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Siegbert Tarrasch vs Jose Raul Capablanca
San Sebastian (1911), San Sebastian ESP, rd 4, Feb-24
Italian Game: Classical Variation. Greco Gambit Traditional Line (C54)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Jun-17-07  Karpova: This is the game Capablanca refers to in "Chess Fundamentals". Capablanca made the most natural moves only and after 10 or 12 moves Tarrasch fell into a long think because Capa had played a new move and must have played "according to theory" before.

After the game Tarrasch told him that he had not only studied the books very carefully but also found improvements whilst Capablanca hadn't had a look at any opening book at all!

May-29-12  shalgo: If Tarrasch really said that, he must not have studied the books as well as he thought. The first new move in this game was Tarrasch's 16.Ne4 (compared to the 16.Rac1 of Olland vs B Leussen, 1901).

Even if Tarrasch could be excused for his ignorance of that rather obscure game, he should have known about Chigorin vs Schlechter, 1898, from a tournament in which he himself participated, from which he deviated with 13.a4.

In other words, Capablanca did not play a novelty in this game--Tarrasch did!

May-29-12  shalgo: Within this tournament, however, Capablanca's 13...Qb6 did vary from Schlechter's 13...Ng6 in the second round. Knowing that, however, was not a matter of reading the theory books, but of looking at the other boards or checking the tournament bulletin.
Feb-27-15  Ulhumbrus: <shalgo: Within this tournament, however, Capablanca's 13...Qb6 did vary from Schlechter's 13...Ng6 in the second round.>

This suggests the following question:

Which general principle or general principles or general rule or general rules did Capablanca's move 13...Qb6 follow that Schlechter's move 13...Ng6 did not follow?

How about the following two rules:

1. 13...Qb6 attends to an undeveloped piece whereas 13...Ng6 moves a piece which has been developed already.

2. 13...Qb6 concedes little in return for what it gains compared with 13...Ng6 which displaces a defender of d5.

Jun-08-15  Caissanist: <shalgo> I think we have to keep in mind that opening theory in 1911 was far more sketchy and haphazard than we could even imagine today. The standard opening reference at the time was, apparently, still Bilguier's <Handbuch>, even though that book had last been revised in 1891. There also appear to have been few specialized opening monographs of the kind which became pretty standard in the second half of the century. It was probably quite normal in those days for players not to have working knowledge of all games even in tournaments in which they had participated, especially those from fourteen years before. If games were not published in magazines or newspaper columns in those days they simply disappeared, and even if they were, and you had personal copies of all that stuff, keeping it organized would have been a major challenge.
Premium Chessgames Member
  paulalbert: Without any databases, except what players maybe tried to keep themselves, of the few games that were published in some form, no computers to organize what was available or readily access the material, and the fact that Tarrasch's profession was as a practicing physician, that he could keep up with opening innovations at all should be surprising.
Premium Chessgames Member
  maxi: It was a very different world and a very different understanding of what chess preparation should be like.
Jun-08-15  RookFile: That being said, I find this to be a well played and interesting game by both sides.
Jun-08-15  shalgo: I agree that opening theory was not nearly as well-developed, or accessible, back in those days. (Although it is actually quite surprising how deep the theory could be in a line that was well-studied at the time, like the Evans Gambit.)

I was responding to the gist of the remark that Karpova attributed to Tarrasch: I assume that Tarrasch would not have made such a statement unless he felt that he was pretty knowledgeable about the theory of this line.

Two other points:

1. I haven't been able to find this game or the remarks that Karpova mentions in Capablanca's Chess Fundamentals. Has anyone else seen them in that book? Perhaps they are in another Capablanca book?

2. I went back and checked the 1891 edition of the Handbuch, which includes the line played in this game up to 12...c6. It then gives 13.Ne5 instead of 13.a4 and gives the best response to Ne5 as 13...Qb6.

Jun-17-15  Karpova: <shalgo>

The remarks can be found in Capablanca's 'A Primer of Chess' (1935), e. g. on page 80 of the 1977 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich edition.

The explanation is, that my version of 'Chess Fundamentals' also contains these general remarks from 'A Primer of Chess' as an addition. Hence the confusion.

Jun-17-15  Karpova: Regarding the general discussion, I looked up the annotated game in the 'Wiener Schachzeitung' of July-August 1911, pp. 215-218 with contemporaneous, extensive annotations by the very knowledgeable Therkatz (originally from 'Krefelder Zeitung').

I give a short overview of the most important points, and this will certainly also give insight into how far opening theory was advanced back then, although in unexpected ways:

13...Qb6: Therkatz notes, that it was still unclear which defense was best for Black at this point. He gives several alternative moves.

15.a5: Deviates from Chigorin vs Schlechter, 1898, and Marco suggested 20...Bc8 (instead of 20...Bg6 in that game).

17...Bc8: Therkatz awards this move an exclamation mark. He writes, that Georg Marco suggested that move in the Vienna Jubilee tournament book, but that it hadn't received any attention so far. Together with his genius, the careful study of even foreign chess literature was the basis of Capablanca's success, according to Therkatz.

And this last remark is probably the decisive one: Therkatz made the same mistake as Tarrasch. They saw that Capablanca had played a strong move, not yet introduced into practice, but already found in literature. So they thought that Capablanca had studied that earlier game, noted Marco's suggestion and succesfully applied it to a new, but similar situation. The ♗ was best on c8, after developing the ♖a8. It's worth noting, that 18.g3 is called a try to improve upon Chigorin's play, but that Tarrasch also considered it insufficient, and suggested Chigorin's Ne5-manoeuvre instead. Therkatz then considers 20...Nb5, also given an exclamation mark, to have been Capablanca's first strong "own" move.

We can see, that not only actually played, but also moves suggested in chess literature in general belong to theory. It is also notable, that they also had a wider understanding of theory, i. e. not just when was which move played (including differing move orders), but also plans, manoeuvres, strategies and tactics, even if the exact position was not the same. So Marco understood, where the ♗ was placed best, and so they believed that Capablanca was insipred by his suggestion and made use of it. Like in literature, when someone doesn't directly quote a statement, but interveaves the thought behind it in a different, illuminating way.

This, by the way, reminds me of Edward Winter's observation "A century or so ago, [...], it was common to spread an exclamation mark or question mark across two or more moves which comprised a manoeuvre or idea." (Source: C.N. 7954,

Premium Chessgames Member
  Mateo: 20.Bxd5?! was antipositional. White exchanges Bishop for the Knight and after the intermediate move 20 ... Nb5! he doesn't even have the option of inflicting an isolated d5 pawn on Black. Moreover, after the exchange of the Bishop, the white squares around the white King are weak, especially since Black kept the Bishop of the light squares. 20.Bf1 was correct.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Mateo: 23 ... h5 ?! lets slip the advantage. 23 ... Bh5 threatening ... f6 was stronger.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Mateo: 24.Nxg4? was a mistake that should have led to a much inferior position with the Knightn horribly misplaced at h4. 24.a6! offered an adequate counterplay.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Mateo: 26 ... Qd6? lets slip the advantage. 26 ... Qc8 maintained the tension in favor of Black. White was left with two major problems: the isolated pawn on d4 and the Knight on h4.

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