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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chess Books From the Library

Fine and Reshevsky in 1943
    A trip to the library the other day lead to me bringing home Grandmasters of Chess by Harold Schonberg and American Chess Masters from Morphy to Fischer by Arthur Bisguier and Andrew Soltis. 

     Harold Schonberg (November 29, 1915 – July 26, 2003) was an American music critic and journalist, most notably for The New York Times. He was the first music critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism (1971). He also wrote a number of books on musical subjects and one on chess. 
     According to Wikipedia, Schonberg was a devoted and skilled chess player and he covered the championship match between Spassky and Fischer in 1972. Schonberg was also an avid golfer, though a poor one by his own estimation. He co-authored the book How To Play Double Bogey Golf along with Hollis Alpert, founder of the National Society of Film Critics, and fellow author Ira Mothner. When it comes to chess, he may have been avid, but I have not been able to verify his skill. 
     He gives brief bios of GM's through Bobby Fischer and some sample games. I have seen reviews claiming this book is lacking in depth and it certainly is. On the back cover Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “This charming history of modern chess will not be surpassed in our time… Mr. Schonberg has given us a playful, musical, haunting account of huge, often irresponsible, unsociable animals who have devoted their lives to thinking that is pure as snow.” Kurt Vonnegut apparently doesn't know much about chess either. 
     NM James Schroeder, a man who at least knows something about chess, wrote, “(It) is a rotten book that consists of yellow journalism based upon the writer’s ignorance and incredible stupidity. Mr. Schonberg does not understand chess, chess masters, chess history, or anything else of what he writes. The book HAS NO HISTORICAL VALUE and is 90 percent fiction.” Schroeder is spot on. 
     The other book was American Chess Masters from Morphy to Fischer by Arthur Bisguier and Andrew Soltis. According to Soltis he wrote the book all by himself. Supposedly Bisguier agreed to help write the book, but then did nothing. 
     If you ever met Andy Soltis, you'd like him a lot because he is a really nice guy and generally I like his writing because he is always entertaining. Sometimes he's been accused of getting his facts mixed up though. For example, he said Margate 1935 was Reshevsky’s first international event, but it wasn't. It was actually the 1922 New York Masters tournament at the age of ten. 
     His real international debut though might have been said to be in 1935, but Margate was his second tournament. Before that he finished first at Great Yarmouth in the Major Open where he scored ten wins and lost one game to Vera Menchik who finished third. Dr. A. Seitz finished second, losing only to Reshevsky. Though most of the players were from England, there were also players from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands so it WAS an international tournament. 
     Writing about the 1940 US Championship Soltis states that a careless loss to Kupchik cost Fine his chance to win the Championship which is totally wrong. 
     The 1940 Championship was only the third one, but it was the last to bring Fine, Reshevsky and Kashdan, the “Big Three” of the day, together. All of them continued to play chess past this event, but they never again played together in a championship tournament.
     Later Reshevsky described the tournament as a personal battle between him and Fine as indeed it was. They were paired in the last round and that game would determine who would be declared the champion. 
     Kashdan had been playing well for much of the tournament. He grabbed an early lead and as late as round 12 (out of 16) he was ahead of Reshevsky with Fine some distance back, mostly the result of a fifth round loss to Abrham Kupchik, a solid master with a colorless style. 
     Kashdan faded in round 13 after a bitter loss to Reshevsky. Kashdan, playing white, had been hanging tough, then on his 54th move he blundered badly, throwing away a draw, and had to resign on move 55. Kashdan was so shaken up he lost the next day to Weaver Adams, a player of considerably less talent. 
     Fine had overcome his 5th round loss to Kupchik and had won 10 games and drawn four. So, going into the last round Fine had a score of 12.0 (+10 -1 =4) and Reshevsky had 12.5 (+10 -0 =5). 
     Everything hung on their individual game. If Fine could win he would be the U.S. Champion. Fine was playing white and Reshevsky defended with the Two Knights Defense. Since all Reshevsky needed was a draw, Fine made a good practical as well as psychological choice when he played 4.Ng5. 
     Reshevsky was placed in the situation of having to play sharp positions when he would have preferred quieter lines. Also, Fine was an expert on openings while Reshevsky wasn't, and so it was unlikely he would be familiar with theory. It was good strategy on Fine's part because Reshevsky went for an inferior line at move 11. As a result Fine was better developed and had excellent prospects owing to having two bishops and a superior P-structure. In addition, Reshevsky had a N out of play on the Q-side. 
     Unfortunately for Fine, he reached a position where he would have winning chances, but he would have had to trade pieces which would have resulted in an endgame with bishops of opposite color... possibly allowing Reshevsky drawing chances. In order to avoid that, Fine made a promising sacrifice of the exchange. As a result, in a few moves Fine had a promising position and Reshevsky was desperate. In fact, witnesses said Reshevsky was in tears over his situation. 
     What happened next is what cost Fine his U.S. Championship. At move 27 he had a choice of two moves. He saw a four move combination and chose it instead of the other move which would have won without any great difficulty. Things went according to plan until they reached move 29. That's when Fine saw to his horror that he had miscalculated and the win had disappeared. They played on another 30-some moves, but in the end agreed to a draw and Fine finished second and he never again entered a championship tournament when Reshevsky was playing. 
     As a sequel, Reshevsky sat out the 1944 championship, so Fine did play in that one. That was the year Arnold Denker played the tournament of his life, defeated Fine in their individual game, and finished first with 15.5-1.5 to Fine's 14.5-2.5 which got him undisputed second place.

1 comment:

  1. Why do you say New York 1922 was an "international tournament"?
    One foreign player in a tournament makes it international?