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Friday, December 7, 2012

First US Championship Tournament - 1936

In December 1935, Frank Marshll resigned as U.S. champion and urged the adoption of regularly scheduled tournaments to choose his successors. It wasn’t certain that a tournament was a good idea though.  How many players would be willing to compete for the $600 (abour $9700 in today’s purchasing power) first prize?  Most of the players had jobs of some sort: Kashdan was an insurance salesman as was Horowitz who was also editor of the magazine Chess Review.  There were also a host of other problems that would have to be answered by somebody: how to select the players…there was no rating system in effect and perhaps most important, how would it be financed?
       There existed at that time a lot of new players making a name for themselves plus several players were capable of winning a strong championship tournament: Isaac Kashdan, Samuel Reshevsky, Reuben Fine, Arthur Dake, Arnold Denker, I.A. Horowitz and Herman Steiner were the main contenders, but veterans Edward Lasker  (50 years old) and Abraham Kupchick (44 years old) were also still very strong.
       Kashdan was the favorite of Chess Review which opined, "none can boast of as imposing a record as Isaac Kashdan."  It made sense; Kashdan had played in 11 international tournaments, scoring four first-places and five seconds and he led the U.S. Olympic team four times.  In Olympic play Kashdan had an incredible score: 40 wins, 20 draws and 4 losses.  And, there was talk that he could be a challenger to Alekhine for the World Championship.  Kashdan had played Alekhine seven times, losing one game and drawing the rest…pretty impressive.
       Reuben Fine, on the other hand, had played in only one international tournament: Hastings, just three months before the championship tournament, but he had scored a brilliant first there. Fine had also won the very strong Marshall Chess Club Championship three times and the Western Open once.
      However, despite the reputations of Kashdan and Fine, Reshevsky was the favorite.  He had been the best-known player in the country since his highly publicized tours as a nine-year-old chess prodigy after his family brought him from Poland in 1920.
       Reshevsky had been in retirement while he graduated from college with a degree in accounting. After college and before starting his business career, Reshevsky had won the 1934 State Championship in Syracuse in 1934 ahead of both Kashdan and Fine.  Then in 1935 he finished first at Margate, England, ahead of Capablanca. Later in 1936 at the great international tournament in Nottingham, he had tied for 3rd-5th with Fine and Euwe behind Capablanca and Botvinnik.
       The organizers planned for a large number of entries, to be split into preliminary round robins from which there would be eight qualifiers for the 16-man finals. The eight qualifiers would meet eight seeded players - Reshevsky, Fine, Dake, Kashdan, Kupchik, Steiner, Horowitz and Alexander Kevitz ( the Manhattan Chess Club Champion.)  But, they did not get enough entries.  They ended up dropping the entry fee from $10 to $5.  Remember that in 1936 dollars $10 was the equivalent of $160 dollars today and few people had that kind of money.
       Dropping the EF proved successful and 48 players entered.  Because most of the best players were from New York, that’s where the tournament was held.  Eleven of the finalists were from New York as were most of the players. The Illinois State Champion Samuel Factor, Harold Morton from Boston and the New England Champion, Weaver W. Adams also managed to qualify.
      Two New York players, George N. Treysman and Albert C. Simonson, qualified.  What was interesting about Treysman (at the ripe old age of 55) was that he had never played in a tournament before! Treysman was a professional coffeehouse player, earning dimes at speed, offhand and odds games wherever he could find someone willing to play.  Simonson was the youngest player in the tournament; he played a lot at the Manhattan Chess Club where he was recognized as one of the best bridge and backgammon players in New York City.
       Then there was Arthur Dake.  At first it appeared that Dake was going to finish clear first. Dake, a Portland, Oregon master, had earned an international reputation when he achieved the best score (13 wins, 5 draws, no losses) at the Olympiad team tournament the previous year in Warsaw.   Dake had also defeated Herman Steiner in a match for the Pacific Coast Championship a few months before. By Round 9 Dake had scored five wins and four draws, with no losses, and seemed to be headed for first place.
      As for Reshevsky, he started with a win and a draw in the first two rounds but then he blundered badly against Sidney Bernstein and lost in round 3 and was completely outplayed by Horowitz in Round 4. After this disastrous start Reshevsky went on a rampage and won nine and drew only one in the next ten games.  In the meantime, Fine had played nine draws and Dake finally collapsed, scoring only tewo points in the last six games. Dake’s collapse started with a loss to Reshevksy in a long ending. Almost as remarkable as Reshevsky’ surge was that of Simonson. He defeated Morton, Fine, Bernstein, Horowitz, Denker and Milton Hanauer all in a row. Going into the final round the standing were: Reshevsky and Simonson 11, Treysman 10.5 and Fine 9.5. 
       In the final round Fine and Reshevsky, both having Black, played cautiously.  Reshevsky out-maneuvered Kupchik and  while Fine easily outplayed was Treysman's risky opening; 

1. Reshevsky
2. Simonson
3-4. Fine
3-4. Treysman
5. Kashdan
6-7. Dake
6-7. Kupchik
8-9 A. Kevitz
8-9. Horowitz
10. Factor 
11-12. Denker
11-12. Steiner
13. Bernstein
14. Hanauer
15-16. Adams
15-16. Morton


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  2. Some of these guys sound like fabulous relics from a bygone era, like Wyatt Earp or Davy Crockett! Several of them sound like characters out of pulp novels. Arthur Dake is a fascinating character: He joined the Merchant Marine at age 16, didn't learn chess until he was 17, and won the ultra-strong Marshall Chess Club championship at 21. At age 22 he defeated Alekhine at the Pasadena International. But Simonson and Treysman seem even more mysterious. What kind of talent must Treysman have had to score so well in his very first formal tournament (and at his age!), and why did we never hear much from Simonson, who was so young and seemed so very gifted?

    December 7, 2012 3:48 PM

  3. When I get time I will have to do a post on Simonson…Denker wrote a chapter on him in The Bobby Fischer I Knew. Quite an interesting character as I recall. BTW years ago I had a book written by Milton Hanauer that I really enjoyed; wish I could find a copy someplace.

  4. I should also mention I did a post on Treysman some time back: