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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Brilliant Carlos Torre

Torre circa 1925
     Torre was Mexico’s first grandmaster. During his life his health was always fragile and he suffered from insomnia. In The Psychology of Chess Reuben Fine told of Torre's eccentricities which culminated in a nervous breakdown that forced him to retire from chess at the age of 21. Torre could never sleep more than two hours a day, was given to eating up to a dozen pineapple sundaes a day and at one time he was arrested for running nude and for taking his clothes off on a bus. 
     It has been speculated that his mental instability may have originated as a result of his broken engagement, but this has never been substantiated (see the comments by his doctor below). Just before the last round of the Chicago, 1926 tournament (see the comments on this event below) he got two letters. One from his fiancee informing him she had married someone else and in the other he was informed that a teaching post he desired was not available because he lacked the necessary qualifications. 
     In spite of the speculation about his mental health one fact remains, he played some spectacular games in his brief career. He quit chess in 1926 at the age of 22 after playing only two years professionally! 
     Not much is known of Torre's childhood and early adolescence. About all anyone is certain of is that he was born on November 23, 1904 in Merida, Yucatan province, in Mexico and that he was the sixth of eight children. According to Torre he was taught chess at the age of six by his father and by watching games between his father and older brother. In 1915, before Torre's 11th birthday, the family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where, in a few months, he learned to read and write English and began his journey into the city's chess circles. During that time he delved into his first chess books which were those of James Mason. One of the books was on tactics which no doubt influenced his style. At the age of 13 a local organizer, Edward Z. Adams, was vice-president of the New Orleans Chess Club and he began to mentor the young Torre. See Number 3472, Adams vs Torre by Edward Winter for more details.
     By the time he was 14 Torre was considered the second best player in the city behind a veteran player named Leon Labatt, a judge. The magazine The Good Companion ran an article stating  "a new Paul Morphy has been discovered in the Old French City” and described how Torre had solved eight difficult chess problems and in simul against ten of the city's best players, he won eight games and drew two. 
     In 1922 Torre won the New Orleans championship and in 1923, the Louisiana State Championship. Oddly enough, only one game is known to have survived. Torre's earliest known game is the famous 1920 game against his mentor that features an amazing series of Q-offers, but many chess historians doubt that the game was actually played. In fact, some have speculated that Torre himself altered the game score just to demonstrate its artistic beauty. 
     In June of 1924 Torre went to New York City and joined the Marshall Chess Club because he was in search of stronger competition. In his first six tournaments, he finished first in five. This lead to speculation about how well he would do against the Manhattan Chess Club's best, so in 1924 a closed championship was organized and Torre was invited. Torre finished third behind Abraham Kupchik and Morris Shapiro, losing to both of them. 
     In 1925, he made his European debut and took tenth place in Baden-Baden, tied for third and fourth place with Frank Marshall, behind Aron Nimzowitsch and Akiba Rubinstein in Marienbad. Also, in 1925 he tied for fifth and sixth place in Moscow and for second and third place in Leningrad. 
     In Chicago in 1926, Torre needed only a win to finish first in a field that included Frank Marshall, Geza Maroczy and Edward Lasker. After defeating both Marshall and Maroczy, he lost his only game...to Lasker (who finished 8th) and as a result, tied Maroczy for second place behind Marshall. After the tournament he suffered a nervous breakdown and back in New York City, he attempted to remove his clothes on a Fifth Avenue bus. After a brief hospitalization, he returned to Mexico. In 1926, he finished ahead of Jose Joaquin Araiza, in Mexico City. 
     Chess master Alejandro Baez, who lived with Torre for many years, stated that Torre never cared much about winning or losing; he saw chess as an art. Even after he retired from international competition he still played chess with friends and often would get an overwhelming position then offer a draw and at times when he did win, he expressed regret over having defeated his opponent. Oddly, despite his considerable talent, he was never really very competitive. In fact, Torre once defeated Emanuel Lasker in a great game, but of it, Torre said, "To tell the truth, I do not consider it a good game, because both of us committed various errors."
     After returning to Mexico in October of 1926, for several years he lived in Monterrey where he was employed by his physician brother in the latter's drugstore. In 1934 Torre was visited by Reuben Fine and they played two exhibition games, only one of which, won by Fine, is known. Fine commented, “In chess, he is no longer the old Torre.” 
     At some point after that, Torre moved to Mexico City where most people were either indifferent towards him or tried to take advantage of him. While living there he worked at odd jobs, living in poverty. During that time, according to Baez, Torre had little interest in things like money or women but developed an interest in Buddhism. All the while there were recurrences of his nervous breakdowns, often requiring hospitalization. 
     Dr. Carlos Fruvas Gárnica, who treated Torre, reported that he was a victim of his own success: "In 1926 there was no Mexican politicians, rich retailers, or monopolistic millionaires that did not want Torre at their social gatherings." The result was that Torre was used by political, military and financial leaders to enhance their social standings and they were always inviting him to appear at social gatherings and only pretending to be interested in him and his career. According to the doctor, it got to the point that he often had to refuse invitations, which at the time was a dangerous thing and his doctor believed that stress was the cause of his problems and that is what caused him to have to retire. 
     Torre was not insane!! In his later life he retained his fantastic memory and could recall his games in detail and added, "I abandoned chess competition, but never my love for this beautiful game." 
     It wasn't until 1973 that Baez arranged for him to live in a nursing home.  While there he had occasional visitors, but many were local players who took advantage of him, much to Torre's annoyance, by asking him to analyze their games for free. 
     FIDE awarded Torre the title of Honorary Grandmaster in 1963 and in 1977 upgraded it to Grandmaster, but it's not known if Torre ever learned of it. He passed away on March 19, 1978 in Mérida, Mexico.

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