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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

USA vs. Soviet Union Radio Match 1945

     This match, played in a grueling four-day ordeal with the moves transmitted between Moscow and New York via radiotelegraphy, took place in the closing hours of WWII - in fact, President Truman declared V. J. Day on September 2, the second day of the match.
     The American team was comprised of players, many of whom had been part of the pre-war, American-dominated world games, the Chess Olympiads. The Soviet team consisted of a very strong line-up of players in which a new-comer, David Bronstein, played the last board.
     Before WWII, the USSR players seldom participated in events outside the Soviet Union and only rarely did a Soviet master play against a foreign opponent. It had been long known that the Soviets were good players and the country had produced many strong masters, but as it was hard to quantify the unknown, their actual strength was mostly a matter of conjecture.
     The suggestion of a USA-USSR match via radiotelegraph was extended as a good-natured reaction to the hesitant alliance between the two countries in the war against Germany with the hope that their peacetime alliance would be equally successful.
     The U.S. went into the match with the expectation that it would be a tightly contested battle, but one which they would eventually win. It was generally accepted that, at the very least, Fine and Reshevsky would come through with plus scores. The idea that the Soviets would literally crush the US team was one that few westerners entertained.
     This match was one of great historical significance and interest. It was as well publicized and as well documented as it was well conducted. The match caught the attention not just of chess players, but of the general public and for the four days that it lasted, newspapers across the country (and in the USSR) were filled with reports of its progress. The venue for the U.S. players was the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York City and for the Soviets, it was the House of Culture of the Transport Workers in Moscow. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia arrived early to wish every one in sight good luck before he made the first move for Denker on board 1.
     The United States team made a bad start and at the end of the end of play on the first day the Russians were leading by a score of two to nothing and the games they won were on the first and second boards against the current U.S. champion, Arnold S. Denker, and Samuel Reshevsky. 
     Denker lost to Botvinnik, the Soviet champion; Reshevsky to Smyslov. Botvinnik sacrificed a Pawn against Denker who was unfamiliar with the opening and quickly lost.  On board 2, Reshevsky walked into a thoroughly prepared variation. Reshevsky took 1 hour and 38 minutes to play the first 23 moves while Smyslov rattled them off in 8 minutes. In the end, Denker lasted only 25 moves and Reshevsky resigned after using all his two and a half hours; Smyslov had played 41 moves in 1 hour, 11 minutes and had 1 hour and 19 minutes to spare.
     It was apparent that the Americans had been outplayed in the openings and in an interview conducted many years later, Bronstein speaking of “The Soviet School of Chess" said of the match, “Well it all began in 1945 when we played the match with the U.S. and won it. Do you know how come that we won? We studied the openings. And we didn’t give them the chance to get out of the opening. We beat them on their half of the board. They didn’t get off the ground. The entire opening theory is about not letting Black get off the ground. In contrast, for Black it is all about how to take off the ground."

     The outlook on the other boards was not encouraging for the U.S. team as Al Horowitz and Abraham Kupchick had bad games at adjournment. The rest of the Americans had fairly even positions though.
     The second day of the match was officially declared V-J Day by President Truman and World War 2 had officially ended and when the second session opened at 10 a.m. Moscow immediately offered several draws: Boleslavsky vs. Fine, Kotov vs. Kashdan, Bondarevsky vs. Steiner and Lilienthal vs. Pinkus, but they were all refused. Refusing the draws turned out not to be a good idea because shortly after play started heads began to roll.
     On receiving Flohr's sealed move from the night before, Horowitz resigned. Kashdan blundered in an even position and resigned but a few minutes later the United States scored it's first half-point when Lilienthal offered a draw which Albert Pinkus accepted. But soon after that, Abraham Kupchik resigned to Makogonov and the score stood stood at 5½ to ½ in favor of the Soviets. Then Fine drew with Boleslavsky. Finally, Herman Steiner became the hero of the hour when he won his game against Bondarevsky.
     Play finished when Anthony Santasiere resigned his game against Bronstein and the first round ended with a final score of 8-2. The Soviet team had won seven, drawn 2, lost only one.
     The second round began at 9 a.m. on September 3rd - Labor Day. At board 1, Denker took 48 minutes over his first seven moves, but it did him no good as he resigned after receiving Botvinnik's 30th move. All the other games were adjourned but the prospects of making a better score than in the first round were none too bright. Boleslavsky and Kotov were so confident of success that they sent their 41st moves without even bothering to seal them for adjournment.
     At board 2, Reshevsky had another lost game against Smyslov, again as a result of Smyslov's superior opening play. Smyslov took only 13 minutes for the first 14 moves while Reshevsky stewed over them for 1 hour and 21 minutes and got himself into serious time trouble, having to make 17 moves in 2 minutes. Reshevsky finished within the time limit but a blunder on his 39th move cost him the game.  In a snit, Reshevsky said, "If my opponent were sitting opposite me he wouldn't be playing such good chess."
     Horowitz had a sure win against Flohr and at the end of the day, the score stood at 9½ to 2½ but it was obvious that the match was lost.
     The final session began on Tuesday, September 4th which began with Flohr resigning to Horowitz without resuming, but when Fine and Kashdan resigned their games, also without resuming, and the match was in the bag for the Soviet team with a score of 11½ to 3½. After play was completed the final score was: Soviet Union 15.5 – 4.5 (+13 -2 =5).

Bd 1: Mikhail Botvinnik 2 vs. Arnold Denker 0
Bd 2: Vasily Smyslov 2 vs. Samuel Reshevsky 0
Bd 3: Isaac Boleslavsky 1.5 vs. Reuben Fine 0.5
Bd. 4: Salo Flohr 1 vs. I.A. Horowitz 1
Bd. 5: Alexander Kotov 2 vs.Isaac Kashdan 0
Bd. 6: Igor Bondarevsky 0.5 vs. Herman Steiner 1.5
Bd 7: Andor Lilienthal 1 vs. Albert Pinkus 1
Bd 8: Viacheslav Ragozin 2 vs. Herbert Seidman 0
Bd. 9: Vladimir Makogonov 1.5 vs. Abraham Kupchik 0.5
Bd 10: David Bronstein 2 vs. Anthony Santasiere 0

The following players were reservists for the U.S. team, to be called on, in the order given, if any of the primary team are unable to compete: Alexander Kevitz, Robert Willman, Jacob Levin, George Shainswit, Weaver W. Adams, Edward Lasker, Fred Reinfeld, E.S. Jackson, Jr., Samuel Factor, and Martin C. Stark. The Soviet reserves were: Alexander Konstantinopolsky, Vitaly Chekhover, Iosif Rudakovsky, and Peter Romanovsky. 

Soviet Players Comment on the Match.

 

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