Master Class - José Raúl Capablanca

by Albert Silver
4/2/2015 – How does one dissect a player such as José Raúl Capablanca, considered one of the greatest talents to ever live, and described as a "chess machine". Three grandmasters do exactly that, unveiling surprises about the champion's play. Add to that tons of training questions, plus hundreds of his games analyzed by Lasker, Alekhine and Capablanca himself, and you have a DVD you must not miss!

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A review

There are few players who elicit as much awe, admiration and envy, as the great Cuban champion, José Raúl Capablanca. Awe for his astonishing ability and strength, admiration for his achievements in the competitive arena and at the board, and envy for a talent that seemed to allow him to top the world with an iota of the effort his greatest peers needed to stand toe-to-toe with him. Naturally, there are a number of simple general characteristics his play has been labeled with: fantastic technique, superb endgame play, perfect play (also considered boring by the less kind). There is no question these descriptions are quite true, but to sum up the play of one of the greatest players of all time with a few pat labels would be both a great injustice and a gross underestimate of what lay hidden underneath.

There is no shortage of books, CDs, and DVDs on his games, whether covering his endgame play such as Chernev's endgame classic, or the games collections galore, and even so, the Master Class series manages to sets itself apart. Without a doubt, it includes all those chess goodies as you would hope and expect upon getting a DVD called Master Class: Capablanca, but the first and foremost meat of the video presentations is a minute breakdown and analysis of Capablanca's games under the scrutiny of a modern grandmaster.

Upon opening the DVD's main page of contents, one is struck by the number of entries and choices. Frankly, the wealth of material promised seems almost too good to be true. So what's the catch? The catch is you may feel overwhelmed by it all, and only scratch the surface, however if you persist a little and take your time much as a treasure hunter, you will be well-rewarded. Remember that Bobby Fischer developed his play very much by studying to death the games of the former giants such as Capablanca, annotating them himself in exhaustive detail as an exercise.

The first thing one is drawn to upon opening such a DVD is the collection of videos, and the aficionado will not be disappointed. Inside are the four main video collections, much like previous iterations of the Master Class series: one dissecting the opening play, the next taking apart his middlegame play, and how a grandmaster would describe his style and move choices, a nice selection of combinations, and the not-to-be-missed selection of endgames.

Niclas Huschenbeth presents a detailed analysis of the Cuban's openings play, and it is a very enlightening series of videos

There are four, describing his play as white and black, and against 1.e4 or 1.d4, but it is particularly interesting to see the young grandmaster's serious yet bemused conclusions. Though numerous lines bear a Capablanca name here and there, it is well-established that he was far from the most assiduous openings analyst, mostly content to reach positions that suited him, rather than try to extract the most possible in home analysis. The German grandmaster cannot escape this, and readily agrees, but notes with some astonishment curiosities that modern statistics make apparent.

While thorough, Huschenbeth does not refrain from criticizing some of the Cuban's opening play

One was a line that the World Champion played insistently against Lasker and Alekhine as white despite never winning a single game! Huschenbeth understandably notes that it is surprising that Capablanca never tried a different path considering the clear lack of success here. There are numerous nuggets to be found, and I found the young German's presentation well-done and interesting.

In the next section on the middlegame, the presenter is GM Mihail Marin, a veteran grandmaster with deep experience and a more classic and introspective approach. By this I mean he has clearly scrutinized the play of the Cuban in great detail, trying to understand not only the decisions and the motives behind them, but how they fit in the context of chess understanding of the day, and how they fit in with modern play. Remember, these are games played a hundred years ago, and the issue is not some basic question of doubling rooks on an open file, but more subtle treatments of piece exchanges and pawn structures. It is the sort of analysis only a grandmaster can do justice to with any sense of firm footing, and that the Romanian pulls off remarkably well.

Mihail Marin does a very complete job of identifying the characteristics of Capablanca's play and what features had the most impact on future generations

Perhaps the most unexpected revelation is Marin's conclusion that Capablanca was not the sort of deep strategist Botvinnik was, whose play seemed to be guided by a deep plan he intended to follow through rain and snow. Surprising because technique and positional play were the staples of his play. Instead his moves revealed enormous flexibility in play, changing and adapting plans very quickly. This gave a sense he was playing move-by-move, but one must immediately note that this is not to suggest he had the planless play of a neophyte, naturally not, but a readiness to accept new realities and exploit them. In a way, this brought to mind the description of Capablanca's play described as a "Chess Machine". Modern engines are very much like this, and though their depth of play is clearly following a deep line that can only be called a plan, it adapts and changes for each move as appropriate. Though the Cuban's peers meant the label as a description of his perfect play, they may not have realized how accurate and prophetic their depiction really was.

Marin's eighth and final video is curiously enough an overview of snippets from games played decades later by players such as Larsen, Fischer and more. He then explains that these excerpts highlight aspects of his play that clearly remained relevant and important to modern chess strategy. It is this final video that reveals the choices of the previous seven videos, which all focused on specific key decisions made by the legend.

IM Oliver Reeh chose 24 combinations for the interactive videos, but should be lauded for going the extra mile. It is more than just a quick "White to play and win", with explanations and commentary. In the above, you have 13-year-old Capablanca about to blow apart Corzo. You'll need more than the first move to solve it. White to play and win.

Afterwards comes a very nice selection of combinations by IM Oliver Reeh, presented in interactive videos. Though Capablanca's unassuming opening play and tendency for riskless position building was not always the most attractive, his integration of tactics throughout his moves are what were often underestimated by his opponents, who sometimes mistakenly felt this was their best chance.

A second selection of 103 test positions, comes with a presentation that best explains this. According to Vukovic, Capablanca and Alekhine perfected the art of attack in chess. In so doing they innovated deeply. For many years, their games were unmatched in their perfection and logical integration of the attack on the castled king. This was based in great measure on creating the preconditions for attack. The great Rudolf Spielmann, an attacking genius in his own right, once commented that he could find each and every combination Alekhine played... it was creating those positions that was the problem!

Enjoy here one of his games, included in many lists of the Best Games ever, with his own detailed notes.

"One of the longest combinations ever"


Endgame expert and author, GM Karsten Mueller provides his own selection

Finally, there are the wonderful endgames of Capablanca that adorn every single collection of best endings and manuals. The crystalline clarity in his approach is a joy to behold and who better than the author GM Karsten Mueller, who has made a career of teaching the subject to players of all levels. Still, it does not end there, since ChessBase included a lovely article of 14 more endgames selected and studied by Mihail Marin.

Although the previous Master Classes have all included biographies of the players, the one presented herein on Capablanca is by far the longest and most comprehensive. This was never an aspect I belabored in the previous iterations, despite finding them to be add-ons almost as an afterthought, since it was never the focus of the DVD anyhow.

The biography included is a detailed illustrated effort in five parts

Here however, the biography really needs to be highlighted since the seriousness of the effort is not to be underestimated. This is a long, detailed biography of the player, replete with photos, extending over five parts. Kudos.

Capablanca on Capablanca

Last, but not least is the collection of complete games of the third World Champion. Not only are there the full 1200-plus games, but many times many are deeply annotated. They are not just annotated by present-day players, but by his contemporaries such as Alekhine, Lasker, and Botvinnik, and most importantly of all: José Raúl Capablanca himself! I admit I was not sure what to expect when I saw he was listed as the main annotator, but the notes are as detailed and verbose as one could hope for.

Whether you are a fan of Capablanca, a student of the history of the game, or an aficionado of beautiful chess, you will be served on all fronts. Decidedly a must-have.

Master Class Vol. 4 - José Raúl Capablanca

• Video running time: 6 hours (English)
• Interactive tactics test with video feedback
• All Capablanca’s games, tables, background knowledge, 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

€25.13 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$27.62 (without VAT)

This DVD can be purchased as a hard copy or it can be downloaded directly from the Internet.

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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