8/4/2015 – Can you learn from the classics? Well, all trainers worth their salt agree that one can and one should. Especially from José Raúl Capablanca, who was known for his clear, apparently simple style, and his endgame skills. The Fritz-Trainer Master Class DVD about the Cuban chess genius offers a good opportunity to take a fresh look at Capablanca and his games.

Master Class Vol. 04: José Raúl Capablanca - A Review

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What a time for the chess fan! From the Czech republic to Dortmund, Germany, from Norway to Austria to Armenia, the sun never sets on chess. Whenever you open your computer, you have at least two top grandmasters playing somewhere in the world for your enjoyment and for the pleasure of your pet chess engine.

One highlight of the last months was the Capablanca Memorial in Havanna which was convincingly won by Chinese star Yu Yangyi. The Capblanca Memorial naturally leads one to remember the legendary third world champion and what a better way to learn about José Raúl Capablanca than the fantastic biography, written by Peter Schneider that accompanies the latest volume in the “Master Class” series. The first volumes were devoted to Fischer, Tal and Alehkine in this order and the fourth is devoted to Capablanca.

In the following review I combine chess legends with serious review of the new DVD. As far as a description of the DVD everything I say I stand behind but as far as telling the biography of Capablanca please know that all that you read is a myth and that if you want to know the history you should refer to a more reliable source, such as the aforementioned Peter Schneider biography. So, here goes:

The old storytellers of chess tell us myths about two players nicknamed “Capablanca.” I will start with the more famous one.

The sun was setting on the port of Havana, Cuba as two fishermen were playing chess in front of a shack. “Checkmate,” said Domingo, the owner of the shack after putting his queen on g7.

Lazaro, his guest and colleague, scratched his beard for a few seconds, trying to find a move but finally he spread his right hand and shook Domingo’s hand in acceptance of his defeat. “That’s enough for today,” he said and got up from his chair. “I think I’ll head back so I get home before dark.” But he lingered a little bit to discuss the heat. Both Domingo and Lazaro agreed that it was an exceptionally hot summer but while Lazaro thought it was the hottest he had ever seen, Domingo thought that the summer when José Raúl had been born, back in 1888, was just as hot.

“Who can believe that you are already four years old, José Raúl,” Lazaro said and caressed the hair of little JR, who had been standing beside the two men ever since they had brought the chess set outside. “Did you have fun watching dad and uncle Lazaro play the grownups’ game?” but without waiting for a response, the guest shouted a goodbye to the lady of the house and was off to the alley on his way back to his own home.

“Lazaro now owes me fifty pesos for chess,” said Domingo after the man had left.

“The last game does not really count,” his son said, lighting up a cigar, “because your fifteenth move was illegal, you moved your knight from b4 to e3.”

“That is crazy, José Raúl” the father said, his voice one octave higher than its normal pitch, “You’re only four years old. You don’t know the rules of chess, you cannot use algebraic notation because you never read and never will read a chess book and you should not smoke a cigar or it will paint your teeth yellow.”

“First, I still have my baby teeth,” said the boy and puffed out a ring of smoke, “which means I can enjoy cigars for another half a decade before I should worry about the color of my permanent teeth. Second, the use of algebraic notation was not something I actually used. It was added by the writer, A. Patzer, to make our conversation easier to understand for a 21st century reader. As for whether or not you had made an illegal move, I suggest we go over the game.” And with saying that, José Raúl Capablanca, at four years old, replayed the game out of memory and proved to his father that he, the son, knew the rules of chess and that he, the father, had made an illegal move with the knight.

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