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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: Capablanca’s Initiative Demonstration


2020-11-01 21:45:33
Capablanca’s Initiative Demonstration

Jose Capablanca is a name that perhaps 99% of all serious chess players are familiar with. Born in 1888, Capablanca’s chess games are still being studied over a century later! Capablanca is commonly seen as one of the strongest pioneers of chess and for good reason. He had a real talent and intuition for the game and many considered him a real chess genius. In fact, several-time chess world champion Alexander Alekhine wrote in a tribute to Capablanca: “Capablanca was snatched from the chess world much too soon. With his death, we have lost a very great chess genius whose like we shall never see again.” Capablanca died at age 53 to “a cerebral hemorrhage provoked by hypertension.”

Despite his life such short-lived, he had an enormous chess record. Capablanca began playing chess as a true child prodigy by learning how to play chess at age 4; he was exceptional in the endgame and his later life offers us many examples of endgame “masterpiece” games. Lesser known about Capablanca was his naturally fast speed of play and amazing results in “rapid chess” events. Bobby Fischer famously described Capablanca as having a “real light touch.” Capablanca could switch to a tactical nature or defensive nature with ease; Capablanca seems to have been one of the first advocates for playing the “position” on the board and not forcing your own ideas onto it. With this flexible style of play, it is no surprise that he was incredibly successful in the chess world.

Capablanca was born in Havana, Cuba. Cuban chess master and five-time chess champion of Cuba, Juan Corzo, lost a match to Capablanca on the 17th of November, 1901. What is perhaps even more significant about this feat is that Capablanca accomplished this just two days before reaching his 13th birthday!

Circa 20 years later, Capablanca would become the world chess champion by defeating Emanuel Lasker in 1921. Capablanca was also the author of several chess books. Mikhail Botvinnik (also a several-time world chess champion like Capablanca and Alekhine) regarded Capablanca’s book, “Chess Fundamentals”, as the best chess book ever written. Perhaps true for that time, I will however note that many great players such as Bobby Fischer wrote their books many years after Capablanca’s publications. Again, I like to think of Capablanca as a true pioneer to the game of chess.

An old adage of chess is a comical situation no chess player wanted to hear: “Your opponent tomorrow is Capablanca … and he has the White pieces!” The implications are that Capablanca is practically undefeatable and it is even tougher for you here because he has the power of the initiative by moving first (White pieces move first in contemporary chess - although this wasn’t standardized until around Greco’s era of the 1600s. Before then, the White pieces or Black pieces could move first - one side moving first was standardized to make chess openings and notation less confusing). Although facing Capablanca tomorrow is a comical idea in presentation: this was somewhat factually-based! The expression chose Capablanca because he went on many winning streaks and seldom ever lost when he had the White pieces (advantage of moving first).

In Capablanca’s 1909 US-wide chess tour, he played 602 chess games in 27 cities and scored 96.4% - this is incredibly high. Another incredible Capablanca winning streak was from the 1922 simultaneous exhibition in Cleveland, Ohio. In that simul, Capablanca played 103 opponents. His score was 102 wins and 1 draw! This was the largest simul in chess history for that time and he also set the highest simul winning percentage record for a “large simultaneous exhibition.”

How would you like to hear you are facing this chess player tomorrow … and he has the White pieces?!

This chess game featured has Capablanca playing as the White pieces. Among the several chess databases I searched, I found no information on his opponent for this game. This, combined with the nature of the game, leads me to believe this game was probably a study by Capablanca himself playing as both White and Black. In the era far before chess computers, playing and analyzing chess with other strong players was extremely common. It was also consequently common to analyze ideas alone by playing a chess game with both sides and investigating various lines and ideas.

“Initiative”, in chess, is the power of being able to move first and force your opponent into reacting to your constant threats. This game appears to me as Capablanca’s illustration of chess “initiative” and it also highlights why Black can’t simply mirror White’s every move and escape with a draw. I like to call this game “Capablanca’s Initiative Demonstration” since it reveals the power of moving first in chess - this game nicely conveys why one might fear Capablanca playing as the White pieces (having the initiative against you starting from move one).

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 This is by far one of the most common ways a chess game may begin. These opening moves are played from beginner to grandmaster.

3. Nc3 Nf6 The Four Knights Game is a popular opening at the beginner level because it follows the “opening principle” theme of “develop Knights before Bishops.” The primary reason for this guideline is because Knights are usually best developed on their natural squares in the opening; those are Nc3, Nf3, Nc6 and Nf6 (as are played in this opening) because each Knight influences two squares of the center from there. Additionally, it isn’t always so clear where Bishops “belong” until the game progresses. Should the Bishops fianchetto? Seek an exchange? Develop to control the center? Pin a Knight to the opponent King or Queen? Or perhaps even remain on its starting square? Different games will require different plans and early on it isn’t always so clear how that game will progress. For this, develop the pieces you know and come back to the Bishops shortly after (once the position has clarified a bit more).

Grandmasters occasionally play the Four Knights Game too, but sometimes it is avoided by the highest levels because the symmetry of the position induces draws. As we shall soon see in this “Initiative Demonstration” - Capablanca will unveil how sometimes the initiative is decisive; this is true for even symmetrical positions.

4. Bc4 Bc5 After 4. Bc4, this variation of the Four Knights Game is the “Italian Variation” because White develops the Bishop to the c4 square just like in the Italian Opening (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4). Mirroring the opponent moves is not always a good idea, but in the Four Knights Game this is commonplace.

5. O-O O-O 6. d3 d6 This is somewhat funny-looking, but this is all studied opening theory. Both sides are developing and playing logical moves. Even the moves 6. d3 (for White) and 6…d6 (for Black) have development in mind because they are opening lines for the c-file Bishops.

7. Bg5 Bg4 8. Nd5 Nd4 All right, now the symmetry is getting a bit humorous; ever since the beginning of the game, Black has just “copied” White’s moves! Interestingly enough, the game state appears equal. Where is White’s advantage? Whatever White has in this position, then Black seems to have it as well. There is one factor White has that Black does not though: the initiative! The side steering the game state (typically it is White early on in the game because they move first) has a big advantage by being able to potentially give the opponent threats they must address.

As symmetrical as this line is though, this exact position has been reached in many serious games. In fact, including this Capablanca game, my database records this exact position reached on at least 70 different occasions!

Of course, deviating from the symmetry earlier than move 8 is more common. For instance, 7. Bg5 h6!? is a reasonable alternative that my database has for almost 300 games.

9. Qd2 Qd7?? Wait. Did something important just happen? Yes, Black has just now blundered! 9. Qd7?? is a massive blunder. This is surprising to the untrained eye because it looks like Black is just copying White as they have been for the entire game; however, this is the tipping point because now the advantage of having the initiative will soon prove momentous.

If Black wasn’t entirely focused on imitating White, a better move than 9. Qd7?? would be a logical plan like kicking back the active Knight with 9…c6. The game might continue 9…c6 10. Nxf6+ gxf6 11. Bh4 and it is just a regular game with fairly even chances for both sides (although White may be slightly better).

10. Bxf6! Bxf3 It is worth noting that Black can’t consider playing 10…gxf6?? on account of losing the Queen to the royal fork after 11. Nxf6+. Likewise, White playing 11. gxf3?? would be a blunder since 11…Nxf3+ would fork the King and Queen.

11. Ne7+!! This is a brilliant illustration of the power that the initiative has in chess. Naturally, Black can no longer imitate White with Black trying …Ne2+ since Black must react to this check first.

Kh8 Forced. Black is already lost; they are already caught in a spectacular checkmate net!

12. Bxg7+ Kxg7 13. Qg5+ Kh8 14. Qf6# This picturesque checkmate symbolizes how potent the initiative can be in chess. No move in chess is harsher than checkmate itself.
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