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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Who was Esteban Canal?

Canal and his wife in 1938
    Writing in a 1937 edition of Chess Review, Lajos Steiner, who knew Canal when they were living in Budapest, said that Canal never reached the heights his talent deserved. He was awarded the IM title in 1950 and received the honorary GM title in 1977.

     Not much is known about his life and what little is known is wrapped in a cloud of mystery. Canal himself claimed to have been a cabin boy on a cargo ship carrying wheat from Australia, but it has proven to be impossible to verify dates.  It is known that he had an extensive nautical knowledge and sailors.
     In 1955 the South African player Wolfgang Heindenfed, writing in his book Chess Springbok, An Account of a South African Chess Player's Experiences Overseas wrote of Canal, “The grand old man of Italian chess is Esteban Canal, originally of Peru, who at the age of 57 won the 1953 Venice tournament to which I had the good luck of being invited. He is one of the most interesting and amusing of all chess personalities. Formerly a roving reporter, he speaks six or seven languages and still treasures mementos of such VIPs as Kemal Pasha and Abd el Krim. He is an inexhaustible raconteur of chess stories.” 
Canal later in life

     Kemal Pasha was a Turkish army officer, revolutionary, and founder of the Republic of Turkey, serving as its first President from 1923 until his death in 1938. Abd el-Krim (1882–1963) was a political and military leader who along with his brother led a large-scale revolt by a coalition of Berber-speaking Rif tribes against French and Spanish colonization of the Rif, an area of northern Morocco. The rebels established the short-lived Republic of the Rif. His guerrilla tactics influenced Ho Chi Minh, Chairman Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara. How Canal was involved with them is unknown.
     Sources widely disagree on Canal's date and place of birth. His tombstone says he was born in 1893, historian Jeremy Gaige gives his birth as April 19, 1896 in Chiclayo, Peru and his birth certificate says he was born April 19, 1897 in Chielago, Peru while his biographer. Alvise Zichichi writing in Esteban Canal says that Canal said in private that he was born before 1896 in Santander, Spain of a Spanish mother and a Peruvian father. Another version of his birth says he was born April 19, 1896 on a ship in the Pacific Ocean when his parents were on the way from Spain to Peru.
     In the mid-1930s Canal was living in Budapest and had been having modest success in international tournaments, but had expressed a desire to return to Peru where he wanted to start a Latin drive to help Capablanca regain the World Championship. As a result, several Peruvian players began efforts to obtain official support in order to finance his return. But, after several months the support had not materialized and so an impatient Canal traveled on his own, along with his wife Anna Klupacs. 
    He arrived in Peru aboard the steamer San Pedro on June 20, 1935 and immediately visited the Lima Chess Club. Things did not work out well for Canal because a professional player was something unheard of in Lima, so when he proposed that he be paid a fee for a simul, his proposal was met with disdain. A few players agreed, but many did not and for the most part Canal was ignored and he found such an environment not to his liking.
     Then he was invited to the Mar del Plata International Tournament in 1936. Official assistance was then arranged to cover his and his wife's travel expenses, but there was serious opposition because they did not have a religious marriage. As a result, no financial assistance was forthcoming. An indignant Canal packed up and left for Spain. The irony is that shortly after the Canals left, tickets for Argentina arrived from Roberto Grau, a prominent Argentine player who had learned of the situation.
     The son of a wealthy industrialist from Chiclayo, the capital of the Lambayeca region of Peru, Canal traveled, at the age of 13, to study in Europe, first in Spain and two years later in France. As a student he spent some time in Belgium and lived in Germany in 1914 to study medicine and that's where he learned to play chess.
     According to the magazine Wiener Schachzeitung, in 1916 he won a tournament in Leipzig, defeating e several local masters in the process. Another claim is that he won the championship of Saxony.  In 1917 he happened to be in Switzerland,where it played several games with Richard Teichmann and Hans Johner.
    He settled in Italy around 1923 and in Turin, Italy Alekhine, who was on tour, was greatly impressed with Canal as a result of their drawn game. It was Alekhine who recommended that Canal be invited to a number of tournaments. Thus, in 1923, he suddenly emerged to the chess world by playing in the international tournament of Trieste where his second place finish caused a sensation. It was in this tournament that he defeated the winner Paul Johner in a famous gambit in the Two Knights Defense.
     Canal tied for second at Merano 1926, tenth at Budapest 1929, tied for tenth out of 22 at Carlsbad 1929, tied for seventh at Rohitsch-Sauerbrunn 1929, second at Budapest 1932, tied for fourth at Bad Sliac, first at Budapest 1933, fifth at Mährisch-Ostrau 1933, and tied for first at Reus 1936. After World War II, he tied for second at Venice 1947, tied for sixth at Bad Gastein 1948, tied for second at Venice 1948, and won at Venice 1953. Canal played in one Olympiad, representing Peru on board 1 in 1950 at Dubrovnik.
     Canal, the last of the Romantic players, died in Varese, Italy on February 14, 1981 at the age of 84.

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