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Would Carlsen have Beaten Capablanca?

User Rating: / 112
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 05 February 2012
Article Index
Would Carlsen have Beaten Capablanca?
Page 2
Grandmaster Danny Gormally

In this exclusive article for 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)
11. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 02:13 22 2013 .
Don't forget that a very large portion of the chess world was built around Capablanca, his talent and contributions. Soviet Chess used Capablanca as their foundation. Alekhine was taught a lot by Capa when they were friends back around 1914.  
All the great Champions have looked up to Capablanca with awe and admired his unique and innate ability for the game. 
Without Capa's contribution chess may have been a little different today. Any comparison today that leaves Capa in an inferior position is like comparing an inventor from today to DaVinci, and saying DaVinci would have no chance...  
How about reversing the process? How would today's masters have fared against Capa back in San Sebastian 1911? the 1920's and 1930's How would they have performed without their computers and accumulated knowledge?
12. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 20:31 11 2013 .
I think if Capablanca were born in 1988 instead of 1888, his innate intuitive-aptitude for chess, combined with today's accumulated knowledge and computing capabilities, would have easily put him in a league beyond Carlsen. Capa is not winning because of opponent mistakes, but because of superior intuitive-logic, which had nothing to do with study or theory. The guy was at least 2950 to 3000 elo at his peak (IMO).
13. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 02:11 02 2013 .
If I may respectfully disagree with the article's statement: "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" ... (referring to wild attacks to provoke errors.)  
First, as pointed out by a previous comment, a computer analysis found Capablanca to make the fewest errors of any player. And second, a classic live demonstration by Capablanca was his masterful refute of the Marshall attack. An attack that was not "wild" o "careless", since Marshall has dedicated quite some time preparing it. Capablanca refuted it on the board. 
Also remember that Capa's style favored simplicity. Combine this with his ability to control the direction of the game, and his opponent may never have an opportunity to "complicate" matters...  
It is very hard to compare different epochs, but a great mind is a great mind. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, and as such it always adapts to the moment. Could we say that Newton would not have been able to understand rocketry or space travel if he lived today? 
Without taking anything away from today's talent, in my view, if today's players had been born and played in Capa's time, they would lose to Capa. And if Capa had been born in 1988, insteadof 1888, well... then it's like HAIRO (above) wrote.... 2900-3000 elo.
14. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 19:15 22 2013 .
Some thoughts about Fischer
I have to disagree with some of the comments about Fischer. It seems wrong to point out that "9 players have overtaken his rating peak." True, but the man quit at his peak! He quit at age 29! 
So to speak of Bobby as a "mere" 2785 player seems incorrect. You seriously dont think his rating would have continued to go up if he kept playing? 
You seriously dont think he could have added another 100 points? Ridiculous 
He would have been untouchable for at least another 10 years. 
His rating from FORTY YEARS AGO still makes him a top 10 guy right now! Give the dude some respect 
Where will Kasparovs peak rating stand in 40 years?

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