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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reshevsky's Undefeated Streak in US Championships

Mr & Mrs Reshevsky in 1944
    After obtaining his college degree Reshevsky devoted himself to tournament play and between 1936 and 1942, he had a streak of 75 games without a loss in US Championship competition, scoring 43 wins and 32 draws.  But, as you will see, he had some incredible luck along the way. 

     Reshevsky won the first US Championship in 1936 after Frank Marshall retired and put his title up for grabs in a tournament rather than match play. In winning that event ahead of the surprising second place finisher, coffeehouse player Albert Simonson, where he had a disastrous start in the early rounds when he lost to I.A. Horowitz and Sidney Bernstein, Reshevsky recovered and in his final games scored 9 wins and one draw. He finished with a +10 -2 =3 score. 
      At the next championship in 1938 he was in a horse race with Reuben Fine. Fine's score was uneven; he won more games than anyone (11 wins), but also lost two games. He had surprising losses to Anthony Santasiere and Milton Hanauer. The loss to Hanauer was especially painful because Hanauer had a horrible position at move 20 but hung on and Fine misplayed the ending. One move by Fine would have forced the win of two Ps, but he miscalculated and handed over the initiative and ended up losing in 68 moves. In the end Reshevsky scored +10 -0 =6 to beat out Fine by a scant half point.
Kashdan & Fine playing Blitz in 1944
      The next event, in 1940, was another race between Reshevsky and Fine when their last round game decided the title. This year though it was a runaway for the duo. In the early rounds fourth place finisher Albert Pinkus, who was returning to chess for the first time in nearly decade, was playing well and Isaac Kashdan had developed an early lead and after 12 rounds he was ahead of Reshevsky. Fine was some distance back due to a loss to Abraham Kupchik. But, Reshevsky's luck held when in his game against Kashdan, the latter blundered badly and turned his draw into a loss. Kashdan was so unnerved that he lost the next round to Weaver Adams. In the meantime Fine had scored 10 wins and 5 draws and was a half point behind Reshevsky. When they met in the last round at one point Reshevsky was on the brink of defeat. But, Fine blundered badly on his 27th move and Reshevsky was able to grimly hang on for a draw. His luck had held again and he finished first with +10 -0 =6, half point ahead of F
Mrs. Kashdan, Isaac, Marshall, Horowitz and Mrs. Marshall

     Then in 1941 Al Horowitz, who was lucky to be alive because in February 1940 he had been on a national exhibition tour with his close friend and co-editor, Harold Morton, when in Iowa they were in a car accident and Morton was killed instantly while Horowitz was severely injured. Horowitz quickly bounced back and was confident he could beat Reshevsky in a match. Horowitz didn't want to wait for the next championship so he challenged Reshevsky to a match. Reshevsky accepted and the match was scheduled for seven different playing sites for 16 games in three weeks. Reshevsky later said the match became a matter of endurance more than ability. Reshevsky won +3 -0 =13.
     Next was the 1942 tournament. This one was a race between Reshevsky and Kashdan both of whom walked all over the rest of the field. They both scored 8.5 out of their first nine games! This was the event where tournament director L. Walter Stephens incorrectly forfeited Denker instead of Reshevsky who had overstepped the time limit and then refused to change his decision. 

     The result was Reshevsky at +10 -0 =5 ended up tied with Kashdan (+11 -1 =3) for first place. The funny thing is that Reshevsky had yet another last round miracle when Horowitz managed to let a good game slip into a draw and leave a very disappointed Kashdan who had been watching the game and gradually saw his clear first slip into a tie with Reshevsky. As a result Reshevsky and Kashdan had to engage in a playoff match of 16 games. 
     The match was held at US Army camps for the benefit of the troops. At least this match was not nearly as hectic as the match with Horowitz had been and the games were hard fought. By this time Reshevsky had not lost in 74 straight US title games and he added to his streak in the first game with difficult win.
     Then in the second game Reshevsky's luck ran out. In a service club in Camp Upton, Yaphank, New York with a theatrical show going on near by and a noisy dance being held in an adjacent hall, Reshevsky got into his usual time trouble and had less than five minutes to make 20 moves and then at the end only 30 seconds for six moves.   His position deteriorated and he resigned after making the time control. When it was all over Reshevsky won the match handily 7.5 – 3.5, but his long undefeated streak had ended.


  1. It seems unusual that after three tournaments to determine the US Champion, a match was held to determine the champion (Reshevsky v Horowitz, 1941).

  2. Apparently in those days (and up until the Fischer Era) it was possible to challenge the championship tournament winner. According to Sidney Bernstein, Horowitz (an IM) was a “super-coffeehouse player.” The prize fund was fairly large and Reshevsky was no doubt attracted to the money. Also, his recent results both at home and abroad made him a possible candidate for a match with Alekhine who was fleeing the European war zone and was coming to the US, so Reshevsky, who had never played a match, was looking for money and match experience.
    In 1946 the USCF announced there would be regional qualifers for the championship so that meant a number of good players from strong chess regions would be out, being replaced by weaker players from backwater regions. Edward Lasker objected and formed the Association of American Chess Masters, with himself as president, and Fine, Reshevsky and Pinkus as vice presidents. The USCF relented and a compromise was reached.
    In 1946, with Reshevsky absent, Arnold Denker played the tournament of his life and defeated the second place Fine to win the tournament. Herman Steiner, who had tied with Horowitz for 3-4 place, had been making a name for himself and challenged Denker. It was not much of a match as Denker won easily.
    In 1952 Larry Evans won and was challenged by Herman Steiner. Evans crushed him 10-4.