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John Stuart Morrison vs Jose Raul Capablanca
New York (1918), New York, NY USA, rd 10, Nov-03
Spanish Game: Steinitz Defense (C62)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  GrahamClayton: Seeing that his dark-squared bishop is about to be shut out of the game, Morrison offers to sacrifice it with 20. ♔b1, hoping for 20...fxg3 21. ♘xg5 with the possibility of some play against Capablanca's exposed King. The Cuban nips this in the bud with 20...♘e5, and White effectively is playing with a piece less after 21. ♘xe5 ♖xe5 22. ♗h2, for the majority of the game.
Mar-16-15  capafischer1: Great tactical play by Capablanca
Nov-15-18  DrGridlock: Capablanca believed that his position was won after White's move 20, "Since he would have to retire his bishop to h2 sooner or later, he might have done it immediately. It is doubtful, however, if at this stage of the game it would be possible for White to save the game." Additionally, after White's move 26, Capablanca writes, "Nb4 was the alternative, but in any event White could not resist the attack. I leave it to the reader to work this out for himself, as the variations are so numerous that they would take up too much space."

Capablanca overlooks here that 26 f3 saves the game for White. In one variation:

26 f3 Ra4
27 Qc2 b5
28 b3 Bxd5
29 bxa4 Bxf3
30 fxg5 Bxd1
31 Rxd1

and Black's attack has been beaten off!

John Stuart Morrison - Jose Raul Capablanca

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  Messiah: This game was very difficult to analyze. I could not even remotely aim for completeness, but hopefully no important moments were left out.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6

<The 'Old Steinitz'-style simultaneous handling of the pesky b5 bishop and the f3 knight was not terribly good even in 1918. Some very famous games in this opening are E Korchmar vs E Poliak, 1937, Reti vs Capablanca, 1928, Capablanca vs Marshall, 1909, Tarrasch vs G Marco, 1892 and Lasker vs Steinitz, 1894. It is recommended to have a look on all of them.>


<4.0-0, 4.d4, or 4.c3 are also possible.>

4...Bd7 5.d4 exd4 6.Nxd4

<Alekhine vs L Palau, 1935 comes into my mind.>

6...g6 7.Nf3?!

<Unusual. The Bf4/Bxc6 plan should have been followed, with a successful opening result for White.>

7...Bg7 8.Bg5

<I would go for 8.0-0 immediately.>

8...Nf6 9.Qd2 h6

<Black equalized!>

10.Bh4 0-0 11.0-0-0 Re8 12.Rhe1 g5 13.Bg3 Nh5 14.Nd5?!

<Too optimistic. The bishop will be harassed with a6 anyway, so it was better to create problems along the f-file with 14.h3.>

14...a6 15.Bd3 Be6

<I would not call this move a mistake, but it was time to go for the Nxg3/b5/Rb8 idea.>

16.c3 f5?!

<It is very interesting to see Capablanca to weaken his king shelter for no reason. A combination of b5, Rb8 and Nxg3 is obvious and natural, with Black having a moderate edge.>

17.h4 f4

<17...g4 18.Nh2 Nxg3 19.fxg3 Ne5 20.Bc2 fxe4 21.Rxe4 seems to be marginally better for White - avoiding it was a good decision.>

18.hxg5 hxg5

<18...fxg3 19.Rh1 Bf7 is also possible with a chaotic, but objectively equalish-looking position.>


<Other possibilities are 19.Bh2 g4 20.Nd4, attempting to open the position on the naked king, or 19.Bc2, waiting in a natural way, Black to show his intentions. The g3 bishop is intouchable, so calm play is absolutely possible here.>

19...Bf7 20.Kb1?!

<After Capablanca's 18...hxg5 this king move is not necessary anymore: now Black is one single tiny tempo up. Either on the kingside or in the center some normalization was necessary with 20.Bh2 or 20.Bc2, because the incoming Ne5 cannot be prevented and cannot be forced either (and anyway). Very interesting was 20.Nxg5!? Qxg5 21.Bh4 Qg6 22.Nxc7, but I am not convinced that White achieves anything significant by pulling a Rambo III like this.>


<20...b5 is also possible, but the text move is more concrete.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  Messiah: 21.Nxe5 Rxe5 22.Bh2 Nf6!?

<Allows White to help himself. Displacing the knight and bombarding the centre with 22...c6 23.Nb4 d5 24.f3 (24.exd5? c5! with a devastating attack) 24...a5 25.Nc2 a4 26.a3 dxe4 27.Bxe4 Qxd2 28.Rxd2 Rae8 forces White to calculate tremendous complications, in a situation where Black has lots of freedom. With extremely precise play this should be defendable by White, I am certain, but good luck trying that against Capablanca.>


<This is a very clever move, preparing both to open Black's kingside wide, and to release the central pressure. 23.Nxf6+ is inferior (but not objectively bad), as it hastes the development of the queen to e6.>


<I have difficulties understanding this decision, although the move itself does not deserve a question mark, certainly. The other capture, 23...Nxd5 24.exd5 Rxd5, with an incoming Bg6, demands surgical precision from White, making Black's life comfortable, despite being in an objectively equalish position. I cannot find anything significantly different than 25.gxf4 Bg6 26.Qe3 Rxd3 27.Rxd3 Qd7 28.Ka1 Qa4 29.Rd5 Bf7 30.Qd3 Qc6 31.Rd1 Bxd5 32.Qxd5+ Qxd5 33.Rxd5 Re8 34.Kb1, with tons of chances for a draw.>

24.Bxe4 Rxe4 25.gxf4 c6 26.Ne3

<If you want to go for adventures, pull a 26.f3 Ra4 27.Qc2 Ra5 28.Nb4, that is still somewhere around equality, I believe.>


<There are lots of options, for example 26...Qf6, 26...Bh5, 26...Bg6, or even 26...gxf4. Maybe 26...Qe7 is also possible. Nonetheless, all of them seem to be equal. I think the most natural continuation is 26...gxf4 27.Nc2 Qf6 28.f3 Ra4 29.a3=, where White is OK, thanks to Black's non-existing king shelter.>

click for larger view


<Being under uncomfortable pressure for a while now, John Stuart Morrison loses his objectivity, starts to panic, and this leads to catastrophe, as (almost) always. After exchanging the queens, suddenly White is left with no believable threats, and the back rank gets weakened even more, without compensation. Psychologically, it is not easy to go for 27.a3 gxf4 (27...Bb3?? 28.Rdg1, and suddenly White is almost winning) 28.Nc2 Bh5 (28...Qf5 and 28...Rae8 are also possible) 29.Rde1 Rae8 30.Bxf4, but it has to be somewhere around objective equality. 27.b3? weakens the c-pawn, and makes the g7 bishop smile.>

27...Qxd2 28.Rxd2 gxf4 29.Ng4

<I tried to calculate 29.Rg1 tricks, but 29...fxe3 30.fxe3 Rh4! (maybe the simple 30...Bxc4 is equally very good) 31.Rdg2 (31.Bxd6 Kh7 with good prospects for simplifications that favour Black) 31...Rxh2 (oops!) with an eventual Kf8 stabilizes Black's very serious advantage. 29.Ng2 and 29.Nc2 are miserable - they do not lose immediately, but White's future is passive defence, and nothing else, while Capablanca can press forever with those beautiful queenside pawns.>


<There is no reason to continue playing this position. White's pieces are disorganized, the back rank is very weak, and there are no threats at all, so not even last-minute complications could be introduced.>

30.Ka1 Rae8 31.a3 Re1+ 32.Rxe1

<32.Rd1 Rxh1 33.Rxh1 Re2 34.Rb1 Bxb1 35.Kxb1 Rxb2+ is also clearly lost.>

32...Rxe1+ 33.Ka2 Bf7 34.Kb3 d5 35.Bxf4

<Way too late, Black is obviously winning. The bishop pair, the rook that thinks about going to e4, and the d5 pawn's good placement are too much to handle. 35.cxd5 Bxd5+ 36.Kc2 Be4+ 37.Kb3 Bf3 will not save the half point, either. After 35.c5 it is sufficient to attack the knight with the light coloured bishop, either from e6 or h5, to simplify into a won endgame.>

35...dxc4+ 36.Kb4 c3 37.bxc3

<37.Nh6+ Kh7 38.Nxf7 cxb2 39.Rxb2 Bxb2 40.Kb3 Bf6 does not guarantee realistic hopes.>


<37...b6 is lovely.>


<The alternate score shows 38.Ka5 Rxf4 39.Rd8+ Kh7 40.Rd7 Be6 0-1. For me, both versions are equally believable.>

38...Rxc4+ 39.Ka5 Rxf4 40.Rd8+ Kh7 41.Rd7 Be6 0-1

Premium Chessgames Member
  Messiah: I have to add: certainly, I am not trying to refute Capablanca's insight. He was a genius, and an incomparably stronger player than me, so if he felt he was winning when my annotation says it is objectively equal, then we need to trust his judgement: even if John Stuart Morrison had a much more precise calculation, he might have lost the game, anyway.

Note, there are multiple positions here where equality means almost nothing, because White needs to play with a Kramnik-level of mind wrecking precision to save.

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: <Messiah> You know Capablanca was just human right - he did think make some important blunders to lose a World championship match to Alekhine in later years.

I think it is our duty to seek the objective truth of the games (qualified by "Easy to play" where possible) even from the opening phase. If you check Capablanca's "Chess fundamentals" he is also a very keen precise analyst sometimes even for the opening moves to get a slight advantage.

It does seem he overlooked the potential of just playing 27.a3

It does seem to be close to equal:

198: John Stuart Morrison - Jose Raul Capablanca 0-1 10.0, New York New York, NY USA 1918

click for larger view

Analysis by Stockfish 15 - 3 threads max:

1. = (-0.24): 27...gxf4 28.Nc2 Rae8 29.Bxf4 Qf5 30.Be3 R8e6 31.Rhg1 Rg4 32.Rxg4 Qxg4 33.Nd4 Rf6 34.Kc1 Bg6 35.b4 a5 36.f4 Qh3 37.Rg1 c5 38.bxc5 dxc5 39.Nc2 Qh5 40.Rg5 Qh1+ 41.Qd1

The things is, I am not entirely sure Capablanca is in comfortable classical territory here from the opening. The fianchetto of the bishop does leave weaknesses around Black's king. As a result the game has a much more dynamic double edged flavour which i do not feel Capablanca is used to. Hence there are possibilities for White to even sac the exchange etc, to try and further expose the Black king.

Capablanca's attempt to use the Steinitz school of chess in accumulating advantages combined with "refactoring" - i.e. what Chess players know as "simplification" does take Steinitz theory into the extreme. But thankfully Alekhine woke us up again to the richness and dynamics of the chess board. Alekhine was also known as one the very best game annotators, purposely analysing games in huge depth to get an edge in his insights.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Volcach: Instructive moments for me:

<16 f5!> I probably would've snapped off the Bishop long ago, but the threat is stronger... Threatening to trap the Bishop with f4. Also, the Bishop here is not a strong attacking piece, and letting White have an open file is not necessarily a favorable transition

<18 hxg5!> The computer isn't afraid to take the piece, but visually Rh1 looks terrifying and the g5-f4 pawn chain looks solid, blunting the Bishop and Queen from a kingside attack. Despite his lack of pawns, Black's king is only unsafe in theory.

<27 Qxd2!!> I love this, it feels like the Queen should be able to threaten checkmate with those powerful bishops on f7 and g7. But the Rooks are able to coordinate beautifully here and take full advantage.

Definitely a game I hope to commit to memory.

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