Revisited: Botvinnik-Capablanca, AVRO 1938

by ChessBase
10/14/2009 – It is one of the most famous games in chess history, one which used to be a part of every player's education back in the book era. It has even found its way on to a postage stamp. In his Wednesday night Playchess lecture Dennis Monokroussos takes another look at the heavyweight battle between two all-time greats. Be there at 9 p.m. ET or 3 a.m. CEST.

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Dennis Monokroussos writes:

Nowadays, though, there is so much information available to new players – most of it opening-related – and the old classics are often squeezed out. Overall, the increased access to information is a very good thing, but there's a downside too. There's a lot of beauty in many old games, and there's a lot of instructional value in them too. For one thing, there are plans that strong players know and take for granted that amateurs may never discover, because they never see the games that introduced them.

That's the case with the game we'll look at this week, a heavyweight battle between two all-time greats. Mikhail Botvinnik, world champion from 1948-1957, 1958-1960 and 1960-1963 had White, against Jose Capablanca, the champion from 1921-1927. Capablanca was renowned as one of the great "natural" talents of all time, someone considered to know chess like a native tongue; Botvinnik, on the other hand, was the exemplar of hard work, a man who burned the midnight oil to perfect his abilities and his opening preparation. Overall, the players broke even against each other for their careers, but on this particular occasion preparation beat over the board inspiration.

The game was a Nimzo-Indian, and while this game was not the introduction of White's pawn roller plan, Botvinnik worked it to perfection. He pushed forward in the center and kingside, while Black grabbed a queenside pawn and tried to break through over there. The race came down to a single tempo in the end, and Botvinnik won with the help of a very famous combination.

A postage stamp from the Republic of Central Africa celebrating Mikhail Botvinnik and one of the most celebrated combinations in chess history.

Botvinnik himself dedicated a good part of his retired life trying to program a computer to understand chess dynamics and strategy to the extent that it would find the key move of this combination. He did not succeed. It is a sobering to discover that today's chess engines – Fritz, Rybka – find it in a matter of seconds.

For some the game and the combo will be old hat, but for those who haven't will find both delightful and instructive. And those of you who know this game well should definitely tune in next week, as we'll cover a game that is a perfect antithesis to this one. That said, I hope you'll all come this week, too. The show starts at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday night at 3 a.m. CET Thursday morning. Just log on, go to the Broadcast room and find Botvinnik-Capablanca under the Games tab. It's that simple!

Dennis Monokroussos' Radio ChessBase lectures begin on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST, which translates to 02:00h GMT, 03:00 Paris/Berlin, 13:00h Sydney (on Thursday). Other time zones can be found at the bottom of this page. You can use Fritz or any Fritz-compatible program (Shredder, Junior, Tiger, Hiarcs) to follow the lectures, or download a free trial client.

You can find the exact times for different locations in the world at World Time and Date. Exact times for most larger cities are here. And you can watch older lectures by Dennis Monokroussos offline in the Chess Media System room of Playchess:

Enter the above archive room and click on "Games" to see the lectures. The lectures, which can go for an hour or more, will cost you between one and two ducats. That is the equivalent of 10-20 Euro cents (14-28 US cents).

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Dennis Monokroussos is 41, lives in South Bend, IN, where he teaches chess and occasionally works as an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University-South Bend.

At one time he was one of the strongest juniors in the U.S. and has reached a peak rating of 2434 USCF, but several long breaks from tournament play have made him rusty. He is now resuming tournament chess in earnest, hoping to reach new heights.

Dennis has been working as a chess teacher for ten years now, giving lessons to adults and kids both in person and on the internet, worked for a number of years for New York’s Chess In The Schools program, where he was one of the coaches of the 1997-8 US K-8 championship team from the Bronx, and was very active in working with many of CITS’s most talented juniors.

When Dennis Monokroussos presents a game, there are usually two main areas of focus: the opening-to-middlegame transition and the key moments of the middlegame (or endgame, when applicable). With respect to the latter, he attempts to present some serious analysis culled from his best sources (both text and database), which he has checked with his own efforts and then double-checked with his chess software.

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