Capablanca Letter to 1st FIDE president

May 7, 2008, 1:25 PM |


Another Interesting letter by Capablanca...


At the end of 1927, the chess world had a new champion. Alexander Alekhine had 
defeated Jose Raul Capablanca at Buenos Aires. A few months later, Capa sent the 
following letter to the president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE). 
FIDE had been formed just four years before and Alexander Rueb was its first 
president...  (The Russell Collection #424) From: J.R. Capablanca To: A. Rueb 
Date: February 10, 1928  Dear Dr. Rueb,  On my arrival in New York Dr. Lederer 
showed me some of the correspondence he had with you, and asked me to write 
you a letter giving you my views on the question of the Championship, and with 
modifications in the rules in the light of the experience of the last Championship 
match in B.A.  In regard to the Championship Match I wish first of all to call your 
attention to the fact that before I won the Championship there were no fixed 
rules for it, nor were there any specific obligations on the part of the champion 
to play a match unless he felt like it.  As soon as I won the title, although there 
was not at the time any international body which could make or enforce any rules, 
I myself took upon me the responsibility of drawing up a set of rules which would 
put the Champion under the obligation to defend his title under certain conditions. 
Evidently that move on my part was not of any personal advantage to me, but 
rather to the contrary. In drawing up these rules I looked upon the matter from a 
purely objective point of view. I must state here that I submitted these rules to 
Mr. Walter Penn Shipley of Philadelphia for his personal approval, and that his 
answer was that in the light of previous experience he had no objection to the 
making of these rules except one which he modified slightly in the champion's 
favor. He furthermore added that he thought, for the time being, that no better 
rules could be made. This is evidence in itself of the spirit that I put into the 
making of those rules.  In the light of the last experience at B.A. I can only think 
of two modifications that should be made. These modifications are as follows:  
A limit must be put to the number of games to be played in a  match, and in my 
opinion the limit should be sixteen games. Thus the rule modified would read: 
The match should be of six games up, but if after sixteen games no player has 
won six games, the player having won the greatest number of points shall win 
the match and the championship. Of course in case of an even number of points 
the match is to be declared a draw and the champion retains his title.  The second 
modification is with regard to the time limit which I think should be changed to 
30 moves in two hours with two 4-hour sessions a day, with an intervening lapse 
for food and rest of about 1 1/2 or 2 hours, with the provision that no analysis of 
the games be made during the lapse under penalty of forfeiting the game.  The 
reasons for these modifications are that without a limit to the number of games 
it is quite possible that the match may never be finished, or that it may last so 
long as to make the result merely dependant on the physical and mental endurance 
of the players. In other words, it would depend on who would be exhausted first, 
and not on who was the better player. This does not take into consideration the 
cost of the match, which evidently is greater the longer it lasts.  The time limit 
should be changed because the technical knowledge of the openings and the 
general knowledge of the game is so far advanced that with playing time of only 
five hours practically every game comes to an adjournment or can be made to 
come to an adjournment, and as a consequence the practical result will often 
depend, not on the actual ability of the players to win the games over the board, 
but more so on his ability to analyze for hours a given position, (in which analysis 
he may easily obtain help from other players or from books), combined with his 
capacity to stand work for an unlimited number of hours without impairing his 
capacity for work the following day.  No other condition, to my mind, should 
be modified; nor would it be practical to play a championship match more than 
once a year. Even under these modifications, giving a definite limit of sixteen 
games, a championship match is an affair of about 2 1/2 or 3 months according 
to the distance to be travelled by the players. Certainly a preparation of four 
weeks before a championship match should not be too much for the majority 
of players. The sixteen games will take one month to play, making thus already 
two months. Furthermore the players, or one of them at least, will need eight 
or ten days to get accustomed to the climate and food of the country where the 
match is going to take place. If you add to all this the time employed in travel, 
which may vary from twenty-four hours to twenty-five or thirty days, you will 
see that a championship match would be, as I stated, an affair lasting from 2 1/2 
to 3 months.  In this account no consideration is taken of the fact that after a 
hard match the players may be so exhausted as to require a certain amount of 
time in which to rest up, thus making their usefulness void as far as earning 
powers are concerned.  I am making all these considerations on account of the 
matter of the purse, which to my mind, not only is not excessive for a championship 
match, but rather to the contrary. Of course, I realize that in Europe at the 
present moment (largely because of the after-war conditions) it would be difficult 
to raise a purse of that size, but you must consider that such a thing is only 
temporary, and that when a man gets to the top of his profession throughout 
the world a fee of some seven thousand dollars, which is all that a champion 
can win in a match, cannot, by any manner or means be considered excessive 
for some three months of his time, the more so as he is not able to win that 
much but once a year, and that even only in theory, as in actual practice he 
does not earn it but once every two or three years at best. You must consider 
furthermore that the standard of living in some of the countries on this side of 
the ocean is so much higher than in Europe that that sum means practically 
nothing.  In fact under actual circumstances, and this you know as well as anybody 
else, no chess master has been able through chess to obtain sufficient money so 
as to make his standard of living of any consequence. The very few who are able 
to live on a more or less higher standing do so through sources of money made 
totally outside of chess. If you will take the trouble to consider the mode of living 
of the large majority of the so-called grand masters of chess you must come to 
the conclusion that there is no other enterprise in life in which men who excel 
to such an extent in their profession must live and do live under such standards. 
It is the obligation of the men governing the affairs of chess to put forward their 
best efforts to raise the standard of living of the few men able to excel so much 
in that profession, and not, as is intended, to reduce their earning capacity, thus 
lowering this standard instead of raising it.  You must not lose track of the fact 
that it is only through the ability of these very few men that chess has reached 
the high standard of the present day and that should conditions become such that 
only men engaged in other walks of life can occasionally devote their attentions 
to chess, chess would cease to advance and would finally deteriorate.  Do not 
overlook that the great masterpieces of chess have been produced only by the 
 very best players of their time, never by dilettantes and that it is to those 
masterpieces that the chess lovers at large look forward.  I am forwarding a copy 
of this letter to Dr. Alekhine, Mr. Kuhns and Dr. Lederer.  
With the kindest regards, I am, 
Very sincerely yours, 
/signed/ J.R. Capablanca