Dennis M's Chess Site

This is a blog for chess fans by a chess fan. I enjoy winning as much as anyone else, and I've had a reasonable amount of success as a competitor, but what keeps me coming back to the game is its beauty. And that, primarily, is what this site will be about! All material copyrighted.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Do You Recognize this Position?

Here we are:

Before reading on, do two (three?) things: try to remember if and when you've seen this game before, and then try to solve it - Black to move.


A couple of weeks ago, I was playing through the game from which this position was taken with one of my students, and while I felt comfortable about the pedagogical value of the opening and middlegame, I was sure that the student would recognize and solve this position in a millisecond. My student succeeded in solving it fairly quickly, but had no clue as to the game's origins.

I was shocked! When I was an up-and-coming kid in the late 70s and early 80s, the diagrammed position was one I came across all the time, both in tactics books and various sorts of chess history books. To players of my generation, this position was as trite as "It was a dark and stormy night" is to writers, and for any of us not to instantly recognize it would have been almost as inconceivable as a normal adult American's not recognizing the Star-Spangled Banner.

And yet my student didn't recognize the position at all. Further, I asked several more of my students if they recognized it as well as a number of acquaintances, and the results were nearly universal - almost no one knew it!

What did these people have in common, aside from not recognizing the position? Answer: they all grew up (as chess players) in the internet age. I'm certainly not a Luddite, and I think the computer chess revolution has done wonders for the game, but if even the highlights of the history of the game are falling into obscurity, something has been lost, too - something of value. Sharing the great games of our game's history is what motivated my ChessBase show (and its predecessor), but I didn't realize the situation was so dire!


Back to the position. The game was Bernstein-Capablanca, Moscow (exhibition game) 1914, and the winning move is 29...Qb2!, taking advantage of White's weak back rank and forcing immediate resignation.

In case anyone would like to explore the game in more detail, or has doubts about my claim that the position is a standard in the literature, here are ten books just from my own library that include the game; I'm sure it can be found in many, many other works as well:

Garry Kasparov, My Great Predecessors, vol. I, p. 243.
Anatoly Lein and Boris Archangelsky, Sharpen Your Tactics, position 340 (p. 67).
Lou Hays, ed., Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors, position 442 (p. 94).
Fred Reinfeld, 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, position 695 (p. 139).
Graham Burgess, The Mammoth Book of Chess, p. 454.
Graham Burgess, John Nunn and John Emms, The World's Greatest Chess Games, game 13 (pp. 73-78).
Max Euwe, From Steinitz to Fischer, game 433 (p. 154).
Alexander Khalifman and Leonid Yudasin, eds., Jose Raoul Capablanca (Chess Stars), game 164 (p. 139).
Fred Reinfeld, The Immortal Games of Capablanca, game 24 (pp. 63-65).
Jose Raúl Capablanca, My Chess Career, game 21 (pp. 110-113).


  • At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just for the record, I did recognize the position and knew Capablanca was Black, but I couldn't have remembered that Bernstein was the White player to save my life!

  • At 1:18 AM, Blogger Rakshasas said…

    You don't have Golombek's "Capablanca's 100 Best Games of Chess?" :)

    I was in the same boat, I recognized it instantly as Capa but couldn't place black. I also knew the position was from early in his career, I would have between '15 and '20 (just because I know where in Golombek's book it is.)

  • At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I recognised the position but had totally forgotten who played. Don't think I've seen it since 1982/83...

    Strange phenomena anyway! One might assume that those raised by computers don't read books - but there are more chess books published now than ever, so who buys them then??

    Perhaps older books are just drowned in the present flood?

  • At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's also in The Art of Attack, though I belive that Vukovic gives a diagram with an extra pair of rooks.

  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger Harbinger said…

    I recognized it immediately only because it is the very first position(of 300)in Lev Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book, which I peek into occasionally. BTW Dennis, great blog and great show on Playchess! I swear I am in awe of how fresh you manage to keep the blog and of the quality of the material presented. Do you sleep?

  • At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As I could not download the position, I could not do the test. But reading Bernstein-Capablanca, Moscow 1914, 29...Qb2! was enough to recognize. So it took me less than 10 seconds to find the game in the biography on Capa written by Euwe and Prins in 1949.

  • At 11:44 PM, Blogger Ken said…

    As I started to solve the position, I knew I had seen it and solved it just recently...and then Capablanca's name popped into my head. But I still don't know where I saw it, and I have no idea how I knew it was Capa. I did just pick up Capablanca's Chess Fundamentals from a used bookstore but it is not included in the first two chapters which I've read. Not in any of my other recently read book sections either.

    Perhaps another chess site has it up (Chessbase??)...but it will certainly bother me now until I place where I saw it.


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