; but it creates new weaknesses on the Queen-side; incidentally, White has all his forces in play whereas Black's game has remained undeveloped.

A difficult position for Black; if 14 ... PxP; 15 Q—K3! leaves him with a very bad game.

Ordinarily a Knight is badly posted at the side of the board; but in the present position, the Knight has excellent prospects. The immediate threat is Q—B4 winning a Pawn.

Practically forced, but the Queen is badly placed here. One difficulty leads to another.

Not 18 ... Q × P?? 19 Kt—B4 and the Queen is lost!

This not only wins a Pawn; it leads to a devastating attack.

If 21 ... Kt—B3; 22 Q × KPch, R—B2; 23 B—B7 followed by Kt—K5 and wins.

Decisive! But the remaining play requires great accuracy.

A desperate bid for counterplay—not that he has any choice. For if 23 ... Kt—Kt2; 24 B × Kt, K × B; 25 Kt—K5 and wins; or 23 ... Kt—B3; 24 B × Kt, B × B; 25 Kt—Q6 etc.

Or 25 ... B × R; 26 P × P, P × P; 27 Q × Pch, K—B1; 28 Kt—Q6. R—B8ch; 29 K—Kt2 and wins.

There is no satisfactory reply to the pretty Rook move. If 26 ... B × R; 27 P × P, P × P; 28 Q × Pch, K—B1; 29 Kt—Q6, R(1)—Q2; 30 B—Kt7ch! or still more simply Kt × R) and wins.

Threatening mate; but White's attack comes first.

White's economical utilization of his forces has been most impressive.


Match, 1909 (11th Game)


While neither player's moves were wholly free from mistakes, this game was Capablanca's most arduous and perhaps most impressive victory of the match. To survive one of Marshall's most ingenious attacks is a feat even for the mature master; how much more creditable is it in the case of a young, inexperienced player.

Capablanca never played this defense again after the match, though he relied on it almost exclusively during this contest, for a number of reasons: because Lasker had had such striking success with it in his match with Marshall two years earlier, because the simplifying character of the variation tends to lighten Black's problems and because Capablanca wished to avoid the customary lines of play, with which he had only a hazy acquaintance at best.

After this Black has an easy game. The standard move is 7 P × P (as in Game No. 9), giving Black far greater difficulties.

An important move, despite the apparently strong center which it permits White: Black is now able to post his Bishop to good effect.

A nervous attacking move which gives the clue to Marshall's mood.

Not only loss of time, but the Pawn soon becomes a serious weakness. P—K4 has been recommended, with a view to answering ... P—QB4 with P—Q5.

The Bishop was menaced by the threat of ... P × P followed by ... Kt × P. But now the weakness of the QRP becomes noticeable.

As the QRP cannot be defended very well, White makes a virtue of necessity, leaving the Pawn to its fate and playing for the attack.

Now the game begins to be exciting. 19 ... B × RP is to be answered by 20 Kt × P!

Edward Lasker suggests 20 P—K4, B × RP; 21 Kt—R5, P—Kt3; 22 P—K5, B × R; 23 R × B with a strong threat of Kt—B6ch followed by Q—R4.

A greedy capture which involves Black in serious difficulties, with both minor pieces out of play. The simple positional course was 20 ... P × P; 21 Kt × P, B × Kt; 22 R × B, R × R; 23 Q × Rch, R—Q1; 24 Q—B5, P—Kt3; 25 Q—B2, Q—Q3 followed by ... Q—Q7 with a winning position.

Marshall is now in his element. The position has become very difficult for Black.

Not 24 Q × Q, P × Q; 25 Kt—B6ch, K—Kt2; 26 Kt—Kt4, R—B3; 27 P—Q7 (or 27 Kt × P, R(3) × P; 28 R × R, R × R; 29 Kt × BP, Kt × Kt; 30 B × Kt, R—B3; 31 B—R2, R × P and Black's Queen-side Pawns win easily), R—B4 and wins.


Excerpted from The Immortal Games of Capablanca by FRED REINFELD. Copyright © 1970 Beatrice Reinfeld. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Immortal Games of Capablanca 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The simplicity and logic of Capablanca's play has served as a model for great chess players after his time. Smyslov, Fischer, Kasparov to name a few. This book will guide every chess enthusiasts a natural approach to chess played by one of the greatest chess genius of all time- Jose Raoul Capablanca
Guest More than 1 year ago

José Raúl Capablanca (1888¿1942) is widely regarded as one of the all-time great chess players, and possibly the greatest natural chess genius in history. World champion from 1921¿1927, he is the only player to have won the world title by defeating the incumbent in a match without losing a game. Grandmaster Robert Byrne, in his foreword, pointed how Capablanca¿s games were the greatest influence on the modern great world champion Bobby Fischer, and Anatoly Karpov is another disciple.

Mikhail Botvinnik (three times world champ) also related how much he learned from Capablanca, and pointed out that even his successor Alexander Alekhine received much schooling from him in positional play, before the struggle for the world title made them bitter foes.

Once players have read all the introductory books about endgames, openings, tactics and basic strategy, to improve, they must study master games. Capablanca¿s crystal clarity of style makes his an ideal object of study.

Reinfeld does a good job here, as he did with his collection of Tarrasch¿s games. There are plenty of fine endgames, Capa¿s forté, but lots of brilliancy prize games as well. By the time Capa had won the world title, he had a unique record ¿ winning a brilliancy prize at every master tournament he had played in where one was awarded.

In his biographical sketch of Capa, Reinfeld states his belief in Alekhine¿s superiory. But Byrne¿s foreword points out that Alekhine never fulfilled his obligation to play a return match, and selected weaker opponents instead of facing him again. In fact, their first game after their world championship match was nine years later at the great Nottingham 1936 tournament ¿ Capa won both the game and the first prize (with Botvinnik).