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Capablanca - Kostic Match

Jose Raul Capablanca5/5(+5 -0 =0)[games]
Borislav Kostic0/5(+0 -5 =0)[games] Chess Event Description
Capablanca - Kostic (1919)

Briefest of chess contests, of the sort that arouse international interest and for which the stage is set with more than customary elaborateness, the match at Havana between Jose Capablanca and Boris Kostic, intended to be one of eight games up, draws not counting, came to what must be regarded as an untimely end after only five games had been played, the result being: Capablanca 5; Kostic, 0; drawn, 0.

Capablanca 1 1 1 1 1 5 Kostic 0 0 0 0 0 0

While making all possible allowances for the capital showing of Kostic in earlier encounters with his famous young adversary, it was of course quite in accordance with general expectations that Capablanca should win this match, but hardly with the record of five straight wins. The consensus of opinion had been to the effect that Kostic, inevitably a loser in the end, would make Capablanca work hard from start to finish and occasionally find a weak spot in his armor, enabling him to notch a victory or two, with an indefinite number of drawn games. The actual outcome upset all calculations. Capablanca emerged with added luster to a crown that well becomes a conquering hero, who is in line for world's championship honors.

The showing of the loser, even though he was admittedly outclassed, cannot be satisfactorily explained, except on the score of the excuses advanced for him by the people of Havana – that climate and change of diet proved an intricate combination he was quite unable to master. Kostic left New York the picture of robust health and the least likely of the chess masters to succumb to any indisposition at so inopportune a time. Report has it also that he gave a successful blindfold exhibition against twelve opponents and conducted the games with his customary skill. We will revert farther on to the subject of Kostic's lack of condition.

Play in the match began on March 25 and ended on April 5. In the first game Kostic resorted to the Petroff's Defense and a long-drawn-out battle for position ensued, which, after fifty-one moves, was adjourned until the following Monday. The position then had all the appearance of a draw, but Capablanca, with the infinite patience that characterizes his at all times simple style, applied himself to the task of working out a win, and in this he was successful upon resumption of play. In the meantime, the second game, opened by Kostic with an Italian Game, had been decided in one session in favor of Capablanca, who accepted the gift of a Pawn and won expeditiously after all of the pieces, had been exchanged.

Next came the third game, another Petroff's Defense, in which Kostic had his best prospects for a possible victory. This game should be studied alongside of the first game Pillsbury won from Dr. Lasker in the St. Petersburg Tournament of 1895-96 and in which the then American champion made the winner of the tournament look pitifully helpless. Capablanca diverged from Dr. Lasker's play in one important particular, but Kostic, like Pillsbury, obtained a fine development. The Serbian, however, was not equal to the occasion and his opponent, watching his chance, snatched a Pawn and got away without incurring any penalty. It was in the middle stage of this game that Capablanca played with fancy free abandon, displaying a farsightedness combined with rare coolness under fire.

With a score of 3-0 against him, Kostic can well be forgiven any feeling of hopelessness that might have crept into his manly bosom, and it needed only the last straw in the fourth game to break the backbone of his confidence effectually. Kostic was White in a Queen’s Pawn Opening and Capablanca again contented himself with a watchful waiting policy, persistently nibbling away at the position of the Serbian. Had Kostic been equally alert, he would not have missed his chance to escape with a draw when the clouds were gathering. As played, Capablanca won hands down. The fifth and final game, lasting fifteen moves, was little else than a curiosity. Had it been continued, Capablanca would inevitably have been a winner.

The match had a most auspicious beginning and was formally opened at the Union Club with an address by General Fernando de Andrade, former Mayor of Havana, an enthusiastic amateur player keenly interested in the remarkable career of his young countryman, whose exploits he extolled, at the same time extending a cordial welcome to his opponent. General de Andrade announced that the match would be one of eight games up, draws not counting, and that adjourned games would be played off on Monday, with Sunday for a day of rest. Dr. Rafael de Pazos, president of the Club de Ajedrez de la Havana, acted in the capacity of referee, and Senor Pablo Desvernine, the Secretary of State, also a keen chess enthusiast, represented General Mario G. Menocal, President of the Republic, one of the subscribers to the purse for which the masters played. Dr. F. Portela acted as second for Capablanca and Dr. A. Jover in a similar capacity for Kostic. The first three games were played at the Union Club and the next two at the Casino Espanol – <American Chess Bulletin, May-June, 1919>.

The Serbian master is still not restored from his recent illness and the rapid change of climate, alimentation, etc., appear to have had much to do with his discomfiture. A psychological phenomenon, well known among players of chess, appears to have taken possession of him, by virtue of which he contributes somewhat to his own defeat by regarding his opponent as invincible. Capablanca is now at the height of his capabilities, and it would be proper to try to organize the match with Emanuel Lasker. We launch the idea to see if there be anyone to take it up, and we promise on our part to cooperate in such a brilliant consummation. We commend the master, Kostic, who, in spite of his defeat, is not disheartened, for his perseverance in the noble game and, besides being recognized among the best players in the world, is very much beloved by the Cubans. It is admitted that in the short time he has been here, he has captivated our sympathy and affection, and we wish to see him, not a victor over Capablanca nor battling against him, but in fraternal agreement and comrade in victory.

A correspondent in Havana, although he does not disguise the fact that there is considerable disappointment among the subscribers of the liberal prize fund, writes to us in a somewhat similar vein: “The principal reason for the falling off in Mr. Kostic’s form was the change in climate, which affected him considerably, to the extent that he was advised not to start playing until a week later than when he began. The physical depression was increased after the first game, where the mental strain was so great in that hard-fought contest, and the result was that on the following day he was so nervous that he even forgot that he had a right to postpone the game, and played it in such a listless and indifferent way that it was practically given away. This put him two games behind, because, although the first game was sealed and apparently a draw, Kostic saw that he had a lost game if Capablanca made the right moves, which he did. Now, in the third game he was in better mental condition and made his moves in fine shape, and had the best of the game. This made him overconfident and hasty in his moves, and the result was that he not only overlooked a very strong and winning move by playing …Bd6 at his twelfth move, but also made a slip by playing …Bf5 instead of …Bh5, thereby losing a Pawn and the game. The loss of this game depressed him very much and preyed considerably on his mind. Consequently, when he played his fourth game, he was still brooding over it and, instead of playing the simple and obvious move of Kf1 at his forty-seventh move, which would have assured him a draw, he went and played Rf1, and therefore lost the game. Now with four games to the bad, he was naturally discouraged and was inclined not to play any more, but he was induced to play and, by the score made, anyone can see that he gave it up in order to finish for good. Kostic has made many friends since his arrival and all regret his defeat, but all encourage him to persevere, as he still has a bright future in chess before him” – <El Mundo, April 6, 1919.>


On the eve of going to press, considerable light is shed upon the cause of Kostic’s bad showing by the receipt of a letter from the loser himself, who, of course, is the only one able to speak with authority as to his own condition. Summarized, the statement of his case, quoted for the most part from the New York Evening Post of April 26, is about as follows:

How Boris Kostic fairly worried himself sick over the prospects of having to encounter Capablanca, one of the two best players in the world, under unfavorable conditions and contrary to his own best judgment, which prompted him not to proceed to Havana – a course, however, his conscience would not permit – the fact that he was ill for six days after landing; thereby causing a postponement of the start of the match, his aggravation over the contemplation of the excessively high costs of hotel living, not to mention physician’s fees, became known yesterday upon receipt of the first authentic explanation of the near fiasco, recently staged in the Cuban capital, in a letter from Kostic himself, who is even now on his way to his home in Gary, Indiana, via Key west, planning a trip to Canada, after a fortnight's rest, that will take him to Toronto, Hamilton, Quebec and Montreal.

Kostic states that he left New York without genuine ambition for the match, feeling that the odds were all against him, when he needed every possible advantage against an opponent of the Cuban’s caliber. But he had given his word and could not go back on it. The climate had a most unfortunate effect upon him so that it was impossible for him to play chess in anywhere near his normal form. In vain did he struggle against it, for severe headaches came upon him after arrival, necessitating the attendance of a doctor, who gave him injections to relieve his condition. Somewhat plaintively he avers that it did him little good, and the fee only served to augment his nervousness. He found the air in the center of the city, where he took up residence, very trying. After six days of this sort of thing he decided to play with Capablanca.

The first game was a most difficult proposition for him, and he sat at the board for six consecutive hours, striving mightily not to jeopardize his position, which was finally adjourned. It had completely exhausted him, and the next day, after a sleepless night, he was fairly distracted, so much so that he forgot his right, under the conditions, to take off two days for rest. Worse than that, he intended to play the Spanish Game and had written down 3. Bb5 on the scoresheet, when suddenly he realized that he had played his Bishop to c4, bringing about an Italian Game, an opening he never plays! He lost that game and took two days off, resuming play in the third game in comparatively good condition. After working up a fine position, a feeling of numbness, which he ascribed to the treatments he was undergoing, overtook him. He missed his chance at the twelfth turn and, three moves later, chose the wrong spot for the retreat of his Bishop, which cost him a Pawn and the game. From then on, Kostic says, he was completely demoralized, being unfit to play at all, and the rest did not count. He regrets the possibly unpleasant impression the match may have left upon chess supporters in Havana, but hopes to make amends at Hastings, where he expects to play in August – American Chess Bulletin, May-June, 1919.

Based on an original collection by User: TheFocus.

 page 1 of 1; 5 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Capablanca vs Kostic 1-0861919Capablanca - KosticC42 Petrov Defense
2. Kostic vs Capablanca 0-1461919Capablanca - KosticC50 Giuoco Piano
3. Capablanca vs Kostic 1-0481919Capablanca - KosticC42 Petrov Defense
4. Kostic vs Capablanca 0-1541919Capablanca - KosticA46 Queen's Pawn Game
5. Capablanca vs Kostic 1-0151919Capablanca - KosticC11 French
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Jul-22-13  offramp: Whoever did the introduction to this match deserves a medal. It is one of the best on the whole site.

It is worth it, because the great man himself said, years later, that he felt he had played his best chess ever in this match.

Btw, the page for Kostic now has a photo of him.

Jul-22-13  Shams: <offramp> It's from El Mundo, written the year the match was played. Glad it finds a warm welcome in your manly bosom.
Jul-22-13  TheFocus: Actually, <American Chess Bulletin> and <El Mundo>. I just put them in order.

Like Billie Shakespeare said, "Man, this crap writes itself!!"


Jul-23-13  offramp: Bosoms lol!

You've all done very well!

Jan-19-18  offramp: It's interesting that Capablanca did not beat Kostic outside of this match. Their other 5 games were drawn.
Jun-14-18  zanzibar: Tartajubow also has a write-up on this match...

Supposedly, Kostic was so nervous that he unintendedly played a Giuoco Piano for the first time in his life, instead of his usual Ruy Lopez.

A rarely outlandish claim, can it be confirmed?

Jun-14-18  zanzibar: The conditions of the match, and how it arose, are covered by Sanchez p227.

The Armistice came on Nov 11, 1918 the Kostic challenge came on Dec 15 via a letter to Capa, who penned a reply the very next day, accepting the challenge and giving the conditions as the same as Marshall's, as found on ACB Apr 1916.

Capa explicitly points out the financials: purse no less than $2500, with the option of $1000 side bet.

Both masters arrived together in Havana via the steamer Mexico, and the match was played at the Union Club.

etc. etc.

* * * * *

And if that little scamp wants to know about the post-match relation of Capa/Kostic shehe can find it in Sanchez.

Jun-14-18  sudoplatov: 1919 EDO Ratings

Capablanca 2842 (#1)
Kostic 2601 (#5)
Lasker 2746 (#2)

And in 1921 (Date of Lasker Match)

Capablanca 2831 (#1)
Lasker 2750 (#2)
Kostich 2585 (#6)

Jun-14-18  zanzibar: <sudoplatov> good data, makes me wonder what <Kostic>'s TPR was for the match.
Mar-11-19  offramp: The Reverend Edo, from his mountain-top retreat in California, USA, has created a page for this match.

The Reverend thinks that both players were at career peaks for this match:


Name Edo Dev. Score / Games
Capablanca, José 2826 (52) 5 / 5
Kostić, Boris 2593 (41) 0 / 5 >

The Dev. is the Deviation from expectation.

Try to visualize Michael Jackson in the <Smooth Criminal> video.

Premium Chessgames Member
  OhioChessFan: The prose in the intro is painfullly stilted. I needed a machete to get through the first sentence.
Premium Chessgames Member
  OhioChessFan: <offramp: Whoever did the introduction to this match deserves a medal. It is one of the best on the whole site.>

I'm hoping that is satire.

<Shame: <offramp> It's from El Mundo, written the year the match was played. Glad it finds a warm welcome in your manly bosom.>

Written in 1919? That doesn't surprise me, as it greatly reminds me of the old baseball newspaper accounts, with the strange over the top descriptions of the games.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <....With a score of 3-0 against him, Kostic can well be forgiven any feeling of hopelessness that might have crept into his manly bosom....>

Lovely stuff.

Mar-22-22  Immortal Gambit: Did the person who wrote that first rambling sentence even speak English?
Premium Chessgames Member

<Immortal Gambit>

The English is correct, but the idiom is dated. The introduction supplied above for this text has been copy/pasted from an old source, which is why the English sounds old fashioned.

The intro here is copy/pasted from – American Chess Bulletin, May-June, 1919.

Mar-22-22  Immortal Gambit: I understand it's from 1919, but the number of unnecessary appositives, appositives to an appositive, and subordinate clauses is simply poor writing, regardless of the idiom of the day.
Mar-22-22  sudoplatov: The match may confirm Tarrasch's comment on never beating a well person. He did (I read somewhere) indicate that his comment wasn't really tongue-in-cheek.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: Tarrasch had one helluva nerve to say anything after trying to explain his loss to Lasker in 1908 away by citing the sea air as a contributing factor.
Premium Chessgames Member

<Immortal Gambit> I too feel your parsing pain.

But remember that young people always think old people are pompous, doddering fools and old people always think young people are crazy and dangerous.

Me, I subscribe to both propositions...

Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Hold on, this is the same Kostic that really chased Capablanca all the way through in the later Hastings tournament:

Hastings (1919)

Amazing to win 5-0 against Kostic - maybe Kostic strengthened his game as a result of this match.

May-17-22  RookFile: I guess that's why matches are scarier than tournaments. In a match, you've got Capa facing you today, tomorrow, the next day.... etc.

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