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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Maria Teresa Mora Iturralde

     The November 23, 1921 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had an article titled Cuban Girl Chess Expert Holds Own With Champion. Her name was Maria Teresa Mora, a school girl from Havana. 
     Mora (October 15, 1902 – October 3, 1980) was playing a match against Jose Van der Gutch who had recently won a tournament at the Havana Chess Club. They had played five games at the time of the article and despite a poor start, Miss Mora had evened the score with each having 2.5 points. She drew the first game, but then lost the next two and it looked like she was going down in flames, but then she won the next two. 
     The match had created a lot of excitement and according to the article, the game given below, her second victory, was accompanied by much shouting and “bedlam was let loose” because she was everyone's favorite. Van der Gutch was a gentleman and very courteous towards his opponent, but gave her no breaks. The club's rooms were packed and calls were coming in from all over town with inquiries as to the progress of the games. Even the Capablanca-Lasker match had not created as much excitement. 
     The excitement the match generated was simply because the fact that a young teenage girl was meeting a “full grown gentleman” on equal terms...a rarity in those days because women had not yet distinguished themselves in chess. 
     Born in Havana, Mora, at the age of 14, was the only person known to have studied under Capablanca. She was also a gifted musician and received violin and mandolin lessons, giving a concert with them in 1921. 
     In 1922 she won the Dewar Cup of the Havana Chess Club, which at the time was considered equivalent to Cuban National Championship. She was the only woman to have ever won the Cuban championship and was Cuban Woman's Champion from 1938 until she retired from competitive play in 1960. 
     Capablanca wrote about the lessons in My Chess Career, but did not identify Mora:
 “There was in Havana a young girl of from 12 to 14 years of age who interested me a great deal. Not only was she intelligent and modest in every respect but, what is more to the point, she played chess quite well (I believe that today she probably is the strongest lady player in the world, though only 15 or 17 years old). I offered to give her a few lessons before I sailed. My offer was accepted, and I decided to teach her something of the openings and the middle-game along general principles and in accordance with certain theories which I had had in my mind for some time but which I had never expounded to anybody. In order to explain and teach my theories I had to study, so it came about that, for the first time in my life, I devoted some time to the working of the openings. I had the great satisfaction of finding that my ideas were, as far as I could see, quite correct. Thus it happened that I actually learned more myself than my pupil, though I hope that my young lady friend benefited by the dozen or so lessons that I gave her. It came about that I thus strengthened the weakest part of my game, the openings, and that I also was able to prove to my own satisfaction the great value of certain theories which I had evolved in my own mind.” 

     In December of 1921 Capablanca wrote a letter to the London Times in which he said, “I hope the committee (responsible for organizing London, 1922) will also consider a proposition which I have to make with regard to the Women’s Tournament, and that is that in some way they leave open the possibility of the participation in that tournament of the young Cuban girl, Senorita Maria Teresa Mora. The young lady is only some 17 years old, and yet I believe her to be the equal of any woman player. Her participation would add enormous interest to the tournament and would cost the committee nothing, as I would obtain here the necessary funds for her journey.” 

     She was a Women's World Championship Challenger at Buenos Aires in 1939 where she tied for seventh and eighth place (Vera Menchik won). This was her first appearance in this event because in order to participate a player's country had to be a member of FIDE and Cuba did not join until 1939. Out of 20 players she scored only 1.5 points against the top ten finishers, but rolled up 9.5 points against the bottom finishers. 
     She also participated in the 1949/50 event. Lyudmila Rudenko of the Soviet Union won convincingly, scoring +9 -1 =5. Her single loss was to 14th (out of 16) Mona May Karff of the US. Mora scored +4 -7 =4 to finish in a tie with Jozsa Langos of Hungary for tenth place. Mora did manage a draw with second place finisher Valentina Belova of the Soviet Union who was tied with Elisaveta Bykova also of the Soviet Union. Her finish was hurt by losses to the two last place players. She was awarded the Women's IM title in 1950. 
     The first time Mora appeared in the foreign press was in 1917 when the American Chess Bulletin published an article entitled Havana Has Another Prodigy. Although her exact age was unknown at the time, the article claimed that she was twelve years old and that she first learned how to play chess at the age of eight. Her father was not a chess player, but she had a brother, Albert, who would occasionally take her to the Club de Ajedrez. 
     On the occasion of the letter to the ACB, a correspondent named Edward Everett, a lawyer from Seattle, Washington and a fairly strong player, described how she had won the school championship of Cuba two years after learning how to play. In 1915 she won the Havana province scholar championship. Along with her brother she also received a prize given by the Good Companion Club of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to five Cuban players who could solve chess problems in the least time. Her exploits were mentioned in Havana newspapers and there had been appeals to the Havana City Council to make special provisions for her education. 
     At the urging of club members Everett played Mora and described her as being a player that did not induce fear when he saw her...she was frail, intellectual...a little lady in curls and a long, old-fashioned dress. After meeting her, Everett asked what odds she wanted and was amused when she declined. Everett played her seven games, winning but one while losing three and drawing three. He observed that she did not play skittles, but analyzed every move carefully and played with the “confidence of a veteran.” 
     Mora worked for the Ministry of Education and played first board on their chess team.

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