Athletes Chess

José Raúl Capablanca

José Raúl Capablanca was a Cuban chess player who was world chess champion from 1921 to 1927.

A chess prodigy, he is considered by many one of the greatest players of all time, widely renowned for his exceptional endgame skill and speed of play.

  • Full name: José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera
  • Profession: Chess Player
  • Born: 19 November 1888, Havana, Cuba
  • Died: 8 March 1942, New York, New York, United States
  • Nationality: Cuban
  • World Champion: 1921–1927
  • Spouse: Olga Clark (m. 1938–1942), Gloria Simoni Betancourt (m. 1921–1938)

About José Raúl Capablanca

Capablanca was born on 19 November 1888 in Havana, Cuba. He was the second surviving son of a Spanish army officer.

According to Capablanca, he learned to play chess at the age of four by watching his father play with friends, pointed out an illegal move by his father, and then beat his father.

At the age of eight he was taken to Havana Chess Club, which had hosted many important contests, but on the advice of a doctor he was not allowed to play frequently.

Between November and December 1901, he narrowly beat the Cuban Chess Champion, Juan Corzo, in a match.

However, in April 1902 he came in fourth out of six in the National Championship, losing both his games with Corzo.

In 1905 Capablanca easily passed the entrance examinations for Columbia University in New York City, where he wished to play for Columbia’s strong baseball team, and soon was selected as shortstop on the freshman team.

In the same year he joined the Manhattan Chess Club, and was soon recognized as the club’s strongest player.

He was particularly dominant in rapid chess, winning a tournament ahead of the reigning World Chess Champion, Emanuel Lasker, in 1906.

He represented Columbia on top board in intercollegiate team chess. In 1908 he left the university to concentrate on chess.

According to Columbia University, Capablanca enrolled at Columbia’s School of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry in September, 1910, to study chemical engineering.

Later, his financial support was withdrawn because he preferred playing chess to studying engineering. He left Columbia after one semester to devote himself to chess full-time.


When he was about to be 13 years old, he beat Cuban champion Juan Corzo in a match on 17 November 1901.

His victory over Frank Marshall in a 1909 match earned him an invitation to the 1911 San Sebastian tournament, which he won ahead of players such as Akiba Rubinstein, Aron Nimzowitsch and Siegbert Tarrasch.

Over the next several years, Capablanca had a strong series of tournament results. After several unsuccessful attempts to arrange a match with then world champion Emanuel Lasker, Capablanca finally won the title from Lasker in 1921. Capablanca was undefeated from 10 February 1916 to 21 March 1924, a period that included the world championship match with Lasker.

Capablanca lost the title in 1927 to Alexander Alekhine, who had never beaten Capablanca before the match. Following unsuccessful attempts to arrange a rematch over many years, relations between them became bitter.

Capablanca continued his excellent tournament results in this period but withdrew from serious chess in 1931. He made a comeback in 1934, with some good results, but also showed symptoms of high blood pressure. His last major tournament was the AVRO tournament of 1938, where he performed disappointingly. He died in 1942 of a brain haemorrhage.

Capablanca excelled in simple positions and endgames; Bobby Fischer described him as possessing a “real light touch”.

He could play tactical chess when necessary, and had good defensive technique.

He wrote several chess books during his career, of which Chess Fundamentals was regarded by Mikhail Botvinnik as the best chess book ever written.

Capablanca preferred not to present detailed analysis but focused on critical moments in a game. His style of chess was influential in the play of future world champions Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov.