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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Capablanca Played Shortstop

     Besides Capablanca, other chess players who excelled at baseball were Arnold Denker who played while attending New York University and Jackson W. Showalter who is reputed to have invented the curve ball. 
     Capablanca once said, "I cherish as one of my special accomplishments my more than ordinary ability in that very mundane, but good American game of baseball." That should not be surprising since baseball is one of the most popular sports in Cuba. It was popularized in Cuba by Nemesio Guillot, who founded the first major baseball club in the country. 
     Capablanca was born in Havana in1886, learned to play at an early age and defeated Cuban Champion Juan Corzo in an informal match in 1901 by 6.5-5.5, turning 13 years old during the match. Capa also finished in 4th place in the first Cuban Championship in 1902, but did not begin focusing on chess until 1908 when he left Columbia University in New York City to study chemical engineering and play baseball. 
     In 1913 Capa told the American Chess Bulletin, “I am afraid that I shall miss my baseball and tennis while in Russia, but I shall try to become proficient in some other outdoor sports like horseback riding, etc. Or I may take up fencing and gymnasium work. I thoroughly believe in keeping in good trim physically.” 
     A 1931 issue of the Columbia Spectator ran the following short article: 

Capablanca in Favor of Exams; Once Played on Frosh Diamond Nine Strolling lazily around his living room, occasionally puffing on a cigarette, Jose Raoul Capablanca, chess champion of the world for seven years and captain of Columbia's Varsity team during his Sophomore year, discussed colleges, architecture, cities, baseball, the drama—anything but chess with a SPECTATOR reporter. While he was an undergraduate in the School of Engineering, baseball had a greater attraction for Capablanca than did the game at which he was so proficient. He was a capable diamond athlete, too, for he played second base on his Freshman team in 1907 and helped them win all but two of their games. When he moved up to the Varsity squad, he was switched to short-stop where he held a regular berth until he left College. When questioned about his recollections of undergraduate life, Capablanca chuckled. "I remember the same things you will when you are my age," he said, with just the slightest trace of a Cuban accent. had some good times, we were annoyed by examinations and we played at politics. Because I enjoyed baseball so greatly, I associate my days at Columbia with that and, of course, with chess." A suggestion that perhaps examinations should be abolished in colleges today brought an emphatic dissenting answer from the chess master. "How else can you find out what a student knows? " he exclaimed. "Eliminate your mid-year and final examinations, yes, but you must have some form of quizzing during a term. The average class is too large for the professor to know each man personally. He must have some way to judge his students." He took a turn around the room and then broke out again. "What colleges should abolish are entrance conditions. Either take a boy without any strings or do not admit him at all. No one can study his best with a condition hanging over his head." 

     Capablanca entered Columbia the year after President Nicholas Murray Butler banished football from the sports calendar, but he could remember little rancor among the student body against the move while he was in College. "Columbia developed a strong basketball team and no one seemed to care whether or not football was played," he said. "I see you're still developing strong basketball teams," he added smilingly.  Refer to the many controversies surrounding Butler HERE.
     The following game, very modern in its appearance, was played at the great Carlsbad tournament in 1929 and is interesting because of the alleged oversight by both players in the opening.  Capa had beaten Bogoljubow in 5 straight games before this one.

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