Capablanca Quotes

by Bill Wall


Here are a few Capablanca quotes.

“I don’t care much for blindfolded chess, and other stunts like that…I’ve played that way, but it seems to me too much like charlatanism.” – Montreal, 1909

When asked why he avoided blindfold play, Capablanca sais, “I don’t want to kill myself.”

On his match with Frank Marshall in 1909, Capablanca wrote, “I beat him eight to one with 14 draws thrown in between.  I can safely say that no player ever performed such a feat, as it was my first encounter against a master, and such a master – one of the first 10 in the whole world.  The most surprising feature of all was the fact that I played without having ever opened a book to study the openings.”

“I used to play chess before I learnt to write, but I have not studied it.  I only study it when I am playing. – London 1911

“Players’ weaknesses, like their strengths, are relative within the circle in which they belong, for the weakness of one player compared with other entrants in the tournament would no longer be a weakness in the context of players slightly less strong.  In chess, as in life, everything is relative.” – Capablanca-Magazine, 1912

“I can say that I am considered the fastest player in the world amongst the masters.” – Capablanca-Magazine, 1913

“The style of Morphy, they say, and if it is true that the goddess of fortune has endowed me with his talent, the result will not be in doubt.  The magnificent American master had the most extraordinary brain that anybody has ever had for chess.  Technique, strategy, tactics, knowledge which is inconceivable for us; all that was possessed by Morphy.” – St Petersburg, 1914

“Where openings are concerned, chess masters are like a flock of sheep; everyone follows the first master’s example.  Of course it is true that, as in everything, there are exceptions.  It must always be remembered that White can hope only to obtain a positional advantage and not a game that is relatively easy to win.” – Capablanca-Magazine, 1914

“I believe that my early and very strong attraction to the game of chess was due to the peculiar set of mind that I had developed as a result of my military environment, and also to a peculiar intuition.” – Munsey’s Magazine, 1916

“In chess, memory may be an aid, but it is not indispensable.  At the present time my memory is far from what it was in my early youth, yet my play is undoubtedly much stronger than it was then.  Mastery of chess and brilliance of play do not depend so much upon the memory as upon the peculiar functioning of the powers of the brain.” – Munsey’s Magazine, 1916

“I know more about chess than any living person.  I could play 30 of the best players of the United States at one time and not lose a game.” – Pittsburgh, 1916

“Chess is often played on the battlefield.  In trenches taken by the French, a chessboard with the pieces set up were found; apparently the officers who were playing were taken by surprise by an attack and did not have time to put the set away.  From magazines we also know that large quantities of boards and sets have been sent to different fronts and hospitals, which may very well mean a considerable increase in the number of chess fans, with the result that the war will tend to develop our Art, which had been relatively little practiced.” – Bohemia magazine, 1918

“There is only one game [chess] for the man who thinks.” - London, 1919

“It is quite possible to make all the best moves in a game of chess; and I think I have done so myself on several occasions.”  - London, 1919

Capablanca was once asked if he was a pussyfooter.  He replied, “I am not – nor am I a Mormon.”  - England, 1919

Capablanca was asked if he ever got weary of chess.  He replied, “No, because, except in matches and exhibitions, I rarely play.  For recreation, I play anything, indoors or outdoors.  I can play all games.  One had to keep fit, or one cannot play chess.  That is why I do not smoke, and drink very little wine.” – Yorkshire, 1919

“[Chess] is the finest of mental exercises.  It develops concentration and logical reasoning; and it is one of few games in which you cannot rectify a mistake.  If you make a mistake, you lose, unless your opponent makes a worse mistake.”  - England, 1919

“Most of the chess masters of the first rank are men of culture, men of good social as well as intellectual training, as such qualities become more and more necessary every day.” – Manchester, 1919

“We Cubans are the most civilized of the Latin Americans.” – Sheffield, 1919

“Chess is a very logical game and it is the man who can reason most logically and profoundly in it that ought to win.  – England, 1919

“Exhibitions of simultaneous games are merely to give practice and encouragement to your chess players.”  - Cardiff, 1919

“Every boy of intelligence ought to take up the game [of chess].  In later life, he will never need to feel bored if he can play chess.  Whether working out games or problems alone or engaged in a contest with a fellow player, a chess player can always deeply interest himself.” – Wales, 1919

“Up to a point, chess can be learnt like any other art – for I think of chess more as an art than a science – but after that superior natural grasp and ingenuity necessarily count.” – Norwich, 1919

“Chess players should acquire knowledge of the three phases [opening, middlegame, endgame] of the game equably, and not pay excessive study to any one.  In the opening, development must be sought, and the pieces placed in a natural position where they will maintain the maximum of usefulness.  In the middle game, the pieces should not be transferred to places from which they cannot easily return to another part of the field.  In the end game, time-saving is the essence of the play.”  - Swiss Cottage, 1919

“Do not mind losing, for it is only by learning that you will improve, and by losing, if you use the knowledge you gained, you will improve rapidly.  If you play with a much better player, so much more likely that you will learn.  Any ordinary man can learn a great deal of chess  just as of music, art or science, if he cares to devote his time and attention to study of the game.” – Dudley, 1919

In responding to a hopeful world championship match with Lasker, Capablanca wrote, “I hope the match will come.  The sooner the better, as I don’t want to play an old man, but a master in the plenitude of his powers.” - 1920

“As the champion of the world, I shall insist in introducing modifications in the playing rules of matches and tournaments that will tend to make them more attractive to its supporters…guided be three things, viz: 1, the interests of the chess masters; 2, the interest of the chess public, and 3, last but not least, the interest of chess, which to me, far more than a game, is an art.” – American Chess Bulletin, 1920

“There have been times in my life when I came very near thinking that I could not lose even a single game.  Then I would be beaten, and the lost game would bring me back from dreamland to earth.  Nothing is so healthy as a thrashing at the proper time, and from few won games have I learned as much as I have from most of my defeats.” – My Chess Career, 1920

“A passed pawn is either very weak or very strong, and that its weakness or strength, whichever happens to be in the case to be considered, increases as it advances, and is at the same time in direct relation to the number of pieces on the board.   A passed pawn increases in strength as the number of pieces on the board diminishes.” – Chess Fundamentals, 1921

“I have always had a very vivid imagination, which I have, after a long struggle, partly succeeded in controlling in order to use it to better purpose, according to the requirements of the occasion.”  Windsor Magazine, 1922

When asked what makes a great chess player, Capablanca responded, “Some minds work one way, some another.  Some rely on sheer memory, some picture the board.  But there must be one thing – the power to concentrate strongly and completely.” – Paris, 1922

Capablanca wrote about his match with Lasker. “He [Lasker] talks of food and loss of weight and claims I am tireless.  I lost 10 pounds and ate very little, not because the food was bad, but because of the natural nervous strain attached to such a hard contest.” – British Chess Magazine, 1922

“I am always being asked, What kind of a brain must a chess champion possess?  To begin with, I can only say that I have today a rather poor memory, though as a child I could remember anything with ease.  As I have grown older, I have always tried to forget everything which I have not considered essential to remember, and I have succeeded so well in my training that I now have difficulty in remembering things in general.  I can hardly remember a single chess game I have played.  A game played today I may hazily keep in my head for a few weeks, but after that it is gone forever.” – The English Review, November 1922.

“Chess is not merely a game nor a mental training, but a social attainment.  I have always regarded the playing of chess and the accomplishment of a good game as an art, and something to be admired no less than an artist’s canvas, or the product of a sculptor’s chisel.   Chess is a mental diversion rather than a game.  It is both artistic and scientific.” – New York World, 1925

“It may be that we have not yet reached the point of being able to make draws at will, but if we have not arrived, we are not far away.  I must ingenuously confess that under the proper conditions of training and health, for example, at the end of the Moscow 1925 tournament, it was impossible for me to understand how I could be beaten in a game as long as I was confining myself by scoring a draw.  I am not saying this out of vanity since, in chess at least, I have never been vain.  I say it out of conviction, admitting, of course, the possibility that I may be wrong.” -  Revista Bimestre Cubana, 1926

Capablanca on veteran chess players, “Today we have plenty of confidence, the confidence which only years of continuous success can give, but most of the ambition is gone and the fickle lady has not been kind of late.  Today, we know our opponents thoroughly, but alas! Our capacity for work is not the same.   Today we are cool and collected and nothing short of an earthquake will ruffle us.  We have now more experience, but less power.” – New York Times, 1926

“There is no doubt that the science of chess has greatly developed in the past 60 years.  Players offer more resistance every day and the requirements and conditions necessary to overcome other masters are greater than before.  In short, the ideal way of playing a game would be rapid development of the pieces of strategic use for attack or defense, taking into account the fact that the two elements are Time and Position.  Calm in defense and decisiveness in attack.” – Mundial (Uruguayan magazine), 1927

“In order to make progress in chess, it is necessary to pay special attention to all the general principles, spending a little less time on the openings.  Play the openings on the basis of your general knowledge of how to mobilize pieces and do not become involved in technicalities about whether the books recommend this or that move; to learn the openings by heart it is necessary to study a great number of books which, moreover, are sometimes wrong.  However, if you study from the point of view of the general principles you are taking a more certain path for although a player’s intellect can fail at a given moment, principles well used never fail.” – Cuba lecture, 1932

“A good player is always lucky.” (Perhaps never said by Capablanca, but attributed to him.  He said that luck favored him during the prize awards at Nottingham in 1936)

“My individual style of play does not in any way reflect my Southern origin.  Inclined to simplicity, I always play carefully and try to avoid unnecessary risks.  I consider my method to be right as any superfluous “daring” runs counter to the essential character of chess, which is not a gamble but a purely intellectual combat conducted in accordance with the exact rules of logic.” – Sachovy Tyden, 1938

“Intuition is a wonderful means to an end; but intuition should not be made the end of all the means that intelligence places at our command.  I relied too much on intuition and didn’t prepare properly for my World Championship match with Alekhine in 1927.  I paid the penalty.” – Conversation with Dr. Savielly Tartakower, 1938

“It is difficult to judge oneself.  In chess one can lose with age the strength and fullness of one’s vision, sureness in the order of one’s moves, resistance to fatigue, etc., but one never loses one’s judgment, and I imagine I sill possess it.  Precise positional judgment, the overall vision of every maneuver in the interdependence of its cogwheels, is what characterizes a great master.  It is not a question of a great master seeing any number of isolated moves or of his knowing who to construct a mate; all that is to be taken granted.  What counts is that he should have ideas, and that these ideas should be accurate.” – Buenos Aires, 1939

“I received a great number of chess sets as gifts.  I especially remember a very handsome and rare set which I tried to hold on, but which has gone with the others.  The result is that today [1942] I do not possess a single set.  My travels, my changes of residence, and my children did away with every single one.” – Last Chess Lectures, 1942

“Help me – help me remove my coat.” – Capablanca’s last words before he fell to the floor and lapsed in a coma at the Manhattan Chess Club, New York, March 7, 1942

 “You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win.  You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player.”

“In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else.  For whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and end game must be studied in relation to the end game.”

“The best way to learn endings, as well as openings, is from the games of the masters.”

“The winning of a pawn among players of even strength often means the winning of the game.”

“None of the great players has been so incomprehensible to the majority of amateurs and even masters, as Emanuel Lasker.”

“When you sit down to play a game, you should think only about the position, but not about the opponent.  Whether chess is regarded as a science, or an art, or a sport, all the same psychology bears no relation to it and only stands in the way of real chess.”

“Chess can never reach its height by following in the path of science…Let us, therefore, make a new effort and with the help of our imagination turn the struggle of technique into a battle of ideas.”

“An hour’s history of two minds is well told in a game of chess.”

“Chess is something more than a game.  It is an intellectual diversion which has certain artistic qualities and many scientific elements.”

“Ninety percent of the book variations have no great value, because either they contain mistakes or they are based on fallacious assumptions; just forget about the openings and spend all that time on the endings.”