Capablanca - Fonaroff 

Jose R. Capablanca (2785) - (Marc?) Fonaroff (2300) 
Manhattan C.C. Championships;
New York,   1918 

[A.J. Goldsby I]

Chernev writes: "From the moment I first saw this game, I fell in love with it!" 

Chernev goes on to say ... "Capablanca: 
---> plays the opening with restraint (and purpose), developing his pieces with quiet, crystal-clear moves of classic simplicity .... 
---> creates a tiny weakness in the position of his opponent's Queen Pawn .... 
---> concentrates his fire on the weakness .... 
---> starts a brilliant combination when Black seems secure ....
---> anticipates a surprise saving stroke by his opponent ....
---> counters with an elegant Knight Fork and pin combination which wins neatly." 

Irving Chernev in his book, [The] "1000 Best Short Games of Chess." [Game # 834, page # 445.] 

(I must also add this is one of the longest introductions in the entire book. This must mean that Chernev really did recognize just how exceptional this game is.)


For my part, I can only add that this is one of the most beautiful and brilliant games in all of the games that have been recorded. PERIOD!!! It is also a pure piece of chess art by one of the greatest chess artists to have ever played the game! It is definitely one of the prettiest of all the short or miniature games ever played. A brilliancy that is very nearly 100 years old. And a game that is like an old friend. 


1. e4 e52. Nf3 Nc63.Bb5 Nf64. 0-0 d65. d4 Bd7
We have now transposed to a superior version of the "Steinitz Defence."

6. Nc3 Be77. Re1 exd4
Chernev writes: "The natural move. Castling loses in a trap originated by Tarrasch. 
Tarrasch sprung this prepared trap against Marco at Dresden, 1892." (!!) 

[ Not : 7...0-0?; 8.Bxc6 Bxc6(8...bxc6?; 9.dxe5 dxe5; 10.Nxe5, "+/-")  9.dxe5 dxe5;  
  10.Qxd8! Raxd8; 11.Nxe5 Bxe4[] (11...Nxe4??; 12.Nxc6 Nxc3  {12...bxc6; 13.Nxe4, "+/-"   
   13.Nxe7+ Kh8
; 14.bxc3, "+/-" 12.Nxe4 Nxe413.Nd3!(13.Rxe4?? Rd1+; 14.Re1 Rxe1#)  
13...f5[](13...Nf6?; 14.Rxe7, "+/-")  14.f3 Bc5+; 15.Nxc5 Nxc5; 16.Bg5! Rd5
    (16...Rd7; 17.Be7, "+/-")  17.Be7 Re8; 18.c4!,  Black RESIGNS! 1 - 0. 

  This is known as, "The Tarrasch Trap." 
  S. Tarrasch - G. Marco; Schach Kongress, Dresden, (GER); 1892. ]   


Now comes a series of exchanges that leave White with a just slightly superior position.

8. Nxd4 Nxd4
; (!?) 
The book line here is 8...Bd7.

9. Qxd4 Bxb510. Nxb5 0-011. Qc3 c6!?('?!') 
This weakens d6. (Although that weakening is not even readily apparent.) 
Black probably should have avoided this and played something else instead. 

(In Black's defense, he probably wanted to evict the Knight from the d5-square, permanently. 
After 11...a6; White could play 12. Nc3 and is ready to jump back to d5. He also could not 
have possibly foreseen what Capa had in store for him!)

[ Probably a better defence was: 11...a6!;

(See the diagram just below.)
  [Analysis position.]  Black could have played a much superior defence in 11...a6!

... which at least does not weaken the d6 square. ]

12. Nd4 Nd713. Nf5
Chernev notes that Capa is mainly pressuring the backward Pawn at d6. 

13...Bf614. Qg3 Ne5; 15. Bf4 Qc7; 16. Rad1 Rad8
Black appears to have solved all of his problems. He is in for a VERY rude surprise.

White's next move could (maybe) be given a triple exclam.
17. Rxd6!! Rxd618. Bxe5 Rd1!

Chernev muses and wonders ... "Did Capablanca miss this?" 

He goes on to write: "Black's sudden threat of mate gives him time to capture the Bishop."

 I {A.J.G.} personally doubt that Capablanca missed this very simple rejoinder. 
Capa was a VERY good tactician. 

[ 18...Bxe5?; 19.Qxe5,  White is hitting both  the g7 and d6 points, and Black cannot 
  guard both squares. 19...f6[];  Pretty much forced. (19...Rg6?; 20.QxQ/c7, "+/-".   
  Or 19...Rfd8??; 20.Qxg7#.)  20.Qxd6, "+/-" White is winning easily. ]

19. Rxd1 Bxe5
Black appears to have evaded all of his troubles.
Many of my students have expressed the opinion that Black is better here.

In fact, one of my students - who was nearly Expert strength - felt White is 
now lost because both White's Pawns at h2 and b2 hang. Now comes an 
incredibly shocking denouement!

20. Nh6+!! Kh8
Black says, "So what?" 
(The point will soon become clear!) 

21. Qxe5!  (Maybe - '!!')  

21...Qxe522. Nxf7+!  ---> Black RESIGNS!!  1 - 0. 

(If he captures the Queen, he is mated.)  

White's last move is often referred to as,  "The sting on the end of the scorpion's tail!" 
(Only now can Black understand why he is lost.) 

Chernev only awards White's 17th move, and moves 20 through 22 exclams. 
This is kind of pedestrian, considering just how brilliant this game really is.

[ The denouement might be: 22.Nxf7+ Kg8;   (22...Rxf7??; 23.Rd8+ Qe8
   24.Rxe8+ Rf8; 25.Rxf8#  23.Nxe5 Re8; 24.f4, "+/-" ]

I remember - many years ago, in the very late 60's or early 70's - a friend had a book with collection of "Brilliant Games" in the German language. (I don't remember the name of the book.) But this was one of the games in that book. We went over this game many times. This game is also one of the few of the older games that stands up well to modern analysis. (White's combo is not only 100% sound, the best and strongest computer programs do not even find RxP/d6 instantly - as they do with many other combinations.) Black only makes one move that you could even criticize even a little. Truly one of the most brilliant of all games, and certainly one of the prettiest miniature games of all time! 

 1 - 0 

Several people have written me concerning this game. Some have said the two parties named did not play this game. One reader insisted Morphy played this game first!

Other have insisted that this was a casual game. ( A player named "Fonaroff" was a regular at the N.Y. chess clubs of that time ... there may have actually been several players by this name in the N.Y. area at that time. ) Capa may have played more than one game with this player! (Or a player by the name of "Fonaroff.") 
Also, the move order IS open to dispute. 

The book, "The Unknown Capablanca,(By D. Hooper and D. Brandeth); gives the following move order. 
(I give it for the sake of completeness.) (Game # 123, pg. # 112.) 

1. e4 e5;  2. Nf3 Nc6;  3. d4 d6;  4. Nc3 Nf6;  5. Bb5 Bd7; 6. O-O Be7;  7. Re1 exd4;  8. Nxd4 Nxd4; (8...0-0; was better.) 9. Qxd4 Bxb5;  10. Nxb5 O-O;  11. Qc3! c6; (11...Ne8!?)  12. Nd4 Nd7; 13. Nf5 Bf6;  14. Qg3 Ne5;  15. Bf4 Qc7;  16. Rad1 Rad8;  17. Rxd6!! Rxd6;  18. Bxe5 Rd1; (Better was 18...Qa5;)  19. Rxd1 Bxe5;  20. Nh6+ Kh8;  21. Qxe5! Qxe5;  22. Nxf7+!  1-0 

   June 6th; 2013:    It transpires that time marches on ... and the computer will always find an improvement. It also is fitting, in that Black's play - for the most part - was both reasonable and logical. Apparently Black missed a big improvement - on his eighteenth move - that would have given him a decent game. 

A much better move for Black would have been: 18...Qa5!!19.Bc3[],  (</= 19.b4?? Bxe5; -+)  19...Bxc320.bxc3 Rg6;  
21.Ne7+ Kh822.Nxg6+ hxg6;  (</= 22...fxg6?; 23.e5 Qxa2;  24.e6, )  23.Qd6, "~" (Unclear, White may have a slight edge.)  

A reader had actually pointed this out to me quite a number of years ago, however, (to be completely honest); I simply refused to believe it. Yet - eventually - I had to yield to computer analysis. (The machines have no axe to grind ... and when it comes to tactics, they are close to being perfect. Or to put it another way, most humans lose, and lose badly, when they have to face one of these metal monsters.)  

This is a somewhat shortened version of the game that exists in my database.
If you would like a copy of this game to study, please contact me.

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  Copyright, A.J. Goldsby I.  
  A.J. Goldsby, 1985 - 2012.  A.J. Goldsby 2013. 

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