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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jose Raul Capablanca Online Chess Tribute

Referred to by many chess historians as the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of chess, Capablanca was a chess prodigy whose brilliance was noted at an early age. Richard Reti 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 Chess 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 semester as an undergraduate student of chemical engineering at Columbia University in New York City, but did not complete it, and chess became his profession.

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 Donostia|San Sebastian, 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, 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. 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. 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 World records in chess#Perfect tournament score|one of only a handful of perfect scores ever in high-level chess tournaments.

In September 1913, Capablanca secured a job in the Cuban Foreign Office. He appears not to have had any specific duties other than playing chess, but what he had he was reported to have carried out conscientiously. For many years, he was the most famous Cuban alive.

In October 1913 to March 1914 Capablanca traveled to Europe on his way to the Consulate at St Petersburg to play matches or exhibition games against their leading masters. In serious games, he scored 19 wins, 4 draws, and 1 loss during that period. First, he defeated Jacques Mieses and Richard Teichmann in Berlin, next beat Aron Nimzowitsch in an elegant opposite-colored bishop endgame in Riga. Then in Sankt Petersburg, he played a six-game series, two games against Alexander Alekhine, Eugene Znosko-Borovsky and Fyodor Dus-Chotimirsky, losing once to Znosko-Borovsky and winning the rest-his first encounters with Alekhine, who was outclassed;
Game 1
Game 2
In 1914, he beat Bernstein in Moscow in a game listed in many anthologies as a brilliancy for winning move ...Qb2!! and for the new strategy with hanging pawns. In Kiev, he won among others against Fedor Bogatyrchuk. Then in Vienna he defeated both Richard Reti and Savielly Tartakower 1.5-0.5 each. Capablanca also gave many simultaneous exhibitions noted for their speed and very high winning scores.

In short, Capablanca was unrivaled as a fast chess player, even by the very best players of his own time (and perhaps of later times as well). Alekhine described with awe the feat of Capablanca playing simultaneous fast games between rounds of a tournament, giving five minutes to each opponent but taking only one for himself, and winning.

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 Emanuel 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.
Game 1
Game 2
He again won the first brilliancy prize against Bernstein and had some highly regarded wins against David Janowsky[], Nimzowitsch and Alekhine.

However, Capablanca fell victim to a comeback by Lasker in the second stage of the tournament, including a famous victory by Lasker. Capablanca finished second to Emanuel 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 "International Grandmaster".

In 1919, Capablanca overwhelmed the strong Serbs Borislav 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, Akiba Rubinstein and Aaron Nimzowitsch challenged Capablanca, but were unable to raise the stipulated funds. Alexander 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, Jose Raul, in 1923 and a daughter, Gloria, in 1925, but the marriage ended in divorce.

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 Alexander Alekhine. Capablanca also defeated Alekhine in their first game, won the first brilliancy prize against Rudolf Spielmann[] and won two games against Aron Nimzowitsch.
Game 1, Game 2.

This made him the prohibitive favorite for his match with Alexander 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, then took a narrow lead by winning games 3[] and 7 - attacking games more in the style of Alekhine - but then lost games 11 and 12. 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 simultaneous displays. Reuben Fine recalls that in this period he (Fine) could fight on almost level terms with Alekhine at blitz chess, but that Capablanca beat him "mercilessly" the few times they played.

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. He had the worse position, but caught Alekhine in such a deep trap, allowing him to 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, New York|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."




Blogger ryan5490 said...

With all the talk of cloning today, we should take Alekhine's and Capablanca's DNA and clone them. When
the Clones are young men teach them Chess and have them play a serious match. That way Capablanca can get a chance for a return match that he should have gotten.

8/01/2007 6:32 AM  

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