[White "Capablanca"]
[Black "Lasker"]
[FEN "2r2rk1/pb1n1ppp/Bp3q2/2p5/3P4/Q3PN2/PP3PPP/2R1K2R b K - 1 16"]

This is the 5ht Match game for the 1921 World Championship.

Lasker played 16...Bxf3 giving up the exchange.

Capablanca wrote:

Dr. Lasker thought for over half an hour before deciding on this continuation. It is not only the best, but it shows at the same time the fine hand of the master. An ordinary player would never have thought of giving up the exchange in order to keep the initiative in this position, which was really the only reasonable way in which he could hope to draw the game.

Capablanca sounded like the position was already hopeless for Black ("hope to draw the game").

Q: Was 16...Bxf3 really Lasker's only reasonable move? Was Black's position really that bad? Couldn't he just take the bishop?

  • What, then, after he takes the bishop? (I can imagine Capablanca rolling in his grave right now.) Commented May 8, 2017 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


After 16... Bxa6 17. Qxa6 the problem is that black has no play. His white-squared bishop is really important in the upcoming attack on the white king (this is the only play black can try), so if he exchanged it on a6, white would have a very comfortable position (mainly thanks to the attack on the black's weak queenside) and nothing to fear.

EDIT: I completely omitted the fact that black's pawn down. Of course that is somewhat important, too... :-)

You may oppose me with the fact that white managed to exchange these bishops anyway (see move 18. gxf3 later in the game), but at least black destroyed white's perfect pawn structure.

My second point is that you can't always take Capablanca for granted. He wasn't the most modest player in the world :-) and the fact that he already had known the result of the game when he was commenting it is also important. He was indeed one of the greatest players, but sometimes I find his comments biased.


What, then, after he takes the bishop? I can imagine Capablanca rolling in his grave right now.

Black will be down a pawn whereas white will keep pressure on the a6-c8 diagonal. White doesn't need to get greedy and take the a7 pawn after ...Nb8 (but he can if the knight just sits unprotected on d7).

After the bishop exchange, black's center is distended. He can't cause white to surrender the center because of the queen's pressure in that diagonal. Black is better off finding something else to do with his time.

Lastly, to paraphrase IM Jeremy Silman's thoughts on a similar problem (Re-assess your chess, 3rd edition, pp. 106):

[Black would] have sacrificed the exchange. True, White enjoys an extra exchange. However, Black possesses an attack on White's weak kingside, enjoys an enemy king that is stuck in the center in the midgame of an open game (i.e., in front of semi-open files), and a bishop which assists with threats on the h1-a8 diagonal. In this way Black has several favorable imbalances to play with.

"Whether this would have offset White's material advantage is a moot point - never leave yourself with no favorable imbalances or no chances to create them."

If you do, you will surely [logically, because of no available counter-play] lose.

Another quote on imbalances by the same author, same book pp. 225 (sorry, but I really have to drive the point home here)

"Though we all can sacrifice material if we see a forced mate, many of us are less likely to part with our men if the return is just 'positional'. However, I must once again remind the student that material is just an imbalance like pawn structure, space, and all the others. Does it make sense to create one imbalance in your favor (material) while giving the opponent several others (space, better minor pieces, superior pawn structure, initiative, etc.)? Simple math gives us a clear answer.)

You can actually see what Capablanca had to say about the game (due to the centralized king in an open midgame, Black's rooks taking control of the d- and e- files, weakened pawn protection for the king, yada yada)

The play here was extremely difficult. I probably did not find the best system of defense. I can not yet tell which was the best defense here, but it is my believe that with the best play White should win.

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