Logical Chess (4) – The Chess Improver

Game 32 of Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move, Canal – Capablanca Budapest 1929, is a strange one. A classic example, I think, of annotation by result and reputation.

We’ll whizz through the opening quickly to reach the crucial part of the game.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 b6
4. g3 Bb7
5. Bg2 Bb4+
6. Bd2 Bxd2+
7. Nbxd2 OO
8. OO c5
9. dxc5 bxc5
10. Qc2 Nc6
11. Rfd1 Qb6
12. a3 Rab8
13. Rab1 Rfc8
14. e4 e5
15. Qd3 d6
16. Nf1 Nd4
17. Nxd4 exd4
18. b4

Black’s had rather the better of the opening, but now has to meet the threat of 19. bxc5 Qxc5 20. Rxb7! Rxb7 21. e5, winning two pieces for a rook. It shouldn’t be too hard for a genius like Capablanca, should it? A move like Qc7 would now give him an edge.

Here’s Chernev:

Capablanca’s actual reply initiates a remarkable combination. He lets White obtain an advantage in material in return for a position which looks far from promising – except to a Capablanca.


Awarded a shriek mark by Cherny but a black mark by Stocky.

19. bxc5 dxc5
20. Rxb7!

Cherny asks what he intended as a rhetorical question.

Has Capablanca been caught off-guard, or does he see much further into the resources of the position than his opponent?

Stocky replies that he’s been caught off-guard: White is now winning.

21. e5 Qb3
22. exf6 Qxd3
23. Rxd3 Rb1
24. Bd5!

The only move to maintain White’s advantage.

24.. Rcb8

What would you (or your students) play now for White? Again, there’s only one good move.

25. Kg2?

This isn’t it. Chernev fails to mention 25. Rf3!: activating the rook and avoiding a trade is more important than unpinning the knight. Not obvious, perhaps, but there it is. 25.. R8b3 would be met by Rf4.

26. Rxb3

He might have tried Rd2 here to keep his rook on the board.

27. Nd2 Rxa3
28. Ne4 a5
29. Nxc5 gxf6
30. Kf1 a4
31. Ke2 Ra1

Your move again. Can you do better than Canal (and Chernev) here?

32. Nd3?

This is the losing move. White will have to give up a piece for the a-pawn, but can also capture some Black pawns. 32. Nd7! a3 33. c5 a2 34. Bxa2 Rxa2+ 35. Kd3 and White will pick up the f6 and d4 pawns with a draw. In fact it’s Black who will have to be careful, otherwise the c-pawn might just promote. Chernev again fails to criticize this move, or to suggest any alternatives.

Now Black’s winning, so the rest of the game can pass without comment.

33. c5 a2
34. Kf3 Rd1
35. Bxa2 Rxd3+
36. Ke4 Rd2
37. Bc4 Kf8
38. f3 Rxh2
39. Kxd4 Ke7
40. Bd3 h5
41. Ke3 Rg2
42. Kf4 Rg1
43. Be4 Rc1
44. c6 Rc3
45. c7 Rxc7
46. ​​Bd5 Rc5
47. Ba2 Rb5
48. Ke3 Ra5
49. Bc4 Rc5
50. Ba6 Ke6
51. Kf4 Rc3
52. Bf1 f5
53. Ba6 Kf6
54. Bb7 Rc4+
55. Ke3 Kg5
56. Kf2 f4
57. Kg2 f5

What to make of this? Did Capa really think he was better after his 18th move? He wasn’t usually one for speculative sacrifices, so perhaps it was just an oversight. On the other hand, the ensuing position was probably easier for Black to play. The sort of position where White is objectively winning but, subjectively, Black has at least equal chances, especially if you’re a chess genius playing against a rather less strong opponent. What do you think?

What I think is that it probably wasn’t really a suitable game for the book. Chernev had a great eye for an instructive game but here he seemed to have made a misjudgement. There are certainly lessons to be learned from the game (in particular, I guess, the importance of active defense), but, again, not the lessons the author intended. It seems that Chernev quite often erred by failing to find more active moves for the eventual loser.

Here’s the complete game.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes. uk. View all posts by Richard James

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