Havana-born, on the 19th of November 1888, José Raúl Capablanca was the second surviving son of an army officer. At four years old, he learned the moves of Chess by watching his father play. He once giggled during a game that his father was playing with a friend. When asked why he giggled, the young boy replied "because you moved your knight to a wrong square." Soon, his father took José to the Central Chess Club of Cuba in Havana, where they had to pile books on the chair so he could reach the Chess board.At the age of 11, he became the Chess Champion of Cuba in 1900 beating Juan Corzo. Capablanca declined to study Chess and he never read any Chess books or studied Chess openings. Yet, he won the World Championship in spite of this. He was possibly the greatest natural Chess player that ever lived. In 1905 at the age of 17 he entered the Columbia University and played at the Manhattan Chess Club and beat the club's Champion.In 1906 the World Chess Champion, Dr. Lasker, played a simultaneous exhibition there and Capablanca won an individual lightning game against him. In 1908, Capablanca went on a tour of the USA for the first time and broke all records both by results and the speed of his simultaneous play. He played 168 games in ten consecutive sessions before losing his first game. Altogether, his score was 703 wins, 19 draws, and 12 losses. In 1909, Capablanca shocked the Chess community World:
He played the American Champion Frank Marshall, and won 8-1, with 14 draws.Capablanca exploited some good opportunities early in his Chess career which strengthen his position on the Chess scene. His victory against Frank Marshall, which he won so convincingly, was a brilliant stepping stone into the Chess limelight.
Capablanca was invited to play in theSan Sebastian Tournament of 1911. This was historic for two reasons: 1). Only at the final hour was Jose Capablanca invited to the Tournament, (this was his first International Chess Tournament.) 2). Bernstein complained that such a weak player as Capablanca should not have been included.Capablanca not only defeated Bernstein in the first round, but won the Tournament! This made Capablanca the most serious contender to challenge Lasker's world title. In November 1911, Capablanca challenged the World champion Lasker. Lasker replied with 17 conditions. Some of these conditions were that the match should be for the 1st player to win six games, draws not counting, and to consist of no more than 30 games in total.If after 30 games, either play should lead by 3 point (e.g. 3:2, 2:1, or 1:0,) then the match should be declared a draw and Lasker would retain the title. Lasker would give four weeks notice for the date of the start of the match and two weeks notice if he decided to change the venue. The time limit to be 12 moves an hour, and the playing sessions to be no longer than two and a half hours. Capablanca didn't like some of the proposed conditions, and Lasker broke off and refused to renew negotiations.In 1913, he obtained a post in the Cuban Foreign Office, thus taking the pressure from him for the need to earn a living from playing Chess. He was simply to be a figurehead for his country, which he fitted the part very well. On Capablanca's way to the Consulate at St Petersburg, Capablanca did a European tour. He visited London, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Riga, Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev, and Vienna demonstrating an astonishing skill at simultaneous Chess, usually with a record crowd of spectators.Twenty four games were played against the best masters of Europe: Alekhine, Bernstein, Bogoljubow, Bogatirchuk, Levenfish, Duz Hotimir- sky, Mieses, Nimzovich, Reti, Salwe, Tartakower, Teichmann and others. At the St. Petersburg tournament of 1914, Dr. Lasker won the match, Capablanca came second, and was therefore, one of the five initial Chess Grandmasters named by Czar Nicholas. In the eight years between 1916 to 1924 the first game that José Raúl Capablanca lost was to Richard Reti at the great New York International Tournament of 1924.The loss to Reti was a game that went around the world. In 1920, Capablanca challenged Lasker again for a World championship match. Lasker not wanting to play, "resigned" his title to Capablanca, but the public wanted a match. Finally in 1921, the World championship match vs. Dr. Emanuel Lasker is held in Havana, Cuba. The match was scheduled for 30 games, but after 14 games, Dr. Lasker resigned the match on the grounds of ill-health. Jose Capablanca becomes the World Champion.At the Great Moscow Tournament in 1925, in a simultaneous exhibition, Capablanca won every game except a draw against a 12 year old boy who he told after the game, "One day you will be champion". That boy was Mikhail Botvinnik. Botvinnik not only beat Capablanca at AVRO 13 years later, but eventually did become World Champion. In 1927 the great non-studying Chess genius, Capablanca, lost his world championship title to the ever-studying Chess genius Dr. Alekhine.With a record breaking twenty five draws, Alekhine won six-four, it was the longest world championship match in the history of Chess. Although Jose Capablanca was the obviously entitled challenger to the world championship, Alekhine refused to play Capablanca and instead played Bogoljubov and Euwe for the title. Jose Capablanca lost only 36 games out of 567 in his whole career.He did not lose a single game from 1916 to 1924 and won 7, drew 35, and lost 6 world championship games, for a total score of 24½ points out of 48 games played. Capablanca never had a Chess set at home. On March 7, 1942, he suffered a stroke while analyzing a Chess game in the Manhattan Chess Club. He died the next day at Mount Sinai hospital, the same hospital that Emanuel Lasker died in a year earlier.Capablanca was buried with full honors in Havana, Cuba. General Batista, President of Cuba, took personal charge of the funeral arrangements. He was the shortest lived world champion, dieing at age 53 years, 109 days. He was world Champion for six years and was never given a chance for a re-match. His historical Elo rating has been calculated to be 2725. In 1951 Cuba issued a 25¢ stamp with a portrait of Capablanca on it. It was the first stamp issued which portrayed a Chess master.