Capablanca Move by Move

Cyrus Lakdawala

Reviewer: John Watson
Everyman Chess
364 pages

Having reviewed Lakdawala’s excellent Kramnik Move by Move, many of my same observations can be said for Capablanca Move by Move, which is a similarly organized book. The Introduction varies in that Lakdawala includes some biographical information and a description of his style. The bibliography this time includes numerous books on Capablanca himself.

In Chapter One, we again find him challenging a stereotype: “The words ‘Capablanca’ and ‘attack’ are not normally associated with one another. [compare: ‘Kramnik is not a name which normally comes to mind as associated with the word attack’ from my review of Kramnik Move by Move]. As a kid who studied Capa, I remember mostly going over endings and positional games. His attacking games never really stuck out. Researching this book, I was shocked at just how many amazing king hunts Capablanca produced. In fact, at one point I had over 100 candidate games for this chapter!”

The Contents are as follows:
Chapter One: Capa on the Attack
Chapter Two: Capa on Defence
Chapter Three: Capa on Exploiting Imbalances
Chapter Four: Capa on Accumulating Advantages
Chapter Five: Capa on Endings

I won’t review this book very deeply since I didn’t peruse it as carefully as the one on Kramnik, but here’s an excerpt featuring an extremely instructive positional game (all notes by Cyrus Lakadawala):

Lasker-Capablanca, 10th matchgame, Havana 1921
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 0–0 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.Qc2 c5 8.Rd1 Lasker loved tension in any position. I feel the best path to an advantage is the immediate 8.cxd5 as Flohr played against Capa in Chapter 2. QUESTION: Can White go crazy by castling on opposite wings with 8.0–-0–-0? ANSWER: White can but it’s a high-risk venture: 8…Qa5 9.cxd5 exd5 10.dxc5 Nxc5 and Black is happy to sac his d-pawn. Houdini likes White, but Kasparov feels Black has the better chances. When it comes to assessment, always go with the human!


The Queen wisely removes herself from the d-file.


Lasker agrees to give up a tempo. In the seventh game of the match, Capablanca, as White, released the tension with 9.cxd5 and got too little to realistically play for the win after 9…Nxd5! (9…exd5 10.Be2 c4 11.0–0 Re8 12.Ne5 gave White perhaps a small edge, J.R.Capablanca-F.Yates, London 1922) 10.Bxe7 Nxe7 11.Bd3 Nf6 12.0–0 cxd4 13.Nxd4 (too many pieces swapped off to take on an isolani) 13…Bd7 14.Ne4 Ned5, when Black equalized and drew quickly.


Just in case you didn’t notice, White threatened Bxh7+!

10.Bh4 cxd4

Alekhine suggested 10…Nb6.


QUESTION: Can White avoid an isolani position and play 11.Nxd4? ANSWER: It lacks dynamism to do so, but sure, the move is playable and dead equal after 11…dxc4 12.Bxc4 Nb6 13.Bb3 Bd7.

11…dxc4 12.Bxc4 Nb6 13.Bb3 Bd7

Black has a nice version of an isolani position. QUESTION: Why? He has yet to engineer a single piece trade. ANSWER: True, but White’s Queen sits awkwardly on the open c-file, handing Black a tempo. White also wasted a tempo with his earlier Bd3, taking two moves to capture on c4, so Black is better developed than he would normally be.

14.0–-0 Rac8 15.Ne5 Bb5

Capablanca criticized this move and suggested 15…Bc6.

16.Rfe1 Nbd5?! 17.Bxd5?!

Lasker makes the same error Teichmann made last chapter. It makes no sense to keep swapping down when White is the one with the isolani. Breyer suggested 17.Bxf6! Bxf6! (17…Nxf6? loses on the spot to 18.Ng6! Rfe8 19.Rxe6!!) 18.Bxd5 exd5 and now 19.Ng4!, when d5 is under heavy pressure to the coming Qf5!.

17…Nxd5 18.Bxe7 Nxe7 19.Qb3 Bc6!

Kasparov made no comment on this move but, for the time, it was an original strategic decision. I think most masters of the day would have played 19…Ba6 to avoid the deliberate weakening of Black’s structure.

20.Nxc6 bxc6

Capablanca correctly gauged that his backward and isolated c-pawn was actually stronger than White’s isolani on d4. QUESTION: Don’t the mutual pawn weaknesses cancel each other out? ANSWER: Euwe writes: “It is noteworthy that in this position White’s queen pawn is weaker than Black’s queen’s bishop pawn; the main reason for this is that Black’s queen four square (d5) is very strong.”

21.Re5 Qb6 22.Qc2 Rfd8 23.Ne2?!

White falls under pressure after this meek response. 23 Na4 would be more consistent.

23…Rd5 24.Rxd5

Lasker claimed this was a blunder, giving instead 24.Re3, but then Houdini points out 24…c5! 25.Rc3 Rcd8! with a clear plus.


From this point on, Capa plays flawlessly.

25.Qd2 Nf5 26.b3

Lasker also criticized this move, giving 26.g3 as better.

26…h5 27.h3

Lasker, by now a complete downer on himself, claimed this was another error and gave 27.Ng3 instead, but as Kasparov points out, White’s position is “cheerless” after 27…Nxg3 28.hxg3 Qc7.


QUESTION: Why is he trying to prevent Ng3? White would have to capture away from the centre. ANSWER: Capa’s move was designed to discourage g2–g4 instead.

28.Qd3 Rc6 29.Kf1 g6 30.Qb1 Qb4 31.Kg1

EXERCISE (planning): It is clear that Black stands much better but how to make progress? Come up with a concrete plan to do so. ANSWER: Begin a queenside minority attack, swapping a pair of pawns on that wing. The end result will be another isolani for White to nurse. This game has to be one of the earliest and most clear examples of how to conduct a minority attack successfully.


QUESTION: What is a minority attack? ANSWER: It is when the player with the fewer pawns on one side of the board launches them forward. The idea here is to swap Black’s a-pawn for White’s b-pawn, saddling White with a second isolani.

32.Qb2 a4

The tyranny of the minority exerts its power over the masses. Now …Rb6 may be coming, so White allows Queens to come off the board.

33.Qd2 Qxd2 34.Rxd2 axb3 35.axb3

QUESTION: I realize White stands worse, but even if he drops his b-pawn he probably draws. Isn’t this an acceptable ending for him? ANSWER: I strongly urge you to stop accepting such rancid positions! You are misassessing. Imperceptibly, by fractions of a centimetre, Black’s game keeps improving. Capa managed to seed Lasker’s position with two permanent, chronic pawn weaknesses. Later, Lasker did indeed lose his b-pawn and yet failed to secure the draw.


Principle: If you can, force the opponent’s rook into awkward lateral defense.


36.Rb2? drops a pawn to 36…Rb4.

36…Ra6! 37.g4

Kasparov gives 37.Nc3 Ra1+ 38.Kh2 Rc1 39.b4 Rc2 40.Kg1 Rb2 41.b5 Rb4!, when White drops his b-pawn and remains with a weak d-pawn after 42.Ne2 Rb1+ 43.Kh2 Rxb5.

37…hxg3 38.fxg3 Ra2 39.Nc3 Rc2!

No rest for Lasker. Black’s rook chases the knight like children at play, threatening …Nxd4!, overloading White’s rook.

40.Nd1 Ne7! 41.Nc3 Rc1+ 42.Kf2 Nc6 43.Nd1!

Lasker sets up a deep trap…


…which Capa deftly dodges: 43…Nb4 44.Rd2 Rb1 45.Nb2!! (now Black has a “combination”) 45…Rxb2? 46.Rxb2 Nd3+ 47.Ke2 Nxb2 48.Kd2 was the point. The knight is trapped and White draws.


With each passing move, Lasker’s belief in his survival grows less a conviction and more a theory. The chronically ill b3– and d4– pawns are, as doctors like to call it, pre-existing conditions. We the ordinary can take heart. Even world champions do dumb things from time to time. EXERCISE: (combination alert): Beset with weary frustration under the heavy positional pressure, Lasker walks into a simple trap. Can you find the combination for Black which Lasker missed? ANSWER:


The knight fork on d4 allows Black his trick.


A parent in a life-and-death situation has no time to mourn the loss of a child if other children remain in danger. Lasker, having dropped b3, now fights ferociously for the life of the others.


Pinning White down to his biggest weakness, d4.

46.Nc3 Ne7 47.Ne2 Nf5+ 48.Kf2 g5 49.g4 Nd6 50.Ng1 Ne4+ 51.Kf1

The king must simmer at the bottom of the pot to avoid the loss of a second pawn. If 51.Ke3? then 51…Rb1 52.Nf3 Rh1!

51…Rb1+ 52.Kg2 Rb2+ 53.Kf1 Rf2+ 54.Ke1 Ra2

Capa messes with his opponent’s head a while before taking action, allowing Lasker to stew in the memory of errors and regrets.


The king, body riddled with welts and contusions, slumps back, too weak to move, and too beaten down to grow angry.

55…Kg7 56.Re3 Kg6 57.Rd3

EXERCISE (planning): The door to White’s survival closes quickly. Work out a step-by-step winning plan for Black to convert. ANSWER: Step 1: Transfer the king to d6.

57…f6! 58.Re3 Kf7 59.Rd3 Ke7 60.Re3 Kd6 61.Rd3 Rf2+ 62.Ke1 Rg2 63.Kf1 Ra2 64.Re3

Step 2: Play …e6-–e5 and create a passed d-pawn.

64…e5 65.Rd3 exd4 66.Rxd4 Kc5 67.Rd1

Step 3: Push it down the board!

67…d4 68.Rc1+ Kd5, 0-1. 68…Kd5 69.Rd1 Nf2 70.Rb1 d3 is utterly hopeless for White.