Jose Capablanca - Chess History Part 8 (Overview of Capablanca and Chess)

Apr 30, 2008, 11:22 AM |



In his entire chess career, Capablanca suffered fewer than 40 losses in serious games. He was undefeated for over eight years of active, world-class competition, from February 10, 1916, when he lost from a superior position against Oscar Chajes; to March 21, 1924, when he lost to Richard Réti in the New York International tournament. This was an unbeaten streak of 63 games, and included the strong London tournament of 1922, as well as the world championship match against Lasker.

In fact, only Marshall, Lasker, Alekhine and Rudolf Spielmann won two or more serious games with the mature Capablanca, but their overall lifetime scores were minus (Capablanca beat Marshall +20 -2 =28, Lasker +6 -2 =16, Alekhine +9 -7 =33), except for Spielmann who was level (+2 -2 =8). Of top players, only Keres had a narrow plus score against him (+1 -0 =5), and that win was when Capablanca was 50 and Keres 22.

The site, which specializes in historical chess ratings, rates Capablanca's three-year peak, from January 1919 to December 1921, at 2857, the third highest of all time, just behind Gary Kasparov and Bobby Fischer. Capablanca debuted on the chessmetrics ratings at #3 in the world in May 1909, and he stayed continuously in the top ten until September 1940 (except for a short two-month period, January and February 1935, when he was coming off a stretch of inactivity). He was #1 in the world from April 1919 until December 1923, as well as for several other periods, totaling 81 months. Capablanca was ranked as the #5 player of all time, in the statistical study of top players, Warriors of the Mind, written by Nathan Divinsky and Raymond Keene.

Boris Spassky, world champion from 1969-1972, considered Capablanca the best player of all time.[13]

Capablanca loved simple positions and endgames, and his judgment of positions was so good that most attempts to attack him came to grief without any apparent defensive efforts on his part. However he could play great tactical chess when necessary — most famously in the 1918 Manhattan Chess Club Championship tournament (in New York) where Marshall sprung a deeply-analyzed "prepared variation" on him and he refuted it while playing under the normal time limit (although ways have since been found to strengthen the Marshall Attack).[14][15] He was also very capable of using aggressive tactical play to drive home a positional advantage provided he considered it safe and the most efficient way to win, for example against Spielmann in the 1927 New York tournament.[16][17]

A study found that Capablanca was the most accurate of all the World Champions when compared with computer analysis,[18] although this study received some criticism.[19] For more detail see Comparing top chess players throughout history.

Capablanca founded no school per se, but his style was very influential in the games of two world champions Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. Mikhail Botvinnik also wrote how much he learned from Capablanca, and pointed out that Alekhine received much schooling from him in positional play, before their fight for the world title made them bitter enemies.

Botvinnik regarded Capablanca's book Chess Fundamentals as undoubtedly the best chess book ever written. In it, Capablanca pointed out that while the bishop was usually stronger than the knight, queen and knight was usually better than queen and bishop – the bishop merely mimics the queen's diagonal move, while the knight can immediately reach squares the queen cannot. Botvinnik credits Capablanca as the first with this insight. (However, modern research does not support this.[20])

Earlier, Capablanca had received some criticism, mainly in Britain, for the allegedly conceited description of his accomplishments in his first book, My Chess Career. So Capablanca took the unprecedented step of including virtually all of his tournament and match defeats up to that time in Chess Fundamentals, together with an instructive group of his victories.

However, J. du Mont, in his foreword to Golombek's book Capablanca's 100 Best Games, wrote that he knew Capablanca well and could vouch that he was not conceited. Rather, critics should learn the difference between the merely gifted and the towering genius of Capablanca, and the contrast between a British tendency towards false modesty and the Latin and American tendency to say "I played this game as well as it could be played" if he honestly thought that it was correct. Du Mont also said that Capablanca was rather sensitive to criticism. And the chess historian Edward Winter documented a number of examples of self-criticism in My Chess Career.