Botvinnik versus Capablanca, AVRO 1938

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In Rotterdam on 22 November 1938,[1] then future World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik (as white) defeated former World Champion José Raúl Capablanca in round 11 of the AVRO tournament in one of the most famous games in chess history.[2][3] Garry Kasparov wrote:

[...] Botvinnik played what was altogether the "game of his life" against Capablanca. It was not just that it was judged the most brilliant in the tournament and to be worth two first prizes, but it was even suggested that, by analogy with the "immortal" and "evergreen" games, it should be called "peerless" or "classical"![4]

The game[edit]

White: Mikhail Botvinnik   Black: José Capablanca   Tournament: AVRO, Netherlands 1938   Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defense (ECO E49)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3

White gets doubled pawns but they quickly get undoubled.

6... c5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bd3 0-0 9. Ne2 b6 10. 0-0 Ba6 11. Bxa6 Nxa6 12. Bb2 Qd7 13. a4 Rfe8 14. Qd3 c4

Botvinnik suggests 14...Qb7 instead.

15. Qc2 Nb8 16. Rae1 Nc6 17. Ng3 Na5 18. f3

White prepares to make use of his central pawn majority in order to gain space, and, later on, to attack Black's king. Black's knight moves to an outpost on the b3-square, but it proves unable to defend against White's advances.

18... Nb3 19. e4 Qxa4 20. e5 Nd7 21. Qf2 g6 22. f4 f5 23. exf6 e.p. Nxf6 24. f5 Rxe1 25. Rxe1 Re8 26. Re6 Rxe6 27. fxe6 Kg7 28. Qf4 Qe8 29. Qe5 Qe7?[5] (see diagram)

a b c d e f g h
a7 black pawn
e7 black queen
g7 black king
h7 black pawn
b6 black pawn
e6 white pawn
f6 black knight
g6 black pawn
d5 black pawn
e5 white queen
c4 black pawn
d4 white pawn
b3 black knight
c3 white pawn
g3 white knight
b2 white bishop
g2 white pawn
h2 white pawn
g1 white king
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Position after 29...Qe7?, and before Botvinnik's famous 30.Ba3!
According to Graham Burgess,[6] Black's best try was 29...h6! 30.h4! (30.Ne2!? might draw) 30...Na5! 31.Bc1! Qe7 32.Bg5! with winning chances for White; however, the move played leads to a tactical combination that wins instantly.

30. Ba3!

White draws Black's queen away from blockading the passed pawn.

30... Qxa3

Black has no choice because otherwise White's passed pawn advances (31.e7).

31. Nh5+!

This sacrifice of the knight must be accepted because of the fork of Black's knight and king. Black's knight cannot take White's, however, due to the pin on it by White's queen. White regains the knight by a queen fork next move.

31... gxh5 32. Qg5+ Kf8 33. Qxf6+ Kg8 34. e7 Qc1+ 35. Kf2 Qc2+ 36. Kg3 Qd3+ 37. Kh4 Qe4+ 38. Kxh5 Qe2+ 39. Kh4 Qe4+ 40. g4 Qe1+ 41. Kh5 1–0

Black is out of useful checking moves and is faced with the threat of mate with Qf8#. If 41...h6, then White promotes the pawn after 42.Qg6+ Kh8 43.e8=Q+, mating after 43...Qxe8 44.Qxe8+ Kg7 45.Qe7+ followed by 46.Kxh6 and 47.Qg7#. Black resigned.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Winter, Edward. "Chess Jottings". Retrieved 26 February 2017. 
  2. ^ This was to be their last game before Capablanca's 1942 death. All together, they played seven other games of tournament chess. This includes another game at AVRO 1938 with colours reversed, which was drawn. The then 14 year old Botvinnik also beat Capablanca in a simultaneous game in 1925.
  3. ^ "Mikhail Botvinnik vs Jose Raul Capablanca (1938) "A Thing of the Passed"". ChessGames. Retrieved January 1, 2012. 
  4. ^ Kasparov 2003, 125
  5. ^ Loy, Jim (2003). "M. Botvinnik - J. R. Capablanca, 1938 AVRO Tournament". Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  6. ^ Burgess, Nunn, & Emms, 2004, pp. 167-68


External links[edit]