The 51th edition of the Memorial Capablanca; Latin America’s most prestigious chess tournament, was held in Havana this summer, in the middle of June. Six Grand Masters, category XIX of the International Chess Federation; four of which were foreigners, battled it out in Havana.
The tournament’s birth was in 1962 and since then, many stars have excelled on its chess tables, including former Soviet world champions Vassily Smislov, Mijail Tal and Boris Spasski. Another world champion, the controversial American Bobby Fischer, played through a teleprinter from New York, because his country’s authorities forbade him to travel to Havana in 1965.
Victor Korchnoi, Peter Leko, and Vassily Ivanchuk; all participants in matches for the world title, as well as many outstanding players like Miguel Najdorf, Bent Larsen, Ulf Andersson, Robert Hubner and prominent Cuban players Guillermo Garcia, Jesus Nogueiras and Leinier Dominguez, have also enhanced the tournament’s prestige with their presence in it.
The great Tony Miles, in a league of his own
Incidentally, England’s Anthony Miles; who won the 1995, 1996, and 1999 editions, is among the tournament’s greatest competitors. Miles was the Memorial Capablanca’s first triple champion. He had been the world junior runner-up in 1973 and had excellent results during the 1980s, attaining resounding victories and beating other famous world champions; among them, Anatoly Karpov. He also played to represent England in several World Chess Olympics. Unfortunately, the British player was lost to the chess world upon his death in 2001, due to a heart attack.
The Memorial Capablanca’s host sites
Various sites have hosted the tournament islandwide. It’s been played in Matanzas; the western province home to the famous Varadero beach, it’s been organised in the province of Holguin, on Cuba’s north-eastern region and several times it has taken place in Cienfuegos, on the island’s southern central coast. But as can be expected, the majority of these times, the battle field has been set in Havana, the capital city.
Up until last year, the Habana Riviera hotel had been hosting several of the tournament’s editions in consecutive years, however; for its latest 51th version, the tournament took place at Barcelo Solymar, in Arenas Blancas, Varadero.
In the tournament’s earliest editions, the contest had been held at Salon de los Embajadores del Hotel Habana Libre (Ambassador’s Hall in the Habana Libre hotel), where the first ever competition took place. We’re talking about what was known as the former Habana Hilton hotel, located within walking distance to Havana’s iconic Malecon seawall, the Coppelia ice cream parlour, La Rampa avenue (23rd St. from L St. to Malecon Ave.), and the city’s cultural centre.
Cuba and Chess
It was Commander Ernesto “Che” Guevara, (who, by the way, was in love with the game) the one to bring forth the idea of organising an international chess tournament in Cuba, and to name it after Jose Raul Capablanca; the world’s third best chess king.
Capablanca was a child prodigy who learned to play the game by himself when he was just four and a half years old. By the time he was thirteen, he was already Cuba’s best chess player. Then, in 1921; he achieved immortality when he became world champion and took the chess crown from German genius, Emmanuel Lasker, who had sat on the world’s royal chess throne for almost three decades. Prior to this, the island’s capital had served host to the two world championship matches between Steinitz and Chigorin, in 1889 and 1892.
Capablanca, who hailed from Havana, stayed undefeated for 8 years, from 1916 to 1924. His aura of invincibility earned him the nickname of “chess machine”. Nowadays he is still recognised as one of the most brilliant players in the history of the game.
The tournament, while honouring his memory, upholds an undisputable prestige, supported by the attendance of high level players and by the systematic graduation of Grand and International Masters.
So, if you’re fascinated by the clever maneuvers of knights, bishops and rooks, and you happen to be visiting Havana in June 2017, I whole-heartedly invite you to drop by the competition and enjoy; while sipping a cup of tea, the passionate and adventurous battles that take place on the 64-square chessboards – with not an ounce of blood shed, but perhaps a drop or two of sweat slipping from competitors’ hard-at-work brows.