Reports | March 08, 2012 20:27

A small Capablanca tribute

A small Capablanca tribute

José Raul Capablanca passed away exactly 70 years ago today. In this small tribute we'd like to point out a 1939 interview with Capablanca, translated by chess historian Edward Winter. The interview was originally published in the Buenos Aires magazine El Gráfico in 1939 and reprinted on pages 103-107 of Homenaje a Capablanca (Havana, 1943).

In the interview, the third World Champion speaks quite favorably about Emanuel Lasker and Mikhail Botvinnik and also mentions Alexander Alekhine and Paul Keres. The Cuban also makes clear that he felt he was at his best in 1918, three years before he won the world title in his match against Lasker. He blamed his failure at the AVRO 1938 tournament to high blood pressure problems.

A sample:

Amongst the new talents there are two who stand out more as great masters than the others: Botvinnik and, on a secondary level, Keres. Also Alekhine, of course; but he is not new; he is old like me. Keres plays admirably well; his sense of fantasy is enormous, his imagination fiery. But his judgment is unsteady. (...) Old Lasker, however, was astonishing in the sureness of his judgment. When a position was submitted to him, he examined it for a while and then, rapidly, without wasting time analyzing, he would state, “White is better” or “Black is better” or “It is a draw”, and he was not mistaken. t is difficult to judge oneself. Nonetheless, the general opinion of masters is that the precision and speed of my chess judgment were superior to Lasker’s. In chess one can lose with age the strength and fullness of one’s vision, sureness in the order of one’s moves, resistance to fatigue, etc., but one never loses one’s judgment, and I imagine I still possess it.

You can read the full interview here.

Capablanca passed away on March 8th, 1942, in the early morning, in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The night before he had collapsed while present in the Manhattan Chess Club. The cause of death was given as "a cerebral haemorrhage provoked by hypertension".

Alexander 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, who had died in the same hospital only a year earlier, once said:

I have known many chess players, but only one chess genius: Capablanca.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Anonymous's picture

Alekhine saying sth nice about Capa...Give me a break, what a hypocrite, he chickened out to play a second match with Capa, he knew he was below Capa's level

Niima's picture

Quite a categorical point of view about a murky historical subject...

Jarvis's picture

I just gotta show some love here; such an amusing reply!

Rama G's picture

If Euwe had did to Alekhine what Alekhine did to Capablanca, that is refuse to give him a rematch, then Alekhine's reputation would not be the same. Fischer avoided all worries by refusing to defend his title.

sligunner's picture

Alekhine, in the Buenos Aires match, had shown he was a far better match player. I don't think 'chickened out' is a fair assessment of the machinations of the (never played) rematch. I think it was to do with money.

Anthony's picture

Capablanca was none too eager for a rematch with Lasker either........

stevefraser's picture

Please cite a source for this...I remember reading that at the end of the match in which Lasker lost the world title that Capa was simple too good.

Anthony's picture


Lasker was broke and came to Havanna badly prepared and facing worse conditions. He was a wreck after the match, playing in 40+ centigrade temperatures, which was difficult for him as a German Jew.

You'd have to ask Edward Winter for the details but there are several quotes to suggest that Capa did not relish the idea of a rematch, but I'm not too well versed in chess history so I wouldn't be able to tell what kind of negotiations, if any, were going on at the time.

Anonymous's picture

Why is it difficult for German Jews in particular to play in 40+ C temperatures? Because they are accustomed to living in colder climates (and if so why not state simply: German) or because they are Germans or Jews or both?

stevefraser's picture


Simaginfan's picture

At first I was skeptical about the climate factor, but then I saw a tv documentary about a ship full of German Jewish emigres during ww2. They were forced to dock for days in Cuba, and found the climate unbearable. At the time lasker was in bad health, and played without any preparation of any kind. The result was a forgone conclusion in my view. The biggest problem arranging matches with capablanca was the so called London rules, which contained prohibitive financial conditions.

Anthony's picture

Lasker was a Jew who lived in Germany. There is nothing controversial that, is there?

Had he been living in Havana all the time I would have said a Jew from Cuba. He probably would have been more accustomed to the climate then.

stevefraser's picture

Thanks for the clarification...I do remember Lasker saying the weather in Havana was a factor.

stevefraser's picture

A nice interview with chess's greatest natural genius (Botvinnik).

noyb's picture

On the subject of cowardly ducking of rematches, how about Kramnik...?!

stevefraser's picture

Like Petrosian, Kramnik plays not to lose, rather than to win....So different than Fischer and Kasparov.

Paul Janse's picture

The photograph is a still from the Russian film "Chess fever" from 1925, by the great director Pudovkin. It is a kind of romantic chess comedy, with the Moscow 1925 tournament as a background. The film has images from the real tournament and Capablanca also plays a role in the story itself. Very much worth watching. It is a silent film, so do not worry about the Russian. It lasts about half an hour and can be viewed on TouTube.

jadoubeavich's picture

nice of chess vibes to do this on capas anniversary , showing respect for the old masters

Matt's picture

What a genius Capa, up there with Fischer and Kasparov.

Rama G's picture

Anthony, Lasker's disposition may explain the lopsided match score but he was by no means a favorite to win the match in any case. Considering both players at their prime, Capa in 1918 (according to him) and Lasker (I don't have the information about his peak years handy), the top masters of the day (including Lasker) felt that Capablanca was superior (but maybe not by much). Lasker's quotes about Capablanca speak for themselves.

However Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine and Botvinnik were all in the same class - that of "great masters" as Capa put it. Also World Champions not eager to play the strongest opposition is par for the course and although Lasker was willing, he would demand ridiculous conditions like requiring Capa to win by 2 points (1911) or dirt-poor Rubinstein (in 1912) to come up with the equivalent of $194,000 in 2006 money. Things like this are one of the good reasons for FIDE.

Anonymous's picture

Botvinnik is hardly in the same league with Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine.

Rama G's picture

Maybe not but Capablanca still felt he was "great".

"Amongst the new talents there are two who stand out more as great masters than the others: Botvinnik and, on a secondary level, Keres. Also Alekhine, of course; but he is not new; he is old like me."


Anonymous's picture

Of course all these are great masters, and Botvinnik may have contributed to chess in general more than any other grandmaster in history. But strictly as a player he is inferior to Capa, Lasker or Alekhine and probably he wasn't the best player even among his contemporary fellow soviet grandmasters. And Capa's statement that among the youngest players he was the most promising talent may be correct, but it doesn't necessarily mean that Capa considered Botvinnik at the same level as Lasker or himself.

Rama G's picture

Well I will have to agree with you, as a player in his prime I don't think he was equal to Lasker, Alekhine or Capablanca in their prime (although he was clearly better than the aged Lasker and unhealthy Capablanca of 1938. Also, I don't think that Capablanca considered any player ever equal to the Capablanca of 1918!

However I think Botvinnik deserves special praise because 1. people tend to minimize him even though Capablanca thought he was a "great master" and 2. he trained Karpov and Kasparov and a generation of Soviet players whose books Fischer felt were important enough to learn Russian to read. Capablanca on the other hand (even though he is my favorite) wrote about chess in a way that I was not able to derive much benefit from.

Interesting enough, even though Fischer appreciated Capablanca, he thought that Morphy was the best (from a given position).

Simaginfan's picture

The full lasker - capablanca negotiations from 1911 onwards are widely available, including the fact that in 1921 capable was actually the champion. Arranging matches in those days was an almost impossible business. Lasker eventually tired of the whole thing, and resigned the title in capablancas favor. Capablanca accepted the title, despite having earlier ridiculed the idea. we shouldn't be too critical from this distance!!

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