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Capablanca in Cleveland:
Six Newly Discovered Simultaneous Exhibition Games
and the Process of Their Recovery
by John S. Hilbert

    When a player of José Raúl Capablanca’s stature and ability came to town for a simultaneous exhibition, even early in his career, people took notice.  At least, sometimes people took notice.  As interested as chess players were in such events, the general population, as reflected in contemporary newspaper accounts, were less than enthralled.  Unless a newspaper at the scene of such an exhibition carried a local chess column, there was a very good chance that even Capablanca’s simultaneous exhibitions would go essentially uncovered, as have so many great exhibitions by practitioners of the game.  The hit or miss nature of such local reportage is, of course, at times deeply discouraging for the researcher delving into chess history.  At other times, however, such explorations lead to quite pleasant surprises.  This is the story of one such historical research adventure.
    A typical mixed bag of results concerns Capablanca’s trips to Cleveland, Ohio, in the northeast corner of the state.  Cleveland stretches along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and follows along naturally in a progression from Buffalo, to Erie, Pennsylvania, and then further west, first to Toledo and then later to Detroit, or, depending on one’s choice of direction, Chicago.  Professional chess players conducting tours and traveling by train from New York City to points west along the northern routes of the nation found cities such as Cleveland natural stopping points, good usually for at least one exhibition during the course of an extended tour.  Whether moving east or west, players traveling the northern parts of the nation often found themselves stopping in Cleveland.
    Such was the case for Capablanca, a player who engaged in a multitude of simultaneous performances.  According to Hooper and Brandreth (The Unknown Capablanca, 2nd, Revised Edition, Dover Publications, 1993), Capablanca had engaged in eight extensive tours of the United States alone before 1920.  Hooper and Brandreth have done chess historians and researchers a great favor by listing all known simultaneous performances by Capablanca, along with date, location, wins, losses, and draws, during his long and varied career.  See The Unknown Capablanca, pp. 180-194.  While not pretending to be complete, the list provided by Hooper and Brandreth provides a valuable starting point for in depth research by local historians seeking to track down Capablanca’s movements and, indeed, his forgotten games.  As an example of what one might hope to find by taking the time to explore original sources, I have followed through Capablanca’s trail to one city by the lake.
    Thanks to Hooper and Brandreth, it can be reported with some certainty that Capablanca visited Cleveland on at least ten separate occasions between 1909 and 1926.  His path through the city can be seen at a glance from the chart that follows:
Capablanca’s Cleveland, Ohio, 
Simultaneous Exhibitions:
Exhibition Date
Known Games
January 20, 1909
December 23, 1909
March 16, 1915
January 13, 1919
February 4, 1922
Wins: Stearns, Hamilton, Tarasov; 
Draw: Anderson
December 12, 1922
Wins: Stearns, Wolfe, Tozer; 
Draw: Judson
May 22, 1926
Win: Thomas
May 23, 1926
December 11, 1926
Wins: Spero (44 of 63 moves), Augustus;
Losses: Hughes, Thomas;
December 13, 1926
    For the record, the twelve games and one partial game listed above are collected in The Games of José Raúl Capablanca by Rogelio Caparrós (Caissa Editions: Yorklyn, Delaware 1991) and appear among the “Informal Games” under numbers 374-377, 400-403, 427, and 433-436.  Unfortunately, instead of specific citations for sources, Caparrós merely makes reference to research by others, such as Brandreth or Hooper, or to “Cleveland papers,” a citation which provides no help in checking for accuracy, for additional games, or associated information from specific chess columns.  Review of the second edition of the same book shows no additional games from Cleveland simultaneous exhibitions have been added.
    Thus, according to known sources, during his ten exhibitions in the city, in which he played a total of 390 games, Capablanca won a phenomenal 371, while giving up only 13 draws and 6 losses.  His winning percentage stands at an incredible 96.54%.  Perhaps almost equally amazing, from a chess historian’s point of view, is that despite six of the ten Cleveland exhibitions taking place during Capablanca’s reign as world champion, and three of the four remaining exhibitions having taken place after he had already established himself in this country, at least, as the strongest player around (having defeated Frank Marshall, United States Champion, by the lopsided score of 8 wins, 1 loss, and 14 draws during their match played between April 19 and June 23, 1909), a mere thirteen of his Cleveland exhibition games, out of 390, have until now been recovered. 
    Such a dismal record of recovered games, however, is in many ways not really that surprising.  Capablanca clearly did not meet significant opposition while playing his exhibitions in Cleveland, except perhaps for his December 12, 1922, and December 11, 1926, displays.  Those two exhibitions account for five of his six losses.  His winning percentage no doubt bespeaks, rather, many games that would not bear publishing.  And of course, the recovery of more games has its costs, both in time and in money.  Few would venture to travel to local sources, such as a distant city library, merely in hopes of locating at most a few additional simultaneous exhibition games.  The cost would be prohibitive, especially for such a player as Capablanca, who literally gave simultaneous displays in scores of cities around the world.  Similarly, few would wish to expend the time needed to arrange, and then view, numerous rolls of newspaper microfilm, often available, if at all, only through a potentially lengthy process of inter-library loan retrieval.
    Such concerns, however, need not prevent those of us interested in chess history from being prepared to take advantage of opportunities that do arise.  In this case, as I knew I was traveling to Cleveland for other business, I made it a point to gather the references given in the chart above and to take the time to stop by the Cleveland Public Library’s newly renovated building which houses, among other things, the library’s extensive microfilm collection.  All that was really needed was a little forethought and a willingness to set aside some time for the project.  I needed to know when such exhibitions took place, as a wonderful work such as The Unknown Capablanca provided.  Equally important, and in order to avoid unnecessary disappointment later, I needed to know what games had already been uncovered by researchers following such trails before me.  In this case, examination of works by Rogelio Caparrós, Edward Winter, and others, resulted in my confirming as already found the nine games noted in the chart above. 
    Armed with information concerning relevant dates and what games had already been recovered, it was a relatively simple matter to set about examining microfilm in Cleveland’s library.  As it happens, of course, the Cleveland Public Library houses the John G. White Collection, the largest collection of chess related books in the world.  As one might imagine, I often find myself seeking out reasons to travel to Cleveland to visit that collection.  It seemed only fitting that Cleveland, then, become the scene of such an exercise in seeking forgotten games.  But of course the same strategy would apply for someone who, for example, routinely visits St. Louis as a medical supply salesperson.  Preparation and a little time are the only real requirements to enjoy the search for forgotten chess games.
    One other bit of information that I brought along with me to Cleveland turned out to be an extremely helpful clue.  In reading through the American Chess Bulletin for February 1910 for another project, I happened to note the following brief comment, at page 27: “The Cleveland Leader in its issue of  December 19, 1909, prints its first weekly column devoted to chess and checkers, under the management of the Cleveland Chess and Checker Club.  From the report of the Capablanca visit we learn that the latter won 25, lost one to C. W. Shauer and drew two with W. L. Greer and H. O. Newcomb, respectively.  Mr. Newcomb is the state champion at checkers of Ohio.  We cannot too strongly commend the enterprise of the Cleveland Club and bespeak for its efforts satisfactory results.”  Hermann Helms and Hartwig Cassel, then publishers of the Bulletin, were of course great boosters of chess, and more than happy to include such small blurbs in the pages of their journal in order to encourage others to cover local chess events.  Their interest in promoting chess had for me, of course, coming across it eighty-seven years later, the added benefit of alerting me to the presence of a chess column beginning in Cleveland just at the time of the Cuban’s second visit to that city.
    What excited me even more, of course, and what in fact led to my seeking coverage of Capablanca’s play in Cleveland in the first place, was the fact that my review of historical sources had uncovered no games from Capablanca’s December 23, 1909, visit to the city, despite the fact that Helms and Cassel had inadvertently given me clear evidence that a local newspaper chess column had begun a mere four days before the simultaneous display.  This fact, coupled with the propensity for local chess columns to proudly give the winning, or even drawing, games played by local players against national and international talent, gave me great hope to think that examination of the Cleveland Leader for December 1909 and January 1910 might well result in some forgotten Capablanca games.
    This hunch, I happily report, proved correct. The Cleveland Leader did cover Capablanca’s appearance in the city in December 1909, and not surprisingly provided the one win and two draws achieved against him.  In the Cleveland Leader for December 26, 1909, the second chess column to appear in the paper described Capablanca’s visit.  Please note paragraphing from the paper has been changed here to conserve space.  “The great chess expert, Capablanca,” reported the Leader, “has come and gone.  He came Thursday evening from Indianapolis, was met at the Union Depot by two members of the chess club, was rushed up in an auto to the New England Building, arriving at the rooms of the Athletic Club about 9 o’clock.  A host of chess enthusiasts eagerly awaited his arrival, about twenty-eight of whom quickly seated themselves at tables, previously arranged in a circle around the large banquet room of the club.  After a brief introduction by Dr. Durstine, who explained that Mr. Capablanca would play simultaneously all comers, and that a prize was offered to any who would draw or win a game from Capablanca, everything was in readiness.  Without further ceremony Capablanca quickly passed from one table to another, and with scarcely a second’s pause at each, he deftly moved a piece on each chess board, and thus the battle was on.  The enthusiasm ran high as the many onlookers pressed eagerly back of the contestants to watch the progress of the various games.  The interest increased with each succeeding round, and soon one after another of the contestants went down to defeat before the invincible conqueror.  C. W. Shauer was the first to check the visitor’s string of victories.”  And then the column gave the game:
Capablanca,JR — Shauer,CW
Spanish: Russian (Rubinstein)
USA Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Athletic Club)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 d6 6.Bxc6+ bxc6 7.d4 Bg4 8.dxe5 Nxe4 9.exd6 cxd6 10.Re1 d5 11.h3 Bh5 12.g4 Bg6 13.Nc3 f5 14.Nd4 Qh4 15.Nxe4 fxe4 16.Nxc6 Qxh3 17.Qxd5 Qxg4+ 18.Kf1 Qh3+ 19.Ke2 Qf3+ 20.Kd2 Qxf2+ 21.Re2 e3+ 22.Kd1
22...Bxc2+ 23.Kxc2 Qxe2+ 24.Kb1 Qg4 25.Bxe3 Qg6+ 26.Kc1 Rc8 27.Qe5+ Kd7 28.Qd5+ Bd6 29.Kd2 Rxc6 30.Rf1 Qc2+ 31.Ke1 Qb1+ 32.Ke2 Qxb2+ 33.Ke1 Qb1+ 34.Ke2 Rc2+ 35.Kd3 Rc1+ 0-1. 
Cleveland Leader, 1909.12.26
    Not long after Shauer’s win, two other players drew their games in “what is known as perpetual check.  These were Mr. W. L. Greer, of the chess club, and Mr. Newcomb, the state checker champion.  Shortly after 12 o’clock all games were ended, Capablanca winning 25, drawing 2 and losing 1.”  The names of all twenty-eight players who participated in the exhibition were then given.  The Leader’s January 2, 1910, column gave not only H. O. Newcomb’s draw against Capablanca, but also covered Newcomb’s match victory whereby he defended his Ohio checkers championship, including two checkers games, one won by the champion.  Thus Newcomb may well have been the only player ever to face Capablanca, not lose, have his game published, and in the same column have given his successful retention of a state crown in … another game!
    Typographical errors in the game scores plagued the first columns of the Cleveland Leader’s new “Chess and Checkers” column, and it was not until two weeks later that the correct score of Newcomb’s draw, as well as the draw by W. L. Greer, were finally given in understandable form to the public.
Capablanca,JR — Newcomb,HO
Spanish: Steinitz
USA Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Athletic Club)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.0-0 Bd7 5.c3 Nf6 6.d3 g6 7.Bg5 Bg7 8.Nbd2 h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.Bg3 Nh5 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Nc4 Nxg3 13.fxg3 0-0 14.Ne3 Rb8 15.b3 Qc8 16.Nd2 f5 17.exf5 Bxf5 18.Nxf5 Rxf5 19.Qe2 c5 20.Qe4 Rxf1+ 21.Rxf1 Qe6 22.Qc6 Rc8 23.Ne4 
23...Rf8 24.Rxf8+ Bxf8 25.Qxc7 d5 26.Nxc5 Qg4 27.h3 Qxg3 28.Ne6 g4 29.hxg4 Qe1+ 30.Kh2 ½-½. 
Cleveland Leader, 1910.01.16

Capablanca,JR — Greer,WL
Spanish: Open Berlin
USA Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Athletic Club)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 exd4 6.Re1 d5 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.f3 c5 10.Nb3 Bc6 11.fxe4 d4 12.Qg4 h5 13.Qg3 Bd6 14.Qxg7 
14...Bxh2+ 15.Kxh2 Qh4+ 16.Kg1 Qxe1+ ½-½. 
Cleveland Leader, 1910.01.16
    I suspect the reason the next game was not found was because whoever looked in the Cleveland Plain Dealer for games from Capablanca’s December 12, 1922, exhibition stopped looking too soon.  The scores of the four games previously recovered from this event, those of the new world champion’s play against Stearns, Wolfe, Tozer, and Judson, apparently were found in the December 17th, 24th, and 31st issues of the paper.  But the game against Irving Spero, given below, did not appear until the January 7, 1923, column.  One reason whoever found the first four games missed the fifth was, no doubt, because with the third column concerning the exhibition, the chess column had published all three wins by the local players, as well as the one draw (against thirty-nine victories for Capablanca).  Local papers time and again, and understandably, publish the games of local players who defeat the exhibitor or who at least hold him to a draw.  No doubt whoever was looking for Capablanca games originally felt it unnecessary to examine the January 1923 roll of Cleveland Plain Dealer microfilm, as all the games of local “interest” were already accounted for, and weeks had passed by since the December 12, 1922, exhibition had taken place.
    But the game that “got away” from the previous researcher, so to speak, was also in fact a game that “got away” from the player who lost it.  Irving Spero was then Ohio Chess Champion, and at least according to his notes to the game, included below, he had a won game against the world champion until he managed to blunder it away.  Thus, the game that “got away” was memorialized in the first column of the new year.  One may find some interesting insight into both Capablanca and Spero from reading his comments surrounding the game.
    Capablanca had himself stated, as reported in the Plain Dealer for December 17, 1922, that his 39 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw was “the worst defeat in the last four years of exhibition and match play” he had suffered.  While the comment appears to have been a slight exaggeration for local consumption, a review of the listing in The Unknown Capablanca shows that on only one occasion, in Manchester on October 28, 1922, two months earlier, when he lost four games, had Capablanca suffered more than three losses in such an exhibition since a visit to Chicago on December 4, 1915, seven years earlier, when he had lost five games.  Capablanca, while in Cleveland, added that “the wonderful reception accorded me and the keen competition the players here evinced indicate a greatly quickened interest in the royal game since I played in Cleveland last.”  The local report thus concluded that the three wins scored against Capablanca “bears out the conclusion that the city is developing chess talent of a high order.”
Capablanca,JR — Spero,I
QGD: Vienna (Capablanca)
USA Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Athletic Club)
Annotations by Irving Spero
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 c6 6.Nbd2 Bb4 7.a3 Bxd2+ 8.Nxd2 0-0 9.Qc2 Re8 10.Be2 Nf8 11.f4 h6 12.Bh4 Ng6 13.Bf2 Qc7 14.c5 Kh8 15.Bd3 Ne7 16.h3 Nf5 17.g4 Nxd4 18.exd4 Qxf4 19.Be2 e5 20.Qd3 exd4 21.Bxd4 Nxg4 22.hxg4 Bxg4 23.0-0-0 Bxe2 24.Qc3 f6 25.Rde1 
At this point, believing my game better than the champion’s, I modestly proposed a draw as the hour was late. Capablanca kept on playing.
25...Re6 26.Kb1 Rae8 27.Nb3
Here I was sure of a win and the analysis may so indicate but single-handed (all the other players having been dispatched) I was no match for the champion.
28.Ka2 Bxh1 29.Rxh1 Re2 30.Qh3 a6 
A move of no significance, made only to gain time to comply with a request that I play.
31.Rf1 Qg5 32.Rg1 Qf4 33.Rf1  
Again I offered a draw which under other circumstances I would not have done but I felt my game weakening.
33...Qg5 34.Bc3 R8e7 35.Nd4 R2e5 36.Nf5 Re3 37.Nxe3 Rxe3 38.Qc8+ Kh7 39.Bd2 Rxa3+ 40.Kxa3 Qxd2 41.Qf5+ Kh8 42.Ka2 Qb4 43.Kb1 a5 44.Qg6 a4 45.Rg1 Qe4+ 46.Qxe4 dxe4 47.Kc2 Kg8 48.Kc3 Kf7 49.Kd4 f5 50.Ke3 g6 51.Ra1 h5 52.Rxa4 1-0. 
A brilliant example of a won game turned into a disastrous defeat.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1923.01.07
    The final two newly recovered games played by Capablanca during exhibitions in Cleveland were also discovered  in the Cleveland Plain Dealer chess column.  Like the game above, they were published the week after other exhibition games, ones previously recovered by researchers, had been printed.  In the first, G. A. Anderson, of Akron, Ohio, won a ten dollar prize after Capablanca judged his effort had been the second best game played in the thirty-four game exhibition.  Anderson was noted by the Plain Dealer to be the brother of another Cleveland chess player, “Eric Anderson, the Cleveland chess shark.” 
Capablanca,JR — Anderson,GA
Tarrasch: Schlechter (Prague)
USA Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Athletic Club)
Annotations from the Cleveland Plain Dealer
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 h6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Nc3 Be6 9.a3 Qd7 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.b4 Be7 12.Bb2 a6 13.Na4 Rd8 14.Rc1 0-0 15.Nc5 Bxc5 16.Rxc5 Ne4 17.Rc1 Bh3 18.Ne5 Nxe5 19.Bxe5 Bxg2 20.Kxg2 Rc8 21.Qd4 f6 22.Bf4 Qb5 23.Kf3 Rfe8 24.Rxc8 Rxc8 25.Rd1 Nc3 26.Rd2 Rc4 27.Qd3 d4 28.Kg2 Qd5+ 29.f3 Nb5 
Looks as if 29...f5 would have won.
30.a4 Nc3 31.e3 Nxa4 32.exd4 Rxb4 33.Bxh6 
If the bishop is taken White should at least draw by perpetual check.
33...Rb3 34.Qg6 Qf7 35.Qg4 
35...f5 would draw: 35...f5 36.Qg5 Kh7 37.Bxg7 Qxg7 and White must draw by perpetual check.
36.d5 f5 37.Qc4 Nxd5 
There is nothing better.
The only move, but sufficient. 
38...Rb2+ 39.Kf1 Rb1+ 40.Kf2 Rb2+ 
Not 40...gxh6, due to 41. Qc8+ 
41.Ke1 Qe6+ 42.Kd1 Kh7 
Not 42...gxh6 because of 43.Rd8+ Kf7 44.Rf8+ Ke7 45.Re8+. Nor; 42...Qxh6 due to 43.Rd6+.
43.Bd2 b5 44.Qh4+ Kg8 45.Qd8+ Kh7 46.Qd7 Qxd7 47.Rxd7 b4 48.Kc1 Rb3 49.f4 a5 50.Kc2 a4 51.Bc1 Rc3+ 52.Kb1 Rf3 53.Bb2 Rb3 54.Kc2 1-0. 
Anderson did not take down the concluding moves that spelled his defeat. After he moves his rook White plays Rxg7+ and Ra7, which should win.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1926.12.26 
    The final game recovered was another played by Elliott E. Stearns.  Stearns had lost to Capablanca in a Cleveland exhibition in February 1922, but later that year had won a game against him in another.  Both games, as noted in the chart above, have been recovered and appear in the Caparrós book.  His third try against the Cuban genius, however, was not as successful as his second, nor has it been recovered, until now.  Stearns himself provided the notes that follow.
Capablanca,JR — Stearns,EE
QGD: Vienna (Capablanca)
USA Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Athletic Club)
Annotations by Elliott E. Stearns
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 c6 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.Bd3 dxc4 8.Nxc4 Nd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Rc1 f5 12.Re1 N7f6 13.e4 fxe4 14.Bxe4 Nxe4 15.Rxe4 Nf6 16.Re1 Nd5 17.Qe2 Bd7 18.Nfe5 Rae8 19.g3 Rf6 20.f4 Bc8 21.Nd2 Ref8 22.Ne4 Rf5 23.a3 a6 24.Rc2 Nf6 25.Ng5 Nd5 26.Ngf3 Qe8 27.Nh4 R5f6 28.Ng4 R6f7 29.Qd3 Nxf4 30.gxf4 Rxf4 31.h3 
31...Qh5 would have been much better: 31...Qh5 32.Qg3 [However, L. W. Brand, the chess column’s editor, noted the following: “Stearns did not submit an analysis of 32.Ng2 Rf3 33.Re3, which seems to win for White.”] 32...g5 33.Ng2 Rf3 34.Qe5 Qg6 35.Rf2 R3f5 36.Rxf5 exf5 37.Nf2 h5 and Black should win with three pawns for the piece. The sacrifice would therefore appear to be sound and Black would also seem to have drawing chances by playing 33...Rxd4 [in this variation]. 
32.Nh6+ 1-0. 
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1926.12.26
    Pleased as I was to find these games, and to offer them here, perhaps the most important lesson for each of us to learn from this accounting is that much more exists to be found concerning even the greatest of chess players, in terms of their activities, statements, and games.  It is impossible to speculate how many more such games could be unearthed were interested readers who either visit or live in or near cities around the United States, and elsewhere, willing to spend an afternoon examining the local newspaper microfilm available in public libraries.  All it really takes is a little time and knowledge.  Results can never be guaranteed, but when such games are recovered, they offer a great deal of satisfaction for those who have made the effort to find them.
© 1999 John S. Hilbert.  All Rights Reserved.

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