A Master Class on the "Human Machine"

12/17/2016 – José Raúl Capablanca was called the human chess machine. His games were filled with simplicity and beauty that can be understood quite easily, but are extremely difficult to emulate in practice. In the fourth volume of the Master Class series Niclas Huschenbeth, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh and Karsten Müller delve deeply into the various facets of the Cuban's play. After watching the DVD Aditya Pai, the author of this article, writes: "Since it covers all aspects of Capablanca's play, it helps the viewers comprehensively improve their chess understanding. A review.

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Review of Master Class Volume 4: José Raúl Capablanca

By Aditya Pai

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair. If you find this memorable, let me reassure, you haven’t begun reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ for the umpteenth time. I’m referring to the period between the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century in chess history – the years which witnessed a paradigm shift of sorts in its contemporary chess thinking. When swashbuckling sacrifices and crazy king hunts made way to a more scientific approach towards the game; when positional niceties took dominance over rhapsodic checkmates. One of the pioneers of this avant-garde approach was Capablanca the connoisseur, upon whom the fourth edition the of Master Class series concentrates.

The name, José Raúl Capablanca, needs no introduction – patzers have heard of him, amateurs try to learn from him, masters revere him. There are even some more audacious ones who would blatantly declare his games to be boring. But Capablanca’s chess has had and continues to have an enormous impact on anyone who chooses to put aside such hackneyed misconceptions and learn from his games. Indeed, for a mediocre like me, or even club class players of expert strength, it might not be an easy task to fully grasp the concepts his games present. There is after all so much more to them than is visible to the naked eye. And to the end, of making the invisible apparent, Master Class Volume 4 does an excellent job.

"I have known many chess players, but only one chess genius, Capablanca." —Emanuel Lasker

Master Class Volume 4: Capablanca has been segregated into four sections: Openings, Strategy, Tactics and Endgames. The DVD begins with GM Niclas Huschenbeth presenting the openings section, which is followed by GM Mihail Marin’s presentation on Capablanca’s strategy; IM Oliver Reeh then throws light on Tactics (Capablanca’s trademark ‘Petite  Combinaisons’) and in the final section renowned endgame expert GM Karsten Müller helps you decipher Capablanca’s endgames in the most passionate manner.

Openings by GM Niclas Huschenbeth

GM Huschenbeth explaining Capa’s openings.

In a world made difficult by our silicon friends, chess openings have experienced a boom. With theory, at times, creeping in nearly 30 moves deep, it is but natural for aspiring masters to be taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the task. But GM Niclas Huschenbeth, using Capablanca’s games as examples, offers a convincing antidote. In a relaxed, laid back manner, he explains how simple Capablanca’s approach towards openings was. Within moments, you begin wondering how simple openings can be, and how complex you had made it for yourself. I even recall questioning myself if such an approach was viable until it occurred to me that even the mighty Magnus Carlsen does not approach openings in a starkly different manner. Although this segment, unlike the other segments in the DVD, is not an interactive one, it allows you to sit back with a pack of chips and watch GM Huschenbeth elucidate Capablanca’s simple yet effective opening methodology. Within just four 15-minute-long clips, you’d have gulped down a fairly decent amount of opening knowledge along with those chips!

Strategy by GM Mihail Marin

This segment, along with Karsten Müller’s segment on endgame is, in my opinion, of the highest importance to intermediate players. Our minds are often injected with strategic principles – like the superiority of bishops over knights or the value of a good knight over that of a bad bishop – to the point that one starts becoming obsessed by them without giving enough consideration to the position at hand.

GM Marin prefers to refrain from preaching such motherhoods and rather shows how Capablanca changed plans as per the requirement of the position, changed plans; exchanged good knights for bad bishops; and essentially merged strategic and dynamic elements of the position to form a move by move approach. Also, in this segment GM Marin stops at crucial points and invites the viewer to step into Capablanca’s shoes and find the right move.

Believe it or not, Capablanca gave up his dark squared bishop here, with 23…Bxc3!

“There is a mixture of elements in his play. He can, in the same game, and sometimes in the same phase of the same game, be both strategic and speculative. He could change his plan if he thinks the position would require it.” – GM Mihail Marin, in the introduction.

Tactics by IM Oliver Reeh

IM Oliver Reeh’s tactics segment is probably the most interactive one. Not only does he lucidly present Capablanca’s trademark unseemlingly combinations, but also incorporates the tactics that merely floated in the air. Below is one position which IM Reeh calls “A curious case of mutual chess-blindness." 

Capablanca-Thomas, Hastings Victory Congress, 1919.

Benjamin Button’s isn’t the only curious case. Here’s another one... of mutual chess-blindness. Capablanca, in this position, missed a win, allowing his opponent gain equality. But curiously enough his opponent resigned! Can you find what Thomas missed? Black to play.

Endgames by GM Karsten Müller

The final section of this DVD is an absolute treat. One of the best endgame teachers presenting the endgames of one of the best endgame players in history – what more can you ask for! GM Karsten Müller not only provides insights into the endgame he is analysing, but also gives the viewers valuable advice on the endgames they should study in order to understand his clips better. Although only the first two clips of this segment are in the interactive format, the viewer could always take the liberty to pause the video and try his or her hand at the position. What’s most fascinating about this segment is GM Müller’s passion for endgames. Saying it is evident would be a euphemism, it literally gushes out of the screen!

GM Karsten Müller in action.

Apart from these four segments, the DVD comes with bonus materials like a biography of Capablanca by Peter Schneider, 14 of his most remarkable endgames with annotations by GM Mihail Marin, a database of all of Capablanca’s games (many of which are annotated) and so forth.

All in all, I’d say that the DVD more than achieves its purpose of providing a thorough understanding of “The Chess Machine”, as they called Jose Raul Capablanca, to its viewers. More importantly, since it covers all aspects of Capablanca's play, it helps the viewers comprehensively improve their chess understanding.

Master Class Vol. 4:
José Raúl Capablanca

By Dr. Karsten Müller, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh, Niclas Huschenbeth

He was a child prodigy and he is surrounded by legends. In his best times he was considered to be unbeatable and by many he was reckoned to be the greatest chess talent of all time: José Raúl Capablanca, born 1888 in Havana. At the age of 13 he became Cuban champion; in 1909 he sensationally defeated Marshall by 8:1 and was thus catapulted into the world elite. It was only after some time, since sparse amounts of information made it across the pond, that in 1911 Capablanca achieved well-deserved recognition by leaving the elite of world chess trailing in his wake in San Sebastian. It would however take another ten years before the Cuban defeated the reigning world champion Emanuel Lasker in their match and wore the crown himself.

On this ChessBase DVD a team of experts gets to the bottom of Capablanca’s game. Niclas Huschenbeth presents the openings of the third world champion. Oliver Reeh has assembled a select choice of little combinations and prepared them in interactive format. Mihail Marin looks into Capablanca’s strategic performances and finds astonishing parallels in the games of Bobby Fischer. Our end game expert Karsten Müller had a multiplicity of examples from which to choose, since Capablanca liked to liquidate into an endgame, being well aware of his particular strength and creating numerous masterpieces of the art of the endgame. The DVD also contains all of Capablanca’s games, many of them annotated and is rounded off by a biographical section, tables and both a tactics and an endgame database.

  • Video running time: 6 hours (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • All Capablanca’s games, tables, background knowledge, short biography
  • “Capablanca Powerbook”: The opening repertoire of the third world champion as a variation tree
  • Tactics training with 103 Capablanca Games; 14 Capablanca endgames, with detailed commentary by Mihail Marin
  • ISBN: 978-3-86681-467-7
  • Delivery: download, post
  • Price: €29.90; €25.13 without VAT (for customers outside the EU);
    $26.81 (without VAT)

About the author

Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He has been an advertising copywriter and is currently pursuing a Master's in English Literature at the University of Mumbai. He loves all things German and is learning the language. He has also written scripts for experimental films.

Other volumes in the Master Class series

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Robert James Fischer. But what were the secrets to his sensational ability, and what enabled him to take on the Soviet school of chess alone – and win? On this DVD, a team of experts presents you every facet of the chess legend, and shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.
  • Video running time: approx. 5 hours (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • Collection of every Fischer game, tables, backround knowledge, short biography
  • “Fischer powerbook”– the World Champion’s repertoire as an opening tree
  • Tactic training: 100 Fischer games with training questions.
  • Price: €29.90 (€25.13/$27.14 without VAT)

Order Master Class Vol.1:
Bobby Fischer from the ChessBase Shop

No World Champion has enchanted the chess world as much as Mihail Tal did. His reign as World Champion was short but in his time Tal’s star burned with unknown intensity. With his combinations and his intuitive sacrifices the young Tal ran over his opponents, and thrilled the chess world with his risky uncompromising attacking play, which inspired many players to emulate him. In 1960 he beat the reigning World Champion Botvinnik but one year later he lost the title of World Champion again in a return match of doubtful competitive value.
  • Video running time: 4 hours 13 min (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • Collection of every Tal game, tables, backround knowledge, short biography
  • “Tal powerbook”– the World Champion’s repertoire as an opening tree
  • Tactic training with 245 questions.
  • Price: €29.90 (€25.13/$27.14 without VAT)

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Mikhail Tal from the ChessBase Shop

Alexander Alekhine, the fourth World Champion, played many fantastic attacking games and to this day enjoys the reputation of being an attacking genius. But ever since Alekhine won the World Championship match against Capablanca in Buenos Aires 1927 the chess world could see that the Russian-born Alekhine – who immigrated to France in 1921 – also handled technical positions excellently. But his success against Capablanca was still a surprise because the Cuban was considered to be virtually unbeatable.
  • Video running time: 5 hours (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • Collection of all known games Alekhine played, tournament tables, short biography
  • Alekhine powerbook: the repertoire of the World Champion as opening tree
  • Tactic training: 102 Alekhine games with training questions.
  • Price: €29.90 (€25.13/$27.14 without VAT)

Order Master Class Vol.3:
Alexander Alekhine from the ChessBase Shop

The name Emanuel Lasker will always be linked with his incredible 27 years reign on the throne of world chess. In 1894, at the age of 25, he had already won the world title from Wilhelm Steinitz and his record number of years on the throne did not end till 1921 when Lasker had to accept the superiority of Jose Raul Capablanca. But not only had the only German world champion so far seen off all challengers for many years, he had also won the greatest tournaments of his age, sometimes with an enormous lead. The fascinating question is, how did he manage that? Previously the answer frequently given was – psychology and luck. But this thesis has been refuted by authors who have to be taken seriously. Lasker’s secrets are obviously to be sought elsewhere.
  • Video running time: 6 hours (English) • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • All Lasker games, tables, background knowledge, short biography
  • Detailed investigations of Lasker’s playing style (by Knaak, Rogozenco, Stohl, etc.)
  • “Lasker Powerbooks”: the world champion’s opening repertoire as a variation tree
  • Price: €29.90 (€25.13/$27.14 without VAT)

Order Master Class Vol.5:
Emanuel Lasker from the ChessBase Shop

When Anatoly Karpov was 11 years old, he was invited to Botvinnik’s chess school. But the “Patriarch” passed a harsh verdict: “The boy has no clue about chess and therefore absolutely no future as a chess player.” Rarely was a judgement about a chess talent more wrong, for Karpov soon became the best player in the Soviet Union, growing to be considered a serious challenger to the reigning World Champion, Bobby Fischer. But in the World Championship match in 1975, Fischer refused to play and Karpov won by default, becoming the 12th World Champion. He nevertheless proved himself worthy of his title, playing in countless tournaments with exceptional results. Particularly impressive was his style. Thanks to Karpov’s brilliant feel for positional chess, which reminded many experts of Capablanca, he outplayed his opponents again and again with seemingly effortless ease. If you want to improve your grasp of chess strategy, then there is hardly a better teacher than Anatoly Karpov! It took the arrival of Garry Kasparov for Karpov to have an opponent who could challenge him on an equal footing.
  • Video running time: 7 hours (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • Collection of all Karpov’s games, crosstables and a short biography
  • “Karpov’s Powerbook”: The 12th World Champion’s repertoire as an opening tree
  • Tactics training based on 189 of Karpov’s games: 472 training questions with a maximum of 875 points
  • Price: €29.90 (€25.13/$27.14 without VAT)

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Anatoly Karpov from the ChessBase Shop

Garry Kasparov’s talent was recognised at an early age, but it was at the latest at the age of only 15 when he qualified for the renowned USSR national championship that he was also considered by the chess world as a whole as a possible future champion. But on the way to the throne of world champion Kasparov had to overcome numerous obstacles. Kasparov felt that he was being held back by the Karpov-friendly Soviet federation and by FIDE. He finally broke through and at the age of 22 became the youngest ever world champion. He also conducted his struggle at the board above all and enriched chess with his incredibly dynamic playing style as well as his scientific preparation for games. Kasparov was far ahead of his time in his employment of the new electronic aids: computers and database programs such as ChessBase. His numerous encounters with the pragmatic Karpov saw the collision of two quite different playing styles, styles in which these two players were far and away the best in the world. In addition to these matches, Kasparov also contested many tournaments and always appeared with the same mind-set: win games and tournaments!
  • Video running time: 9 hours (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • All Kasparov games, crosstables, short biography
  • “Kasparov-Powerbooks”: the opening repertoire of the 13th world champion as a variation tree
  • Tactics training with 162 Kasparov games: 575 training questions, a maximum of 1392 points
  • Price: €29.90 (€25.13/$27.14 without VAT)

Order Master Class Vol.7:
Garry Kasparov from the ChessBase Shop


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Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 12/20/2016 03:19
KOTLD: True. Morphy should have been among the first that they should have done.
KOTLD KOTLD 12/18/2016 11:47
They should also do one on Morphy.
glanmaster glanmaster 12/17/2016 07:59
When will Smyslov and Botvinnik Master Classes be released ?
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