The tournament was played in San Sebastian, on the northern coast of Spain; it was ultimately won by Jose Capablanca, and famously so, for it was his first ever major international event, and thus his first time playing against many of the world's top players at the time.
Before we dive in, let's see the lineup of participants at this full and feisty fifteen player round-robin event:
- Amos Burn, aged 63. An ageing veteran of the chess world at the time, Burn of England was playing in tournaments long before newer players Rubinstein, Vidmar, Capablanca and Frank Marshall were even born. Back in his heyday during the 1880s and '90s he was competitive against contemporary masters Tarrasch, Chigorin and Schlechter. Although his last tournament was in 1912, he was still a force to be reckoned with throughout his career, and notably beat a young Alexander Alekhine in Karlsbad 1911, held later in the same year as San Sebastian.
- Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, aged 49. While pursuing a career as a medical doctor, Tarrasch had long been established as one of the world's leading chess teachers and had a uniquely scientific approach to the game. Together with Steinitz, he was one of the first players in the late 1800s to recognize the importance of such concepts as the bishop pair, a space advantage and control of the center. Tarrasch greatly valued piece mobility, and his namesake opening, the Tarrasch Defense to the Queen's Gambit, perfectly represented his views.
- Richard Teichmann, aged 43. While never a contender for the world championship, Teichmann would go on to achieve his greatest tournament victory later this year in Karlsbad 1911 ahead of leading masters Rubinstein, Schlechter, Vidmar and Marshall. Notably, he was handicapped with only one eye, which had caused him trouble at some tournaments in the past.
- David Janowski, aged 43. An experienced Russian master, Janowski had a reputation for playing quickly and energetically, preferring to attack in open positions. He was held in high esteem by Capablanca, who noted that "when in form [he] is one of the most feared opponents who can exist". At the same time though, he was considered relatively weak in the endgame, and had dismal lifetime records against world champions Emanuel Lasker (+4-25=7) and Capablanca (+1-9=1). Still, he is one of only two people in history (along with Tarrasch) to have scored at least one win against each of the first four world champions.
- Geza Maroczy, aged 41. A long-lived Hungarian grandmaster, Maroczy was best known for popularizing the "Maroczy Bind", a classic formation with pawns on c4 and e4 (c5 and e5 for black). He was also well-known as a exceptional defender, and scored well against feared attacking players such as Frank Marshall (+11-6=8), Mikhail Chigorin (+6-4=7) and David Janowski (+10-5=5).
- Carl Schlechter, aged 37. A slightly lesser-known master from Austria-Hungary, Schlechter is perhaps most famous for coming within a hair's breadth of defeating Emanuel Lasker in their 1910 World Championship match. Going into the final game, Schlechter was leading by a point and needed only a draw to take the title. In a tense position with Lasker's king dancing around in the center, Schlechter blundered from a winning, to a drawn, and then tragically to a lost position, letting Lasker escape the match tied 1-1 with 8 draws. By the rules at the time, a drawn match meant the current world champion held the title and so, Schlechter narrowly missed out on his one and only attempt at the crown.
- Frank Marshall, aged 34. One of America's greatest chess geniuses, Marshall was widely feared as a cunning tactician and known for his aggressive playing style. His namesake opening, the Marshall Gambit in the Ruy Lopez, remains a popular weapon of choice for GMs even to this day! Since losing his 1909 match to Capablanca in surprising fashion, Marshall had advocated for the new prodigy to be invited to play in San Sebastian.
- Paul Leonhardt, aged 34. While never one of the strongest players in the world, over the course of his career Leonhardt was able to score beautiful wins against many of the world's elite players: Tarrasch, Tartakower, Nimzovitch, Maroczy and later Reti.
- Akiba Rubinstein, aged 29. Rubinstein was a Polish grandmaster widely considered to be among the strongest players never to become world champion. He was near the peak of his career in 1911 - just a couple years back he had tied for first with world champion Emanuel Lasker at St. Petersburg 1909, even winning his individual encounter with Lasker there. Needless to say, Rubinstein was one of the favorites to win this tournament, especially with the conspicuous absence of Lasker.
- Ossip Bernstein, aged 29. The Russian grandmaster Bernstein had an illustrious career and remained active in tournaments all the way into the late 1950s. While he was never quite in the same category as Capablanca or Alekhine, he achieved lifetime level or near-level scores against such great players as Emanuel Lasker (+2-3=1), Akiba Rubinstein (+1-1=7) and Mikhail Chigorin (+2-1=0). One of his best games was a brilliant win over Miguel Najdorf in Montevideo 1954, played when Bernstein was in his 70s!
- Oldrich Duras, aged 29. A little-known grandmaster from Czechoslovakia, Duras was part of the new generation that included Rubinstein, Capablanca and Marshall. He had been on the chess scene for barely a decade now, having scored one of his best results a few years prior at Prague 1908, where he finished tied for first with Schlechter, ahead of Rubinstein, Vidmar, Marshall and Janowski.
- Rudolf Spielmann, aged 28. The man, the myth, the legend, Spielmann was one of the last stalwarts of the old Romantic Era of chess, where swashbuckling gambits and dazzling sacrifices were the norm. He was certainly no stranger to launching his f-pawn as white, and excelled in creating complicated messes over the board where he could make full use of his unique imagination and creativity.
- Milan Vidmar, aged 26. A solid grandmaster from Slovenia, Vidmar's consistent tournament performances secured him a spot among the best players in the world for the first quarter of the 20th century, only topped out by Lasker, Rubinstein, Capablanca and Alekhine. In addition to being a chess player, he had a successful career as an electrical engineer, and later in life he became the president of the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Science.
- Aron Nimzowitsch, aged 25. While not at his peak yet, Nimzowitsch was without a doubt one of the most influential chess theorists of the early 20th century. He is best known for being one of the founders of the hypermodern school of thought, which argued that direct occupation of the center by pawns did not by itself secure an advantage and that controlling the center with pieces instead was a viable strategy. In later decades, this new way of thinking would ultimately give birth to the King's Indian Defense, the Grunfeld and also his namesake opening, the Nimzo-Indian Defense. All of these systems are widely played at the GM level today!
- Jose Raul Capablanca, aged 23. A newcomer to the elite chess arena, the young Capablanca was still riding the fame he received from demolishing the American Frank Marshall in their 1909 match with the startling final score 8-1 (excluding draws). This tournament was the child prodigy's first chance to test his mettle against the world's best players. Over the next decade, Capablanca would realize his full potential, ultimately dethroning Lasker in their 1921 World Championship match...
|Capablanca-Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 1). Black to move.|
|Maroczy-Marshall, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 1). Black to move.|
Nimzowitsch suffered a now-famous defeat against Tarrasch, where he made an instructive blunder in a drawn ending:
|Nimzowitsch-Tarrasch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 1). White to move.|
|Marshall-Capablanca, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). White to move.|
|Janowski-Nimzowitsch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). White to move.|
|Leonhardt-Duras, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). White to move.|
|Bernstein-Spielmann, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). Black to move.|
|Capablanca-Burn, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). Black to move.|
|Maroczy-Tarrasch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). White to move.|
|Rubinstein-Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). White to move.|
|Nimzowitsch-Leonhardt, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). Black to move.|
|Marshall-Rubinstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). White to move.|
|Burn-Spielmann, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). Black to move.|
|Janowski-Maroczy, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). White to move.|
|Tarrasch-Capablanca, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). White to move.|
- Capablanca (3) - Janowski (1.5); Janowski had lost his last two games and was clearly out for blood against the young Capablanca.
- Maroczy (2.5) - Leonhardt (1)
- Rubinstein (2) - Burn (1.5); another battle of the generations
- Schlechter (2.5) - Duras (1)
- Spielmann (1.5) - Tarrasch (2.5); how would Tarrasch fare as black against such a daredevil tactician?
- Teichmann (1) - Marshall (2)
- Vidmar (1.5) - Bernstein (2.5)
|Spielmann-Tarrasch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). White to move.|
|Maroczy-Leonhardt, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). White to move.|
|Vidmar-Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). Black to move.|
|Schlechter-Duras, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). White to move.|
|Capablanca-Janowski, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). Black to move.|
- 4.0 - Capablanca
- 3.5 - Schlechter
- 3.0 - Marshall, Tarrasch
- 2.5 - Rubinstein, Vidmar (with one bye), Bernstein, Maroczy
- 2.0 - Nimzowitsch (with one bye), Spielmann, Burn, Leonhardt (with one bye)
- 1.5 - Janowski
- 1.0 - Teichmann (with one bye), Duras (with one bye)