Posts Tagged ‘Jose Raul Capablanca’

Today is the 130th anniversary of the birth of my favorite chess player, the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942). Happy birthday, old man! Capa was so talented, so natural a player, so calm under stress, that he could play a clear, elegant game while going over Niagra Falls inside a barrel.

Capablanca played more than 500 tournament games in his career, lost fewer than one in 10, spent most of a decade not losing anything, and was world champion from 1921 through 1927. Beginning in 1913, the Cuban government made him a permanent, roving emissary of goodwill, which means he spent the next 30 years playing chess para la Gloria de Cuba.

He also liked baseball.

If you want to learn how to play chess, you might start with a good chess book. Capablanca wrote two chess books for beginners, A Primer of Chess and Chess Fundamentals, but neither is really for beginners. They assume you know too much. You’d do better with Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess or the books at the top of this excellent list.

A book by a U.S. master from the 1930s, I.A. Horowitz, jump-started my chess career. If my chess career didn’t jump very far, well, that’s my fault, not Horowitz’s.

Horowitz.jpg
Published 1951, reprinted 1968. I won this copy in a tournament in 1970. I would rather have had this book than a Pontiac GTO. My parents would’ve made me give that back, anyway.

You won’t find How to Win in the Chess Openings on any greatest-hits list, and God knows the writing can be as turbulent as the water at the bottom of Niagra Falls (Horowitz made a living off the board by churning out chess books), but this is the book that acquainted me with all the concepts that Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana employ in each game. I just opened it and realized that it’s in such bad shape that I probably shouldn’t open it anymore, but when I did the memories jumped right off the page.

Fabio and Mag Wheels played to their eighth consecutive draw today. Do they need a good chess book? Hell no, they’re already playing in a higher league. Fabio, who had the better position, made a microscopic error with his pawn. Mag Wheels pounced like my lucky dog Lucky on a biscuit that fell from my pocket and just like that the position was equal.

Fabio has four games left to make something happen. If the match is tied after game 12, we head into the lightning round. First they’ll play some rapid chess (each player gets 25 minutes for all of his moves). If four games of rapid chess doesn’t decide anything, they’ll switch to blitz (5 minutes per side).

Guess who is the reigning world champion of rapid and blitz? Guess who sacrificed his queen two years ago in a rapid-chess tie-breaker to make his Russian challenger’s cranium explode and keep his crown? Do I have to say his name? I do? OK! Magnus Carlsen!

Caruana is better than average at rapid and blitz. In fact, he’s in the world top 20 in each. But that’s not first, is it?

Stay calm. That’s what Capa would do.