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Friday, February 2, 2018

Anthony Santasiere Plays the King's Gambit

     Anthony Santasiere had a running argument with Larry Evans back in 1961. Writing in Chess Life Evans said, "His games are characterized by plodding, timidity, and opening repetition. He enters even the romantic debuts such as the Vienna and King's Gambit with reams of prepared analysis, strives constantly to keep the draw in hand and prevent complications from getting away from him over the board. Where are the glorious games which qualify Santasiere as the darling spokesman of romanticism?"
     "The Queen’s Gambit is neither a gambit nor an honor to any Queen. It is like a piece of dead flesh kept overlong on ice." wrote Santasiere in Essay on Chess. Speaking of Essay on Chess, if you ever get the chance to read it, don't bother. It's a wretched little book. In it he denigrates positional chess and praises tactical chess.
     It's also full of inane ramblings. Did you know Frank Marshall died on his way to play Bingo? Or that he was wearing clean underwear? How Santasiere knew that I have no idea. He also makes a lot of psychological observations: 
* If Emmanuel Lasker loved anybody, it was himself until the last two years of his life.  
* Capablanca was cold, selfish and was insane with conceit. 
* He called Capa an anti-Christ. 
* Tarrasch was an egotist and spiritually bankrupt. 
* Chigorin was vain.
* Herman Steiner had a colossal ego.
* At one time Rossolimo temporarily insane. 

     The only great player he liked was Alekhine; he was spiritually born out his sufferings, had patient endurance, humility, courage...at least according to Santasiere.
     I remember reading an old issue of the American Chess Bulletin in which Santasiere annotated the games from the 1942 Reshevsky vs. Kashdan match and he complained bitterly about the boring openings they played and the boring games they lead to. For all his whining about the way they played chess, Santasiere himself was accused of roaring like a lion while essaying gambits without sacrifices and playing like a mouse. For the most part it was true, but he was capable of playing swashbuckling chess on occasion.
     Santasiere's book on the King's Gambit, The Romantic King's Gambit in Games and Analysis published by Chess Digest's Ken Smith was a pretty useless book. First, it had no chapters! It contained 138 games that weren't organized in any way whatsoever! Secondly, Santasiere prattles on and on...and on. Often about nothing...at least nothing to do with the game under examination, or worse yet, nothing to do with chess.
     Naturally for a book that was so obviously thrown together in pre-engine days there are a ton of mistakes. Even Ken Smith's revised and updated version had notes that were pretty useless because the notes explained nothing. It's of no value in a book that's supposed to teach you how to play an opening to just say such and such a move is better without at least saying why.
     Santasiere (1904 – 1977) wasn't a bad player though. Chessmetrics assigns him best ranking of 53rd in the world back in 1931. That puts him on a par with Karel Treybal, Henri Weenink, Kurt Richter, Alexander Kevitz and Sandor Takacs, Reginald Michell, Ludwig Rodl, Alfred Brinckmann, Hans Mueller, Abraham Baratz and Carl Ruben to name a few; all good players, but not “greats.” His highest rating was 2556 in 1947, most probably because of his highest ever performance rating of 2593 in the 1946 US Championship where he scored +9 -1 =8 to finish in 3rd place a half point behind Isaac Kashdan and 3 points behind winner Reshevsky. His sole loss was to Horowitz who tied for 5th-6th with Denker. Jacob Levi was 4th. 
     The 1946 US Championship games can be found on Graeme Cree's site  and adds that Louis J. Isaacs of Chicago played nine games, winning one and losing eight then failed to show up for the tenth game and was forfeited. On receiving his protest, the Tournament Director proposed that the matter be placed for final decision before the Tournament Committee. However, Isaacs replied that he did not want to put anyone to any trouble, and he did not show up for the remaining games and his is score was canceled. Soltis and McCormack make no mention of Isaacs or the incident in their book The United States Chess Championship, 1845-1996, so I have no idea what the issue was.
     As for his Chessmetrics ratings, those games were mostly against US players as Santasiere's international experience, as far as I know, was limited to losing two games against David Bronstein in the match against the Soviet Union and he tied for first in a small tournament in Milan, Italy in 1953. There were only 8 players: 1-2) Guiseppe Primavera and Santasiere, 3-4) Cenek Kottnauer and Nicolas Engalicev, 5) Enrico Paoli,6) Olaf Ulvestad, 7) Ferdinando Giorgieri, 8) Giovanno Ferrantes.
     Yes, I realize I have prattled on about stuff other than the subject at hand, but unlike Santasiere, I'm not trying to teach anything.  I was talking about Santasiere and the King's Gambit, so getting back on track…
     Santasiere may not have been among the elite in US chess, but he was dangerous, defeating the likes of Marshall, Horowitz, Herman Steiner, Denker and Reinfeld and against lesser players he was even more so. 
     Here is one of his King's Gambits from the 1847 US Open. Santasiere finished tied for second with Abe Yanofsky with a 10-3 score. Santasiere scored +8 -1 =4, his sole loss being to Yanofsky, but he did hold winner Kashdan to a draw.

1 comment:

  1. As part of my Christmas Stipend to buy chessbooks for 2017, I picked up his My Love Affair with Chigorin which I haven't started yet.
    Cheers, Jim Takchess