In 1901 the boy prodigy Jose Capablanca began play against Juan Corzo, the champion of Cuba, in an exhibition match. The match has sometimes been billed as being for the championship of Cuba, but that is incorrect. In April of 1902, the Cuban championship was played and Capablanca finished in fourth place with a minus score, losing both games to Corzo, who won the event.
Capablanca 0 0 = 1 = = = 1 1 = 1 = 0 7
Corzo 1 1 = 0 = = = 0 0 = 0 = 1 6
Prior to this match, Capablanca played eighteen games against ten players of Cuba. Eight opponents played him twice, two of his opponents played him only once. Clocks were used and Capablanca’s average rate of play was 140 moves an hour, his score being +13 =2 –3, his losses coming against Juan Corzo and his brother Enrique Corzo.
+2 =0 -0 vs. Delmonte
+2 =0 -0 vs. Paredes
+1 =0 -1 vs. Corzo, E.
+1 =1 -0 vs. Fiol
+0 =0 -2 vs. Corzo, J.
+2 =0 -0 vs. Gavilan
+1 =0 -0 vs. Ettlinger
+1 =0 -0 vs. Marceau
+1 =1 -0 vs. Sterling
+2 =0 -0 vs. Blanco
Some of my admirers thought that I should have a good chance of beating J. Corzo. They attributed my defeats to the fact that I had never seen a chess book and urged me to study. One of them gave me several books, among which, one on endings. I liked the endings and studied them. Meanwhile, the match with Corzo was arranged; the winner of the first four games – draws not counting – would be declared the victor. I began to play with the conviction that my adversary was superior to me; he knew all the openings and I knew none; he knew many games of the great masters by heart, things of which I had no knowledge whatever; besides, he had played many a match and had the experience and all the tricks that go along with it, while I was a novice. The first two games were quickly won by him, but something in the third, which was a draw, showed me that he had his weaknesses and gave me the necessary courage and confidence. From there on he did not win a game, and only scored five more draws before I won the four required. The victory made me, morally at least, the champion of Cuba. I was then twelve years old. (He celebrated his thirteenth birthday in game 2.) I had played without any book knowledge of the openings; the match gave me a better idea of them. I became more proficient in the middlegame and decidedly strong once the Queens were exchanged. Of the games of the match I append two. (They were Games 8 and 11.) They show the vivacious spirit of enterprise and combination proper in a youngster, but lack, naturally, some of the compact, machine-like force which characterizes the games of the great masters. However, in one of them, I could not have carried the attack, even today, with greater force and efficiency. – Capablanca in My Chess Career.
Corzo was a fine middlegame tactician; he was the strongest player in Cuba, and would certainly rank as a candidate for master class. In the latter stages of the match considerable crowds gathered, and attendance had to be restricted to ticket-holders, whilst others waited outside. Capablanca’s victory created a local sensation; the Cubans were convinced that a new Morphy had arisen.
Their enthusiasm was short-lived. Capablanca was thoroughly trounced in the Cuban championship a few months later. In this double-round event he lost both of his games against J. Corzo.
It is not easy to explain Corzo’s defeat in the match. He was too old a hand to be affected by crowd sympathy or to be rushed into playing too fast against an opponent whose rate of play averaged ninety moves an hour. Perhaps he lost because of poor endplay; at all events Capablanca won two drawn endgames and saved three or four lost endgames. There is other evidence of this weakness of Corzo’s, that is, his comment on White’s forty-third move of the fourth match game.
The match was for the best of seven games, draws not counting. In the first eleven games Capablanca scored four wins against Corzo’s two, but they agreed to play on until the seventh win was notched up. As it happened the match ended with a loss – Hooper & Brandreth in The Unknown Capablanca.
Original collection: Game Collection: 1901 Capablanca - Corzo by User: TheFocus.