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The World Champions' Weirdest Pets - José Raúl Capablanca and the King's Gambit
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José Raúl Capablanca was probably the first chess world champion to be described by many as a "natural" chess player. The reason for such a description is mostly because his victories made chess look easy, for he applied very simple principles to perfection. Of course, the amount of calculation required to make such "simple" chess work is gargantuan. Due to his "simple chess" style, Capablanca was well-known for his exceptional endgame skills, where many have likened world champion Magnus Carlsen's endgame technique to that of Capablanca. Capablanca was no slouch in tactical melees either, and he had some very nice sacrificial victories. Because of his generally solid style, however, he did not venture into too many "weird" openings. Therefore, in this two-part series on Capablanca, we'll only cover his adventures with Bird's Opening in part one and the King's Gambit in part two. The games in these openings were mostly played in simultaneous exhibitions.
The King's Gambit
Note: The variations covered will only deal with those that were played in the games featured in this article.
Note 2: Since this opening appeared in "The World Champions' Weirdest Pets - Wilhelm Steinitz and the King's Gambit," the following text is taken from that article.
When one thinks of the Romantic era of sacrificial chess, one's mind is immediately drawn to one single opening: the King's Gambit! On just the second move, White breaks the symmetry imposed on the board and tries to sacrifice a pawn to get quick development and an open f-file for their rook. Nowadays, centuries of opening analysis and the advent of strong chess engines has made this opening a very rare guest at top level, but make no mistake - to this day, many top players have used the King's Gambit to great effect. Perhaps in correspondence chess the King's Gambit isn't sound, but, as GM John Shaw, the author of the definitive tome on the King's Gambit, says, "However, over the board it is clear that the King's Gambit is effective at all levels up to and including 2800+." Let's dive into the world of swashbuckling Romantic wonders!
A Crushing Victory
Allow me to cut to the chase (were you really not expecting corny puns from me?)...I unfortunately could not find information about A. Chase other than that he participated in a simultaneous exhibition against Capablanca. Chess historians, we call upon thee!
Black's king was properly...corralled (no more "chased" puns!). Capablanca definitely took some inspiration from the games of his great predecessors (/contemporaries).
A Devastating Defeat
Leon L Labatt was a strong, master-level American chess player. He had wins over Capablanca, Lasker, Marshall, and many other formidable opponents! Let's see how he dismantles Capablanca's naive treatment of the King's Gambit:
This piece sacrifice line has not been very kind to both Lasker and Capablanca! Avoid it!
William Nicoll Woodbury was an American chess player who was also a strong correspondence chess player. Few of his games are known, but, seeing the way he handled the opening and early middlegame phase of this game, he was probably at, or close to, master strength. In fact, Edochess lists his rating at 2223.
Capablanca really had to pull some rabbits out of his chess hat! While Black played amazingly early on, he was not able to sustain the pressure against Capablanca. The chess machine then proceeded to defend ever so meekly, only to pounce later on in a very unclear endgame.
A Hard-Fought Draw
Charles Williams Roberts was a British chess player who faced Capablanca in a simultaneous exhibition game in 1919. Regrettably, little else is known about him (that I could find).
Black's stunning 9...Ng6 cannot go unmentioned! Unfortunately, he did not find it in the game, and, while he did outplay Capablanca a bit in the opening and early middlegame, he had to suffer against Capablanca's brilliant calculation skills. That piece sacrifice Capablanca had calculated was truly impressive, but, regrettably, he (and his opponent) misplayed the resulting position a bit. All in all, a fair result!
A Peaceful Game
Meyer Schleifer was an American contract bridge player who was also a strong chess player. Lamentably, not many of his chess games have survived. Enjoy this gem he played against José Raúl "The Chess Machine" Capablanca!
It seems that both players didn't really want to play a game here! That being said, Meyer should definitely have been proud of his draw!
Lasker and Spielmann would be proud...
Convert without any fear!
Force White to make a concession.
One more accurate move and White is toast...
Can the king be trapped?!
What is White's plan in this position, and how does Black brilliantly put a stop to it?
Don't fall for Black's fiendish trick!
To draw or not to draw...
In conclusion, Capablanca's King's Gambit may not have served him as well as his other, more solid openings, even against players he heavily outrated. However, his brilliant calculation skills were on full display in the games against Chase and Roberts, so Capablanca did truly live up to his "Chess Machine" nickname. One can only wonder what would have happened had Capablanca essayed the King's Gambit more often!