Jose Capablanca – the Cuban prodigy who learned chess at the age of 4 – is arguably the greatest endgame player of all time.
Yeah yeah yeah. Zzzzzzz.
Well, that’s been my reaction for about 20 years now. Being the best endgame player is like being the prettiest Chinese Crested Hairless dog. (That’s for you, DK.) But now that I’m belatedly digging into the game’s final phase, I’m finally developing an appreciation for the man.
Something nicely highlighted in Shereshevsky’s Endgame Strategy book is Capablanca’s ability to play powerful, clear-minded moves that seem counter to the game’s general principles. One simple example:
In this position as Black versus Janowski, Capablanca played 10…Bd7! Shereshevsky writes: “No prejudices. To support the advance of the b-pawn the bishop retreats to d7, whereas at the seemingly active position f5 it was out of play.”
Another example. Here, as Black against Klein, Capablanca took that beautiful f4 knight and … played Nxd3! He then proceeded to create an ending in which his bishop – so unimpressive in the diagram – trumped the White knight.
Extraordinary stuff. We mortals are so tightly bound by the “rules” of good pieces and bad pieces that often moves like Capablanca’s simply don’t occur to us.
The same mental blockage, of course, comes into play in every field of endeavor – marketing, football, medicine, music, you name it; see previous discussion of theoretical physics in Chess, math, physics.