Endgame Riddle: Alekhine vs Capablanca

by Karsten Müller
10/17/2022 – The 1927 World Championship match in Buenos Aires between challenger Alexander Alekhine and World Champion José Raúl Capablanca ended with a surprise: Capablanca had gone into the match as the clear favourite, but after 34 games he had lost 3-6 (draws did not count). The decisive and interesting 34th game featured a theoretically and practically important endgame. Karsten Müller took a closer look at the game and the endgame and invites readers to analyze both. | Photo: Capablanca (right) and Alekhine at the World Championship 1927, the man in the middle is the arbiter Carlos Augusto Querencio | Source: Wikipedia

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The 1927 World Championship match between Alekhine and Capablanca took place in Buenos Aires from 16.9.1927 to 29.11.1927. The first player to win six games was declared the winner of the match, draws did not count.

According to the Mega Database, Alekhine and Capablanca had played each other twelve times before the match and with +5, =7, -0 the score was overwhelmingly in favour of Capablanca.

In view of this record and the fact that Capablanca very rarely lost at all, the Cuban was considered the clear favourite before the match. Chess fans of the time simply could not imagine that Alekhine could win six games against Capablanca. Nor, perhaps, could Capablanca.

But Alekhine won the first game of the match. However, with wins in games 3 and 7 Capablanca countered to take the lead in the match. But with two wins in a row in games 11 and 12 Alekhine returned the compliment to take a 3-2 lead. A long series of draws followed until Alekhine won the 21st game and extended his lead to 4-2. Game 29 went to Capablanca again, but after a win in game 32, Alekhine was only one win away from the title at 5-3. By winning game 34 he then won the match and the title.

Master Class Vol.3: Alexander Alekhine

On this DVD GMs Rogozenco, Marin, Müller, and IM Reeh present outstanding games, stunning combinations and exemplary endgames by Alekhine. And they invite you to improve your knowledge with the help of video lectures, annotated games and interactive tests

A curiosity of the match is the opening choice of both sides: With the exception of the 1st game, in which Capablanca resorted to 1.e4, which Alekhine answered with 1...e6, and the 3rd game, in which Capablanca won with White in a Queen's Indian without c4, the two opponents stubbornly discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the Queen's Gambit Declined in all of the remaining 32 games of the match. The 34th game was also a Queen's Gambit Declined.


A highly interesting game and with the help of a series of questions Karsten Müller invites readers to take a closer look at it.

Black lost the game. But what was his first serious mistake?

How would you evaluate the position after White's 23. move?


On move 30 Alekhine played 30.Nxe5. What do you think about this move?


On move 38 Alekhine played 38.Qc7. What do you think about this move?


After 41 moves the game was adjourned. Alekhine sealed 41.Rd7, which Capablanca answered with 41...Qb1+ after the resumption of the game resumed. What do you think about this move?


After 50 moves a rook ending appeared on the board, in which White was a pawn up. White won the game but is this endgame really won or did Capablanca miss chances to save the game?


Have fun analysing the game! Share your ideas, observations, variations, ideas and thoughts in the comments!


Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.
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arzi arzi 10/19/2022 07:35
According to my memory, Alekhine was an great admirer of Capablanca in his youth. At some point during their meetings/games, Capablanca's arrogant behavior against Alekhine made him Capablanca's biggest hater? He wanted to take revenge on Capablanca for the humiliations.
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 10/18/2022 03:49
History records that after he became world champion Alekhine would inform organizers that he wouldn't play in their tournament if Capablanca were to be invited. They generally bowed to his demands until later in his career when he was obviously not the strongest player in the world, though still world champion. Today the situation is very similar with the current world champion. The more things change the more they remain the same.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 10/18/2022 11:02
@arzi, yes, of course. Thank you for the correction.
arzi arzi 10/18/2022 09:54
PhishMaster:"The ending after 51. a5 is just won, and Alekhine was never given a chance to save the game from there."

I guess you meant Capablanca? :)
albitex albitex 10/18/2022 08:34
I had dedicated a post to this ending, using it as a prime example in the "Rooks Finals" discussion in a chess forum.

Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 10/18/2022 07:02
PhishMaster: Many thanks! Your points are right, but there is more to be found...
PhishMaster PhishMaster 10/18/2022 02:29
I am not going to get into a long, computer-aided debate with a billion lines, but rather my human thoughts about the position. This one seems pretty clear cut really.

After 23.Qa5, it is still equal, but it still looks easier for white to play.

30. Nxe5 is given an exclam in the Mega Database, but Stockfish shows that this virtually forced line, 30. Nxe4 Qxe4 31. a5! (Rc1 was given as the main line in the database) Qd5 32. a6 e4 33. Qc3+ Kh7 34. Nd4 Ra7 35. Ra4 Nb6 36. Ra5 Qd8 37. Nb5 Nd5 38. Qe1 Ra8 39. Qd2, and white is winning. There are other paths, but lead to much worse evals more quickly.

38. Qc7, while not the best move per the computer, this is a position that white does not need to play perfectly, but black does, but no human will. That said, 38. Qa1 lead to a lost rook ending just like in the game.

41…Qb1+ was a mistake, whereas 41…Rf5 and counterattacking on f2 makes it hard for white to be active. White is still better there, and while black still needs to play well there, maybe not quite as perfectly since it is harder for white to push the pawn, and defend f2. After 41…Rf5, it almost looks like a quasi-positional draw…sure white can try to come up with something, but how do you defend f2 and enforce a5 at some point. It is very difficult. If 42. Rd2 then Rc5, and there is no great place for the queen. This was the last great chance to save the game.

The ending after 51. a5 is just won, and Alekhine was never given a chance to save the game from there.