Capablanca Y Graupera José Raul (19.11.1888 – 08.03.1942)


Jose Raul Capablanca y Graupera was born in Havana, Cuba. A fascinating world-personality and an outstanding representative of the Latin-American chess tradition.

He started his chess career at an early age, becoming the Cuban National Champion at the age of 11 years, defeating in a match the then Cuban Champion, Juan Corzo, by 4 to 2 and six draws. No doubt, Capablanca belongs to the few “chess infant prodigies”, such as were Paul Morphy, Sam Reshevsky, Robert Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and, perhaps, even Mikhail Tal. All of these “infant prodigies” were endowed with a specific talent for the game of chess, which was the very reason for their outstanding successes and by which they have contributed to the further development and higher popularity of chess. They all have -each in his own way – enriched the chess theory by new, ingenious ideas. Here, it is interesting to note that a big chess personality will not only be formed “over the board.” Capablanca himself is a remarkable example in his line.

The Ex-World Champion, Capablanca was not only a brilliant star on the chess firmament, but also an all round educated man, deeply interested in every possible province of human culture. Most of all he loved classical music. For hours he used to listen to the music of his favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. He also was an eager reader, preferring biographical books particularly the Napoleonic literature and literature dealing with great personalities of past and present.

Comparatively small is the number of games he has played in serious competitions. Only about 600 tournament -or-match -games has Capablanca played during his whole chess career.

His main results:

Winner of New York 1910, New York 1911, New York 1913, Havana 1913, 1915 New York 1915, New York 1916, New York 1918, Hastings 1919, London 1922, Lake Hopatcong 1926, New York 1927, Berlin 1928, Budapest 1928, Ramsgate 1929, Barcelona 1929, Budapest 1929, 1931 New York 1931, Moscow 1936, Nottingham 1936, Paris 1937 and Buenos Aires 1939.

His match results:

1902 Capablanca – Juan Corzo +4=6-2

1909 Capablanca – Frank Marshall +8=14-1

1919 Capablanca – Boris Kostic +5=5

1921 Capablanca – Emanuel Lasker +4=14

1927 Capablanca – Alexander Alekhine +3=25-6

1932 Capablanca- Max Euwe +2=8

These nearly 600 games, Capablanca had played between 1910 and 1939, are both documents of Capablanca’s creative power and a legacy to the chess world. As compared with Alekhine’s 3,000 games, this other Champion of the World had played during his career, Capablanca’s performance seems dwarfed and less significant. But Capablanca’s games must not be merely counted mechanically. They are unequalled as to the ideas and perfect technique employed. In Capablanca’s games one fails to find such that were weak or strategically inadequate, or spoiled by blunders of errors  in calculation. Almost all of his games bear the same  stamp of logical conception of the strategic plan and its precise execution. All the same does Capablanca’s career break into two parts: the period up to the year 1927, and the aftermath from 1927 to 1939.  In 16 tournaments, Capablanca had participated in the period from 1910 to 1927, he has lost only 11 games, yet in 12 of them placed first. This achievement made the chess world believe in his invincibility, but also had a bad influence in his self-consciousness in that he began to overrate himself. Psychologically, this was the very cause of his failure in the World Championship Match against Alekhine, in 1927. Another cause was Capablanca’s antipathy against any study of opening theory. He frankly admits that at the beginning of his chess career he fully ignored the opening theory and, in his match against Marshall, his opponent’s style of play was quite unknown to him. This dislike for theory he tried to supersede by own judgement, intuition, and exact analysis which well brought him successes in tournaments but failed to secure a win in matches. The glory of  invincibility, lost in the match against Alekhine, was never regained by him afterwards.

In this second period, between 1927 and 1939, Capablanca took part in 17 tournaments, but won only 8 of them, some of which were not of the top importance. Another remarkable feature of this period is a break in Capablanca’s career, lasting from 1931 to 1934. Within these years he seemed to be tired of chess and resigned of any activity. It is a time in which the then Champion of the World, Alekhine, achieved the greatest triumphs. And Capablanca well knew that “this” Alekhine will never give him opportunity for a revenge-match. Yet to regain the world’s highest title was the foremost goal the Cuban master strove for.      Some hope gave Capablanca the unexpected victory of Euwe over Alekhine, in 1935. Again, he seemed to regain his old glory, winning the tournaments in Moscow and Nottingham, 1936, thus qualifying for the right to challenge the World Champion. But in 1937 Alekhine regained the title, and Capablanca’s chances to return to the chess throne fell to zero. Furthermore, Capablanca’s state of health worsened considerably during these years. Only a few people knew that Capablanca was suffering a dangerous sclerotic disease. The mental depression caused by Alekhine’s return to the chess throne, together with the pernicious disease, proved disastrous for Capablanca’s health.

On March 7th, 1942, at 10 p.m. Capablanca entered the Manhattan Chess Club to enjoy some games with friends, as was his custom since many years. He was a member of that club since the very beginning of his chess career and truly adhered to it until his death. In the early hours of the next day, March 8th, 1942, the life of this great chess genius extinguished forever. His remains were transported to Cuba, where his body was given full military honors in a state funeral.

Capablanca’s literary legacy to the chess world consists in several books: “My Chess Career” 1920 and “Chess Fundamentals” 1923. These books reveal the great intelligence of their author. Typical of both conceptions and conclusions they remind of a surgeon’s work patiently dissecting the organism of the game of chess. For many decades in future they still will remain a safe guide to all the chess devotees who wish to study the logics and mechanics of the royal game.

The Cuban chess friends, Capablanca’s compatriots, still pay homage to the memory of the great son of their country. Every year a full chess festival named Raoul Capablanca memorial is organized in Cuba to commemorate the ever best Cuban player and an outstanding chess champion.

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