Capablanca vs Corzo: Rise of the Legend, An Analysis

Capablanca vs Corzo: Rise of the Legend, An Analysis

In 1901, the young prodigy Jose Capablanca engaged in an exhibition match against Juan Corzo, the reigning champion of Cuba. Although some mistakenly labeled it as a championship bout, that designation was incorrect. The actual Cuban championship took place in April 1902, where Capablanca finished fourth with a negative score, losing both games to Corzo, who emerged as the victor.

Prior to this match, Capablanca participated in eighteen games against ten Cuban players. He faced eight opponents twice and two opponents only once. The games were played with clocks, and Capablanca's average rate of play was an impressive 140 moves per hour. His overall record stood at +13 =2 –3, with his losses coming against Juan Corzo and his brother Enrique Corzo.

Capablanca's admirers believed he had a good chance of defeating J. Corzo, attributing his previous losses to his lack of exposure to chess books. They urged him to study, and one of his supporters even provided him with several books, including one on endings. Capablanca took a liking to the endgame and dedicated himself to studying it. Meanwhile, the match with Corzo was arranged, with the condition that the first player to win four games (excluding draws) would be declared the winner.

Approaching the match, Capablanca considered his opponent superior due to Corzo's extensive knowledge of openings, memorization of games by great masters, and overall experience in match play. In contrast, Capablanca saw himself as a novice. Corzo swiftly won the first two games, but in the third game, which ended in a draw, Capablanca noticed weaknesses in his opponent's play, providing him with the necessary confidence. From that point on, Corzo failed to secure another victory, only managing five more draws before Capablanca won the required four games. This triumph made Capablanca, at the age of twelve (he turned thirteen during the second game), the de facto champion of Cuba, at least in the eyes of his supporters.

Reflecting on the match, Capablanca acknowledged his lack of book knowledge in openings but noted that the experience improved his understanding of them. He also became more proficient in the middlegame and particularly strong in positions after the exchange of queens. Capablanca chose to share two games from the match (Games 8 and 11), which exhibited his youthful spirit of enterprise and combination, albeit lacking the precision of the great masters. Nevertheless, Capablanca believed he executed one of the attacks in those games with exceptional force and efficiency, an achievement he doubted he could surpass even at the time of writing.

Corzo, an adept tactician in the middlegame, stood as the strongest player in Cuba and would be considered a candidate for the master class. As the match progressed, significant crowds gathered, leading to restricted attendance for ticket-holders, while others waited outside. Capablanca's victory caused a local sensation, with the Cuban chess community convinced that a new Morphy had emerged.

However, the jubilation was short-lived, as Capablanca faced a resounding defeat in the subsequent Cuban championship a few months later. In this double-round event, he lost both games against J. Corzo.

The reasons behind Corzo's defeat in the match are not easily explained. Being an experienced player, he would not have been swayed by crowd sympathy or rushed into playing hastily against an opponent with a faster average rate of play. It is possible that Corzo's weakness in endgames played a role, as Capablanca managed to salvage drawn endgames and turn around three or four seemingly lost endgames. Corzo's comment on White's forty-third move in the fourth match game further indicates this vulnerability.

The match was initially set as a best-of-seven encounter, with draws not counting. In the first eleven games, Capablanca secured four wins compared to Corzo's two. However, they agreed to continue playing until one of them achieved a seventh win.

(1) Excerpts from "My Chess Career" by Capablanca.
(2) Information from "The Unknown Capablanca" by Hooper & Brandreth.

Analysis of superb wins in this championship by Capablanca
Round 4 Game Analysis

Here is an analysis of the game between Juan Corzo (White) and Jose Raul Capablanca (Black):

  1. e4 e5: The game starts with a Double King's Pawn Opening.
  2. Nf3 Nc6: Both players develop their knights and follow common opening moves.
  3. Nc3 Nf6: Developing the knights further and preparing for castling.
  4. Bb5 Bb4: Capablanca plays Ruy Lopez, a popular opening choice.
  5. O-O O-O: Both players complete their kingside development and castle.
  6. d3 d6: Preparing to strengthen the center and develop the light-squared bishop.
  7. Bg5 Ne7: Capablanca relocates the knight to prepare for a potential pawn advance on the kingside.
  8. Ne2 Ng6: Corzo mirrors Capablanca's move, positioning the knight on g6.
  9. c3 Ba5: Black maneuvers the bishop to a5, potentially eyeing b6 or c5 squares.
  10. Ng3 h6: Preparing to exchange the knight and weaken White's kingside pawn structure.
  11. Bxf6 Qxf6: The exchange is made, and Black's pawn structure remains intact.
  12. Nh5 Qe7: White's knight moves again, targeting g7.
  13. h3 c6: Preparing to open up the center and activate the light-squared bishop.
  14. Bc4 Be6: Black develops the bishop and prepares for potential trades.
  15. Nd2 Qg5: Black puts pressure on the g3 square, targeting the weakened kingside.
  16. Bxe6 fxe6: The exchange is made, and Black's rook pawn becomes stronger.
  17. Qg4 Qxg4: Black captures the pawn, simplifying the position.
  18. hxg4 Bc7: Both sides improve their piece placement and prepare for the next phase.
  19. Nf3 Rae8: Black reinforces the e5 pawn and connects the rooks.
  20. g5 hxg5: The position opens up further, and both sides contest for control.
  21. Nxg5 Nf4: Black's knight enters the enemy territory, targeting the weakened g5 pawn.
  22. Nxf4 exf4: Black solidifies its pawn structure and gains space.
  23. f3 e5: Black prepares to advance the pawns and open up lines.
  24. Rad1 c5: Preparing to control the center and restrict White's pieces.
  25. Kf2 Bd8: Both sides maneuver their pieces, eyeing potential weaknesses.
  26. Nh3 b5: Black expands on the queenside, preparing for an attack.
  27. Ke2 Bb6: Preparing to control the d4 square and restrict White's pawn structure.
  28. Rh1 Rf6: Black activates the rook and supports the kingside.
  29. Rh2 Rh6: Preparing to double the rooks on the h-file and increase pressure.
  30. Rdh1 Ree6: The rooks double on the h-file, increasing the pressure on White's position.
  31. Ng5 Rxh2: An exchange of rooks occurs, simplifying the position.
  32. Rxh2 gxh6: Black captures the h6 pawn, creating a passed pawn on the kingside.
  33. Rxh6 Kg7: White sacrifices the exchange to restrict Black's pawn advances.
  34. Nf3 Ba5: Black targets the weak d3 pawn, preparing for further penetration.
  35. c4 bxc4: White opens up the position, trying to create counterplay.
  36. dxc4 Kg6: Black captures the pawn and improves the king's position.
  37. Kf2 Ba5: Black maneuvers the bishop to a5 again, improving its position.
  38. Ke2 Kh5: The kingside pawns advance, creating potential threats.
  39. Nf2 Kg5: Black's king marches forward, attacking White's pawns.
  40. a3 h5: Black pushes the pawns further, gaining space and limiting White's king.
  41. Nd3 Kh4: Black's pawns advance, creating further threats.
  42. b4 Bb6: White counterattacks, aiming to weaken Black's pawn structure.
  43. Nb2 Kg3: Black's pawns continue their advance, targeting White's kingside.
  44. Kf1 h4: The h4 pawn moves forward, creating passed pawns.
  45. Na4 cxb4: Black opens up the position, creating more weaknesses in White's structure.
  46. axb4 h3: Black sacrifices the rook pawn to create a passed pawn on the h-file.
  47. gxh3 Kxf3: White captures the h3 pawn, but Black gains another passed pawn.
  48. c5 dxc5: White pushes a pawn to create counterplay in the center.
  49. Nxc5 Kg3: Black's king supports the passed pawn and advances further.
  50. Nd3 Bd4: Black's bishop defends the passed pawns and keeps pressure on White.
  51. b5 Kxh3: Black advances the pawns, pushing for promotion.
  52. Ke2 Kg3: Black maneuvers the king, coordinating with the passed pawns.
  53. Ne1 Kg4: Black's king moves closer to the action, preparing for further advances.
  54. Nf3 Bc3: Black reinforces the position and keeps White's pieces tied down.
  55. Kf2 Bd4+: Black checks the king, gaining tempo and restricting White's moves.
  56. Ke2 Kg3: Black repeats moves, consolidating the position and preparing for the final push.
  57. Ne1 Ba1: Black's bishop moves to a1, preparing for promotion and putting pressure on White.
  58. Ne1 Bc3: Black repeats moves again, consolidating and restricting White's options.
  59. Ng5 f3+: Black attacks, aiming to open up the position further.
  60. Nxf3 Kf4: Black captures a pawn and continues to advance the passed pawns.
  61. Kf2 Kxe4: Black gains material and maintains a winning position.
  62. Ng5+ Kd3: Black's king supports the passed pawns and aims for promotion.
  63. Kf3 Kc4: Black prepares to create a passed pawn on the queenside.
  64. Ne4 Bd4: Black's bishop targets the weak d4 pawn, restricting White's movement.
  65. Nd6+ Kc5: Black's knight captures a pawn and improves its position.
  66. Nc8 Kxb5: Black's pawn captures, creating further passed pawns.
  67. Ke4 a5: Black's pawn advances, aiming for promotion.
  68. Nd6+ Kb4: Black's king supports the passed pawns, solidifying the win.

In the end, Capablanca (Black) emerged victorious with a well-executed plan, exploiting weaknesses in White's position and effectively advancing passed pawns to secure the win.

Round 8 Game Analysis
This is a famous chess game played between Juan Corzo and Jose Raul Capablanca. It is often referred to as the "Capablanca - Corzo" game. The game was played on December 6, 1901, as part of a chess tournament.

Here is the move-by-move breakdown of the game:

  1. e4 e5: The game starts with a double king's pawn opening.
  2. Nc3 Nc6: Both players develop their knights to their natural squares.
  3. f4 exf4: White plays the King's Gambit, sacrificing a pawn to gain control of the center.
  4. Nf3 g5: Black accepts the gambit and counterattacks by pushing the g-pawn.
  5. h4 g4: Black continues to push forward, opening up lines for an attack.
  6. Ng5 h6: White's knight goes on an aggressive path, attacking the h6 pawn.
  7. Nxf7 Kxf7: Black sacrifices a knight to maintain the initiative and open up White's king position.
  8. d4 d5: Black continues to develop, attacking the center and threatening to open lines for their pieces.
  9. exd5 Qe7+: Black delivers a discovered check, forcing White's king to move.
  10. Kf2 g3+: Black continues with the attack, threatening to open lines and create mating threats.
  11. Kg1 Nxd4: A powerful move by Black, sacrificing another piece to open up lines and expose White's king.
  12. Qxd4 Qc5: Black uses a queen trade to eliminate White's defensive piece.
  13. Ne2 Qb6: Black continues with piece exchanges to simplify the position.
  14. Qxb6 axb6: The material is now equal, but Black has a more active position.
  15. Nd4 Bc5: Black develops another piece, preparing for further attacks.
  16. c3 Ra4: Black puts pressure on the white pieces, targeting the pinned knight.
  17. Be2 Bxd4+: Black wins the exchange by sacrificing the bishop and exposing the white king.
  18. cxd4 Rxd4: Black recaptures the piece and maintains a material advantage.
  19. b3 Nf6: Black develops the knight and prepares for further centralization.
  20. Bb2 Rd2: Black attacks the white bishop and threatens mate on f2.
  21. Bh5+ Nxh5: White captures the attacking bishop, but Black wins another piece.
  22. Bxh8 f3: Black continues the attack, creating threats against the white king.
  23. gxf3 Nf4: Black intensifies the attack, bringing another piece into the action.
  24. Be5 Rg2+ 25. Kf1 Rf2+ 26. Ke1 Nd3+: Black delivers a check, forking the white king and rook. 0-1: White resigns because there is no way to escape the checkmate or avoid significant material loss.
This game is renowned for Capablanca's brilliant attacking play, particularly the sacrifices made to expose and exploit the weaknesses in White's position. It showcases Capablanca's exceptional tactical skills even at a young age (Capablanca was only 13 years old when this game was played).