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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chess Prodigy Discovered at Boys High School

     So read the headline in an article appearing in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday January 27, 1907. I came across it while searching for “child prodigy.” Later real prodigies were widely covered, Sammy Reshevsky (Rzeschewski as he was then known) and a little girl named Celia Niemark from Youngstown, Ohio. See the excellent post about her by Batgirl at Chessdotdom HERE
     These days, it would be unusual to speak of a “prodigy” who was in high school, but in 1907 the accomplishments of Franklin Russell attracted attention. Russell was frequently mentioned in later Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles, but only in passing in regards to club activity and he never lived up to his promise. Apparently that was because he devoted his time to other activities and his profession as a lawyer. Here is an excerpt from the article:

     Considerable attention is being attracted by Franklin Russell, a Boys' High School student, who is proving himself a wonder at chess. Brooklyn from time to time produces splendid players at the old Arabian pastime and there are no better known players today than F. J. Marshall ans W. E. Napier. They are both products of this borough. Marshall is still in his prime at the game and there are many who well remember his start. He was a member of the Young Men's Christian Association several years ago and many boys, now grown into manhood, can recollect then Marshall firs tackled chess at the Central Branch, on Fulton Street. For a while he was easy, but within a month or two he had thoroughly grasped the game and he was famous and played on the American team against Great Britain. His rise was probably the most rapid of any of the better known players. 
     The new star is Franklin Russell, who is president of the Boys High School Chess Club now, and always plays the first board for the Marcy Avenue school in any match. In three years playing for the school he has only been beaten once, and his victories are almost numberless...He is now in his teens, so may be expected to branch out as he grows older. Some of his achievements have already made the old timers sit up and notice. His latest feat was to play the team of the Townsend Harris Hall and best them while blindfolded...
     On another occasion Russell played simultaneously against 23 players of the Commercial High School and that included three professors and he triumphed in all of the games. Through the efforts of Russell and some of the other good Boys High School players at chess, the school has the enviable record of having lost but one match in four years...Quite recently Russell played fourteen boards simultaneously and won all of his games...
     Russell comes from a family that knows chess. His father is one of the well known members of the Brooklyn Chess Club and is a devotee of the game. He has an extensive chess library. He is not in sympathy with serious study of chess on the part of his son, but it is surmised that young Russell see a good deal of the library. Blindfold chess is of course hard study and the elder Mr. Russell does not encourage over indulgence.

     Russell went on to become champion of New York University by 1910. In June of 1917 he married Mildred Henry and they honeymooned in San Francisco. Prior to that he saw eight months action with the U.S. Army First Cavalry on the Mexican border and after his marriage he was expecting to go into training for a commission at Plattsburg, NY. Russell's accomplishments as listed in the PSI Upsilon Fraternity:
     By 1912 he was a Rhodes Scholar and playing top board for Oxford. After that he appears to have pretty much disappeared into a distinguished academic career in law and only dabbled in chess at clubs in New York City. Russell's father, Isaac Russell (1857-1931), was Chief Justice of Special Sessions and his brother, William M. Russell, was a also a chess player who made frequent contributions to the American Chess Bulletin
     As for all his boyhood accomplishments so highly praised in the newspaper, it's hard to determine just how good he really was because the strength of his opponents is unknown and none of his games were given. I could only locate one of his games and it was a very difficult one because of the material imbalance. See my post concerning two minor pieces vs. a Rook HERE
     His opponent, also from Brooklyn, captained the Cornell chess team and at one time held the championship of the King and Queens Chess League. Tolins was married in 1910 to Miss Miriam Silverman and they then resided in New Jersey. As late as 1937 he was still playing chess and was good enough to win a blitz tournament at his club and was serving as secretary for the Metropolitan Chess League. He went on to become businessman. 
     As amateurs do, both sides missed some tactics, but all in all, the game wasn't badly played. I just wish there were some more evidence in the form of games or tournament reports, etc. that would indicate just how good Russell really was. But a prodigy? No, I don't think so.

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