Uncovered: an unknown game by Capablanca

10/28/2006 – The Cuban world champion José Raúl Capablanca is one of the best researched chess players in history. There are countless books, and the collections of his games are comprehensive. Recently Lawrence Totaro dug up a 1909 newspaper article with a hitherto unknown gamescore, which shows Capablanca losing to one F.D. Cornell. A very nice game, but is it genuine?

The following game appeared in the Nebraska State Journal, March 7th 1909. It was uncovered by Lawrence Totaro, a researcher and collector from Las Vegas, NV. Lawrence is a member of the Ken Whyld Association, UACC, The Manuscript Society and The Ephemera Society.


The column contains some general chess insights: "Champion Lasker says that the position of white in the queen's gambit presents no features that should induce black to aim at an attach, either in the center or on one of the wings. Hence it is the policy of black to wait until white discloses a plan of campaign; or at least until white has completed his development and is therefore obliged either to assume the offensive or to waste time. Then it is the physiological moment for black to complete his development and to begin, on his part, to pursue aggressive tactics. To execute this program it is necessary to exchange the developed pieces of white, so that the choice maneuvers open to white is diminished in number, and hence, also, their strength weakened."

But most interesting to us is a chess game, which comes with the comment: "Below we give a game played by F. D. Cornell with Capablanca, the Cuban expert. Mr. Cornell is the best player we have in the state and it is worth while to run through the score." The gamescore is in descriptive notation and contains some errors (e.g. 28...RxQ ch instead of RxR ch). You can click here to see the scan in higher resolution and check the moves. We have translated it, to the best of our ability, in modern algebraic notation.

Capablanca,JR - Cornell,FD [C67]
Nebraska, USA, 1909
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Be7 6.Qe2 Nd6 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.dxe5 Nb7 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Nd4 Qe8 11.Re1 Bc5 12.Nb3

12...d5 13.Nxc5 Nxc5 14.Be3 Ne6 15.Rad1 f6 16.exf6 Rxf6 17.Bd4 Rg6 18.Be5 Qf7

19.g3 Ng5 20.f4 Nh3+ 21.Kh1 Bg4 22.Qg2 Bxd1 23.Nxd1 Qd7 24.c3 Re8 25.Ne3 Ng5 26.f5 Rh6 27.Bf4

27...Qxf5 28.Nxf5 Rxe1+ 29.Qg1 Rxg1+ 30.Kxg1 Nh3+ 31.Kh1 Rf6 32.Nd4 Nxf4 33.gxf4 c5 34.Nb5 c6 35.Nxa7 Kf8 36.Nc8 Rxf4 37.Kg2 Ke8 38.Nb6 Kf8 39.a4 Re4 40.Kf2 Kf7

41.a5 d4 42.Na4 d3 43.Nxc5 d2 44.Nxe4 d1Q 0-1. [Click to replay]

Is this game real and genuine? Our resident expert on historical material, Johannes Fischer, is a bit confused. "I don't know what to say. Cornell is a completely unknown player. There is no games in the Mega Database, no mention of him in Jeremy Gaige’s "Chess Personalia", which contains the names of practically all known and unknown chess players. He does not appear in Edward Winter's Capablanca Book or any other of Winter's works. We do not find Cornell in the players' index of the first ten volumes of the Quarterly of Chess History, and, finally, an intensive search on the Internet for F.D. Cornell in connection with chess yields no results. So Cornell is an unknown quantity. If the game was actually played and won by him it would be quite a discovery. I am not sure how reliable such articles in American newspapers were. However Capablanca did travel through the United States in the first two months of 1909, giving simultaneous exhibitions. On the other hand Edward Winter writes in Capablanca: 'Local newspaper reports of Capablanca’s exploits were rarely authoritative, and it is hardly surprising that few game scores were given. The few that were tended to be garbled.' Still, the above game could be an interesting discovery."

Capablanca on the title of Time Magazine, Dec. 7, 1925

We believe that the most likely explanation is that the game was actually played, in a simultaneous exhibition, and that Cornell submitted it to the newspaper. If anyone can uncover any additional information on this game please send it to us using the following feedback form.

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