I am frequently asked (mostly by young chess players) if the best players from the past could successfully compete against today's chess elite. I always had an opinion that the human natural abilities are approximately the same today as they were 200 years ago and the only difference is the amount of knowledge available today (information) and the training methods (computers). So I always believed that if Morphy was alive today and was given about a year to catch up with modern chess developments, he would be in the top 10 in the world. Of course this opinion is impossible to prove or refute. Except now I have my own indirect proof. Of course you, my dear readers, are welcome to agree or disagree with my argument here.
I am extremely happy that we have our own "Mozart of chess" - Magnus Carlsen. Besides the wonderful games that he plays, he really helps me to prove the above point. My conclusion is simple: Carlsen is what Capablanca would have been today. They have more in common than just an excellent endgame technique.
As strange as it might sound, they both have a very poor opening preparation. It was a well-known fact that Capablanca didn't work on chess at all and achieved his great results only due to his unbelievable natural talent. According to Botvinnik, Capablanca had the biggest natural talent in chess history. Considering that Botvinnik knew Karpov and Kasparov since their childhood and also studied hundreds of Fischer's games for their match that unfortunately never took place, he probably knew what he was talking about. According to a well-known legend, the great Cuban didn't even have a chess set at home! I don't know the cause of Carlsen's poor opening knowledge, but when he plays fellow 2700+ GMs, he is usually way under-prepared in the opening. Here are just two recent examples:
Strategically Black is completely lost here. It just proves Magnus' extraordinary endgame skills that he didn't lose the game (moreover, towards the end he even tried to play for a win!). But how did he get into these troubles in the first place? A crushing novetly of GM Morozevich? Unfortunately, this is a well-known variation which Black should avoid. A Russian IM Maxim Notkin mentioned that this particular line was marked in his notebook as unplayable for Black many years ago. Here is another game from the same tournament:
The opening is not over yet, but Carlsen (playing White!) has to fight for his dear life. And again, the opening variation of this game is well-known. There are many more examples like this.
Now let's look at some similar technical ideas in the games of both geniuses:
This is one of the most famous games of Capablanca and also the iconic example of the Bishop completely locked out of the game. And the following is a game played just a couple of weeks ago:
Here is another famous endgame of Capablanca:
Notice how both Capablanca and Carlsen used their flexible pawn structure in the center and the Queen's side to their advantage!
Again, I could provide more examples like these, but for me it is enough. I already have enough evidence that Capablanca today would be definitely in the chess elite and I rest my case here!