- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Alexander Alekhine is acknowledged as one of the greatest players ever. Yet when the Russian-born Alekhine sat down to play world champion Jose Raoul Capablanca in a title match in Buenos Aires 75 years ago this year, few gave him much of a chance against the nearly invincible Cuban.
In what still ranks as one of the great upsets in the history of the game, Alekhine seized the lead with a win with Black in the very first game and never trailed thereafter, beating the overconfident champion 6-3, with 25 draws. Both would go on to play marvelous chess, but Alekhine proved to be in no hurry for a rematch, which he well might have lost.
The two would not meet again over the board for another nine years. Capablanca triumphed in their game at the great Nottingham tournament in 1936. To mark the 75th anniversary of the epic 1927 match, we present first a Capablanca win at the tournament in New York a few months before the match and then an example of Alekhine's finest play from the Argentine contest.
New York 1927, a double round robin, may have been the high point of Capablanca's career, as he thoroughly outclassed a field of legendary grandmasters, which included Alekhine, Aron Nimzovich, Rudolf Spielmann and longtime American champion Frank Marshall. He dismantled Alekhine from the Black side of a Queen's Indian Defense, the kind of effortless domination that led many to predict a Buenos Aires blowout.
White's 13. f4? a6 14. Bf3? is the jumping-off point for a bad plan, preparing a violent advance of the king-side pawns. But Black's cool 14…Nhf6 15. a4 c4! clears c5 for the knight, secures potential outposts at b3 and d3, and "threatens" the positionally imposing 16…b5!. This last move involves a characteristic Capablanca petite combination 17. axb5 axb5 18. Nxb5? Qb6+, winning the knight the kind of small tactical finesse for which the Cuban was famous.
White should have cut his losses with 17. Kh1 Nc5 18. Bxc5 Qxc5 19. e4, with a playable game. His wild flailing on the king-side instead leaves him open to a decisive counterpunch: 23. Rb1 Bxc3! (giving up his beautiful bishop, but removing White's best defensive prop and leaving the White d-pawn dangerously weak) 24. bxc3 Qc5+ 25. e3 Ne4 26. Bf3 (hoping for 26…Nxf3+ 27. Nxf3 Bxd5 28. Nd4, with some hopes of holding the game) Nd3!.
Black's pieces coordinate beautifully. He threatens 27…Nxf4, and the pinned White pawn can't recapture. The Black queen vacuums up the far-flung White pawns, and even the queen-and-pawn ending doesn't offer Alekhine any drawing chances. In the final position, 43. Ka3 Qc2 44. Qxa4 Qxa4+ 45. Kxa4 g5 wins easily; White resigned.
Despite the lofty reputations of the combatants, the Buenos Aires match did not produce many memorable games. British chess writer Harry Golombek, who compiled a book of Capablanca's best games, commented that "too many of the games end in dull draws before play has properly commenced. After playing through all the games of the match, one tends to wish that the Orthodox Defense to the Queen's Gambit had never been invented."
Alekhine himself rated his win in the match's 21st game one of his best efforts, and it does spotlight his restless intelligence and tactical imagination over the board.
Capablanca, never a great opening specialist, opts for an unambitious line with White (8. a3), and Alekhine's 10. Bxc4 b5! (he had played 10…b6 three previously in the match) easily equalizes.
In his own account of the game, Alekhine says Black took positional control of the game after 14. Nd4 (Bxf6?! Bxf6 15. Nxb5 Qxd1 16. Rfxd1 Nb3 17. Rc7 Bxf3 18. Bxf3 axb5 19.Bxa8 Rxa8 is better for Black) Rc8 15. b4?! (very unlike Capablanca, unnecessarily weakening c4) Ncd7 16. Bg3 Nb6 17. Qb3 Nfd5 18.Bf3 Rc4 19. Ne4 Qc8 20. Rxc4?.
Oddly, Alekhine here recommends 20. Qb1, with the threat of 21. Nd6 or 21. Bd6, simplifying. But his suggested line of play 21…Rd8 21. Ne2 Rxc1 22. Rxc1 Qa8 23. Bc7 appears to overlook that Black can now win with 23…Nxc7 24. Rxc7 Bxe4 25. Bxe4 Qxe4!, and the queen can't be taken because of the back-rank mate.
Still, Black steadily increases his positional edge, and the tactical opportunities soon follow. Alekhine doesn't miss: 25. a4 Bf6 26. Nf3 (see diagram) Bb2!, winning a tempo while clearing the way for the decisive e-pawn advance. If now 27. Rd1, Alekhine gives 27…bxa4! 27. Qxa4 Nb6 28. Rxd5 Nxa4 30. Rd1 (Ra5?? Rc1+) Nc3 31. Re1 Rc4 32. Bd6 Ne4 33.Be7 f6 34. Rb1 Kf7 35. Kf1 Bc3, and the b-pawn falls; while 27. Rb1 runs into 27…Na3! 28. Qxb2 Nxb1 29. Qxb1 Qb3! (again exploiting White's back-rank weakness) 30.Qf1 bxa4 31. h3 a3, and the pawn can't be stopped.
Black's 30. Rb1 e4! is the beginning of the end, as the retreat 31. Ne1 (White is hogtied on 31. Nh2 Qd3! 32. Rxb2 Qxb3 33. Rxb3 Rd1+ 34. Nf1 Nd2 35. Ra3 Nxf1) is met by 31…Qd2 32. Qc2 Qxc2 33. Nxc2 Rd2 34. Ne1 Na3, winning.
It's over on 31. Nd4 Bxd4 32. Rd1 (desperation, but 32. exd4 Qxd4 is equally bleak) Nxe3! and White must lose material: 33. Qxd5 (Qxe3 Bxe3 34. Rxd5 Rxd5 35. fxe3 Rd1+ 30.Qf1 Rd2+ 37. Kf1 is no better) Rxd5 34. fxe3 Bxe3+, winning. Capablanca resigned.

New York, 1927
AlekhineCapablanca
1. d4Nf622. fxg6hxg6
2. c4e623. Rb1Bxc3
3. Nf3b624. bxc3Qc5+
4. g3Bb725. e3Ne5
5. Bg2c526. Bf3Nd3
6. d5exd527. Kh1Bxd5
7. Nh4g628. Rxb3Nxf4
8. Nc3Bg729. Rbb1Rxe3
9. 0-00-030. Ng2Rxf3
10. Bf4d631. Rxf3Nxg2
11. cxd5Nh532. Kxg2Re8
12. Bd2Nd733. Kf1Bxf3
13. f4a634. Qxf3Qxg5
14. Bf3Nhf635. Re1Rxe1+
15. a4c436. Kxe1Qg1+
16. Be3Qc737. Kd2Qxh2+
17. g4Nc538. Kc1Qe5
18. g5Nfd739. Kb2Kg7
19. f5Rfe840. Qf2b5
20. Bf4Be541. Qb6bxa4
21. Bg4Nb342. Qxa6Qe2+
White resigns

World Championship Match, Game 21, Buenos Aires, 1927
Capablanca Alekhine
1. d4d517. Qb3Nfd5
2. c4e618. Bf3Rc4
3. Nc3Nf619. Ne4Qc8
4. Bg5Nbd720. Rxc4Nxc4
5. e3Be721. Rc1Qa8
6. Nf30-022. Nc3Rc8
7. Rc1a623. Nxd5Bxd5
8. a3h624. Bxd5Qxd5
9. Bh4dxc425. a4Bf6
10. Bxc4b526. Nf3Bb2
11. Be2Bb727. Re1Rd8
12. 0-0c528. axb5axb5
13. dxc5Nxc529. h3e5
14. Nd4Rc830. Rb1e4
15. b4Ncd731. Nd4Bxd4
16. Bg3Nb632. Rd1Nxe3
White resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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