I was just looking at the Wikipedia article on Capablanca, Anthony , and it quotes an interesting evaluation of Capablanca given by Bobby Fischer in a 2006 (!) radio interview. Here’s what Fischer said:

Morphy and Capablanca had enormous talent, Steinitz was very great too. Alekhine was great, but I am not a big fan of his. Maybe it’s just my taste. I’ve studied his games a lot, but I much prefer Capablanca and Morphy. Alekhine had a rather heavy style, Capablanca was much more brilliant and talented, he had a real light touch. Everyone I’ve spoken to who saw Capablanca play still speak of him with awe. If you showed him any position he would instantly tell you the right move. When I used to go to the Manhattan Chess Club back in the fifties, I met a lot of old-timers there who knew Capablanca, because he used to come around to the Manhattan club in the forties—before he died in the early forties. They spoke about Capablanca with awe. I have never seen people speak about any chess player like that, before or since.” —Bobby Fischer, Icelandic Radio Interview, 2006

My father, when he was in his teens, actually saw Capablanca give a simultaneous exhibition at the Manhattan Chess Club . Oh! What I would have given to have seen that ! I did see Fischer give a simultaneous once. And on another occasion, I narrowly missed the opportunity of playing him! Not competitively, needless to say. It happened like this. I was a lad of about 15, I had a few bucks to spend on a Saturday morning. “Should I buy that copy of Pillsbury’s Chess Career that I’ve been wanting to get, or shall I go and play at Chess House?” I decided to buy the book and play at Chess House Sunday. When I showed up at Chess House on Sunday afternoon, I learned that Fischer had been there the day before and was playing all comers!

The habitués of Chess House (which was on 72nd Street, but no longer exists) were mostly elderly Jewish men. The air was dense with pipe and cigar smoke. Opponents did not talk to each other much, but it was the custom to engage in incessant thinking aloud, chattering to oneself, and verbigeration. Once, when I blundered by leaving a knight en prise (meaning undefended and liable to capture)—or in the chess slang “hanging”—my elderly opponent wondered aloud, “Why is this knight different from any other knight?” I thought he was just making a sarcastic comment about my play, until ten years later I finally got the joke while watching a TV show about Passover!

Articles by Stephen M. Barr

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