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Friday, December 18, 2015

Unpaid for Analysis, Well Known Master Files Lawsuit

     The Bronx (New York) Municipal Court heard a case on April 3rd involving a judge, three lawyers and several prominent chess players. The judge was Michael Scanlon who heard the case Jaffe verses Cassel. Jaffe was represented by attorney Louis Favricant and Cassel by attorneys Harry J. Sonderheim and Martin B. Cohn of the law firm of Alexander, Cohn and Sonderheim. 
     A gaggle of New York chess stars attended the hearing, most of them as witnesses for either Charles Jaffe who was suing for the sum of $700 for work alleged to have been done in analyzing games played in the Rice Gambit Tournament or for Hartwig Cassel of the American Chess Bulletin, who in chess matters, had been acting in a sort of advisory capacity for the deceased Professor Isaac Rice. Cassel denied any responsibility or liability for the activities of Jaffe who, as far as Cassel knew, had done the analysis work without authorization and at his own risk. All this took place in 1916 and $700 had the buying power of a little over $15,000 today. 
     Frank Marshall was called as a witness for Jaffe and after vouching for the latter's reputation as one of the leading players in the US testified that he employed Jaffe as an instructor at his Marshall's Chess Divan.   Marshall gave his opinion that the sum demanded by Jaffe for work of the sort alleged to have been done was not unreasonable. 
     Jaffe then took the witness stand and was examined for nearly an hour. Under questioning by one of Cassel's attorneys he failed to give a satisfactory reason why his name appeared on Marshall's stationery as Champion of New York State since that title was held by Abraham Kupchik since February of 1915. Jaffe was asked to give his estimate of the number of chess players in the court room who were as good as him or better. Jaffe admitted with reluctance that they were either “pretty good” or “fairly good.” He displayed considerable animosity when he stated that one of the players, a former state champion and ex-champion of the Manhattan Chess Club, was “of no value at all” as an authority. While all this questioning had little bearing on the case at hand, it established that Jaffe was not a very good witness on his own behalf. 
     It was established that Cassel, with the consent of Professor Rice, took a group of strong players, including Jaffe, to a State meeting in Utica, New York the previous summer for a tournament to test recent theoretical developments in the Rice Gambit. As things turned out, the tournament was never played, only a consultation game. Cassel, on behalf of Rice, paid the players' expenses and included a small fee. Before the meeting in Utica was over it was agreed that the players involved would continue to investigate the gambit and without making any promises or signing any contract Cassel would do what he could on behalf of the players in case they were successful in proving the gambit to be sound. 

     It appeared from the testimony that after the group returned to New York City Jaffe detached himself from the group and began independent analysis of the gambit. Over a period of time the work of the other five members was submitted to Julius Finn, who, besides Rice who had died in the meantime, was a leading authority on the gambit. 
     Finn had determined the five players' analysis was sound and worthy of publication in a new book to be titled “Twenty Years of the Rice Gambit.”  Jaffe was also permitted to submit his work to Finn who then decided it was not acceptable. 
     Jaffe testified that he spent three months preparing his analysis, working from noon to midnight every day.  In his opinion $700 was a reasonable sum to ask and added that he would not do it again for that amount of money. One piece of evidence presented by Cassel's attorneys was a receipt for $20 signed by Jaffe for playing a few Rice Gambit games against Frank Marshall. In the receipt Jaffe promised not to play any more such games but reserved the right to continue his analytic work with the expectation of being paid if the analysis was accepted for publication. 
     Cassel then testified that he at no time expressly hired Jaffe to do analytical work for him; Jaffe was not able to refute the contention except by his own unsupported testimony. Cassel, when pressed by Jaffe's lawyer, said that such work, if properly done, would have a value of $800-900, but did not specify any one in particular who might be willing to pay that for it. When asked by Judge Scanlon to define the Rice Gambit, Cassel did so by declaring one of the players “gives up a piece for the sake of a winning attack.” 
     Julius Finn, Albert B. Hodges and J. Rosenthal were witnesses for Cassel. Finn was examined at some length and without hesitation said that Jaffe was “not one of the great players of the United States” and that, in his opinion, the work for which Jaffe claimed remuneration had no monetary value, even if found sound, to anybody except Professor Rice. Rosenthal gave a similar testimony and stated there were fifty players in the United States at least as good as Jaffe, 
     Former US Champion Albert Hodges was the last witness and made a favorable impression. Hodges had to help the court stenographer with the spelling of the Jasnogrodsky Defense of the Rice Gambit. 
     Judge Scanlon eventually handed down his decision in favor of Cassel and Jaffe was out $700. 

     Out of curiosity I looked up Jaffe's rating on Chessmetrics and in 1916 the 37-year old Jaffe was rated 2502 which was the highest rating Chessmetrics ever assigned him which at the time placed him at number 17 in the world. No other US player was rated ahead of him that year except Marshall who weighed in at number 4 with a 2676 rating. In light of this it seems Rosenthals' claim that there were 50 players in the US that were better than Jaffe was an exaggeration. 
     This was apparently the first American case where chess matters made it to the courts.  As Wikipedia states, while seemingly frivolous, this case should be viewed from the perspective of Jaffe making much of his living from writing articles on chess for Jewish periodicals, so his professional reputation was at stake. 
      Hartwig Cassel was born in 1850 in West Prussia (now Poland).  He was a chess journalist, editor and promoter in Great Britain and the United States. He arrived in Scotland in 1879 and later moved to Bradford, Yorkshire, where he began his journalistic career as the chess editor of the Observer-Budget. He wrote chess articles for the metropolitan and provincial English papers, organized the Yorkshire County Chess Club, arranged the Joseph Henry Blackburne-Isidor Gunsberg match at Bradford (1887) and the International Chess Masters' Tournament in 1888 at the same city. 
     Cassel left England in 1889 and went to Havana for an English and New York newspaper syndicate to report the Mikhail Tchigorin-Gunsberg match. In 1890 he went to the United States and was offered a job at the New Yorker Staatszeitung. He wrote about chess not only in that paper, but also in the New York Tribune and wrote a special chess column nearly every Sunday for The New York Sun. He was instrumental in establishing the Rice trophies, and arranged, among other important contests, the first cable match between the Manhattan Chess Club and the British Chess Club in 1895, the forerunner of the Anglo-American series. He was the inventor of a chess cable code. In 1904 he and Hermann Helms published the first issue of the American Chess Bulletin. He died in 1929.

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