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The four-year-old Jose Raul Capablanca quietly watched his father and a fellow army officer play chess each night. One evening little Capa corrected his father after an inaccurate move, and suggested another. When Capa’s father checked the suggested move, it turned out to be an improvement! Don Jorge Capablanca then played his son a game and lost! He ran out into the street and shouted “A miracle” after his four-year-old son beat him in his very first chess game. This is how began the career of the most naturally gifted player of all time…

José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (19 November 1888 – 8 March 1942) was a Cuban chess player who was world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. A chess prodigy, he is considered by many one of the greatest players of all time, widely renowned for his exceptional endgame skill and speed of play. Born in Havana, he beat Cuban champion Juan Corzo in a match on 17 November 1901, two days before his 13th birthday. His victory over Frank Marshall in a 1909 match earned him an invitation to the 1911 San Sebastian tournament, which he won ahead of players such as Akiba Rubinstein, Aron Nimzowitsch and Siegbert Tarrasch. Over the next several years, Capablanca had a strong series of tournament results. After several unsuccessful attempts to arrange a match with then world champion Emanuel Lasker, Capablanca finally won the title from Lasker in 1921. Capablanca was undefeated from 10 February 1916 to 21 March 1924, a period that included the world championship match with Lasker. Capablanca lost the title in 1927 to Alexander Alekhine, who had never beaten Capablanca before the match. Following unsuccessful attempts to arrange a rematch over many years, relations between them became bitter. Capablanca continued his excellent tournament results in this period but withdrew from serious chess in 1931. He made a comeback in 1934, with some good results, but also showed symptoms of high blood pressure. His last major tournament was the AVRO tournament of 1938, where he performed disappointingly. He died in 1942 of a brain hemorrhage. Capablanca excelled in simple positions and endgames; Bobby Fischer described him as possessing a “real light touch”. He could play tactical chess when necessary, and had good defensive technique. He wrote several chess books during his career, of which Chess Fundamentals was regarded by Mikhail Botvinnik as the best chess book ever written. Capablanca preferred not to present detailed analysis but focused on critical moments in a game. His style of chess was influential in the play of future world champions Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov.

Notes by Alekhine and Reti. This is the calamity–the Rook now enters the hostile camp. — AlekhineWhite plays logically to utilize his advantage on the K-side and very properly does not concern himself with the weakness of the Q-side. Black, on the other hand, makes a defensive move which he could perhaps have omitted. — RetiAnxious nature might have moved the King towards the queenside, but Capablanca adheres to the principle of aggression that governs rook endings. — RetiHe gives his opponent the opportunity of winning a pawn. But Capablanca has confidence in the passed pawn which he obtains. — RetiSimple and compelling. — AlekhineDecisive!


White sacrifices material in order to obtain the classical position with King on f6, pawn on g6, and Rook on h7, whereupon the black pawns tumble like ripe apples. — AlekhineIt is extremely instructive to see how Capablanca is no longer in the least concerned about material equality, but thinks only of supporting his passed pawn. — RetiIt is a frequently available finesse in such positions not to capture hostile pawns, but to pass them by in order to be protected in the rear against checks by the rook. — RetiAgain the simplest. Kf7 would not yet have been disastrous because of Rd8, etc. — AlekhineAfter exchanging rooks, White would win still more easily. — Alekhine

Capablanca’s management of the endgame gives the impression of being so natural that one easily forgets the difficulty of such precise play. The difficulty is chiefly psychological. In chess, as in life, one is so accustomed to place value on the material factors that it is not easy to conceive the idea of indulging in pawn sacrifices when there is so little available material. No one has ever played these endgames with such elegant ease as Capablanca- said Reti.



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