Tactics in a Chess Combination

The Cuban chess wizard Jose Capablanca played a gorgeous combination against the music professor Marc Fonaroff, apparently at an evening party in New York City, in June of 1918. Three years later, Capablanca became the World Chess Champion.

Here’s a record of the game:

  • White: Jose R. Capablanca
  • Black: Marc (or Mark) Fonaroff

1) e4     e5

2) Nf3  Nc6

3) Bb5  Nf6

4) O-O  d3

5) d4    Bd7

6) Nc3  Be7

7) Re1   exd4

8) Nxd4  Nxd4

9) Qxd4  Bxb5

10) Nxb5  O-O

11) Qc3    c6

12) Nd4   Nd7

13) Nf5  . . . .

Capablanca was surely not expecting a quick mate here, for Professor Fonaroff was hardly a chess beginner.

White moved Nf5

Diagram-1  after White’s Nf5

Capablanca was probably thinking about two black pawns: on d6 and g7.

13) . . . .  Bf6

14) Qg3  Ne5

15) Bf4   Qc7

16) Ra1d1   Ra8d8

After 16) . . . . Ra8d8 {QR-Q1 in the old descriptive notation}

Diagram-2  after Black moved Ra8d8

17) Rxd6!!  . . . . On the surface, this may look like an obvious sacrifice, but it’s far deeper

17) . . . .   Rxd6

18) Bxe5  . . . .  Now it looks like Black will be down a piece

White just moved Bxe5

Diagram-3  after White’s Bxe5

If Professor Fonaroff had now captured the white bishop of e5, Capablanca could have recaptured with his queen: 19) Qxe5, remaining a knight ahead, for Black would have to move f6* to defend against the threat of Qxg7# (mate). White would then capture the rook at d6, winning the game *(Black moving the rook to f6 or g6 would lose the black queen).

Fonaroff now made a surprising move . . . well, maybe surprising to everybody watching the game at the party that night, but Capablanca was prepared for it.

18) . . . .  Rd1  forcing White to capture that rook, to prevent mate (Rxe1#)

19) Rxd1  Bxe5

Capablanca wins this chess game

Diagram-4  after Black’s Bxe5

It appears Black is not so badly off, only a pawn behind, after giving back the exchange. In fact, it looks like Black will soon gain back a pawn, with no problem apparent.

But the grandmaster had looked into this more deeply. Do you see how White can win the game now? Try to find the winning combination in Diagram-4, then see the answer at the bottom of this post. Few non-masters would see this if they had not already been shown how the combination works.




Jose Raul Capablanca




20) Nh6+!  Kh8

21) Qxe5!   Qxe5

22) Nxf7+  Black resigns

Capablanca wins with Nxf7+!

Diagram-5  after White’s Nxf7+!

Do you see, in Diagram-5, why Black does not capture that knight? After Rxf7, White will get a quick checkmate after 23) Rd8+, so Fonaroff resigned. What a lovely combination by the Cuban grandmaster who would soon be the World Chess Champion!



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