The Best of All Time (Part 2)

The Best of All Time (Part 2)

| 39 | Chess Players

His "First Loss"

At the New York 1924 chess tournament after beginning with four draws, Capablanca’s defeat at the hands of Richard Reti in the fifth round was his first loss in serious competition in eight years. Capablanca recovered with an impressive performance over his next 15 games to finish in second with a score of 14.5 out of 20 (+10 -1 =9), 1.5 points behind Emanuel Lasker, and 2 ahead of third-placed Alekhine.

He made another bad start at the Moscow 1925 chess tournament, and could only fight back to third place, two points behind Bogoljubov and a half point behind Emanuel Lasker. Capablanca then won at Lake Hopatcong, 1926 with 6 points out of 8.

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


Match with Alekhine

Since Capablanca had won the New York 1927 chess tournament overwhelmingly and had never lost a game to Alekhine, the Cuban was regarded by most pundits as the clear favorite in their World Chess Championship 1927 match. However, Alekhine won the match, played from September 16 to November 29 of 1927 at Buenos Aires, by 6 wins, 3 losses, and 25 draws, the longest formal World Championship match until the contest in 1984–85 between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. Alekhine's victory surprised almost the entire chess world. After Capablanca's death, Alekhine expressed surprise at his own victory, since in 1927 he had not thought he was superior to Capablanca, and he suggested that Capablanca had been over-confident. Capablanca entered the match with no technical or physical preparation, while Alekhine got himself into good physical condition, and had thoroughly studied Capablanca's play. According to Kasparov, in a second match he would have bet on Capablanca, as in the first match, if he had taken it more earnestly.

After the Match

Alekhine never played in the same tournament as Capablanca, until Nottingham 1936, after Alekhine had lost the world title to Euwe the preceding year. Meanwhile, Capablanca put together a top tournament record in the next years. In 1928 he finished second in Bad Kissingen with 7 of 11, first in Budapest with 7 of 9, and first in Berlin with 8.5 of 12. In 1929 he finished second in Carlsbad with 14.5 of 21, first in Budapest with 10.5 of 13, first in Barcelona with 13.5 of 14 and first in Hasting with 6.5 of 9. In 1930 Capablanca finished second in Hasting with 6.5 of 9 behind Euwe, and in  1931, he won a match (+2 -0 =8) against Euwe. On 6 December 1933, Capablanca won all his games in one of the Manhattan Chess Club’s rapid chess tournaments, finishing 2 points ahead of Samuel Reshevsky and Reuben Fine.


A Renewed Ambition

Olga, Capablanca's second wife, wrote that she met him in the late spring of 1934; by late October the pair was deeply in love, and Capablanca recovered his ambition to prove he was the world's best player. In 1938 he divorced his first wife and then married Olga on October 20, 1938, about a month before the AVRO tournament.


Capa in love.jpg

During this period, in 1936, Capablanca took first places in Moscow with 13 of 18 and Nottingham with 10 of 14. But in the AVRO event, he suffered from poor health and finished seventh. Neither he, nor anyone else, was able to obtain a match with Alekhine after the latter regained his title from Euwe in 1937; so Capablanca did not get the chance to prove again that he was the world's best player. 

On 7 March 1942, Capablanca was observing a skittles game and chatting with friends at the Manhattan Chess Club in New York City, when he asked for help removing his coat, and collapsed shortly afterwards. He died the next morning at Mount Sinai Hospital, where on year earlier, his great rival Emanuel Lasker had died. The cause of death was given as "a cerebral hemorrhage provoked by hypertension." Capablanca was given a public funeral in Havana's Colón Cemetery on March 15, 1942.


Other Greats on Capablanca

His bitter rival Alekhine wrote in a tribute to Capablanca: "Capablanca was snatched from the chess world much too soon. With his death, we have lost a very great chess genius whose like we shall never see again."

Emanuel Lasker once said: "I have known many chess players, but only one chess genius: Capablanca."

Karpov: "The ideal in chess can only be a collective image, but in my opinion, it is Capablanca who came closest to that image."

Najdorf: "Me and Botvinnik, we played with almost all world champions, and both agree, Capablanca is the best of all times."




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