Actually, the first international tournament to honor Capablanca, Havana 1952, took place ten years after his death and ten years before the start of the series, this prequel tournament was won by Najdorf
and Reshevsky as equal first in a strong and international field, ahead of Gligoric, followed by Evans, then Eliskases as shared fourth and fifth; other players including Rossolimo, Pomar Salamanca, Horowitz, Prins, Guimard, and Edward Lasker.
A year later, the revolution broke out:
The Cuban Revolution (1953–59) was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement and its allies against the U.S.-backed totalitarian ruling of Cuban President Fulgencio
Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959, replacing his dictatorship with a revolutionary socialist state in the Republic
of Cuba. The 26th of July Movement later changed along authoritarian communist lines in the tradition Marxism-Leninism, becoming the Communist Party in October 1965, the only party permitted to rule . The Cuban constitution describes
the role of the Party to be the "leading force of society and of the state". (Source: Wikipedia)
The launch of the current tournament series in 1962 was primarily an initiative of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. He could easily cover
the costs as director of the National Bank and Minister of Industries, honouring José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera:
<< Before he founded a great chess tournament, Che Guevara came to Cuba as a guerilla, when the island was ruled
by Batista and the mob. He was on his way to a big hotel, the Havana Hilton. It was opened in 1958, as another gambling hall. Revolutionaries took over the building within a year. The new government occupied one floor of the enormous hotel and renamed
it Habana Libre.
When the political situation had stabilized, Che warmed up the government for a chess event. The Capablanca Memorial (in Memoriam) became the best paid tournament in the world. Ché Guevara could cover
the costs as director of the National Bank and Minister of Industries. Twenty-two players from Europe, Latin America and Cuba conducted the first contest in Habana Libre from April until May 1962. Che Guevara was liquidated as a guerrilla in Bolivia
shortly after the fifth event in 1967. Hereafter, the tournament looked like the Che Memorial. >>
Quotation from Endgame (Jan van Reek), and Chessgames
Ernesto Ché Guevara chess biography: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=40280
Fidel Castro chess biography: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=32337
The international chess tournament to honour the memory of Cuba’s great World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942) is organized since then annually with a few exceptions. There was no invitation tournament
in 1966 (famous Chess Olympiad at Havana), 1970, 1978 and 1982.
Most tournaments (including the inauguration) are played in the Cuban capital Havana, but some editions also
in Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Holguín,
Matanzas or Varadero.
The first ten editions, are regarded as world-class tournaments, absolute elite events:
Cienfuegos in 1973 was the last big event. Smyslov won a third time.
It moved to other cuban cities, too and was held during the seventies, eighties, and nineties mostly at port venues such as on the Bay of Matanzas. From 1974 on the series
was split in several (less strong) tournaments. The country suffered severe economic crisis and international isolation under its dogmatic rulers. Top European players began to avoid the Memorial.
Guillermo García González
was the first Cuban winner in 1977 (together with Oleg Romanishin), and won again in 1980 in the second tournament. Amador Rodriguez Cepedes won twice in the 1980s, when for a brief period two closed tournaments of plus / miuns equal
moderate strength had been organised as a Capablanca Memorial.
Longtime, Jesús Nogueiras was the dominant Cuban player, he also qualified for the FIDE Candidate's (1985) and the first GMA World Cup cycle (1988/89). Walter
Arencibia had won as first Cuban the World Junior Chess Championship in 1986.
In the 1980s the Memorial tournaments has become comparatively weak. During the second half of the eighties, most players and winners were Latin Americans. The
participation of globetrotter Anthony Miles, the first British born (English native) grandmaster, gave a new impulse to the event, he won or co-won four times in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1999.
Furthermore, in the the new millenium, two new Cuban
chess top talents emerged: Lázaro Bruzón (World Junior Chess Champion in 2000) and Leinier Domínguez Pérez, who is a thrice winner at the Capablanca Memorial.
Since 1998, the series has usually
been played again in the cuban capital Havana and regained a lot in status and strength, especially since the mid-2000s. In general, efforts to improve diplomatic relations obtained momentum. Today, the Capablanca Memorial in the Elite section can certainly
be considered as an invitational supertournament of modern type and its participants normally achieve an ELO average higher than 2700.
In June 2015, the 50th anniversary edition of this traditional tournament took place in Salón
Embajadores in Hotel Habana Libre in Vedado, a central business district and modern urban area of Havana. Yu, Yanghi of China has taken the strongest Capablanca Memorial for some years (a six-player double-round
all-play-all with Leinier Dominguez Perez and Lázaro Bruzón Batista of the host country, Russians Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dmitry Andreikin and Ukrainian Pavel Eljanov) in the Elite section by storm and won convincingly with 8.5/10 points.
Vitaly Kunin, Russian born grandmaster, playing for the German federation, won the Premier section outright.
After an impressive jubilee at Havana in 2015, the traditional series stepped for its 51th edition in 2016 and
its 52nd edition in 2017 anew to Varadero. Since 2018, the tournament returned to Havana.
The Capablanca Memorial was one of a very few international tournamants, mostly offering a closed invitation B section, in a mix
for local (latinamercano) hereos, aging stars and promising youngster, ie. Jeffery Xiong, America's next top chess prodigy, took benefit at the tender age of 15, he is born in October 30, 2000, he won the Premier (B-group) of
the 2016 Memorial at Varadero as clear first. Jeffrey Xiong is currently one of the Young Stars – Team USA program that has been sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL).
A group of young and promising chess players are assessed and evaluated by Garry Kasparov himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky.
The main GM group today is officially named 'Grupo Elite', frequently
there are several events played during the Festival, that means the so-called 'Grupo Premier' is equivalent to the B-group, 'Grupo Abierto' stands for the (amateur) open sections. Since 2017, there is no longer a closed B-group,
but an open featuring several grandmasters.
Record winner of the Capablanca Memorial is Vassily Ivanchuk, Ukraine, with an incredible eight tournament wins in the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 (all editions played in Havana),
in 2016 (played in Varadero), and in 2019 (again in Havana).