Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Musings on Capablanca vs. Alekhine and the nature of the universe

Jose Raul Capablanca was World Chess Champion from 1921 to 1927. During that time he was considered unbeatable in a match and dominated tournament play. Nevertheless, Alexander Alekhine defeated him in the Buenos Aires title contest by 6 wins, 3 losses and 25 draws. Alekhine, who had never won a game against Capablanca before, prepared extensively for the match, poring over Capablanca's games looking for a weakness. To his surprise he discovered that upon closer examination the seemingly strong moves of the champion overlooked certain possibilities. The challenger also altered his attacking style to a more patient, positional style more like Capablanca's.

So was Alekhine's victory a vindication of his baroque, inventive, chaotic play, and a refutation of Capablanca's simple, logical, positional buildup? Fischer said of Capablanca that he won his games by outmaneuvering his opponents in the middle game, so that the game was over when he simplified to end game, his opponents just didn't know it yet. Of Alekhine, Fischer said that his whole approach was wrong. Interestingly enough, Bobby Fischer combined the will to win of Alekhine with the classical simplicity of Capablanca.

Was Capablanca like Newtonian physics, true as far as it went, but lacking the deeper truth of chaotic quantum mechanics? Was Alekhine the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal over the board?

After the match Alekhine admitted that he was honestly surprised that he won, and felt that he benefitted from overconfidence on Capablanca's part. In spite of a prior agreement, Capablanca was never given a rematch, and the two were bitter enemies until Capablanca's death, at which point Alekhine praised his former opponent.

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