J. R. Capablanca

J. R. Capablanca books and biography


José Raúl Capablanca

Time Magazine, December 7, 1925
Full name José Raúl Capablanca
Country Flag of Cuba Cuba
Born November 19, 1888(1888-11-19)
Havana, Cuba
Died March 8, 1942 (aged 53)
New York City, United States
Title Grandmaster
World Champion 1921-1927

José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (November 19, 1888 – March 8, 1942) was a Cuban world-class chess player in the early to mid-twentieth century. He held the title of world chess champion from 1921 to 1927.


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Chess career

Early years

Referred to by many chess historians as the Mozart of chess, Capablanca was a chess prodigy whose brilliance was noted at an early age. Richard Réti said about him 'Chess was his mother tongue'.

According to Capablanca, he learned the rules of the game at the age of four by watching his father play. He said he noticed his father make an illegal move with his knight, accused him of cheating, and then demonstrated what he had done. Capablanca was taken to the Havana Chess Club when he was five, where the leading players found it impossible to beat the young boy when giving him the handicap of a queen. In 1901, just turned 13, he defeated Cuban national champion Juan Corzo by the score of 4 wins, 3 losses, and 6 draws. He later began a course as an undergraduate student of Chemistry at Columbia University in New York City, but did not complete it, and chess became his profession.

Rapid rise

In 1909, at the age of 20, Capablanca won a match against US champion Frank Marshall by +8-1=14. This was a comparable margin to Marshall's World Championship loss (+8-0=7) to Emanuel Lasker in 1907. Marshall insisted that Capablanca be allowed to play in a tournament at San Sebastián, Spain in 1911. It was one of the strongest tournaments of the time. All of the world's leading players except world champion Emanuel Lasker were in attendance. At the beginning of the tournament Ossip Bernstein and Aaron Nimzowitsch objected to Capablanca's presence because he had not won a major tournament. But after Capablanca won his first round game against Bernstein, capturing the tournament's brilliancy prize,[1] Bernstein quickly acknowledged Capablanca's talent and said that he wouldn't be surprised if Capablanca won the tournament. Nimzowitsch took offense when Capablanca made a comment while watching one of his blitz games, and remarked that unproven players should hold their tongue in the presence of their betters. Capablanca quickly challenged Nimzowitsch to a series of fast games, which he won "with ridiculous ease." The assembled masters soon concluded that Capablanca had no equal at fast chess, a distinction which was to remain his until virtually the end of his life. Capablanca went on to win his tournament game with Nimzowitsch as well, using an opening setup much admired by Mikhail Botvinnik.[2] By tournament's end, Capablanca had astounded the chess world by taking first place at San Sebastián, with a score of +6 -1 =7, ahead of Akiba Rubinstein, Carl Schlechter and Siegbert Tarrasch. The one game he lost was against Rubinstein, one of the most brilliant chess creations of the latter's career.

In 1911, Capablanca challenged Emanuel Lasker for the world championship. Lasker accepted his challenge but proposed seventeen conditions for the match. Capablanca disapproved of some of the conditions and the match did not take place.

In 1913, Capablanca played in his home town of Havana where he came in second to Frank Marshall. He lost one of their individual games after having a much better position.[3] Reuben Fine claimed that Capablanca had the mayor clear all the spectators so they wouldn't see him resign, and this story has uncritically circulated in books and around the Internet. However, Winter's book below (pp. 47–48) documents that Fine's story has no basis whatever. Instead, there were 600 spectators present, who naturally favored their native hero, but sportingly gave Marshall "thunderous applause". Marshall's own notes corroborated this—when he heard the roar, he thought that the crowd was going to kill him, and he asked for security escort "and quickly rushed over to my hotel. Afterwards I was told they were cheering for me."

Then Capablanca scored +13 -0 =0 in a tournament in New York, although Oldrich Duras was the only International Grandmaster class opponent. This was [citation needed]

At the great 1914 tournament in St. Petersburg, with most of the world's leading players (except those of the Austro-Hungarian empire), Capablanca met the great Lasker across the chessboard for the first time in normal tournament play (Capablanca had won a knock-out lightning chess final game in 1906, leading to a famous joint endgame composition). Capablanca took the large lead of one and a half points in the preliminary rounds, and made Lasker fight hard to draw [9],[10]. He again won the first brilliancy prize against Bernstein [11] and had some highly regarded wins against David Janowsky[12], Nimzowitsch[13] and Alekhine.[14]

However, Capablanca fell victim to a comeback by Lasker in the second stage of the tournament, including a famous victory by Lasker.[15] Capablanca finished second to Lasker with a score of 13 points to Lasker's 13.5, but far ahead of third-placed Alexander Alekhine. After this tournament, Tsar Nicholas II proclaimed the five prize-winners (Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, Marshall) as "Grandmasters of Chess".

World Champion

Jose Raul Capablanca, 1925
Jose Raul Capablanca, 1925

In 1919, Capablanca overwhelmed the strong Serbian Kostic with five straight wins, whereupon Kostic resigned the match. Capablanca later wrote in 1927 that he had played the best chess of his life in this match.

In 1920, Lasker saw that Capablanca was becoming too strong, and resigned the title to him, saying, "You have earned the title not by the formality of a challenge, but by your brilliant mastery." Capablanca wanted to win it in a match, but Lasker insisted that he was now the challenger. They played a match in Havana in 1921, and Capablanca defeated Lasker +4 -0 =10. This feat of winning the world title without losing a game to the incumbent went unequalled for almost eight decades, until Vladimir Kramnik's win over Garry Kasparov +2 -0 =13 in 2000.

The new world champion, Capablanca dominated the field at London, 1922. There was an increasing number of strong chess players and it was felt that the world champion should not be able to evade challenges to his title, as had been done in the past. At this tournament, some of the leading players of the time, including Alexander Alekhine, Efim Bogoljubov, Geza Maroczy, Richard Reti, Akiba Rubinstein, Savielly Tartakower and Milan Vidmar, met to discuss rules for the conduct of future world championships. Amongst other things, one of the conditions proposed by Capablanca was that the challenger would have to raise at least ten thousand dollars for the prize money. That same year, he gave a simultaneous exhibition against 103 opponents, the largest in history up to that time, and scored 102 wins and 1 draw, losing none.

In the following years, Rubinstein and Nimzowitsch challenged Capablanca, but were unable to raise the stipulated funds. Alekhine's subsequent challenge, in 1927, was backed by a group of Argentinian businessmen and the president of Argentina who guaranteed the funds.

Capablanca was second behind Lasker at New York 1924, and again ahead of third-placed Alekhine. In this tournament, his loss to Reti was his first in eight years. He was third behind Efim Bogoljubov and Lasker at Moscow 1925.

As World Champion, Capablanca also underwent major changes in his personal life. In December 1921, he married Gloria Simoni Betancourt. They had a son, José Raúl, in 1923 and a daughter, Gloria, in 1925, but the marriage ended in divorce.

Losing the title

Capablanca had overwhelming success in New York 1927, a quadruple-round robin with six of the world's top players. He was undefeated and 2.5 points ahead of the second-placed Alekhine. Capablanca also defeated Alekhine in their first game,[16] won the first brilliancy prize against Rudolf Spielmann[17] and won two games against Aron Nimzowitsch.[18],[19]

This made him the prohibitive favorite for his match with Alekhine, who had never defeated him, later that year. However, the challenger had prepared well, and played with patience and solidity, and the marathon match proved to be Capablanca's undoing. Capablanca lost the first game in very lacklustre fashion,[20] then took a narrow lead by winning games 3[21] and 7[22] — attacking games more in the style of Alekhine — but then lost games 11[23] and 12.[24] He tried to get Alekhine to annul the match when both players were locked in a series of draws. Alekhine refused, and eventually prevailed +6 -3 =25.

Alekhine refused to play a return match, even though doing so had been a pre-condition of the match. Despite the collapse of the financial markets in 1929, Alekhine continued to insist on the London conditions, with a $10,000 purse to be secured by the challenger. Capablanca found it difficult to satisfy this condition. Instead, Alekhine played two matches against Efim Bogoljubov, a fine player, but one who posed no great threat in a long match. (Capablanca had a 5-0 lifetime record against him). Throughout Alekhine's first tenure as champion (1927-1935), he refused to play in the same tournaments as Capablanca.

Years after he won the title, Alekhine was asked how he had beaten Capablanca. A man of no intellectual modesty, he nevertheless responded, "Even now I cannot explain that."


After Capablanca lost the title, he won a number of strong tournaments, hoping that his showing would force Alekhine to grant him a rematch, but it was not to be. In 1931 Capablanca defeated the fine Dutch player Max Euwe +2 -0 =8. Also in 1931, he took 1st in New York, with Isaac Kashdan coming in 2nd. Then he withdrew from serious chess, and played only less serious games at the Manhattan Chess Club and

In 1934, Capablanca resumed serious play. He had begun dating Olga Chagodayev, whom he married in 1938, and she inspired him to play again. In 1935, Alekhine, plagued by problems with alcohol, lost his title to Euwe. Capablanca had renewed hopes of regaining his title, and he won Moscow 1936, ahead of Botvinnik and Lasker. Then he tied with Botvinnik in the super-tournament of Nottingham 1936, ahead of Euwe, Lasker, Alekhine, and the leading young players Reuben Fine, Samuel Reshevsky (avenging a defeat here) and Salo Flohr.

This was Capablanca's first game with Alekhine since their great match, and the Cuban did not miss his chance to avenge that defeat.[25] He had the worse position, but caught Alekhine in such a deep trap, allowing him to win the exchange, that none of the other players could work out where Alekhine went wrong except Lasker, who immediately saw the mistake. Capablanca recounted this episode in Capablanca's Legacy: Capablanca's Last Chess Lectures, pp. 111–112, expressing his admiration for Lasker's insight even in his sixties. But Capablanca didn't mention that his opponent was Alekhine. Their feud was still intense, so they were never seen seated together at the board for more than a few seconds. Each man made his move and then got up and walked around.

In 1937, Euwe, unlike Alekhine with respect to Capablanca, fulfilled his obligation to allow Alekhine a return match. Alekhine regained the title. Thereafter there was little hope for Capablanca to regain his title, and Alekhine played no more world championship matches until the time of his death in 1946. The absolute control of the title by the title-holder was a major impetus for FIDE to take control of it, and try to ensure that the best challenger has a shot at the title.

Capablanca won Paris 1938 with 8/10. But then his health took a turn for the worse. He suffered a small stroke during the AVRO tournament of 1938, and had the worst result of his career, 7th out of 8. But even at this stage of his career he was capable of producing strong results. In the 1939 Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, he made the best score on top board for Cuba, ahead of Alekhine and Paul Keres. More drama was missed because he refused to play Alekhine in Cuba's match with France.

On 7 March 1942, he was happily kibitzing a skittles game at the Manhattan Chess Club in New York when he collapsed from a stroke. He was taken to Mount Sinai hospital, where he died the next morning. Remarkably, the Cuban's great rival, German-born Emanuel Lasker, had died in that very hospital only a year earlier.

His bitter rival Alekhine wrote on Capablanca's death, "With his death, we have lost a very great chess genius whose like we shall never see again."


In his entire chess career, Capablanca suffered fewer than 40 losses in serious games. He was undefeated for over eight years of active, world-class competition, from February 10, 1916, when he lost from a superior position against Oscar Chajes; to March 21, 1924, when he lost to Richard Réti in the New York International tournament. This was an unbeaten streak of 63 games, and included the strong London tournament of 1922, as well as the world championship match against Lasker.

In fact, only Marshall, Lasker, Alekhine and Rudolf Spielmann won two or more serious games with the mature Capablanca, but their overall lifetime scores were minus (Capablanca beat Marshall +20 -2 =28, Lasker +6 -2 =16, Alekhine +9 -7 =33), except for Spielmann who was level (+2 -2 =8). Of top players, only Keres had a narrow plus score against him (+1 -0 =5), and that win was when Capablanca was 50 and Keres 22.

Capablanca founded no school per se, but his style was very influential in the games of two world champions Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. Mikhail Botvinnik also wrote how much he learned from Capablanca, and pointed out that Alekhine received much schooling from him in positional play, before their fight for the world title made them bitter enemies.

Botvinnik regarded Capablanca's book Chess Fundamentals as undoubtedly the best chess book ever written. In it, Capablanca pointed out that while the bishop was usually stronger than the knight, queen + knight was usually better than queen + bishop -- the bishop merely mimics the queen's diagonal move, while the knight can immediately reach squares the queen cannot. Botvinnik credits Capablanca as the first with this insight.

Earlier, Capablanca had received some criticism, mainly in Britain, for the allegedly conceited description of his accomplishments in his first book, My Chess Career. So Capablanca took the unprecedented step of including virtually all of his tournament and match defeats up to that time in Chess Fundamentals, together with an instructive group of his victories.

However, J. du Mont, in his foreword to Golombek's book Capablanca's 100 Best Games, wrote that he knew Capablanca well and could vouch that he was not conceited. Rather, critics should learn the difference between the merely gifted and the towering genius of Capablanca, and the contrast between a British tendency towards false modesty and the Latin and American tendency to say "I played this game as well as it could be played" if he honestly thought that it was correct. Du Mont also said that Capablanca was rather sensitive to criticism. And the chess historian Edward Winter documented a number of examples of self-criticism in My Chess Career.

"Morphy and Capablanca had enormous talent, Steinitz was very great too. Alekhine was great, but I am not a big fan of his. Maybe it’s just my taste. I’ve studied his games a lot, but I much prefer Capablanca and Morphy. Alekhine had a rather heavy style, Capablanca was much more brilliant and talented, he had a real light touch. Everyone I’ve spoken to who saw Capablanca play still speak of him with awe. If you showed him any position he would instantly tell you the right move. When I used to go to the Manhattan Chess Club back in the fifties, I met a lot of old-timers there who knew Capablanca, because he used to come around to the Manhattan club in the forties – before he died in the early forties. They spoke about Capablanca with awe. I have never seen people speak about any chess player like that, before or since." -- Bobby Fischer, Icelandic Radio Interview, 2006 [26]

Capablanca chess

Main article: Capablanca chess
Capablanca chess. Archbishop (bishop+knight compound) is placed between knight and bishop on the queen's side, chancellor (rook+knight compound) on the king's side.

Capablanca predicted that chess could face major problems if the various top players chose to draw every game. To prevent this from happening, Capablanca suggested a new variation on chess, called "Capablanca chess", to be played on a 10x8 board, with two new pieces introduced:

  • Chancellor a chancellor that moves as both a rook and a knight;
  • Archbishop an archbishop that moves as both a bishop and a knight.

His idea was that the added pieces and board size would increase the complexity of chess and allow the strongest player more opportunities to turn the game in his favor. Note that he proposed this complicated variant while he was world champion, not as sour grapes after losing his title, as some critics asserted. He played a few games of this variant against Edward Lasker. Lasker stated that Capablanca won them.[citation needed]


  • A Primer of Chess by José Raúl Capablanca (Preface by Benjamin Anderson. Originally published in 1935. Harvest Books, November 2002, ISBN 0156028077)
  • Chess Fundamentals by José Raúl Capablanca (Originally published in 1921. Everyman Chess, October 1994, ISBN 1857440730) Revised and updated by Nick de Firmian in 2006, ISBN 0-8129-3681-7.
  • My Chess Career by José Raúl Capablanca (Hardinge Simpole Limited, October 2003, ISBN 1843820919)
  • World's Championship Matches, 1921 and 1927 by José Raúl Capablanca (Dover, June 1977, ISBN 0486231895)
  • Last Lectures by José Raúl Capablanca (Simon and Schuster, January 1966, ASIN B0007DZW6W)

Further reading

  • Schonberg, H. C. (1973). Grandmasters of Chess. New York, NY: W W Norton & Co Inc.
  • Edward G. Winter (1981). World chess champions London, UK: Pergamon Press.
  • Irving Chernev (1982). Capablanca's Best Chess Endings. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Harry Golombek (1947). Capablanca's Hundred Best Games of Chess. London, UK: Bell.
  • Fred Reinfeld (1990). The Immortal Games of Capablanca. New York, NY: Dover Publications.
  • Brandreth, D. & Hooper, David (1993). Unknown Capablanca. New York, NY: Dover Publications.
  • Irving Chernev (1995). Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games. New York, NY: Dover Publications.
  • Edward G. Winter (1989). Capablanca: A Compendium of Games, Notes, Articles, Correspondence, Illustrations and Other Rare Archival Materials on the Cuban Chess Genius Jose Raul Capablanca, 1888-1942. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
  • Gary Kasparov (2003). My Great Predecessors: part 1", Everyman Chess, ISBN 1-85744-330-6.

See also

  • Greatest chess player of all time
  • List of notable chess players
  • List of chess world championship matches
  • List of people who have beaten José Raúl Capablanca in chess

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Championship Matches 1921 And 1927

Chess Career Ed. By Irving Chernev

Chess Fundamentals

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