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Jose Raul Capablanca vs Alexander Alekhine
New York (1924), New York, NY USA, rd 4, Mar-21
French Defense: McCutcheon. Exchange Variation (C12)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
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Jun-13-03  aulero: Thank you <Calli>.
I'm interested in strategic and psychological observations, general plans and very rarely in concrete analysis with a lot of variants. The two Alekhine's notes you gave us are quite good.
Jun-13-03  tud: Alekhine was a huge worker who noticed Capa's growing superficiality. I would have admired him more if he gave a chance for a new match to Capablanca. What if Euwe, Smislov and Tal ? Alekhine plays Bogoljubov and Euwe, Lasker plays Yanovski and Marshall. This is why FIDE was somehow needed.
Sep-09-03  zorro: <Calli> Does A also says what his plan would have been had White played the way he suggests (h3, Kc3, etc.)? Also, in case of 43. g4 Black should defend with 43...Rc5 44. Rc2 g5 45. hg5 Rg5, then throwing in ...a5 and keep the rook on g5-e5-c5, am I wrong?
Sep-09-03  Calli: <Zorro> I am not at home right now and don't have the book with me. Next week, I will try to remember to see if there is more by AA.

There is a modern analysis of this ending, but was unable to find it on the net. I remember that a young Kasparov found some interesting new variations in a training exercise he did as a teenager. It is an excellent ending for study with many subtle points.

Sep-10-03  zorro: <Calli> ok thnx, i'll be waiting. I also find this ending very interesting for study, I think I'll try and play it a few times against my computer.
Oct-03-03  zorro: <Calli> Did u remember of looking up in the book?
Oct-03-03  Calli: <zorro> Remembered, then got busy doing other things and forgot to post. At work now, will look it up again over the weekend.

I do remember now that the modern analysis is in one of Dvoretsky's books. I do not have that book, so must have seen the analysis it in a book review on the net, but still can't seem to find it.

Oct-03-03  Calli: Okay here they are, brought to you direct from the tournament book:

Alekhine's Annotations for the endgame.

34.Be4 (otherwise the a-pawn can no longer be protected)

38...c6 (A necessary preparation for eventual posting of the rook on the 5th rank.)

39.h4 (In this endgame, Capablanca's famous thoroughness fails him. Compare also his 56th move. Premature would have been 39.c5 on account of 39...Rb5 40.Rd6+ Ke5 41.Rxc5 Ra5 but 39.h3! in order to meet 39...Rh8 with 40.c5 and threaten Kd4-Kc3 followed by c5, would have set Black a much more difficult problem than the move in the text.)

40... Rh5 (The placing of the Rook in the fourth rank is equally effective for defense and attack, and White's plan to force a passed Pawn on the H file is now shown to be impractible.)

41...Ra5 (With the dangerous threat of Ke5,etc)

42...f6 (Again preventing 43.g4 because 43...g5+ would halt the H pawn.)

43.Rc2 Re5 (Necessary, because 44.c5 followed by g4, was threatening)

44.c5 (though this move, which confines somewhat the free movements of Black's Rook, his own Rook is committed to the defense of the C pawn, and henceforth it is necessary for Black merely to keep an eye on the threat of Kg3-Kh3, followed by g4.)

45.Rc3 (Threatening 46.Ra3, etc)

49...Kf7 (Necessary for Black must be prepared to be in a position always to reply to Kh3 with g5 and, in case White thereupon should attack the Rook with Kg4 to defend him with Kg6. Next he would exchange on h5 and play his Rook from e5 to h5 and back, whereupon White could make no further advance. Capablanca endeavors as a last resort to utilize the circumstance that the Black King dare not abandon g6.)

51.Rd4 (Through the return of the extra Pawn the Rook forces its way to the seventh rank and the hostile King, of course, is forced back. More than this could not be expected from the position after the 39th move, but such as it is there seems to be no real danger for the second player.)

52...Kf8 (Not 52...Kh6 53.Rf7)

56.g4 (After 56.Ke3 Rc3+ then 57.Kd4 Rxg3 58.Rxa5 Kf7 59.Ra8 etc.)

62...Rg5 (If 62...Rg5 63.Rxg5 then 63...fxg5 64.Ke5 Kg6 65.Kd6 Kf7 etc)

Oct-04-03  drukenknight: why doesnt he just say it looks like a draw?
Oct-04-03  zorro: Thank you very much, Calli. I'm playing a tournament this week-end, but next week I will have time for studying your annotations. thnx
Aug-19-05  RookFile: Ok: just so the forest doesn't get lost for the trees:

Alekhine found that there is a super subtle win in this ending by 39. h3!!

Years later, Kasparov found another win with 39. g3!!

The analysis is over my head, but I know this is the conclusion of these all time great players.

May-13-07  Plato: <aulero: Does someone have the original Alekhine's comments on this game?>

<aulero: I'm interested in strategic and psychological observations...>

Here are his comments regarding the significant psychological impact that this game had on him:


"At this tournament I made one very reassuring observation, a real discovery for me. The point is that, although in our first game Capablanca outplayed me in the opening, achieved a winning position in the middlegame, and preserved a significant part of his advantage in the rook endgame, in the end he still let slip the win and had to settle for a draw. That gave me food for thought, if you consider that Capablanca really wanted to win this game, as he was trying to catch up to Lasker, who was leading the tournament and who just the previous day had won against me. I was convinced that, had I been in Capablanca's place, I would have won the game without fail.

In other words, I noted in my opponent a small weakness: he becomes less certain when he is faced by stiff resistance! I had already discovered earlier that Capablanca sometimes let slip minor innacuracies, but I did not suspect that he could not rid himself of this failing even when all his forces were concentrated on the task at hand. This was an extremely important discovery for the future!"

May-13-07  Plato: Later he wrote a famous article entitled "The New York tournament of 1927 as a prologue to the world championship match in Buenos Aires" in which he once again highlighted the importance of this encounter from 1924:


"This game, in fact, was the starting point for my understanding of the chess-playing individuality of Capablanca."

My source for these quotes is <Technique for the Tournament Player> by Dvoretsky and Yusupov. It's a wonderful book (as are all Dvoretsky books), and it also contains some of Alekhine's more general assessments of Capablanca's endgame play.

May-13-07  Marmot PFL: 31.Nd5! is much stronger than Nxg6 and I can't believe Capablanca didn't play it. For one thing why strenghten black's pawns, and the Ng6 is not a good piece anyway. After Bxd5 (almost forced, the Nd5 is so strong) Rxd5 white continues with g3, f4, Bg2 with extra pawn and better pieces, should be very easy win.
Sep-29-11  ptrckmackay: Why not 5.e5 the black king knight is pin against the queen?
Sep-29-11  Shams: <ptrckmackay> That's the main line of the McCutcheon, but you see why White isn't winning a piece, right?
Sep-29-11  Shams: <ptrckmackay> My last post was stupid-- if you understood, you probably wouldn't have asked. Sorry.

After 5.e5:

click for larger view

You pointed out the pin, so Black's reply is forced: 5...h6 hitting the bishop. If White doesn't want to trade minors then he has his choice of retreats: 6.Be3 is playable; 6.Bd2 is the main line; 6.Bc1 is an interesting sideline that I quite like. 6...Ne4 is almost universally played as a response.

Instead White can trade pieces, hoping to ruin Black's kingside, but 6.exf6 hxg5 6.fxg7 Rg8 Black will regain the pawn with active pieces and a reasonable game.

And after 6.Bxf6?! gxf6 7.exf6 Qxf6 Black is fine, if not already better.

White does well in the main line McCutcheon, so go with your gut and happy hunting. =)

Sep-30-11  ptrckmackay: Thank you Shams, 5...h6 is a nice way to break the blow of 5.e5, by attacking the pining bishop with a pawn, so simple but I could not see it, I learned an interesting defensive tactical trick today, which will be very handy in my future games.
Sep-30-11  jackpawn: Personally I enjoy this game just because it makes me feel better about messing up rook/pawns endings. If Capa can misplay these things how can I be so hard on myself?
Sep-30-11  AnalyzeThis: It's certainly was not an easy endgame to win. It showed Alekhine the value of defensive tenacity against Capablanca - it you never gave up, you might get a chance. A valuable lesson.
Premium Chessgames Member
  maxi: Yes. <aulero>'s comments of 8 years ago also seem to me insights that carry a lot of truth. In a way Capa's worst enemy was his own talent. He never had to study chess, he never had to try hard to win a game or a tournament. So later when he faced determined opposition from a good player he just didn't know what to do. He just could not handle it emotionally. It all had been too easy till them.
Oct-01-11  jackpawn: Totally agree, <maxi>.
May-26-16  edubueno: 31 Cxg6 is not a good movement. Much better 31 Cd5!

47 Tc3 is a mistake instead of 47 h4!

Mar-31-18  The Kings Domain: A game between the two titans is always enough to compel a sense of awe and wonder. Fine game.
Premium Chessgames Member
  woldsmandriffield: Alekhine's comments appear an example of hindsight since 38..c6 was actually a weakening move that is only justified by Capablanca's play, allowing Black's Rook to operate along the 5th rank. With two open files, however, it is hard to appreciate that an open rank is the key to the position. Alekhine claims to have had this insight - but 38..c6 should be losing, so make of the claim whaat you will.

The ending is analysed in detail by Dvoretsky, who concluded that the counter-intuitive 39 h3 gave decent winning chances. Dvoretsky also noted the following idea:

"Many years ago I helped Botvinnik lead an exercise in his school. At the request of Mikhail Moiseevich I prepared a large endgame exercise for the young Garry Kasparov, which included independent analysis of this Capablanca-Alekhine endgame. Garry found still another method to interfere with Black's bringing the rook to the fifth rank, the move 39 g3!! I like it very much, perhaps even more than the move recommended by Alekhine, because it contains the active follow-up idea 40 h4! And there don't appear to be any minuses. For example, if 39 ... g5, there is the pleasant choice between 40 h4 and 40 Rf2 with the threats 41 Rf5 or 41 Kd4. Further, if 39 ... Rh8 40 c5 Rh5 41 Rd6+ Ke5 (41 ... Ke7 42 Rxc6 Rxh2 43 Ra6) 42 h4 with advantage to White."

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