Capablanca on London, 1922

Edward Winter

central hall westminster

Chess Pie, 1922, page 19.

The London, 1922 tournament was played at the Central Hall, Westminster. Pages 139-151 of our book on Capablanca gave the full texts of his round-by-round reports, as published in The Times. In the same newspaper he also wrote two articles before the tournament began, and they are reproduced below.

29 July 1922, page 10:

‘It is always a difficult matter to forecast results in such a contest as the Masters’ Tournament at the forthcoming London Chess Congress without running the risk of going wrong, and without running the chance of hurting the susceptibilities of some of the participants. However, he who would like to have the honours of a successful forecast must take his chances.

To my mind there are four candidates for the first two prizes – namely, Rubinstein, Bogoljubow, Alekhine and Réti. The last two are the youngest of the four, then comes Bogoljubow and finally Rubinstein, who, although the oldest, is only in his 40th year. On previous records Rubinstein would be the most prominent, but the other three are men who have come to the fore in the last eight years, and possibly one or two of them have not yet reached their full development. Alekhine and Bogoljubow, both Russians, have unlimited confidence in their own powers, and play accordingly. No position can be too complicated for their liking, and in such cases they feel certain of outplaying their opponents. In consequence, their play is generally very attractive for “the gallery”. Each possesses unsurpassed knowledge of the openings; at least they know as many variations as anybody else, and probably each has a few kept up his sleeve for special cases.

Réti has an exceedingly well-balanced style of play; possesses a thorough knowledge of the game in all its departments, and if he had the confidence and energy of the other two he might be the strongest candidate of the four. He has not had, so far, the success to which I think his play entitles him. He has of late devoted considerable time to blindfold playing on a large scale – that is, he has often played 20 games or more simultaneously without sight of board or men. Such displays may excite wonder among a large number of chess enthusiasts, but as far as the performer is concerned they do him a great deal of harm in the long run. It gets him into the habit of playing a certain kind of game, not at all like what he is called upon to produce when facing opponents of the class he is bound to meet in international contests. I would not be surprised if it is his blindfold playing that has been the cause of his relative failure in the last two years.

Rubinstein might be fully described by one of his anecdotes. It is said that on one occasion, during the progress of an international tournament, a very enthusiastic amateur asked him for advice as to which particular game he should follow. Rubinstein pointed out one of the best-known masters of the so-called “brilliant” school and said: “If you want to see a pretty game, stand by his table; but if you want to see a winning game, come to mine.” He hardly ever makes startling combinations, but he wins many games. He is one of the hardest men to beat, unless you want to embark upon a startling, enterprising sort of game, and then you run the risk of perishing in the attempt. His openings are of the soundest type, his play for position is excellent, and he plays the endings exceedingly well.

As to my own personal chances, I will say that I feel confident of not finishing worse than third or fourth. I do not know half as many variations in the openings as any of my strong opponents. Also, though I have given a few simultaneous performances, I have not played a serious game since the match with Dr Lasker at Havana in the [sic] April of 1921. This is not an excuse in case I should lose a few games. Since 1914 I have entered all important contests in very much the same condition, and have had so far rather satisfactory results. I shall have no excuse to offer, no matter where I finish. To my credit side, I have a happy disposition, good general condition, and the moral support of my many English friends, some of whom think so well of my chances that they are reckless enough to bet even money that I finish first.

Since everybody thinks that for such a contest the player must study and prepare his mind for the effort required by playing some practice games, I will tell a little story which will show that in that respect I am somewhat different from the rest of the chess masters. A few days ago in Paris I met one of my countrymen, who anxiously inquired what I had been doing by way of study and playing in preparation for the coming tournament. I told him that I had not even looked at a chess board, and added: “On the other hand, I have just come in from a two hours’ walk. I often walk long distances. I try to keep my legs and my stomach in good condition, and thus, as you may gather, I prepare my head with my feet”.’

31 July 1922, page 8:

‘In my previous article I dealt with the leading candidates for chief honours in the Masters’ Tournament at the International Chess Congress. Today I shall deal with all the other participants, and also pass somewhat lightly over the Major Open Tournament and the Women’s Open Tournament.

The reader should not think that the struggle for the first two prizes in the Masters’ Tournament must necessarily be confined to the players mentioned in my previous article. There are in this tournament some other players who might jump to the fore if the slightest opportunity be offered them, especially Dr Tartakower, who should be a sure prize-winner. Dr M. Vidmar proved his mettle at San Sebastián in 1911, where, in one of the strongest tournaments ever held, he finished half a point behind the winner, tying with A. Rubinstein for second and third prizes. He is only 37 years old, and a similar spurt will put him right into the thick of the battle for chief honours.

G. Maróczy, 20 years ago, would have been one of the favourites for the first prize. He is, however, past 50 now, and has not lately shown anything like his old form. He has the class, however, and should he feel young again many a contender will suffer some very uncomfortable moments. Euwe, of Holland, is the youngest player in the tournament, and, consequently, will not lack energy. He is quite capable of producing some very fine games, but I do not think he can yet successfully encounter the fine array of international masters mentioned before. However, since he is so young, he is probably improving all the time. It would not surprise me to see him among the prize-winners. Znosko-Borovsky has suffered so many calamities since 1914 that he does not seem to be able to regain his playing strength. At his best he would give the best something to think about. Like the majority of Russian players, he is very enterprising. Morrison, of Canada, Watson, of Australia, and Dr Marotti, of Italy, have not had any experience in this sort of contest, and while their play will be watched with interest, I expect them to be at the end of the list when the tournament is over.

As to the Englishmen, the absence of Sir George Thomas is to be regretted, as he would have considerably strengthened the home contingent. I must frankly state that I would be most pleasantly surprised if one of them finished among the first six. English chess is labouring under the severe handicap of a 20 years’ siege. During that time English players have practically only played one another; consequently their play has stagnated. The vigorous, healthy intercourse with the best of the international masters has been denied to them. It is too much to ask them to overcome that handicap. International tournaments furnish the required contact.

If English chess-lovers want their players to occupy a prominent position among the great masters of the game they must support those things which will give their players an opportunity to study and learn by close observation, and through personal contact, the methods of the leading exponents of the game. It is through international tournaments like the present one, when the Press of the country is full of the news of the doings of the great players, that the interest of chess-lovers is fully aroused and that the necessary ambition to emulate their feats springs up in the breasts of the young talented players. The British Chess Federation have done wisely in stimulating chess in the colleges and schools, but it might be well to remind all those interested in chess that it is among these young players, college lads and schoolboys, where they must look if they wish to be successfully represented in the future.

As for the Major Open Tournament, I am only acquainted with the English entry. It is a very strong one, and I believe it will hold its own. How strong the foreigners are I do not know, and under such conditions it is quite impossible to give an opinion.

The Women’s Open Tournament is a most delicate subject; no precautions should be omitted. The ladies are generally very temperamental, and it would not do to upset one of them just before the tournament. I would never be forgiven! I have my candidate picked out, but I withhold the name. I will, however, give a hint. I believe the lady in question has some grey hair.’

A paragraph about Euwe by Walter Meiden on page 21 of the April 1982 Chess Life:

‘He was modest and unassuming; he tried to look at things from an unbiased point of view. He insisted on including in The Road to Chess Mastery, which had only master vs amateur games, one that he had lost to Capablanca – Game 7. “I played like an amateur in that game”, he said, and he showed in his marvelously clear way just how Capablanca won.’

The game was played at London, 1922.


See too Morrison v Capablanca, London, 1922.

Latest update: 2 June 2022.

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