(This interview was published in New York World, 25 October 1925.)
‘Chess is not merely a game nor a mental training, but a social attainment, in the opinion of José Raúl Capablanca of Cuba, the world’s chess champion, who stopped off in New York a few hours between boats recently on his way from Havana to Moscow, where he will participate in the International Chess Masters’ Tournament, opening 5 November, under the auspices of the Soviet Government.
“Chess”, said Capablanca, “is more than a game or a mental training. It is a distinct attainment. I have always regarded the playing of chess and the accomplishment of a good game as an art, and something to be admired no less than an artist’s canvas or the product of a sculptor’s chisel. Chess is a mental diversion rather than a game. It is both artistic and scientific.”
Discussing the progress of chess in America, Capablanca said:
“Chess was greatly injured in the United States when two of its foremost players, many years ago, were credited with having been driven insane because of their absorption in the game. There was not a word of truth as to either of these men, yet the propaganda became so widespread and your newspapers made so much of it that the man or woman who took up chess came to be regarded as a little ‘strange’.
I often have had men and women of otherwise fine intelligence actually ask me if I did not fear I would lose my reason by continuing to play the game. It seems a fixed idea among many Americans that facility or expertness in the game indicates some mental disorder.”
Winning the world’s championship in chess has its handicaps, Capablanca admitted, for often periods of two years have elapsed in which he has not moved a chessman for the simple reason there was no-one within four or five thousand miles with whom he might play.
Climate, Capablanca said, has more to do with creating chessplayers than any other factor. He regards himself as an “accident” in the chess world, as, he asserts, tropical or semi-tropical countries seldom produce a chessplayer.
“I began playing chess when four years old”, he said. “I can’t say that I played it with any intelligence, but I played it. One has to begin very young in order to make any headway.”
The world’s chess champion is now 37. He is in appearance eight to ten years younger than that.
England, he thinks, produces excellent chessplayers because of its peculiarly raw climate, which drives men into indoor pursuits. He said that one year, when in London, playing with Members of Parliament and of the House of Lords, he noted not less than 300 members of the British Upper and Lower Houses and of the King’s Bench who played chess, and played it well. At that time, he added, he frequently played with Andrew Bonar Law, British Prime Minister in 1922-23.
Capablanca was asked if there were not limits to the number of plays possible in chess.
“Such a thing as a limit is so remote”, he replied, “that to my mind it would require at least 50 years for two or three extremely gifted players to be able to master the intricacies of the game to such an extent as to make it practically impossible for one of these two or three men to beat the other. I should say that it is next to impossible, if not actually so, for one single individual to master the game so as to be perfect. No one, so far, has been able to avoid mistakes in chess.”
One of the interesting revelations made by the champion is that he does not make a habit of polishing up on the game or studying moves in advance of a game. He does not, he said, intend to play any game on his way to Russia. He plays only when he sits down to a board against an adversary, he added, and obtains his chief pleasure from playing in seeing if he cannot, at the right moment, make the right play to win.
“Just as an artist would make the right stroke of his brush at the right moment and in the proper manner to complete his canvas”, is the way Capablanca describes this.
Russia and the Teutonic countries, Capablanca asserted, produce excellent chessplayers, by reason of their colder climate, while France has never yielded to the game to any great extent.
Informed that since the Soviets have come into power in Russia the character of the chessmen has been made proletarian, and that anvils have taken the place of pawns, while blacksmiths and gleaners have replaced the knights and bishops, Capablanca said:
“That might be for exhibition purposes, but I am confident that in Moscow we shall use the regular chessmen that are used throughout the world wherever chess is played.”
Capablanca, besides being world’s chess champion, is a real estate man of considerable note in Cuba, having large holdings in Havana, where he resides.’