“The greatest natural Chess player that ever lived”
Havana-born, on the 19th of November 1888, Jose Raul Capablanca was the second surviving son of an army officer. At four years old, he learned the moves of Chess by watching his father play. He once giggled during a game that his father was playing with a friend. When asked why he giggled, the young boy replied
“because you moved your Knight to a wrong square.” Soon, his father took
the young Jose Capablanca to the Central
Chess Club of Cuba in Havana, where they had to pile books on the chair so he could reach the Chess board. At the age of
eleven, he became the Chess Champion of Cuba in 1900 beating
GM Juan Corzo. Jose Capablanca declined to study Chess and he never read any Chess books or studied Chess openings. Yet, he won the World Championship in spite of this. He was possibly the greatest natural Chess player that ever lived. In 1905 at the age of
seventeen he entered the Columbia University and played at the Manhattan Chess Club and beat the club’s Champion. In 1906 the World Chess Champion, Dr.
Emanuel Lasker, played a simultaneous exhibition there and Capablanca won an individual lightning game against him. In 1908, Capablanca went on a tour of the USA for the first time and broke all records both by results and the speed of his simultaneous play. He played 168 games in ten consecutive sessions before losing his first game. Altogether, his score was 703 wins, 19 draws, and
twelve losses. In 1909, Jose Capablanca shocked the Chess community
world: He played the American champion Frank Marshall, and won 8-1, with
14 drawn games.
Capablanca exploited some good opportunities
early in his Chess career which strengthen his position on the
Chess scene. His victory against Frank Marshall, which he
won so convincingly, was a brilliant stepping stone into the
invited to play in the San Sebastian Tournament of 1911. This was historic
for 2 reasons: 1). Only at the final hour was Jose Capablanca
invited to the Tournament, (this was his first International Chess
Tournament.) 2). Bernstein complained that such a weak player
as Capablanca should not have been included.
Capablanca not only defeated
in the first round, but won the Tournament!
made Capablanca the most serious contender to challenge Lasker’s world
title. In November 1911, Capablanca challenged the World
champion Lasker. Lasker replied with 17 conditions. Some of these conditions were that the match should be for the 1st
player to win six games, draws not counting, and to consist of no
more than 30 games in total.
If after 30 games, either play should lead by 3 point (e.g.
3:2, 2:1, or 1:0,) then the match should be declared a draw and Lasker
would retain the title. Lasker would give four weeks notice for the date of the start of the
match and two weeks notice if he decided to change the
venue. The time limit to be 12 moves an hour, and the playing sessions
to be no longer than two and a half hours. Capablanca didn’t like some of the
proposed conditions, and Lasker broke off and refused to renew
In 1913, he obtained a post in the Cuban Foreign Office, thus
taking the pressure from him for the need to earn a living from
playing Chess. He was simply to be a figurehead for his country,
which he fitted the part very well. On Capablanca’s way to the Consulate at
St Petersburg, Capablanca did a European tour. He visited
London, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Riga, Leningrad, Moscow,
Kiev, and Vienna demonstrating an astonishing skill at
simultaneous Chess, usually with a
record crowd of spectators.
games were played against the best masters of Europe:
Alekhine, Bernstein, Bogoljubow, Bogatirchuk, Levenfish, Duz
Hotimir- sky, Mieses, Nimzovich, Reti, Salwe, Tartakower, Teichmann and
At the St. Petersburg tournament of 1914, Dr. Lasker won the
match, Capablanca came second, and was therefore, one of the
five initial Chess Grandmasters named
by Czar Nicholas.
In the eight years between 1916 to 1924 the first game that
Jos Ral Capablanca
lost was to Richard Reti at the great New York International Tournament
The loss to Reti was a game that went around the world.
1920, Capablanca challenged Lasker again for a World championship match.
Lasker not wanting to play, “resigned” his title to Capablanca, but the
public wanted a match. Finally in 1921, the World championship match vs.
Dr. Emanuel Lasker is held in Havana, Cuba. The match was
scheduled for 30 games, but after 14 games, Dr. Lasker resigned the
match on the grounds of ill-health. Jose Capablanca becomes the
At the Great
Moscow Tournament in 1925, in a simultaneous exhibition, Capablanca
won every game except a draw against a 12 year old boy who he told
after the game, “One day you will be champion.” That boy
was Mikhail Botvinnik. Botvinnik not only beat Capablanca at AVRO 13 years later,
but eventually did become World Champion. In 1927 the great non-studying
Chess genius, Capablanca, lost his world championship title to the
ever-studying Chess genius Dr. Alekhine.
With a record breaking twenty five draws, Alekhine won six-four, it was the longest world championship
match in the history of Chess. Although Jose Capablanca was the obviously
entitled challenger to the world championship, Alekhine
refused to play Capablanca and instead played Bogoljubov and Euwe for the title. Jose Capablanca lost only
36 games out of 567 in his whole career.
He did not lose a single game from 1916 to 1924
and won 7,
drew 35, and lost 6 world championship games, for a total score of 24
points out of 48 games played.
Capablanca never had a Chess set at home. On March 7, 1942, he
suffered a stroke while analyzing a Chess game in the Manhattan Chess Club.
He died the next day
at Mount Sinai hospital, the same
hospital that Emanuel Lasker died in a year earlier.
buried with full honors in Havana, Cuba.
General Batista, President of Cuba, took personal charge of the
He was the shortest lived world champion,
dying at age 53 years, 109 days. He was world
Champion for six
years and was never given a chance for a re-match. His historical Elo
rating has been calculated to be 2725. In 1951
Cuba issued a 25¢ stamp with a portrait of
Capablanca on it. It was the first stamp issued which portrayed a