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Jose Raul Capablanca vs Borislav Kostic
"Zugzwang Symphony" (game of the day May-31-2008)
Capablanca - Kostic (1919), Havana CUB, rd 1, Mar-25
Russian Game: Cozio (Lasker) Attack (C42)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
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May-31-08  banjo: after 84.f6
84.- Rc1 should easyly draw

in a rookending f+h pawns
can't win

May-31-08  dabearsrock1010: Okay I just want to point out that surely black's opening is a sham. I know little about chess but my proof is that after blacks 8th move the position is completely symmetrical except that white's dark squared bishop is developed. Now white also has the ninth move and so is has a sort of double advantage, and not just a normal white advantage.
May-31-08  7Heaven: in Capablanca's biography,it is indeed mentioned that Kostic resigned the match after seven consecutive losses
May-31-08  drpoundsign: Little wonder Capa was nicknamed "Mozart". He beat grown men in kindergarten, and his moves like in this game seemed obvious, yet were subtle. Very instructive endgame
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Capa pulls out the miracle:winning with RP+BP in a rook ending!
May-31-08  MaxxLange: <in a rookending f+h pawns
can't win>
It's a theoretical draw but can be hard to hold it in a game.

I first learned about it from a book by GM Mednis. Mednis says that the f+h pawn and R vs R ending is won for the stronger side more than half the time in practical play, and should ALWAYS be played out.

Anyone have tablebases? I wonder if the positions reached in this game, with Black's King already confined to the back rank, were drawable.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jimfromprovidence: <Banjo> <after 84.f6 84.- Rc1 should easyly draw
in a rookending f+h pawns
can't win>

FWIW…The Nalimov Endgame Tablebases disagree. They say that 84…Rc1, below, is a forced win for white in 25 moves.

click for larger view

Here’s the link to the site.

In fact, after 80 Kxf5, where the board is first down to six pieces, the tablebases say that the position then is a forced win for white in a maximum 31 moves.

May-31-08  MaxxLange: Hey thanks, the online Nalimov link that I knew about only has 5-piece tables.

Experimenting a little, I can't get any draw results with the Black King confined to the first rank, as I suspected.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Gypsy: <44...Nxf5>

If <44...Rxb3>, then simple <45.Nxe7 RxR 46.fxR KxN 47.exd4...> wins on material. But White could easily get into troubles if he tried to play cute: For instance, <44...Rxe3 45.Rxe7? Rb1+ 46.Kg2 Nxf5> and neither <47.Rxe8+ Kxe8 48.gxf5 b3 ...>, nor <47.Ra7> (threat is 48.Bd6#) <47...Nh4+ 48.Kg3 g5 (and 49...Rb3+)> is satisfactory.

Premium Chessgames Member
  patzer2: About as close to a decisive "zugzwang" for white in this game is 63. Rd5! when Black's position seems to hold if he doesn't have to make a move. However, with the requirement to move, any move seems to fatally weaken his position. If the King moves, then 64. Kg6 looks decisive. If the Bishop moves, then 64. Rd7+ appears to be winning. If the Rook moves, then the game continuation with 64. Bxc5 is winning.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Jimfromprovidence: Has anyone tried 63...Ra2!?

click for larger view

I played the position a few times on my engine and I can't come up with a forced win for white.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Gypsy: <Jimfromprovidence> You tried to pin the bishop with <64.Rd7> and it did not work?
Premium Chessgames Member
  patzer2: <jimfromprovidence> I just happen to have left the computer on most of the day on this position, and so Fritz 8 ran it to 24 ply with this result:

1. ± (1.22): 63...Bf8 64.Rd7+ Kg8 65.Rc7 Kh7 66.Bxh6 Ra3 67.Rc8 Bd6 68.Rd8 Be7 69.Rd3 gxh6 70.Rd7 Rxb3

2. (1.47): 63...Ke8 64.Kg6 Kf8 65.Bd4 Kg8 66.Be3 Kf8

3. (1.47): 63...Kg8 64.Kg6 Kf8 65.Bd4 Kg8 66.Be3

4. (1.50): 63...Ra2 64.Bxc5 Bxc5 65.Rxc5 Rxf2 66.Rc7+ Kf8 67.Kg6 Rg2+ 68.Kh7 Rg3 69.Rc8+ Ke7 70.Rb8 h5 71.Rxb4 Kd6 72.Rb6+ Kc5 73.Rb7

5. (1.50): 63...Kf8 64.Kg6 h5 65.Kxh5 Ra3 66.Bxc5 Bxc5 67.Rxc5 Rxb3 68.Rb5 Rf3 69.Kg6 Rxf2 70.Rxb4 Rg2+ 71.Kh5 Rf2 72.Rb8+ Ke7 73.Rb7+

6. (1.81): 63...Ra3 64.Bxc5 Ke8 65.Bxe7 Kxe7 66.Rd3 Ra2 67.Kg6 Rxf2 68.Kxg7 Rxf5 69.Kxh6 Rf1 70.Kg6 Rg1+ 71.Kf5 Rf1+ 72.Kg4 Kf7 73.Rf3

7. (2.28): 63...Ra1 64.Bxc5 Bxc5 65.Rxc5 Rb1 66.Rc7+ Kf8 67.Kg6 Rg1+ 68.Kh7 Rb1 69.Rxg7 Rxb3 70.Rb7 Rh3 71.Kg6 Rxh4 72.Kxf6

8. (2.28): 63...Ra8 64.Bxc5 Bxc5 65.Rxc5 Ra3 66.Rc7+ Kf8

9. (2.28): 63...Ra6 64.Bxc5 Bxc5 65.Rxc5 Ra3 66.Rc7+ Kf8

10. (2.28): 63...Ra7 64.Bxc5 Bxc5 65.Rxc5 Ra3 66.Rc7+ Kf8

So if 63...Bf8 and a few other moves (including 63...Ra2) are not clear wins, then it look's like I'll need to reassess 63. Rd5! It's a good move, but not every Black move is clearly losing as would be the case in a true zugzwang position. Still 63. Rd5! is a strong move in this position by Capablanca, but it may not technically qualify as a Zugzwang.

Premium Chessgames Member
  patzer2: On second thought, I guess 63. Rd5! is still a zugzwang, because black would prefer not to make a move and suffer a deterioration of his position, even if it is on the verge of losing but not quite there yet.

This is based on the definition: <Zugzwang: A German term which means "compulsion to move," it is an endgame situation in which a player would prefer to pass rather than make a move because all of his possible moves lead to deterioration of his position.> This definition is from the online Chess Dictionary at

May-31-08  carelessfills: <dabearsrock1010 Okay I just want to point out that surely black's opening is a sham. I know little about chess but my proof is that after blacks 8th move the position is completely symmetrical except that white's dark squared bishop is developed. Now white also has the ninth move and so is has a sort of double advantage, and not just a normal white advantage.>

1) your observations are correct, but
2) white's advantage is less than it seems since tension has been relieved by exchange of center pawns and queens, along with completely symetrical pawn position and single open file. black has few winning chances, but also very hard for white to win, unless you are capablanca.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jimfromprovidence: <Gypsy> <You tried to pin the bishop with <64.Rd7> and it did not work>?

Not at first. The engine wanted to play 64 Bxc5 every time. I tried your line and after sixteen moves, the board reached six pieces. The tablebase said the position was a draw.

<Patzer2>. Thanks for displaying the results for all of those variations.

(1.50): 63...Ra2 64.Bxc5 Bxc5 65.Rxc5 Rxf2 66.Rc7+ Kf8 67.Kg6 Rg2+ 68.Kh7 Rg3 69.Rc8+ Ke7 70.Rb8 h5 71.Rxb4 Kd6 72.Rb6+ Kc5 73.Rb7

I played out your continuation above twice on my engine. Then, when the position reached six pieces, I plugged the position into the table base.

One time it took 10 moves to get down to six pieces. The tablebase said that it was a forced win for white in 48 moves.

Another time it took 25 moves before the board finally got down to six pieces. The tablebase said the position was a forced win for white in 51 moves!!

Shows just how delicate the position was at that point in the match.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Gypsy: <Jimfromprovidence> Thx. (The result surprises me.)
Premium Chessgames Member
  Jimfromprovidence: <Gypsy> I tried that position one more time this morning. Mind you, I’m only using the Rybka demo software with a 32-bit processor to analyze the position.

After move 88 for white, this is the resulting position. The tablebases say it’s a loss for black in 33 moves.

click for larger view

Again, with the amount of moves necessary to reach a winning result so numerous, it demonstrates a very dynamic, tentative position at that point in the match.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Gypsy: <Jimfromprovidence> Thx again!
Jul-23-16  RookFile: What a nightmare, to have to play a game like this as black.
Jun-18-18  Omnipotent00001: 76. f4 is mate in 36 moves.
Premium Chessgames Member
  woldsmandriffield: What to say about this one... poor Kostic!

click for larger view

Capablanca played 54 Kg4 hoping to penetrate with his King via h5 & g6, so Kostic should definitely have stopped this plan in its tracks with 54..Rh1. Since 55 Rd5 can be met equally simply with 55..Rb1 there is nothing doing for White in this position and given that Capablanca was playing a match, one might imagine the game would be agreed drawn soon after. Instead, after 54..Ra7? 55 Kh5 Black was condemned to passive defence.

Note that after f3 in this position, all Capablanca's pawns are on a different colour to his Bishop whereas for Kostic the situation is the reverse.

click for larger view

Here c5 is attacked and Black can defend the pawn in one of three ways: 60..Rc7, 60..Ra5, or 60..Ra2 with a counter-attack on f2. Kostic chose 60..Ra5? ceding the 7th rank. He would have been much better advised to play 60..Rc7 because Black has the 'marking-time' shuffle ..Bf8..e7. Capablanca has no pawn breaks at all and so it is very tough to see a way for him to improve his position further.

But then, for some unaccountable reason, Capablanca gave back the 7th rank! He should have gone 62 Rc7 Kd8 63 Rb7 Ra3 64 Kg6 Rxb3 65 Kxg7 because using the King as an attacking piece is the only means to break through.

After 62 Rd3? Kostic had to try 62..Ra1 as it is Black's only realistic chance for counter-play. Quite apart from anything else, it would have required Capablanca to do some serious calculation and work out whether 63 Rd5 or 63 Kg6 offered the better prospects. So far in this game the great Cuban has been operating on cruise control with things very much his way!

After 63..Ra3 there is no way for Black to save the game. The Rook on the 7th rank rendered even the R+f&hP ending winning for Capablanca. But as pointed out above, by this stage no alternative offered Kostic promise of salvation.

Feb-04-20  pepechuy: Did Kostic really play 84... Rc8?
In the Encyclopedia of Chess Endings, volume 2, it says he played Rc1.
Feb-04-20  sudoplatov: 54....Rb1 seems to draw also.
Nov-06-20  Stolzenberg: Although several databases show 84. ... Rc8, I cannot believe, that Kostic really played this move, because 85. Kg6 would easily win: First the h-pawn will walk to h7, then the rook will be placed on e6 and finally the f-pawn will move to f7. Most probably Kostic played 84. ... Rc1 instead, as written in Golombek's book "Capablanca's 100 Best Games of Chess".
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