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Saturday, November 12, 2016

U.S. Championship Match That Never Was

     As mentioned in the previous post, Isaac Kashdan had challenged Marshall to a match for the U.S. Championship and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Thursday, October 19, 1933 ran an article stating negotiations had begun. In order to pave the way for the match Kashdan had issued an official challenge in the following letter. 

Dear Mr. Marshall: 
     There has been frequent discussion in the last two years regarding a match for the American chess championship, which you have held so long and so honorably. I have been generally mentioned as the logical contender. 
     I wish now to lay my challenge before you and request you to state under what conditions you would play me for the title. You will realize that times have changes considerably since the last championship match and that the terms set at that time are no real precedent for a present encounter. 
     I suggest that we hold an amicable meeting in the presence of our respective friends. If this is satisfactory to you, I shall ask Messrs. Harold M. Phillips, Leonard B. Meyer and Fritz Brieger to be present. Will you name a time and place that will be convenient for you? We can then discuss the various matters that may come up in arranging the match and I trust, bring it to an early fruition. 

Very truly yours, 
I. Kashdan 

     In acknowledging Kashdan's letter, Marshall welcomed the proposition and held out hopes for an early meeting. 

Dear Mr. Kashdan: 
     I am in receipt of you letter in which you challenge me to play a match for the Unites States championship. I expect to see Mr. Mann, our president, and would like the advice of a few of the directors of the Marshall Chess Club regarding you proposition, and shall set a date as soon as possible when we can meet for a discussion.
     My opinion is that it would prove a very interesting match and something the chess world has been looking forward to, and I shall be very glad to play if the proper arrangements can be made. 

Yours very truly, 
Frank J. Marshall 

     When, in 1931 the 26-year old Isaac Kashdan was placed ahead of Marshall on first board of the U.S. Olympic team, it was obvious that Marshall was no longer the best player in the country. Attempts to arrange a Marshall-Kashdan match were periodically made, only to be abandoned, mostly because Marshall wanted a guaranteed prize fund of $5,000; that's the equivalent of over $88,000 in today's currency. Emanuel Lasker had gotten as much for his last world championship match which he had lost and Marshall felt he deserved the same. But, the Marshall-Kashdan match organizers could raise no more than $900 (a little over $15,000 today). 
     With Reshevsky's success in Europe in 1935 and the quick progress of Reuben Fine and Arthur Dake, it made sense to abandon matches and organize a championship tournament. So, in 1935 Harold Phillips, a Manhattan Chess Club leader with personal relations with top players going back to Steinitz, helped persuade Marshall to step aside. 
     Many later champions saw winning the championship only as a source of income, but not Marshall; he enjoyed being the U.S. champion to the point that he almost always affixed "United States Chess Champion" to his signature. 
     Marshall had established himself in international competition and the strongest player U.S. player so in 1909 he had traveled to Kentucky and defeated Jackson Showalter who was generally recognized as the U.S. champion since the death of Pillsbury in 1906. 
     There had been a dispute in American chess circles for nearly a year about whether or not Capablanca was Pillsbury's successor and the U.S. champion. 
     After Pillsbury became ill, the 22-year old Marshall was considered the leading player in the country, but after Pillsbury's death in 1906 Capablanca was living in New York and comparisons between Marshall and Capablanca were being made. As a result a match between the two was played in 1909 and Capablanca had routed Marshall by a score of +8 -1 =7. 
     The match had been played for the money and bragging rights, but the New York State Association had sanctioned the match as being for the U.S. championship title.   After the match Marshall argued that the Capa could not hold the U.S. title because he was not a United States citizen. But, it must be remembered that at that time Cuba was a U.S. territory and Capablanca had been living in New York for more than three years and he had given indications of continuing to do so, saying he planned to take out citizenship papers as soon as he came of legal age, which would be in a few months. 
     Capa told the American Chess Bulletin he was the undisputed champion of Cuba, and having beaten Marshal decisively, he was considered the strongest representative of the U.S. and therefore considered himself "champion of America." Capa also added he was ready to defend his title against any American for a side bet of at least $1,000. In Capa's opinion the question whether he was a citizen had nothing to do with the title of U.S. champion. Actually, Capa was never the champion of Cuba. 
     Attorney and prominent chess player Walter Penn Shipley was turned to in an effort to settle the question. To everyone's surprise Shipley concluded that the U.S. champion was neither Marshall nor Capablanca! It was still Jackson W Showalter. 
     Ever since Showalter had won the titled he had never declined a challenge and until he did, neither Marshall nor Capablanca had a valid claim. Shipley went on to say that to be the U.S. champion one must be an American, either native or naturalized. Capa could become a challenger only after he actually became a citizen. 
     After Shipley's ruling the New York Chess Association withdrew support for Capa who then decided he didn't want to be an American citizen and Marshall immediately went to Lexington to play Showalter whom he defeated handily. 
     Oddly, after winning the title Marshall told a British newspaper in December of 1909 that he was retiring because there were private business responsibilities which required his attention. Of course, he never retired. 
     For the 27 years he held the title Marshall only defended it once. That was against Edward Lasker in 1923. The marathon match lasted a two months and games were played in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Long Island. The result was in doubt until the 18th and final game. Lasker wanted a rematch, but was never able to meet Marshall's terms.

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