A Slice of Life
Shmuel Chaim Reshevsky
Shmuel Chaim Reshevsky
by Shaindel Reshevsky
My father, Shmuel Chaim Reshevsky, of blessed memory, was an International Grandmaster of Chess and seven time United States Chess Champion. He was born in Ozorkov, Poland, and was known as a child prodigy and chess genius at the age of 4. He learned the game by observing his father, Yaakov, play. At the age of 6 he defeated high- ranking officials in simultaneous chess exhibitions, where he played against as many as 30 players at a time, moving quickly from board to board. He had a photo graphic memory for chess and could repeat all 30 games, move by move. He was known as "Shmulik der vunder kind" -- Shmuel the wonder child.
At the age of 9, my father came to America and gave chess exhibitions across the country, astounding the players and the audience. He gained the title of International Grandmaster at the age of 36, after winning a tournament in England.
My father was a descendant of Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz, who descended from the great Kabalist, the Arizal. He grew up in an Orthodox home, and throughout his life he was known as a man who observed Shabbat. As chess was his livelihood he refused to play it on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
[Ed.'s note: although it is permissible according to Jewish law to play chess on Shabbat, one is enjoined not to be involved with one's business matters on Shabbat.]
Even the anti-Semitic Russsian government had to change around the chess tournament schedule to accommodate the observance of Shabbat. This was a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name).
Whenever my father competed outside of New York City he always lost weight. He took along a suitcase of canned tuna and salmon and boxes of matza; his only substantial meals were on Shabbat, when he was the guest of an observant family.
My parents lived in Crown Heights before the Rebbe became Rebbe. During that time my father walked the Rebbe home from shul on Shabbat for nearly one and a half years. My father attended some farbrengens (Chasidic gatherings), and at one farbrengen the Rebbe spoke about chess and talked about my father.
During one tournament, when my father's game was not going well, he got up during a break, sent a telegram to the Rebbe asking for a blessing, and won the game. Whenever my father had to participate in a tournament out of New York or out of the country, he called the Rebbe's office and asked for the name, address and phone number of a family he could stay with for Shabbat.
When my father was 70 years old he asked the Rebbe if he should retire. The Rebbe said to continue playing because it was a Kiddush Hashem, and my father never retired. He wrote seven books on chess, was a chess columnist for the New York Times, Chess Life magazine, The Herald Tribune, World Journal Tribune and the Jewish Press. He was a television commentator during two World Chess Championships. My father was the only person ever to have beaten Bobby Fischer in a match.
After the age of 70 (with the Rebbe's blessing) in a Russian tournament he beat former World Champion, Vassily Smyslov, and the Russian audience of 1,000 people gave him a standing ovation. In 1986 he was inducted into the "United States Chess Hall of Fame." On his 80th birthday the United Chess Federation gave a party for him in a kosher restaurant, of course, and presented my father with a chess set and board and a beautifully worded tribute engraved on the box. Some people told my father that the fact that he was famous and still adhered to Torah and mitzvot inspired them to remain religious.
During a trip to play in a tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, my father's plane arrived late -- very close to Shabbat. He hailed a taxi to take him to his hotel and remained in the cab until it was almost Shabbat. At that point he got out of the cab, asked the driver for directions to his hotel and to meet him there with his belongings -- money, passport, clothes and food. He continued to walk the rest of the way. He met a Jewish man along the way who accompanied him to the hotel, and my father was pleased to discover that all of his luggage had arrived intact at the hotel.
My father passed away on 2 Nissan, 5752 (1992), at the age of 80. Even in his passing, my father caused a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. In the New York Times and Jewish newspapers, all of the obituaries stressed the fact that Shmuel Reshevsky was an Orthodox Jew who wouldn't work (play chess) on Shabbat and ate only kosher food. Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine