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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fine's Luck

     It seems if it wasn't for bad luck, Fine wouldn't have had any luck at all. Reuben Fine (October 11, 1914 – March 26, 1993) was one of the strongest chess players in the world from the mid 1930s into the early 1950s, but was never able to win the US Championship. Once when asked why that was so, Samuel Reshevsky said, “It was because I was playing.” 
     In the first modern US Championship in 1936, the 21-year old Fine was, along with Reshevsky and Kashdan, the elite of US chess. That tournament didn't go well for Fine. His 7 wins and 7 draws showed his play eas too timid and his loss to Albert Simonson, who was playing fantastically well, meant that Fine could do no better than tie George Treysman for third behind Reshevsky and Simonson. 
     Simonson, the youngest player in the tournament, was an unknown and was recognized as one of the better bridge and backgammon players. His only previous claim to fame had been his mediocre performance on one of the US Olympiad teams, but he made a remarkable late surge to finish a half point behind Reshevsky. 
     Treysman, at 55 was an old man, who had never played in a tournament before but was a professional coffeehouse player, earning dimes at speed and offhand games at some of the seedy clubs around New York. 
     In the 1938 Championship Fine finished second behind Reshevsky by a half point. He might have won, but losses to Anthony Santasiere (who tied Treysman for places 10-11) and Milton Hanauer (tied for places 12-14 with S. Cohen and Fred Reinfeld) proved disastrous.
     Then again in 1940, Fine finished a half point behind Reshevsky. This time it was a loss to the super-solid Abraham Kupchik who finished tied with Arnold Denker for sixth place. Fine sat out the 1942 event but in the 1944 Championship Reshevsky wasn't playing, so it looked like this was Fine's chance. 
     This time he lost one game. When he met Denker in the seventh round it was Denker who prevailed. This was the tournament of Denker's life as he scored an amazing +14 -0 =3 and finished ahead of Fine who's score was almost as good, +13 -1 =3. 
     Fine did much better in the US Open though. At 17, he won his first of seven US Open Championships (then known as the Western Open) at Minneapolis in 1932 where he finished a half point ahead of Reshevsky. 
     Against high class opposition Fine often played brilliantly, but in domestic tournaments he often made tactical errors against lesser opposition. Who knows why? 
     The following game is from the US Open held in Dallas, Texas in 1940. In those days Dallas was out of the way, there was a war going on which made travel difficult, plus the New York State Chess Association championship was being held. As a result, the turnout was a dismal 27 entrants. 
     The field was split into three preliminary sections, with pre-tournament favorites Fine, Herman Steiner, and Weaver Adams seeded into different groups with the top three from each preliminary qualifying for the finals. 
     As expected Adams was undefeated in his section, finishing ahead of Erich Marchand. Steiner was also undefeated in his section, finishing ahead of Harold Burge. Fine was also undefeated, but J.C. Thompson tied him for first. Fine's opponent in this game was the unheralded Albert Roddy from Oklahoma. Arnold Denker called Roddy a “non-master”, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. 
     In the 1947 Southwest Open held in Fort Worth, Texas, Roddy tied for first with J.C. Thompson, Robert G. Wade and Blake W. Stevens. At the time Wade was touring the United States and Canada by Greyhound bus and playing in a number of tournaments. Blake Stevens (April 23, 1927 – August 25, 1993) was from San Antonio, Texas and won the city championship several times. On the 1955 USCF rating list (the only old list I have) he was rated 2140. J.C. Thompson was a Master long before there was an official rating list.
     I attempted to discover more information on Albert Roddy, but was unable to do so. There was an Albert Roddy (1900-1966) who is listed as registering for the draft in the September 26, 1918 issue of the Ada (Oklahoma) Weekly News. There was also an Army Second Lieutenant Albert H. Roddy during World War II who as captured by the Nazis while serving in Germany and was sent to Stalag Luft 3 near Sagan, Germany. He was freed in 1945.  Whomever this Albert Roddy was, this game was his 15 minutes of fame.

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