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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Greatest Player in the World

     No doubt about it, it was Reuben Fine. At least he thought so. Author Sam Sloan, who knew Fine, could never figure out if he was joking or if he really believed it. Arnold Denker wrote that he always felt sorry for Fine, mentioning that he lied a lot. Nevertheless, Fine was a great player, at least for a brief period of time and some of his chess books were pretty good, too. 
     Of Basic Chess Endings, Fine said that if it wasn't in the book, then it wasn't known. In a 1984 interview, Fine stated that it took him three months to write the book which was published in 1941. 
     Needless to say, over the years, many errors were found and many of them were published in Larry Evans' Chess Life column. Over one hundred errors were found and a mimeographed list of them was printed by Paul L. Crane and Rev. David Chew. An 18-page booklet containing over 200 corrections was published by Samuel Louie in 1990 and 1993.
     Burt Hochberg finally convinced the publisher to create a new edition. Endgame expert Pal Benko, whose own copy of the book contained hand-written notes of almost all of the errors, did the revision. The revised edition was published in 2003. Of course, endgame tablebases have revealed some errors have not been corrected. 
     Even with the inevitable errors bound to be found in such a work, Larry Evans listed it in his "basic chess library" and World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik considered it the best book on the endgame. Yuri Averbakh (who wrote the five-volume Comprehensive Chess Endings and Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge) based his research on Fine's book. And, John Nunn, who wrote a review of Basic Chess Endings, both the original version and the revised edition, called it a classic. Nunn also added that Fine was at his best when he gave general descriptions and the book has been rightly praised for its instructional value. 
     Nunn added that while it was well worth reading, much of the material on Queen endings was seriously misleading because knowledge of those ending has greatly increased since Fine wrote the book. Benko's revision has been described as poor. Many positions are without diagrams and some positions have been removed and the chapter on Queen endings was not brought up to date. Benko also failed to correct many errors in the original book. No computer-checking of the analysis was done; Benko does not use computers. The layout has also been described as shabby. 
     I said all that to ask, how many modern Grandmasters could write such a great classic (without a computer, no less), which Basic Chess Endings is, in three months?! That is if it really took him three months...remember what Denker said. 
     Up until the early 1930s, Fine claimed he had never read a chess book, but then he discovered them. The only problem was he didn't think any of them were worth reading. Books by Marshall and Capablanca were too elementary and the tournament book of Saint Petersburg 1914 had too many errors in the notes. Fine wrote that at first he thought he was mistaken, but later discovered that many chess authors were just plain sloppy. 
     After Pasadena 1932, Fine began studying German chess literature; he thought they were the only books worth the effort. He especially praised Tarrasch's Three Hundred Games. After that, he turned to the Hypermoderns, especially Reti's Masters of the Chessboard and Nimzovich's My System. Fine especially praised Nimzovich for pointing out principles for handling closed and cramped positions. 
     Those books didn't help with practical play so then he turned to studying the games of Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine. After that he became the greatest player in the world. 
     For all his braggadocio, according to Chessmetrics Fine was rated number one in the world six different months between the October 1940 rating list and the March 1941 rating list. And, his highest assigned rating was 2762 on the July 1941 rating list which placed him number two in world behind Botvinnik at 2786. 


  1. I find most endgame books hard to read. I have a old basic book by Horowitz that I like as much as anything new.

  2. I got the most out of The Endings in Modern Theory and Practice by Peter C. Griffiths. It was work getting through it but I learned a lot. Unfortunately in the last 40 years I have forgotten more than I learned.