José Raúl Capablanca — A Chess Biography

Miguel A. Sánchez

Reviewer: John Donaldson
568 pages (hardcover)

The many admirers of the third world champion, José Raúl Capablanca, have a treat in store with the recent publication of a massive new work on the Cuban great who spent much of his life in the United States.

José Raúl Capablanca: A Chess by Miguel A. Sánchez with a Foreword by Andy Soltis is a huge book in every sense of the word from its length to the wide range of material it covers. Part games collection and part biography there are few aspects of Capablanca’s life it doesn’t cover.

The author, Miguel A. Sanchez, a well-known chess journalist and historian in his native Cuba who now lives in the United States, knows his subject well having spent a lifetime studying his subject (he wrote an early two-volume work Capablanca, leyenda y realida published almost 40 years ago). His many contacts with Capablanca’s descendants have yielded much gold and his deep knowledge shows, particularly with his bringing to life of chess in Havana in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

One area where Sanchez breaks new ground is Capablana’s health. A fine athlete in his youth (one of the many excellent photographs in this book shows him with his fellow Columbia University baseball players), Capablanca is known to have suffered serious health problems near the end of his life. In fact even in his early 30s he was suffering from symptoms of arterial hypertension which plagued several members of the Capablanca family. Sanchez points out this likely effected his play in the latter stages of his career, particularly in the final hours of tournament games.

One thinks of Tal as having been the unluckiest of World Champions concerning bad health, but how many realize he died at 55 (the same age as Petrosian) while Alekhine and Capablanca both passed away at only 53 years of age! It will take a few more World Champions like Smyslov, who died at 89, to make the longevity tables for World Chess Champions look a little better.

José Raúl Capablanca: A Chess Biography is meticulously researched and features many well-annotated games, crosstables, numerous illustrations and well-reproduced black and white photographs. It would be a welcome addition to any chess player’s library and a wonderful Christmas present.

McFarland, the world leader in the publishing of books on chess history, is to be commended for yet another first rate job. This is, in fact, the second great work on Capablanca they have published. The first, A Compendium of Games, Notes, Articles, Correspondence, Illustrations and Other Rare Archival Materials on the Cuban Chess Genius José Raúl Capablanca, 1888–1942, which first appeared in 1989, is still available in paperback from the publisher.

Highly Recommended