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José Raúl Capablanca | Biography: 30 Interesting Facts (the Chess Machine)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Capablanca is widely considered to be among the greatest chess players in all history. He was the World Champion for six years, and his endgame technique is still studied today. He has inspired many subsequent world champions, including Bobby Fischer.

José Raúl Capablanca was a chess prodigy who beat prominent players from an early age and later became the World Champion. He had an astounding 8-year winning streak. In addition, the chess champion authored books about chess and delivered radio lectures in Spanish about playing chess.

Capablanca was a trailblazer and one of the most natural chess talents ever. To find out more about this chess prodigy, read on!

These are 30 interesting facts about José Raúl Capablanca:

1. Capablanca Earned The Nickname “Human Chess Machine”

The chess champion’s ability to quickly and accurately assess the possibilities on the board was akin to that of a computer, and he, therefore, became known as the “Human Chess Machine.”

2. Capablanca, The Chess Champion, Was Born In Cuba

The chess prodigy was born on November 19, 1888, in the Cuban capital of Havana.

3. Capablanca Learned To Play Chess By Age Four

According to an interview with Capablanca conducted in 1932, Capablanca learned chess by watching his father play it and could play the game by age four. 

4. Capablanca Played At The Havana Chess Club At Age Four

Although the chess prodigy first played at the Havana Chess Club at age 4, he was only taken back there at age 8. Capablanca’s father was apprehensive of too much chess practice affecting his son’s health after consultation with a doctor. 

5. Capablanca Beat Prominent Players At Chess From Age Five

Polish-born French chess master Jean Taubenhaus was apparently beaten by 5-year-old Capablanca when he visited Havana. In 1901, at age 13, Capablanca narrowly defeated reigning Cuban champion Juan Corzo in a match that was part of a series of exhibition games.

6. Capablanca Caught The Attention Of The Reigning World Chess Champion

In 1906, at the Manhattan Chess Club, Capablanca played a 19-board simultaneous exhibition. In a stunning result, he won 16 games, losing 2 and drawing 1 over 2 hours and 45 minutes. 

This feat was witnessed by Emanuel Lasker, who was the reigning World Champion; he was impressed by the speed of Capablanca’s moves.

7. Chess Champion Capablanca Studied At Columbia University

Capablanca pursued mechanical engineering at Columbia University before dropping out in 1908 to devote himself entirely to chess.

8. Capablanca Joined The Manhattan Chess Club in 1906

Soon after joining the Manhattan Chess Club, he was considered the club’s strongest player.

9. Capablanca Was Thought Of As The Fastest Chess Player

“The Chess Machine” was considered one of the fastest chess players in the world from 1907 to the mid-1930s.

10. Capablanca Played Informal Chess Games Against Lasker

Capablanca won a rapid chess game at the Manhattan Chess Club against Lasker. 

11. The Chess Champion Capablanca Played Baseball

Capablanca was also a sports enthusiast and especially loved baseball and tennis. In fact, he enjoyed baseball so much that he tried to play for a semi-professional summer league in New York. However, a shoulder injury made this short-lived.

12. In 1909, Capablanca Embarked On A Chess Tour

The chess champion traveled to 27 US cities for his simultaneous exhibition tour. He won a staggering 168 consecutive games; out of 720 total games, he won 686 and drew 20. 

13. Capablanca Defeated US Chess Champion Frank Marshall

In 1909, Capablanca played an unofficial match with a $600 prize against reigning US champion Frank Marshall, who was then one of the 10 ten players in the world. He beat him with 8 wins, 14 draws, and 1 loss.

14. Capablanca Played In The 1911 Chess Tournament

Capablanca was invited to the 1911 San Sebastian prestigious international master’s tournament, won 6, lost 1, and drew 7, ahead of players like Rubinstein and Nimzowitsch.

15. Capablanca Was Seen As The Second Best Chess Player

Emanuel Lasker was still considered the strongest, but at age 22, Capablanca became a strong competitor for the German chess player.

16. In 1911, Chess Champion Capablanca Challenged Lasker

Lasker made many demands for Capablanca to be able to challenge him for the world championship. However, Capablanca refused, and the negotiations turned sour.

17. Chess Champion Capablanca Became A Diplomat

In 1913, Capablanca secured a spot in the Cuban Foreign Office. His first task was to compete in a St. Petersburg competition. He resigned in 1914 after not being transferred to Buenos Aires as requested. He would be reinstated in 1927. 

18. Capablanca Raised Money For The Havana Chess Club

After the treasury money was embezzled, the Havana Chess Club faced dire straits. However, Capablanca saved the day with simultaneous exhibition fundraisers.

19. Chess Champion Capablanca Was Stranded in South America

WWI broke out while Capablanca was en route to Buenos Aires. He nevertheless played in several exhibition games in South America. Eventually, the Argentine Minister for Foreign Affairs made a concession for him to return to America on an Argentine naval ship.

20. For Eight Years, Capablanca Didn’t Lose A Chess Game

From 1916 to 1924, Capablanca didn’t lose even one game. He lost to Richard Reti in 1924 after not playing chess for 15 months.

21. Capablanca Gave Chess Lessons To Only One Student 

That student was Maria Teresa Mora, and she, in 1922, became the first female winner of the Cuban Chess Championship.

22. Newspapers Hailed Capablanca As The World Chess Champion

After Capablanca’s win at Hastings, he was considered by some to be The World Champion.

23. Lasker Tried To Renounce His Chess Title To Capablanca

Although Lasker wrote a letter to resign his title to Capablanca and Capablanca began calling himself World Champion, the public demanded a match. So much so that an excessive amount of money was raised to entice the players to a game.

24. Capablanca Later Married A Spectator

One of the spectators at the World Championships was Gloria Simoni Betancourt. He met her after the game, and eight months later, they were married! The couple had two children.

25. Capablanca Became Chess World Champion In 1921

Capablanca beat Lasker with 4 wins and 10 draws. Lasker had held the title since 1894.

26. Capablanca Authored Several Books About Chess

Capablanca published My Chess Career and Chess Fundamentals, which were translated into Russian in 1924.

27. Capablanca Lost His Chess World Title In 1927

In 1927, commentators were unanimous in thinking Capablanca would win. Much to their surprise, however, Alexander Alekhine took the title at the championship match in Buenos Aires that year.

28. Capablanca Later Married A Russian Princess

In 1934, he met Olga Chagodaef at a party in New York and married her in 1938 after divorcing his first wife.

29. Capablanca Gave Chess Lectures Over The Radio

Capablanca presented a series of chess lectures in Spanish, which were broadcasted in Latin America.

30. Capablanca Passed Away At The Manhattan Chess Club

In March 1942, Capablanca suffered a stroke while watching a game. He died a day later in hospital.

In Closing

Emanuel Lasker rightly said about the chess champion: “I have known many chess players, but only one chess genius: Capablanca.” His book, Chess Fundamentals, was considered by Mikhail Botvinnik as the best book on the subject. Capablanca’s effect on the world of chess was profound.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.