Person of day - 19 NOVEMBER 2023
JOSE RAUL CAPABLANCA
“I knew many chess players, but only one genius among them- Capablanca!” These words of Emanuel Lasker reflect the unique place the great Cuban occupies in the history of chess.
Capablanca’s biography is well-known. At the age of 4, he learned chess while watching his father play. At 13, he became the champion of Cuba, and in 1909 he sensationally routed the American champion, one of the world’s strongest chess players, Frank Martin with a score of 15:8. He won eight matches and lost one. In 1911, Capablanca came to Europe for the first time, where another triumph was waiting for him. He won the tournament in San-Sebastian, in which all the world’s strongest chess players bar Lasker participated.
His rivalry with the second world champion began in 1914 at a tournament in St Petersburg, which brought together an exclusively strong line-up. Capablanca performed at this tournament in spectacular fashion, opening up a 1.5 point lead over Lasker before the last two rounds before losing the final two matches (one of them to Lasker) and finishing 2nd. “Already back then, Capablanca was playing as well as Lasker” wrote Alekhine later, who himself finished third in this tournament.
Talks about a match for the world championship between Lasker and Capablanca were interrupted due to the outbreak of World War I. After its end, the talk resumed, and in 1921 in Havana the long-awaited battle commenced. After 14 matches, 4 of which he lost and none of which he won, Lasker surrendered. Capablanca became the new world champion and his strength, according to Alekhine, reached its pinnacle at that time: “A crystal-clear debut and mittelspiel was combined with an unparalleled endgame technique.”
Capablanca demonstrated consistency in his ascension to the chess throne, comfortably winning a difficult tournament in London in 1922. After a series of sub-par performances, Capablanca played brilliantly at the four-circle tournament in New York in 1927, where he won first place and overtook the runner-up Alekhine by 2.5 points! But at the end of the same year the Cuban unexpectedly lost the match for the world championship against Alekhine with a score of 3:6, largely due to over-confidence and underestimation of his opponent.
After this the aura of invincibility that surrounded Capablanca began to dissipate and It became harder and harder to play in tournaments. Capablanca’s dream of a revenge match against Alekhine, promised to him by the new world champion, never came true. In 1936, Capablanca won his final major victories- he won tournaments in Moscow and Nottingham and in 1939 he was the best player at the first board in the Chess Olympiad. That proved to be the final chess accord of the great Cuban, In total, he played 583 matches at official tournaments, winning 302 and losing just 33.
On 8th March 1942 Capablanca died in New York due to a brain haemorrhage. “With his death, we lost the greatest of chess geniuses, whose equal we shall never see again” wrote Alexandre Alekhine shortly before his own death.