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Would Carlsen have Beaten Capablanca?

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Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 05 February 2012
Article Index
Would Carlsen have Beaten Capablanca?
Page 2
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Grandmaster Danny Gormally


In this exclusive article for Pogonina.com English GM Danny Gormally addresses a few controversial and highly popular topics:

- How would Capablanca or Fischer fare against the modern grandmasters?
- Who was the greatest player of all time?
- What is Carlsen's secret?
- How is Carlsen different from Kasparov?

He also offers a detailed and instructive analysis of the game between Carlsen and Topalov played at the recent Tata Steel Chess-2012 super tournament.


Would Carlsen have beaten Capa? Magnus Carlsen is probably the most talked about chess-player in the world. It's not just the fact that at 21 years of age the Norwegian is already the highest rated chess player in the world, but the possibilities of what he can achieve in future makes him such an exciting player for chess fans. Can he become world champion, can he overtake Garry Kasparov's rating record?

I recently wrote an article for the English magazine "CHESS" where I suggested that in fact there was a possibility that Carlsen was just the front-runner for a new generation of super-talents who were set to take chess to another level in the near future, but equally this is just conjecture and it could well be that Carlsen is the sort of extra-special player like Kasparov and Fischer, who leave an indelible mark on the history of the game. It is already clear that Carlsen has as much raw chess talent as pretty much anyone who's ever played the game. After all, it quickly comes over in his interviews how little emphasis he puts on opening preparation.

I found this following excerpt from an interview he did with Evgeny Atarov of Chess Pro:

'Carlsen agreed with the suggestion that studying openings occupied 80% of a player's time, provoking the following question: "But looking at your games you get the opposite impression! If you take the Tal Memorial, in the first four rounds you could have got 0/4 given the openings, but then you should have scored 3.5/4. You constantly outplayed your opponents.." "Probably thats because I like the middlegame and endgame much more than the opening. I like when the game turns into a contest of ideas and not a battle between home analysis. But that, unfortunately, doesn't happen often." "That concerns you?" "To an extent, but what can I do!" "Work more on the opening, as the others do. " "I already work more on it than I want." "But at the same time, as I understand it, youre generally inferior to them?" "Yes. Its no secret for anyone that my opening preparation is inferior to Anand's and Kramnik's and that of many others. They've got much more experience, prepared ideas They're great specialists in that! But I try to place my pieces correctly on the board, so the advantage won't be so great that I lose immediately."

Hmmm... huge talent, but lazy, places little emphasis on opening preparation... where have we been here before? Whenever there are discussions about who the most talented chess players in history are, Jose Raul Capablanca tends to come highly in any list. But while Capablanca's talent level is generally unquestioned (Bobby Fischer used to say that fellow grandmasters who had been around in Capa's era, used to talk about him with "awe") one question that always seems to come around is, how would Capablanca, or other players of the past, like Fischer himself, would fare if they were taken in a theoretical time machine and transported to play the present day Carlsen? This is where you often get some very impassioned debates and huge differences in opinion.

I often feel the great players of the past are overrated by the average chess fan. For example, Fischer is rightfully or wrongly generally accepted to be at least the second best player of all time (behind Kasparov, although some would argue that he was the greatest), despite the fact that at the last count, 9 players had overtaken his rating peak of 2785, set in 1972. This is by no means to denigrate Fischer, after all it took Kasparov 17 years (!) to overtake Fischers record, which gives some idea of what a remarkable achievement it was at the time, a Bob Beamonesque leap in quantitive terms. But the stark facts are that standards go up in every activity. Fischer's Professionalism and incredible standards of preparation took chess up another level, and Kasparov took over and added to that. There's no doubt in my mind that without Fischer, and the epic Kasparov and Karpov encounters, that took it to another level still, you wouldn't get the incredible depth in strength that you see in the chess world today. In defence of the whole "Fischer is the greatest" debate, can you imagine that the 100 meter world record holder of 1972, would be still be 9th on the all-time list today? They'd be lucky if they made it to the top 100. It's a measure of Fischer's greatness that 40 years on he's still somewhere near the top. So yes, if rating inflation is a credible argument (and I'm far from sure it is) then Fischer would still have to be in the mix in discussions for the strongest player of all-time.

But what about Capa? How would he compare strength-wise to the players of today? I think he would come off rather badly. The difference in terms of knowledge and understanding between the players of today and the players of the 1920s and 30s is enormous. I know people who think Capablanca would struggle to break a 2500 rating if he came back today. I'm not sure if I completely agree with this, because Capablanca's raw chess talent is much higher than a 2500 player, but chess is also a game of information. It's difficult to see how Capablanca would have coped with the greater knowledge and sharp chess theory of today's chess elite. Sure give him six months, and he might be able to bridge the gap, but it really is a huge leap. It's like trying to compare Jesse Owens to Usain bolt, he'd be left many yards behind. Going back to Carlsen, i'm probably being somewhat inaccurate when I describe him as "lazy". He says himself that he just doesn't find openings that interesting, because they all start from the same position. What he is really attracted to is the struggle, which was exemplfied well in the following encounter.


In many ways a very typical Carlsen game, even if allowing for some quite incredible mistakes at various points. He understands top-level chess isn't always about playing flawless chess, it's more about putting your opponent under enough pressure to force errors. What we can see in this game is how chess has evolved. Even though it wasn't a very theoretical game, Carlsen created enough confusion on the board to force mistakes from Topalov, in a manner very reminiscent of Tal. Tal was the first player to come along and show that you could play these completely wild attacks in the middle-game, and even if they were basically unsound it didn't matter because 99 percent of the time your opponent wouldn't be able to find the refutation over the board. Even in the computer era, such an approach can work because players don't have reference to a computer during the game, and so are still forced to live on their own wits to a large extent. Capablanca just wouldn't have been able to play like this because we didn't understand that you could play like this until players like Tal and Shirov came along.

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Comments (14)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 14:43 06 2012 .
 
 
I think the writer is wrong to keep comparing athletics to chess. And to say that masters of old would struggle to cope with the voluminous chess theory nowadays? Naaaah. Capablanca, Fischer, etc would easily make the top 10 nowadays...
 
2. Written by Peter on 16:15 06 2012 .
 
 
@Ben Capablanca had a real job and hardly ever analyzed anything at all. To claim that he would be willing to spend a few hours a day analyzing openings with Houdini is ridiculous. He did have an enormous natural talent, but, like Kasparov used to say, the ability to work hard is also a special gift. 
 
As to Fischer: when chess engines appeared, he hated them and didn't use them for analysis at all. He relied on the power of the human brain, not some cyber-lines. What makes you think he would have changed his habits today?
 
3. Written by on 17:19 07 2012 .
 
 
- , (). 
.
 
4. Written by Truth on 00:59 08 2012 .
 
 
Lol Capablanca. I think even I (fm) would beat him.
 
5. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 18:28 06 2012 .
 
 
Capablanca was one of the most accurate players that ever lived, and compares more than favourably with the accuracy of today's players. Allowing for opening prep, Capa IMO would have been a match for anyone in the modern era.
 
6. Written by Poster on 05:48 10 2012 .
 
 
More evidence that having the GM title does not imply intelligence.
 
7. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 20:04 07 2012 .
 
 
True,comparing athletics to chess is a very wrong analogy..I have books on the masters of the pre-post war era..I can say that giving preparation,the likes of alekhine,fischer,botvinnik will be a match for any modern player..why? These guys studied chess openings and theories voraciously..one thing is certain..nothing is new in chess..infact the older an analysis gets,the newer it becomes..
 
8. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 10:24 12 2013 .
 
 
The most accurate study of previous world champions was done in 2006/2008 & 2011 by Guid and Bratko at the computer science lab at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.  
 
The short story of their study is that Crafty 20.14 (apprx 2650), Deep Shredder 11 (2750+), Rybka 2.3.2a (2900+) and Rybka 3 (3000) all concluded that Capablanca was the strongest player of all the previous world champions. 
 
You can read more @  
www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=3455 (2006 study) 
www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=7621 (2011 study) 
 
All the other analyses/lists are either subjective or rely on less accurate/unreliable methods of comparison, such as the Elo system, the Raymond Keene & Nathan Divinsky system, or the Chessmetric system.
 
9. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 10:35 12 2013 .
 
 
Capa
You said you feel that the previous players in history are overrated. Then you will be surprised to learn that the computers think otherwise! :) 
 
The most accurate study of previous world champions was done in 2006/2008 & 2011 by Guid and Bratko at the computer science lab at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.  
 
Basically, their study showed that Crafty 20.14 (apprx 2650), Deep Shredder 11 (2750+), Rybka 2.3.2a (2900+) and Rybka 3 (3000) all concluded Capablanca to be the strongest player of all the previous world champions in that he made the least amount of errors and lost the least number of games (7%). 
 
You can read more @  
www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=3455 (2006 study) 
www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=7621 (2011 study) 
 
All the other analyses/lists are either subjective or rely on less accurate/unreliable methods of comparison, such as the Elo system, the Raymond Keene & Nathan Divinsky system, or the Chessmetric system.
 
10. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 03:06 13 2013 .
 
 
Capa
"in that he made the least amount of errors and lost the least number of games
 
I've seen my share of historical analysis of world champions, but the Guid-Brakto one is by far the best. It's the first analysis that I've seen where they actually quantified move quality, irrespective of the result, using multiple powerful chess playing entities, Rybka 3, Rybka 2, Shredder 10, and Crafty 20.14. 
 
According to their analysis, Capablanca not only made the least amount of errors and lost the least number of games, he.. 
 
- was the hardest player to beat 
- had the highest quality of play 
- made the least number of blunders 
- made the lowest avg move error 
- was the most accurate in complex positions 
- and navigated in such a way as to give rise to low complexity positions (his preference) 
 
It would seem that these results strongly confirm that the air of invicibility about Capablanca was in fact true in an objective-measurable sense. And that at his prime, he was probably more than a match for any of the current top five GM elite.
 


Last Updated ( Monday, 06 February 2012 )
 
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