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Emanuel Lasker vs Jose Raul Capablanca
Moscow (1936), Moscow URS, rd 15, Jun-03
Sicilian Defense: Classical Variation (B58)  ·  0-1



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Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Looks like Black's current preference for the QI and the Slav/Semi-Slav is well-founded. The tendency to not allow Black to play the Nimzoindian looks smart too.

OK, the Ruy Lopez. I wonder if the search (c60-c99) was comprehensive, since overall the Ruy Lopez is less common in the database than the French, which I find really hard to believe.

Under 40 moves:


Over 40 moves:


The "profile" of the Ruy is similar to that of a 1. d4 opening: relatively drawish in shorter games, but with a large advantage for White at any length. The <Spanish Torture> earns its name.

One of my pet opening theories was that, by making it harder to reach "classical" Spanish positions, the Marshall had significantly weakened the Ruy as a winning weapon. The statistics provide no support for my theory. The percentages since 1995 are exactly the same as the percentages since 1980, although (I think, anyway) anti-Marshalls have become much more common in the last decade.

Nov-21-06  whatthefat: <keypusher>

Interesting, I was expecting the Ruy Lopez to be both more popular, and more similar to the Sicilian in terms of black equalizing. It would seem the Sicilian Defence stands apart in offering black best chances in both the shorter and longer games.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: In <tpstar>'s honor, I looked at the Open Ruy separately.

Under 40 moves:


Over 40 moves:


Compared to the regular Ruy, Black does better in short games, and worse in long ones. Makes sense, given the Open Ruy's characteristics: better piece play, looser pawns. In any event, my personal score against Dr. Palmer's O/R is a solid 0.

The Closed Ruy is about 14 times more common than the Open, which shows that devotees of the Spanish are not Ruysterish types.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: OK, the Petrov.

Under 40 moves:


Over 40 moves:


To my surprise, terrible for Black! Slightly more drawish than the Ruy in shorter games, but the draws come at Black's expense, not White's; and thoroughly bad for Black in long games.

This undermines another one of my theories, which is that the Petrov combined with the Marshall had significantly reduced the value of 1. e4 as a weapon. Instead, the statistics indicate that the real problem with 1. e4 is the Sicilian, which scores better than any other mainstream defense (defenses to 1. d4 included).

Pleasure looking at this with you, <whatthefat>! A bonus is that our little survey has validated my own opening preferences (1. e4 as White; Alekhine's Defense as Black). According to the database, my openings are to blame for my defeats, while I alone am responsible for my victories.

Nov-21-06  whatthefat: <keypusher: To my surprise, terrible for Black! Slightly more drawish than the Ruy in shorter games, but the draws come at Black's expense, not White's; and thoroughly bad for Black in long games.>

Of course, there is the possibility that a given opening has the potential to equalize with black, but that it's statistics are harmed by it being practically difficult to play. Also, as you raised earlier, the average ratings of both colours would be a useful addition.

<Pleasure looking at this with you, <whatthefat>!>


<A bonus is that our little survey has validated my own opening preferences (1. e4 as White; Alekhine's Defense as Black). According to the database, my openings are to blame for my defeats, while I alone am responsible for my victories.>

Alas, I play 1.d4 as white and the Sicilian as black, so the blame is squarely on me. I was surprised by how well Alekhine's Defence equalizes in a longer game. However, black doesn't usually get that far it would seem.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Hm, because I haven't got the brains God gave a goose, I made a counting error for the French, Alekhine's and Pirc/Robatch: in my second group, I counted games that were 40 moves or more, instead of games that were more than 40 moves. This would matter much less if games didn't tend to end at move 40.

Revised percentages for Alekhine's:

Games under 40 moves:

40%/34%/26% (same as before)

Games over 40 moves:


So, slightly more drawish in longer games, but still good for Black if he can last that long. Unfortunately, 59% of all Alekhine's' don't make it to move 41.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Revised French numbers:

Under 40 moves:

36%/39%/24% (same)

Over 40 moves:


Worse than the Sicilian, better than the Ruy. Black's disadvantage in long games is relatively large for a KP opening, small for a QP opening. 57% of games are 40 moves or less.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Revised Pirc/Robatsch numbers:

Under 40 moves:

40%/31%/29% (same)

Over 40 moves:


Again, in longer games Alekhine's and the Pirc/Robatsch give similar, rather good results. But the Sicilian remains the champ at any distance.

56% of all Pirc/Robatsch defenses are 40 moves or less.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <So, for all these defenses, between 54% and 58% are 40 moves or less.>

53% and 59% are the correct ranges. The K.I.D. and Q.G.A. have relatively fewer games ending in 40 moves or less; Alekhine's has relatively more.

<It looks like 1. d4 games are a little shorter on average.>

This looks like a mistake founded on my counting error. 1. e4 and 1. d4 openings are pretty much the same length.

Nov-22-06  RookFile: The postion after move 39 in this game is interesting. Capablanca headed for it from several moves back. Very tricky position, if things were a little different, Lasker's Q and N might have been boss.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <TARRASCH
Games of 40 moves or less:
From 1995: 0.32 / 0.46 / 0.22
From 1980: 0.31 / 0.49 / 0.20

Games of more than 40 moves
From 1995: 0.47 / 0.37 / 0.16
From 1980: 0.46 / 0.36 / 0.18

Black suffers badly in a longer game.

Games of 40 moves or less:
From 1995: 0.35 / 0.51 / 0.15
From 1980: 0.29 / 0.59 / 0.12

Games of more than 40 moves
From 1995: 0.44 / 0.33 / 0.23
From 1980: 0.41 / 0.39 / 0.20 >

It's funny to think of the "ideological struggle" between these defenses early in the last century. From a statistical perspective, they're both awful!

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Argh. For the first set of <revised> figures for the French, Pirc/Robatsch and Alekhine's Defense, that should read <games of 40 moves or less> not <games of less than forty moves>.
Nov-22-06  RookFile: I love the Latvian gambit, myself.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: OK, just for completeness, some more KP games.

King's Gambit (C30-39)

40 or fewer:


Not bad!

40 or more:


White retains an advantage even in long games. Long ago, Bronstein pointed out (and demonstrated) that the King's Gambit often led to good endgames for White.

70% of King's Gambits last 40 moves or less. Clearly an opening for manly men (and women, like distinguished practitioner Judit Polgar). There are 1,325 King's Gambits in the database from 1995 or later.

Giuco Piano

40 or fewer:


More than 40:


Not as good for White as the Ruy, but better than I would have expected.

57% of Giuco Pianos last 40 moves or less. There are 1,887 examples in the database from 1995 on.

Two Knights

40 moves or fewer:


More than 40 moves:


One of the better results against 1. e4, and noticeably better for Black than the Giuco Piano. This is interesting since the Two Knights has a bad theoretical reputation right now. But openings select players, as well as the other way around; those who prefer 3...Nf6 are probably slightly more ambitious, more confident, better booked, and perhaps stronger on average than those who choose 3...Bc5.

57% of Two Knights last 40 moves or fewer. There are 1,426 Two Knights in the database since 1995. The Two Knights and Giuco together are more than four times as popular as Alekhine's Defense.

Evans Gambit (which is a subset of the Giuco, of course)

40 moves or less:


More than 40 moves:


Not good for the Cinderella of openings! 57% of Evans Gambits last 40 moves or fewer. White's best hope seems to be that Black will skewer him in the middlegame, rather than slowly roasting him in the ending. In light of these results, it's not surprising that there are only 168 Evans since 1995 in the database.

Vienna Game

40 or fewer:


More than 40:


If White wants a quiet life with no pesky opening advantage, 2. Nc3 seems like an ideal choice. Surprisingly popular: There are 918 examples since 1995. Strange that White does slightly better in the Vienna in long games than in short ones.

59% of Vienna Games last 40 moves or fewer. Perhaps the players doze off.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Keypusher> I was much amused to see your conclusion that the Caro-Kann was most drawish of Black openings listed herein; when I played the Caro-Kann, even against fellow master-level players, I wasn't looking for any draw in the line 3.Nd2/c3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ gxf6.

Here's a bloodbath of mine in this DB playing Black from the humble beginning of 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3:

Mar-31-07  Ulhumbrus: Capablanca developed his entire Queen side, including his Queen side a and b pawns, before he developed his King's Bishop by 12...Be7 preparing to castle on the King side.
Premium Chessgames Member
  FSR: So much for the dogma about queen and knight being better than queen and bishop.
Aug-20-10  Ulhumbrus: As I said in my previous note, Capablanca developed his entire Queen side, including his Queen side a and b pawns, before he developed his King's Bishop by 12...Be7 preparing to castle on the King side.

This however suggests the question: What was Lasker doing during this time? In another game Lasker responded to a premature Queen side attack in the Sicilian by advancing his f pawn to f5, in the game Lasker vs Pirc, 1935

Sep-05-11  Ulhumbrus: Irving Chernev, commenting on the position before 53...Qf2! says that < In this critical situation, Capablanca took half an hour before deciding on the clearest way to win. One way which included letting White promote his pawn to a Queen went as follows: 53...e4 54 a6 Qc5 55 Qb2 c3 56 Qb8+ Kh7 57 a7 Qe3+ 58 Kb1 Qe3+ 59 Ka2 c2 60 a8/Q ( 60 Kb2 Qd2 wins) 60...Qc4+ and wins. However Capablanca discarded this line and chose another which secures the win in simpler but not less forceful manner>

Chernev's comment on 54 Qa3 is < Lasker's suggestion (after the game) of 54 Qc2 is beaten easily by 54..Qc5 while after 54 Qxc4 Capablanca was prepared to win this way: 54...Qe1+ 55 Kc2 Qxa5 56 Qc8+ Kh7 57 Qf5+ Kg8 58 Qe6+ Kf8 59 Qd6+ Ke8 60 Qe6+ Kd8 61 Qg8+ Kd7 62 Qxg7+ Ke6 63 Qg8+ Kd6 64 Qf8+ Kd5 65 Qxf6 Qa4+ and Black wins>

To quote from Chernev's comment on 54 ...Kh7: <Lasker resigned, as 55 a6 is met by 55...c3! 56 Qxc3 Qf1+ 57 Kc2 Qxa6 and the last pawn, and with it White's last hope is gone>

Aug-03-20  saturn2: <whatthefat, keypusher>  The longer a game lasts the more even are the winning chances for both colours. This sounds clear to me and has nothing to do with the opening.
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <saturn2: <whatthefat, keypusher> The longer a game lasts the more even are the winning chances for both colours. This sounds clear to me and has nothing to do with the opening.>

I agree with your first sentence, but not your second. Note how different the results are in long games for different openings. We didn't try to correct for player strength, though. I sure miss <whatthefat>.

Dec-02-21  Mathematicar: Wonderful interview about this game:
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <keypusher....According to the database, my openings are to blame for my defeats, while I alone am responsible for my victories.>

Lovely; I would guess that, if the above were not to be construed as tongue in cheek, your view is far from unique amongst optimists everywhere.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <paladin....(Capablanca) He apparently only turned to (the Sicilian) to reduce predictability.>

For this game, there was another motivation; I have seen no evidence of it here at CG, but have read of Capablanca preparing for this game and discussing the opening he proposed to use--perhaps with one of the Soviet masters--and concluding that the Sicilian was ideal in this encounter.

Jun-11-23  Mathematicar: Why are pieces jumping around weirdly? How to reset this? I want smooth movements.
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