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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chess in the 1930's

    There was a lot going on in the world during the 1930's, but what was going on in the chess world?
     The Defense, the third novel written by Vladimir Nabokov during his emigration to Berlin, was published in 1930. For those unfamiliar with the book, the plot centers around Aleksandr Luzhin. As a boy he was unattractive, withdrawn, and an object of ridicule by his classmates. Then he learned to play chess and quickly became a great player. At a resort, he met a young girl and eventually proposed to her. Then in a competition to determine who would face the current world champion, he is pitted against Turati from Italy. Before and during the game Luzhin has a mental breakdown which climaxes when his carefully planned defense against Turati fails and the resulting game fails to produce a winner. When the game is suspended Luzhin wanders into the city in a state of complete detachment from reality. He is brought to a rest home, where he eventually recovers. His doctor convinces Luzhin's fiancée that chess was the reason for his downfall and all reminders of chess were removed from his environment. Slowly chess began to find its way back into his thoughts and he began to see his life as a chess game. Eventually, after an encounter with his old chess mentor, Luzhin realized that he must "abandon the game." He locked himself in the bathroom, climbed out of a window, and it is implied that he fell to his death, but the ending is deliberately vague.
     The character of Luzhin is based on Curt von Bardeleben, a master Nabokov knew personally. Bardeleben ended his life by jumping out of a window. The book was also influenced by the Soviet film Chess Fever which came out in 1925. The Luzhin Defence is a 2000 film starring John Turturro and Emily Watson. If you've never seen the movie and come across a copy, buy it. I found it enjoyable, even if the ending was not very good.
     My System by Nimzovich was published. Not many know that the book was originally a series of five brochures published from 1925 to 1927. The book was important because it introduced many new concepts to followers of the modern school of thought. The book is divided into three parts: The Elements, Positional Play, and Illustrative Games. The Elements include discussion of the center, open files, 7th and 8th ranks, passed pawns, pins, discovered checks, exchanging and pawn play. The section on Positional Play is based on the elements taught in the first part. In it, Nimzovich tells how to play for a positional advantage. In particular, he argues that the center can be effectively controlled using pieces instead of pawns. This concept is now widely accepted and is one of the fundamental principles of hypermodernism. Illustrative Games contains fifty of Nimzovich's annotated games.
     The 3rd Chess Olympiad, organized by the FIDE and comprising an open and women's tournament, as well as several events designed to promote the game took place between July 13 and July 27, 1930, in Hamburg, Germany.
     Poland (Rubinstein, Tartakower, Przepiórka, Makarczyk, Frydman) won followed by Hungary (Maróczy, Takács, Vajda, Havasi, Steiner E.) then Germany (Ahues, Sämisch, Carls, Richter, Wagner), Austria, and Czechoslovakia with the United States (Kashdan, Marshall, Phillips, Steiner H., Anderson) finishing in 6th place.
     The 2nd Women's World Chess Championship also took place during the 3rd Chess Olympiad in Hamburg. The tournament was played as a double round-robin tournament. Vera Menchik successfully defended her title. The final results were Menchik, Paula Wolf-Kalmar, W. Henschel, Katarina Beskow and Agnes Stevenson.
     San Remo 1930 was the first international tournament held in the famous San Remo casino. Sixteen chess masters from Europe and the Americas, including the World Champion, played from 16 January to 4 February 1930. The games were played in the casino during the day, and in the evening the playing hall was used for dancing. Alexander Alekhine dominated the field with a score of 14 out of 15, 3.5 points ahead of second place Aaron Nimzovich. Rubinstein, Bogoljubow and Fredrick Yates took the next places.
     Ken "Top Hat" Smith, US Senior Master, author, Smith-Mora Gambit fame and Texas legend in chess and poker was born in 1930.
     Mona May Karff (1908-1998), born in Russia, moved to the United States in the 1930s and dominated women’s chess during the 1940s and 50s, winning four consecutive U.S. Open titles among many other honors. She was one of the first to be named a Woman International Master when FIDE established the title in 1950.
     Known as the “Little Capablanca,” Isaac Kashdan was considered one of the world’s best chess players in the 1920s and 1930s. Though the Great Depression hampered his career, he boasted an impressive international record, winning at Berlin, Stockholm, and Gyor in 1930, tying for first at Mexico City in 1932, and finishing second at Frankfurt 1930, New York 1931, Hastings 1931-32, Pasadena 1932, and Syracuse 1934. He also won two U.S. Opens and was a constant presence on Olympiad teams. His nine medals in five Olympiads are an all-time best among American players. Kashdan was considered one of the top five players in the world during the early 1930s, including a No. 2 ranking between 1932 and 1934.
     Frank Marshall's skills were declining and in 1936 he turned over his U.S. Champion title to Samuel Reshevsky. Marshall presided as "honorary vice-president” over the Marshall Chess Club, which had become the meeting place of the top U.S. players who lived in New York.

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