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SANDS: Brilliancy prizes from 100 years ago
Another year, another batch of 100-year anniversaries to celebrate.
The year 1911 featured two of the most storied international tournaments in the game's history. In the Spanish resort town of San Sebastian, 22-year-old Cuban Jose Raoul Capablanca made a spectacular debut on the international scene, with a first-place result that set him on the road to the world championship 10 years later. The tournament, which featured virtually all the game's best players, save for reigning German world champ Emanuel Lasker, kicked off exactly 100 years ago Sunday.
Six months later, it was a journeyman veteran who made a career-defining breakthrough at the tournament in Carlsbad, in what is now the Czech Republic. German master Richard Teichmann, whose habitual also-ran status earned him the nickname "Richard the Fifth," topped a massive 26-player (!) field with an 18-7 score, a point ahead of Poland's Akiba Rubinstein and Austrian Carl Schlechter, who was just coming off a heartbreakingly close world title match loss to Lasker the year before.
And in both events, the tournament winner also took home the brilliancy prize for the best-played game.
Capablanca's masterpiece came in the very first round against a particularly fitting opponent, Ukrainian-born veteran Ossip Bernstein, who had publicly questioned the untested Cuban's right to participate in such a powerful event.
A false sense of superiority seems to undermine Black's game almost from the very start. As was his wont, Capablanca plays the opening phase of this Ruy Lopez modestly, but seizes a positional edge the instant Black lets his guard down on 17. Nce2 Qa5?! (neglecting his king to threaten a worthless queenside pawn) 18. Nf5!, when 18...Qxa2? 19. Qc3! (threatening 20. Ra1, trapping the queen) Qa6 20. Nf4 f6 21. Qg3 g5 22. Ng6 Rf7 23. Nxh6+ Kg7 24. Nxf7 Kxg6 25. Nxd6! cxd6 26. Rxd6 Rb7 27. e5! produces a winning attack.
Black avoids the temptation for the moment, but gives in a few moves later, to his lasting regret: 21. f3 Ne6 22. Ne2! Qxa2? (possibly holding the balance was 22...Qb6 23. Kg2 Qxe3 24. Nxe3 c5) 23. Neg3 Qxc2 24. Rc1 Qb2 25. Nh5 Rh8? (Capablanca later said Black's last chance was 25...g5, when he can at least draw on 26. Rc3 Nf4! 27. Nxf4 gxf4 28. Qxf4 Qxc3 29. Qxh6+, with a perpetual check) 26. Re2 Qe5 27. f4 Qb5 (see diagram), and White can pounce now that Black's queen has been driven away from the action.
The young master doesn't hesitate - 28. Nfxg7!! Nc5 (losing, but on 28...Nxg7 29. Nf6+ Kg6 30. Nxd7 f6 31. e5 fxe5 32. Qe4+ Kf7 33. fxe5, the open f-file spells Black's doom) 29. Nxe8 Bxe8 30. Qc3! (the threats on the long diagonal prove decisive; e.g. 30...Qxe2?? 31. Qg7 mate) f6 31. Nxf6+ Kg6 32. Nh5 Rg8 33. f5+ Kg5 34. Qe3+; some accounts say Black resigned here, but British chess writer Harry Golombek, in his famous anthology of the great Cuban's games, says Bernstein played it out to the bitter end with 34...Kh4 35. Qg3+ Kg5 36. h4 mate.
Teichmann and Schlechter were old sparring mates and in their Carlsbad encounter overconfidence was probably not a problem for Black. Still, after a very modern-looking treatment of the Ruy Lopez Morphy for the first dozen moves, once again a queenside feint by Black disastrously underestimates White's attacking chances on the other flank.
Schlechter's 13. Ne3 Bb7?! (tougher was 13...g6 14. Nd5 Nxd5 15. exd5 Nb8 16. Bh6 Re8 17. d4, though White still enjoys a slight edge) is far too casual, as White quickly seizes the central a2-g8 diagonal and zeroes in on the weak f7-square.
The breakthrough comes quickly on 16...Nf8?! (another suboptimal move, when 16...h6 17. Be3 Bf8 at least shores up some of Black's kingside weaknesses) 17. Bd5! Ng6 (already the danger can be seen in lines such as 17...Bxg5?! 18. Nxg5 Nd8 19. Qg4 g6 20. Nxh7! Kxh7 [Nxh7 21. Qxg6+ Kf8 22. Qg7 mate] 21. Re3 Bxd5 22. Rh3+ Kg8 23. Qh4 f6 24. Qxf6 and wins) 18. Bxe7 Ngxe7 19. Bxf7+!, a sacrifice that quickly leads to a winning attack.
The finale: 19...Kxf7 20. Ng5+ Kg8 (Kg6 21. Qg4 h5 22. Nh4+ Kh6 [Kf6 23. Qe6+ Kxg5 24. Nf3+ Kf4 25. Qf7+ Kg4 26. h3 mate] 23. Nf7+ Kh7 24. Qxh5+ Kg8 25. Ng5) 21. Qh5 Nxf5 22. Qxh7+ Kf8 23. Qxf5+ Kg8 (Ke7 24. Qe6+ Kd8 25. Nf7+ is crushing) 24. Qg6!, freezing the Black king in place while the White rook prepares to join the fun. After 24...Qd7 25. Re3, Black resigned facing the prospect of 25...Kf8 26. Rf3+ Ke7 27. Rf7+ Kd8 28. Rxd7+ and wins.
San Sebastian, 1911
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Be7 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bxc6+ bxc6
7.d4 exd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.Bg5 O-O 10.Re1 h6 11.Bh4 Nh7 12.Bxe7
Qxe7 13.Qd3 Rab8 14.b3 Ng5 15.Rad1 Qe5 16.Qe3 Ne6 17.Nce2 Qa5
18.Nf5 Nc5 19.Ned4 Kh7 20.g4 Rbe8 21.f3 Ne6 22.Ne2 Qxa2
23.Neg3 Qxc2 24.Rc1 Qb2 25.Nh5 Rh8 26.Re2 Qe5 27.f4 Qb5
28.Nfxg7 Nc5 29.Nxe8 Bxe8 30.Qc3 f6 31.Nxf6+ Kg6 32.Nh5 Rg8
33.f5+ Kg5 34.Qe3+ 1-0
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3
d6 8.c3 O-O 9.d3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.Nbd2 Qc7 12.Nf1 Nc6 13.Ne3
Bb7 14.Nf5 Rfe8 15.Bg5 Nd7 16.Bb3 Nf8 17.Bd5 Ng6 18.Bxe7 Ngxe7
19.Bxf7+ Kxf7 20.Ng5+ Kg8 21.Qh5 Nxf5 22.Qxh7+ Kf8 23.Qxf5+
Kg8 24.Qg6 Qd7 25.Re3 1-0
David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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