Sunday, July 19, 2015

The best of the best

Hi Pilgrim,

In my opinion there are nine chess champions who are the greatest of all time, superior even to other world champions or players who could have been champions.

The criteria I use are that the player must be recognised as the champion or be accepted as the best player whether or not the title of ‘champion’ was in use at the time; and the player must be clearly superior to his contemporaries for a substantial period of time, not just a flash in the dark and later just a first among equals.

The nine players are, in alphabetical, not strength, order:
Alekhine, Botvinnik, Capablanca, Fischer, Lasker, Karpov, Kasparov, Morphy, and Steinitz.

I think any fair assessment would agree that these players meet the criteria I have set. You may argue others like a Philidor or Tal should be in the list. However, I think the players above have the edge in reputation over all other champions to date. In the future there will be others to add to the list. Carlsen is likely to be the tenth player but only time will tell whether he will meet the criteria.

Nine players over a time span of about 165 years works out as one every 18 years or approximately two per generation (a generation is 30 years). Very interesting – we get two new superb players every generation.

Below is a little known game of Capablanca, which won a brilliancy prize against one of the Corzo brothers, famous in Cuba at the time it was played, and keen rivals of the young genius. It was played 102 years ago, at a tournament in Havana, Cuba, February 15, 1913.

What I find fascinating about this game is the brilliant tactical ideas of Capablanca (see moves 7, 10, 15, and 23) in a game that has the look and feel of a ‘boots and all’ club game between bitter rivals. It looks to me as though the Corzo brothers must have thought they could knock over Capablanca with aggressive tactics but they misunderstood the essence of his strength: Superb positional judgment allied to tactical awareness second to none. Alekhine knew this from bitter experience and only managed to defeat the great Cuban with positional play and substantial preparation (something Capablanca never did – seriously prepare).

Because a player chooses a positional or initially conservative approach, does not mean he or she cannot handle sophisticated tactical play as well. Beware the apparent mouse that roars!

Juan Corzo Versus Jose Raul Capablanca (1913)

Old Indian Defence

1. d4 Nf6 (Capablanca occasionally tried ‘Indian style’ defences, as known in his day) 2. c4 d6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 4. e4 e5 5. f4 (Needlessly aggressive; better is g3 or Nf3) exd4 6. Qxd4 Nc5 7. Be3 Qe7! 8. Nd5 (If 8. Bd3? Ne3 or if 8. e5 Ng4)  Nxd5 9. exd5 Bf5 10. Nf3 (Perhaps he should have Castled long) g6! (If now 11. Qxh8 Qxe3+ 12. Kd1 Ne4) 11. Kf2 (Castling long was still worth a try) Rg8 12. Re1 Bg7 13. Qd1 Ne4+ 14. Kg1 (The King’s Rook remains blocked and missing in action the whole game) Kf8 (Safer than Castling long) 15. Bd4 g5!! (Capablanca gave the following variations: 16. Nxg5 Bxd4+ 17. Qxd4 Nxg5  18. Rxe7 Nh3++; 16. fxg5 Nxg5 17. Rxe7 Nh3+ 18. gxh3  Bxd4++; 16. fxg5 Nxg5 17. Nxg5 Bxd4+ 18. Qxd4 Qxe1; and best is 16. fxg5 Nxg5 17. Bxg7+ Rxg7 18. Nxg5 Qxg5 with the better position) 16. Bxg7+ Rxg717. Nd4 Bd7 18. f5 (More careful is 18. Bd3 f5 19. Bxe4 fxe4 20. f5)  Qe5 19. Qd3 Re8 20. Ne6+?! fxe6 21. fxe6 Rxe6!! (Prepared much earlier by Capablanca) 22. dxe6 Bc6 23. Qf3+ Qf4! (A Queen exchange strongly favours Black: 24. Qxf4 gxf4 25 h4 (if 25. Bd3 Nc5 26. Bf1 f3 and if 27. g3 f2) 25...f3 26. Rd1 f7+ 27. Kh2 Ng3 28. Rd2 Nxh1 29. Rxg2!) 24. Qe3 Ke7 25. b4 b6 26. b5 Bb7 27. g3 Nd2! (Bad is 28. gxf5 gxf5+ 29. 30. Qg3 fxg3 wins; His only chance was: 28. Bg2 Qxe3+ 29. Rxe3 Bxg2 30. Kxg2 Nxc4 31. Rc3 d5 with still good chances for Black – a player of his class and two safe Pawns up) 28. Qc3? Nf3+ 29. Kf2 Qf8! (Decisive; now comes a last desperate flurry from White) 30. c5 Ne5+ 31. Kg1 Nf3+32. Kf2 bxc5 33. Qa5 Ne5+ 34. Kg1 Qf3 35. Qxc7+ Kf6 36. Qxd6 Qxh1+ 37. Kf2 Qxh2+ 0-1

Notes by the great chess writer, Fred Reinfeld.

Until next time.

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