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. One of the greatest players of all time, he was renowned for his exceptional endgame skill and speed of play. Due to his achievements in the chess world, mastery over the board and his relatively simple style of play he was nicknamed the “Human Chess Machine”.[1][2]

Capablanca

Capablanca became the World Chess Champion in 1921 by beating Emanuel Lasker.

In January 1920, Emanuel Lasker and Capablanca signed an agreement to play a World Championship match in 1921, noting that Capablanca was not free to play in 1920. Because of the delay, Lasker insisted that if he resigned the title, then Capablanca should become World Champion. Lasker had previously included in his agreement before World War I to play Akiba Rubinstein for the title a similar clause that if he resigned the title, it should become Rubinstein’s.[34] Lasker then resigned the title to Capablanca on June 27, 1920, saying, “You have earned the title not by the formality of a challenge, but by your brilliant mastery.” When Cuban enthusiasts raised $20,000 to fund the match provided it was played in Havana, Lasker agreed in August 1920 to play there, but insisted that he was the challenger as Capablanca was now the champion. Capablanca signed an agreement that accepted this point, and soon afterwards published a letter confirming it.[34]

The match was played in March–April 1921; Lasker resigned it after fourteen games, having lost four games and won none.[34] Reuben Fine and Harry Golombek attributed the one-sided result to Lasker’s being in mysteriously poor form.[28][35] Fred Reinfeld mentioned speculations that Havana’s humid climate weakened Lasker and that he was depressed about the outcome of World War I, especially as he had lost his life savings.[8] On the other hand, Vladimir Kramnik thought that Lasker played quite well and the match was an “even and fascinating fight” until Lasker blundered in the last game. Kramnik explained that Capablanca was twenty years younger, a slightly stronger player, and had more recent competitive practice.[36]

After the breakdown of his first attempt to negotiate a title match against Lasker (1911), Capablanca drafted rules for the conduct of future challenges, which were agreed by the other top players at the 1914 Saint Petersburg tournament, including Lasker, and approved at the Mannheim Congress later that year. The main points were: the champion must be prepared to defend his title once a year; the match should be won by whichever player first won six or eight games (the champion had the right to choose); and the stake should be at least £1,000 (worth about £347,000 or $700,000 in 2006 terms[33]).[31]

Following the controversies[which?] surrounding his 1921 match against Lasker, in 1922 world champion Capablanca proposed the “London Rules”: the first player to win six games would win the match; playing sessions would be limited to 5 hours; the time limit would be 40 moves in 2½ hours; the champion must defend his title within one year of receiving a challenge from a recognized master; the champion would decide the date of the match; the champion was not obliged to accept a challenge for a purse of less than US $10,000 (worth about $349,000 in 2006 terms[34]); 20% of the purse was to be paid to the title holder, and the remainder being divided, 60% going to the winner of the match, and 40% to the loser; the highest purse bid must be accepted. Alekhine, Bogoljubov, Maróczy, Réti, Rubinstein,Tartakower and Vidmar promptly signed them.[35]

The only match played under those rules was Capablanca vs Alekhine in 1927, although there has been speculation that the actual contract might have included a “two-game lead” clause.[36] Alekhine, Rubinstein and Nimzowitsch had all challenged Capablanca in the early 1920s but only Alekhine could raise the US $10,000 Capablanca demanded and only in 1927.[37] Capablanca was shockingly upset by the new challenger. Before the match, almost nobody gave Alekhine a chance against the dominant Cuban, but Alekhine overcame Capablanca’s natural skill with his unmatched drive and extensive preparation (especially deep opening analysis, which became a hallmark of all future grandmasters). The aggressive Alekhine was helped by his fearsome tactical skill, which complicated the game.

Immediately after winning, Alekhine announced that he was willing to grant Capablanca a return match provided Capablanca met the requirements of the “London Rules”.[36] Negotiations dragged on for several years, often breaking down when agreement seemed in sight.[22] Alekhine easily won two title matches against Efim Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934.

In 1935, Alekhine was unexpectedly defeated by the Dutch Max Euwe, an amateur player who worked as a mathematics teacher. Alekhine convincingly won a rematch in 1937. World War II temporarily prevented any further world title matches, and Alekhine remained world champion until his unexpected death in 1946.

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