Jose Raul Capablanca y Graupera was born on November 19, 1888 in Havana, Cuba. His father was a Spanish army officer and Jose was his second son. Jose learned chess at age 4 by watching his father play. He defeated his father the first time they played. At the age of 8, his father took him to the Havana Chess Club to meet stronger players. Capablanca did not take any chess lessons.
In 1901, when Jose was 12, he began an informal match with Cuban national champion Juan Corzo (age 28) and won, scoring 4 wins, 6 draws, and 3 losses. Capablanca’s only preparation was reading a chess book on chess endings that someone had given him.
In early 1902 at the age of 13, Jose played in the first Cuban national championship (won by Enrico Corzo) and took 4th place.
In 1904 Jose went to a private school in New York to learn English. In 1905, he passed with ease the entrance examinations and entered Columbia University in 1906 to study chemical engineering (and perhaps play professional baseball). He was selected as shortstop on the freshman team. Capablanca spent much of his time at the Manhattan Chess Club and played many games with the current world champion, Emanuel Lasker. Fifteen years later, Capablanca would defeat Lasker for the world championship.
In 1908 Capablanca’s patron withdrew his financial support because Capa was giving too much time to chess and not enough time to studies. Capablanca then attempted to live by means of chess.
In December, 1908 through February, 1909, Capablanca made a tour of the United States. In 10 exhibitions he won 168 games in a row before losing a game in Minneapolis. He played 602 games in 27 cities, scoring 96.4%.
In 1909 U.S. Champion Frank Marshall agreed to a match with Capablanca. Capa won with 8 wins, 14 draws, and 1 loss. Capa then went on a simultaneous tour and played 720 games, 686 wins, 20 draws, and 14 losses.
In 1910 Capablanca won the 32nd New York State championship with 6 wins and 1 draw.
In December 1910 through January 1911, he made another tour of the US. He then rode on a train for 23 hours straight to get back to New York to play in the New York State championship.
In 1911 he took 2nd place (behind Frank Marshall) in the 33rd New York State championship, with 8 wins, 3 draws, and 1 loss.
In March and April, 1911 Capablanca made his first European tour. He gave exhibitions in France and Germany.
In 1911 Capablanca was invited to San Sebastian, Spain and won a major tournament at his first attempt (the last person to do that was Pillsbury when he won Hastings 1895). He won 6, drew 7, and lost 1 ahead of Rubinstein and Schlechter. Before the tournament, Nimzovich protested that such an unknown player should play in this event. Capablanca then proceeded to beat Nimzovich in the first round. At age 23, Capablanca was now the 2nd strongest player in the world, after Emanuel Lasker.
Capablanca next challenged Lasker for the world championship. Lasker wanted the match limited to 30 games, first person winning 6 games would be world champion. Capablanca objected to the limits of 30 games and other conditions, so Lasker broke off the negotiations. It would be 10 more years before the two of them agreed to the conditions of a match.
In 1912 Capablanca published a chess magazine in Havana. It lasted until 1915.
In 1913 Capablanca took second (after Marshall) in a Havana tournament. Capablanca had the mayor of Havana clear the tournament room so that Capablanca could resign his game to Marshall without anyone seeing him resign.
Capablanca returned to New York and in July, 1913 went 11-0 in a New York tournament (Rice Tournament).
In September, 1913 Capablanca obtained a post in the Cuban Foreign Office. He was expected to be an ambassador-at-large for Cuba. His official title was “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipoteniary General from the Government of Cuba to the World at Large.”
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.
In 1914 Capablanca won a New York event with 11 straight wins.
In 1914 Capablanca took 2nd in the St Petersburg tournament behind Lasker, losing their individual game. Czar Nicholas II conferred the title “Grandmaster of Chess” on Capablanca and four others for the top five finishers. He was negotiating for a shot at the world championship title with Lasker when World War I broke out.
During World War I Capablanca stayed in New York, winning events there in 1915, 1916, and 1918.
In the New York 1916 event, Capablanca lost one game, to Chajes. He would not lose another chess game for 8 years.
The New York 1918 event saw the introduction of the famous Marshall Attack of the Ruy Lopez that Frank Marshall prepared against Capablanca. Capablanca won that game.
In 1919 Capablanca beat Boris Kostic of Hungary 5-0 in a match held in Havana. At Hastings 1919 he won with 10 wins and 1 draw.
In 1920 Capablanca wrote MY CHESS CAREER.
In June, 1920 Lasker resigned the title to Capablanca, but the public wanted a match. The record prize fund was $25,000. Even if he lost, Lasker would get $13,000 of the prize fund.
The world championship match began on March 15, 1921 in Havana. Capablanca won the match against Lasker with 4 wins and 10 draws. The match was scheduled for 30 games. Lasker resigned the match on the grounds of ill-health. Capablanca became the official 3rd world champion (1921-1927) in the history of chess.
In 1921 Capablanca wrote CHESS FUNDAMENTALS and a book on the world championship match.
Capablanca got married in Havana in December, 1921. He married Gloria Simoni Beautucourt. They had a son, Jose Raul in 1923 and a daughter, Gloria in 1925.
In 1922 Capablanca conducted some simultaneous exhibitions in the United States. His best performance was when he played 103 opponents in Cleveland, winning 102 games and drawing 1 game.
In 1922 Capablanca took 1st place in the 15th British Chess Federation championship in London with 11 wins and 4 draws, 1 1/2 points ahead of Alekhine (London, 1922).
In New York 1924 Capablanca took second (won by Lasker) with 10 wins, 9 draws, and 1 loss. The loss was to Richard Reti. It was his first loss of a game in 8 years.
In 1925 Capablanca gave a simultaneous exhibition in Moscow and won every game but one. He drew against a 12 year old and told the boy after the game, “One day you will be champion.” The boy was Mikhail Botvinnik.
In Moscow 1925 Capablanca took 3rd place behind Bogoljubov and Lasker, with 9 wins, 9 draws, and 2 losses. While in Moscow, Capablanca took part in a movie film called CHESS FEVER.
Capablanca won Lake Hopatcong, New York 1926 with 4 wins, 4 draws.
In 1927 Capablanca was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary at Large of the Cuban Republic.
In March, 1927 Capablanca won the New York International, 2 1/2 points ahead of Alekhine. Up to this time, Capablanca had only lost 4 games of the 158 match and tournament games he had played since 1914.
In September, 1927 Capablanca faced Alexander Alekhine for the world championship match in Buenos Aires. The stake money was $10,000 in gold. When it was over in November, Capablanca lost, winning 3 games, drawing 25 games, and losing 6 games. The entire match took place behind closed doors and lasted 73 days. There were no spectators or photographs. The opening of 32 of the 34 games were Queen’s Gambit Declined.
Capablanca settled in Paris after the match, trying to get a return match. Capablanca won Berlin 1928, 2nd at Bad Kissingen 1928 (behind Bogoljubov), 1st at Budapest 1928, 2nd at Carlsbad 1929 (behind Nimzovich), 1st at Barcelona 1929, 1st at Ramsgate 1929, and 2nd at Hastings 1930-1 (behind Euwe).
Alekhine avoided Capablanca’s challenge of a re-match and played the much weaker Efim Bogoljubov in 1929. Alekhine further avoided Capablanca by insisting that Capablanca had to put up $10,000 in gold. After the stock market crash, there were no backers for Capablanca.
In 1930-31 Capablanca took 2nd at Hastings. His only loss was to an illiterate player named Sultan Khan.
In 1931 Capablanca played Max Euwe in a match and won with 2 wins and 8 draws.
Capablanca won the New York 1931 tournament with 9 wins and 2 draws.
Capablanca took 4th place at Hastings 1934-5, and 4th place at Moscow 1935.
In 1935 he took 2nd at Margate (behind Reshevsky).
In 1936 he took 2nd at Margate (behind Flohr).
In 1936 Capablanca won at Moscow 1936 with 8 wins and 10 draws, one point ahead of Botvinnik. In August, 1936 he tied for first place at Nottingham with Botvinnik.
In 1937 he obtained a divorce from his first wife, whose family succeeded in having Capablanca demoted to the post of commercial attache.
In 1937 Capablanca tied for 3rd-4th at Semmering (won by Paul Keres).
In 1938 Capablanca married Olga Chagodayev, a Russian princess.
In 1938 Capablanca took 7th out of 8 places at AVRO in Amsterdam. He won 2 games, drew 8, and lost 4. He had suffered a slight stroke halfway through the event and was suffering from high blood pressure.
In Margate 1939 Capablanca tied for 2nd-3rd (won by Keres).
His last serious games were at the Buenos Aires Olympiad in 1939, where he played first board for the Cuban team. He had the best score for board one, with 7 wins and 9 draws.
On March 7, 1942 Jose Capablanca suffered a stroke at the Manhattan Chess Club while watching a skittles game. He died on March 8, 1942 at Mount Sinai hospital, the same hospital that Emanuel Lasker died in a year earlier. He was the shortest lived world champion, dieing at age 53 years, 109 days. He was buried with full honors in Havana. General Batista, President of Cuba, took personal charge of the funeral arrangements.
Capablanca won 7, drew 35, and lost 6 world championship games, for a total score of 24 1/2 points out of 48 games played. He was world champion for 6 years and was never given a chance for a re-match. His historical Elo rating has been calculated to be 2725.
Capablanca played over 700 tournament games winning over 71 percent of the time. He only lost 36 games in his entire life. Capablanca played over 1,200 games that have been recorded.
In 1951 Cuba issued a 25 cent stamp with a portrait of Capablanca on it. It was the first stamp issued which portrayed a chess master.
Capablanca proposed a new chess variant, played on a 10×10 board or a 10×8 board. He introduced two new pieces. The chancellor had the combined moves of a rook and knight (the piece could move like a rook or a knight). The other piece was the archbishop that had the combined moves of a bishop and knight.
– Bill Wall