Capablanca Mem, Havana et al. (1st 1962, 55th 2022)
Since 1962, the Capablanca Memorial is a major recurring international invitation tournament, honouring José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera, cuban chess world champion from 1921 (winning the title from Lasker) to 1927 (losing it to Alekhine) and often called “The Human Chess Machine”.
Capablanca (born in 1888, died in 1942) was renowned for his superior endgame skill, positional deepness and speed of chess.
He was exceptionally difficult to beat, staying undefeated over 63 serious games (+40 =23) between 10 February 1916, when he lost to Oscar Chajes at the Rice Memorial in New York and 21 March 1924, when he lost a famous game to Richard Réti in the New York International tournament won by 55-year old Dr. Emanuel Lasker. This invincibility streak of eight years thus included the World Championship match Capablanca against Lasker in 1921.
Long before the inception of the Capablance Memorial, the Havana Chess Club, formed in 1885, already hosted no less than three World Chess Championships: 1889 Steinitz vs. Chigorin, 1892 the second Steinitz vs. Chigorin match (both won by Steinitz), and 1921 the famous Lasker vs. Capablanca clash with the young cuban dethroning long-term reigning Emanuel Lasker.
Several smaller tournaments took part as well in those days in Havana, ie. in the year 1913 with Capablanca and Frank Marshall from the United States who also lost a famous match in 1909: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chess.pl?tid=80449. Marshall showed no animosity against Capablanca over this clear defeat and the follwoing disputes on national / continental title claims, Marshall advocated the entry of the promising Cuban into the world class tournament at San Sebastian in 1911. Capablanca's triumph announced his arrival in the international chess elite.
Capablanca is recognized by Viktor Korchnoi as the greatest chess prodigy ever lived.
The Cuban Revolution and the Capablanca Memorial
Actually, the first international tournament to honor Capablanca, Havana 1952, took place ten years after his death and ten years before the start of the series, this prequel tournament was won by Reshevsky (best on tie-break) and Najdorf in a strong and international field, ahead of Gligoric as clear third, followed by Eliskases and Evans sharing fourth and fifth place; other players included Rossolimo, Pomar Salamanca, Horowitz, Prins, Guimard, and Edward Lasker.
A year later, the revolution broke out:
The Cuban Revolution (1953–59) was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement and its allies against the U.S.-backed totalitarian ruling of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his dictatorship with a revolutionary socialist state in the Republic of Cuba. The 26th of July Movement later changed along authoritarian communist lines in the tradition Marxism-Leninism, becoming the Communist Party in October 1965, the only party permitted to rule . The Cuban constitution describes the role of the Party to be the "leading force of society and of the state". (Source: Wikipedia)
The launch of the current tournament series in 1962 was primarily an initiative of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. He could easily cover the costs as director of the National Bank and Minister of Industries, honouring José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera:
<< Before he founded a great chess tournament, Che Guevara came to Cuba as a guerilla, when the island was ruled by Batista and the mob. He was on his way to a big hotel, the Havana Hilton. It was opened in 1958, as another gambling hall. Revolutionaries took over the building within a year. The new government occupied one floor of the enormous hotel and renamed it Habana Libre.
When the political situation had stabilized, Che warmed up the government for a chess event. The Capablanca Memorial (in Memoriam) became the best paid tournament in the world. Ché Guevara could cover the costs as director of the National Bank and Minister of Industries. Twenty-two players from Europe, Latin America and Cuba conducted the first contest in Habana Libre from April until May 1962. Che Guevara was liquidated as a guerrilla in Bolivia shortly after the fifth event in 1967. Hereafter, the tournament looked like the Che Memorial. >>
Quotation from Endgame (Jan van Reek), and Chessgames
Ernesto Ché Guevara chess biography: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=40280
Fidel Castro chess biography: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=32337
The international chess tournament to honour the memory of Cuba’s great World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942) is organized since then annually with a few exceptions.
There was no invitation tournament in 1966 (famous Chess Olympiad at Havana), 1970, 1978, 1982, and in the years 2020 & 2021 due to worldwide Corona Pandemic.
Most tournaments (including the inauguration) are played in the Cuban capital Havana, but some editions also in Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Holguín, Matanzas or Varadero.
The first ten editions, are regarded as world-class tournaments, absolute elite events: Cienfuegos in 1973 was the last big event. Smyslov won a third time.
It moved to other cuban cities, too and was held during the seventies, eighties, and nineties mostly at port venues such as on the Bay of Matanzas. From 1974 on the series was split in several (less strong) tournaments. The country suffered severe economic crisis and international isolation under its dogmatic rulers. Top European players began to avoid the Memorial.
Silvino Garcia Martinez was the first Cuban to become a GM in the year 1975. Guillermo García González was the first Cuban winner in 1977 (together with Oleg Romanishin), and won again in 1980 in the second tournament. Amador Rodriguez Cepedes won twice in the 1980s, when for a brief period two closed tournaments of plus / miuns equal moderate strength had been organised as a Capablanca Memorial.
Longtime, Jesús Nogueiras was the dominant Cuban player, he also qualified for the FIDE Candidate's (1985) and the first GMA World Cup cycle (1988/89). Walter Arencibia had won as first Cuban the World Junior Chess Championship in 1986.
In the 1980s the Memorial tournaments has become comparatively weak. During the second half of the eighties, most players and winners were Latin Americans. The participation of globetrotter Anthony Miles, the first British born (English native) grandmaster, gave a new impulse to the event, he won or co-won four times in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1999.
Furthermore, in the the new millenium, two new Cuban chess top talents emerged: Lázaro Bruzón (World Junior Chess Champion in 2000) and Leinier Domínguez Pérez, who is a thrice winner at the Capablanca Memorial.
Since 1998, the series has usually been played again in the cuban capital Havana and regained a lot in status and strength, especially since the mid-2000s. In general, efforts to improve diplomatic relations obtained momentum. Today, the Capablanca Memorial in the Elite section can certainly be considered as an invitational supertournament of modern type and its participants normally achieve an ELO average higher than 2700.
In June 2015, the 50th anniversary edition of this traditional tournament took place in Salón Embajadores in Hotel Habana Libre in Vedado, a central business district and modern urban area of Havana. Yu, Yanghi of China has taken the strongest Capablanca Memorial for some years (a six-player double-round all-play-all with Leinier Dominguez Perez and Lázaro Bruzón Batista of the host country, Russians Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dmitry Andreikin and Ukrainian Pavel Eljanov) in the Elite section by storm and won convincingly with 8.5/10 points. Vitaly Kunin, Russian born grandmaster, playing for the German federation, won the Premier section outright.
After an impressive jubilee at Havana in 2015, the traditional series stepped for its 51th edition in 2016 and its 52nd edition in 2017 anew to Varadero. Since 2018, the tournament returned to Havana.
The Capablanca Memorial was one of a very few international tournamants, mostly offering a closed invitation B section, in a mix for local (latinamercano) hereos, aging stars and promising youngster, ie. Jeffery Xiong, America's next top chess prodigy, took benefit at the tender age of 15, he is born in October 30, 2000, he won the Premier (B-group) of the 2016 Memorial at Varadero as clear first. Jeffrey Xiong is currently one of the Young Stars – Team USA program that has been sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). A group of young and promising chess players are assessed and evaluated by Garry Kasparov himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky.
The main GM group today is officially named 'Grupo Elite', frequently there are several events played during the Festival, that means the so-called 'Grupo Premier' is equivalent to the B-group, 'Grupo Abierto' stands for the (amateur) open sections. Since 2017, there is no longer a closed B-group, but an Open featuring several grandmasters.
Record winner of the Capablanca Memorial is Vassily Ivanchuk, Ukraine, with an incredible eight tournament wins in the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 (all editions played in Havana), in 2016 (played in Varadero), and in 2019 (again in Havana).
22 players in a closed invitation tournament
The first serial Capablanca Memorial 1962, just months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, also held in the Hotel Habana Libre in Havana, lined-up 22 participants (involving many Soviet and top level GM as well as local players) in an all-play-all (round robin)! Those were the days.
The tournament was won by legendary Miguel Najdorf from Argentina (the outbreak of World War II found him in Buenos Aires, where he was playing at the Chess Olympiad, representing Poland; he was Jewish, and decided to stay in Argentina, suffering considerable personal and familial loss, but escaping the Holocaust) in a field of 22 participants (!) as clear first half a point ahead of Lev Polugaevsky and Boris Spassky (both USSR), followed by Svetozar Gligorić (Yugoslavia) and Vasily Smyslov (USSR), then Borislav Ivkov (Yugoslavia), and others. The co-winner from Havana International 1952, US-grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky, was not invited.
Viktor Korchnoi (USSR) won the second Capablanca Memorial in 1963 outright, the runner-up prizes went shared to Efim Geller (USSR), Ludek Pachman (CSR), and Mikhail Tal (USSR) in a strong and large-sized field of again 22 participants.
Vasily Smyslov (USSR) and Wolfgang Uhlmann (GDR) were the Memorial co-winners in 1964, ahead of Mark Taimanov (USSR).
The next tournament was another interesting installment, because US-American Bobby Fischer was invited and accepted - but he was not present physically in Cuba, read more now.
The fourth tournament held in Havana 1965 was marked by an unusual circumstance. U.S. Champion Bobby Fischer had been invited to play and was offered a $3000 appearance fee, but the United States Department of State would not allow him to travel to Cuba due to tension in Cuba — United States relations. American Grandmaster Larry Evans had been permitted to play in the tournament the year before, as he was also acting as a journalist.
Fischer instead then played his games by telex from the Marshall Chess Club in New York City. Capablanca's son Dr José Raúl Capablanca Jr relayed the moves in Havana. When Fischer's participation seemed assured, Cuban President Fidel Castro called it a "great propaganda victory for Cuba", making headlines. When Fischer heard of this, he cabled Castro threatening to withdraw unless Castro stopped making political statements about Fischer's participation.
A cabled reply from Castro eased Fischer's concern and he joined the field of 22 players, with thirteen Grandmasters and seven International Masters.
Former World Champion Vasily Smyslov (USSR)
won the tournament again and this time outright. Borislav Ivkov (Yugoslavia), Efim Geller (USSR), and Bobby Fischer (USA) shared second through fourth, a half point behind. Fischer was playing his first international tournament in three years.
(Source for the 1965 Havana tournament and the following Kholmov biography: Wikipedia)
Ratmir Kholmov (USSR) defeated Bobby Fischer and finished undefeated sole fifth in this tournament 1965. Kholmov won many international tournaments in Eastern Europe during his career, and tied for the Soviet Championship title in 1963, but lost the playoff. Kholmov never competed in the West during his career peak, being confined to events in communist countries. His chess results were impressive, so this may have been for security reasons, as he had been a wartime sailor.
In 1968, Kholmow achieved one of his finest international results, winning the 6th Capablanca Memorial in Havana. He was one of the strongest Soviet players from the early-1950s well into the late-1970s.
He scored wins over World Champions Petrosian, Spassky, Tal, Fischer, and Kasparov! He also beat Korchnoi, Keres, Geller, Bronstein, Stein, Polugaevsky, Beliavsky and many other strong soviet players.
Chessmetrics (Historical ELO by Sonas) statistically estimates his retroactive ranking at a minimum of Top 25 in the world from mid-1950s to 1970, with his peak ranking being 8th of the world in 1960–61. Ratmir Kholmov stayed active in competitive chess right to the end of his life, and maintained a high standard.
Havana hosted the 17th Chess Olympiad, between October 23 and November 20, 1966, as well as several other events designed to promote the game of chess in Cuba. Organized by the Castro brothers Fidel & Raúl and Che Guevara with the help of military staff, it was an immense propaganda success for the country and reigning regime.
The Soviet team with world champion Tigran Petrosian (individual board gold), Boris Spassky, Mikahil Tal (individual board gold), Leonid Stein, Viktor Korchnoi (individual board gold), and Lev Polugaevsky (individual board gold), lived up to the expectations and won their eighth consecutive team gold medals, with the United States and Hungary taking the team silver and bronze, respectively.
Mikhail Tal was beaten up in a bar shortly before the Olympiad and missed the first four rounds due to his injuries. Those were the chess days: youngsters Mikhail and Viktor were dancing, drinking, smoking, and chasing girls :)
Albo d' Oro
Most tournament wins achieved Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) who did win incredible eight times (2005, 2006, 2007 in a row, then again 2010, 2011, 2012 in a row, in 2016, and in 2019).
Tony Miles (England) did succeed four times (1994, 1995, 1996, 1999); Vasily Smyslov (USSR), Carlos Garcia Palermo (ARG), and Leinier Domínguez Pérez (Cuba) are threee times winners (always including shared wins - there was no play-off).
Further notable winners include twice winner Viktor Korchnoi (USSR), Bent Larsen (DAN), Wolfgang Uhlmann (GDR), Vlastimil Hort (CSR), Ratmir Kholmov (USSR), Alexey Suetin (USSR), Anatoly Lein (USSR), Boris Gulko (USSR), Oleg Romanishin (USSR), Evgeny Sveshnikov (USSR), twice winner Ulf Andersson (SWE), twice winner Alonso Zapata (COL), Ľubomír Ftáčnik (CSR), Vitaly Tseshkovsky (USSR), Lev Pskahis (USSR), Rainer Knaak (GDR), Borislav Ivkov (YUG), twice winner Julio Granda Zúñiga (PER), Henry Urday Caceres (PER), Zurab Azmaiparashvili (USSR), Mark Hebden (ENG), Loek van Wely (NED), Zoltán Almási (HUN), Peter Leko (HUN), Robert Hübner (GER), Ivan Morovic Fernandez (CHI), Francisco Vallejo Pons (ESP), twice winner Guillermo García González (CUB), Lázaro Bruzón (CUB), and legendary Miguel Najdorf (ARG), the first winner of the series.
And in recent years:
Winner of the 49th Capablanca Memorial 2014, played in Havana is Wesley So from the Philippines (winning just before he announced switching his Federation to play for the USA).
Triumphator of the jubilee 50th Elite edition in 2015 is Chinese Yu, Yangyi (born in 1994, the Junior World Champion in 2013 and clear winner of the strong Qatar Masters Open in 2014), he is also the first Chinese player to win this traditional tournament.
After taking place in the Cuban capital of Havana for around fifteen years, the tournament has moved in 2016 to the beach resort of Varadero, where it’s being played in the Barceló Solymar Arenas Blancas Hotel. Ukrainian Vassily Ivanchuk took the traditional tournament in great style, his seventh win!
Routinier Krishnan Sasikiran became the first Indian player to win the Capablanca Memorial in its 52th edition, ahead of top seed Vasily Ivanchuk of Ukraine, and Samuel Shankland of USA who were joint runners-up at Varadero in 2017.
Two weeks after his surprising success at the U.S. championship 2018, Sam Shankland went on to win the 53rd Capablanca Memorial in 2018, played again in Havana. The main Elite Group was a six-players double round robin with the average Elo 2649. Shankland won with a score of 7.5/10 and a 2829 Elo performance rating, the American grandmaster entered the world's top 30.
On March 18th, 2019, Vassily Ivanchuk turned 50. What better way to celebrate than to travel down to Havana to win his eight tournament title in Cuba at the Capablanca Memorial! After scoring a clutch victory over Baskaran Adhiban (India), Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) won his eight Capablanca Memorial title as clear first in 2019. Samuel Sevian (USA) and David Anton Guijarro (Spain) shared second place.
Due to worldwide Corona Pandemic, there were no Memorials in the years 2020 and 2021.
Hans Moke Niemann (United States) won the tournament of 2022 in great style with 7.5/9, unbeaten two full points ahead of Shekhar Ganguly from India, Vasif Durarbayli from Azerbaijan and Cubans Luis Ernesto Quesada Perez Surya who shared second to fourth places. Niemann, a young American grandmaster on fire, his Elo performance rating was 2857.
World Chess Champions Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, all took part at Havana but <did not win> !! Neither Alexander Beliavsky, Lev Polugaevsky, Artur Jussupow, Leonid Stein, Efim Geller, Mark Taimanov, nor Ludek Pachman, Lajos Portisch, László Szabó, Svetozar Gligoric won this traditional tournament.
Euwe, Botvinnik, Petrosian, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, and Carlsen did never take part.
Viktor Korchnoi played and won twice, as mentioned in 1963, clear first ahead of shared 2.-4. Efim Geller (USSR), Ludek Pachman (CSR), and Mikhail Tal (USSR) in a field of 22 participants, and again in 1969 shared with Alexey Suetin (USSR), ahead of Svetozar Gligorić (Yugoslavia), followed by shared placed Dutch Jan Hein Donner and East German Wolfgang Uhlmann, winner at Havana together with Smyslov in 1964.
This is the fourth longest major recurring international classical chess tournament in annually tradition still existing.
José Raúl Capablanca (Wikipedia)
Capablanca Memorial (Wikipedia)
http://torneocapablanca.inder.cu (Tournament Homepage, Elite, Premier, Open)
http://www.endgame.nl/capamem.htm (Survey by Jan van Reek, inactive)
https://chess24.com/en/read/news/ivanchuk-on-the-rampage-in-cuba (with map)
http://www.universodelajedrez.com/capablanca-jugada-a-jugada/ (Capa - move by move, book)
http://www.chess.com/blog/batgirl/chess-in-cuba (as usual a brilliant writing by <Batgirl>, highly admired blogger within the community in www.chess.com)