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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Abraham S. Kussman

     Kussman was born December 21, 1907 in Geneva, Switzerland. Exactly when he arrived in the United States is unknown, but he graduated from Morris High School in the Bronx, New York in 1925. 
     His father taught him how to play and he seemed to have a natural talent for the game. In 1924 he played fourth board for his high school team in the preliminaries of the Interborough High School Chess League and won six games in a row; in the finals he scored +1 -1 =1. 
     After graduating, he attended City College of New York (class of 1929) and played fourth board on the chess team. After joining the Manhattan Chess Club in 1926, the following year he won third prize in the Class B handicap tournament and in 1928 he finished third in the Class A tournament. 
     In 1928, while a college student, Kussman scored an excellent victory in the National Chess Federation's first Intercollegiate Championship. By 1930 he was participating in the Mahanttan club's Young Masters Tournaments which included the likes of Reuben Fine and Arthur Dake. 
     In 1928, the National Chess Federation was beginning to stand on its own and had become affiliated with FIDE, become involved in supporting trips to international tournaments by US Masters and in  1929 organized its own championship which was held at Bradley Beach, New Jersey. 
    The Intercollegiate was held at the Manhattan Chess Club and was directed by the legendary L. Walter Stephens. It was Stephens who was largely responsible for the tournament when he sent letters to colleges all over the country. 
    Arnold Denker didn't care much for L. Walter Stephens, depicting him as a rigid and humorless man who sucked the enjoyment out of everything. Denker also poked fun at Stephens penchant for wearing bightly colored suits. The younger players barely tolerated Stephens and frequently made vulgar jokes about him. His wife, Maude, was described as as a "tall pencil-thin lady with a weakness for flowered hats as lush and wild as any tropical forest." She served as secretary of the Manhattan Chess Club from 1942-1954, Her husband occupied that position had from 1924-1941 and Denker claimed they lorded over the club "as if it were the family plantation." Most likely Denker's dislike of Stephens stemmed from an incident at the 1942 US Championship when Stephens incorrectly forfeited Denker in his game against Reshevsky.  
     Despite the invitations sent out by Stephens the turnout for the Intercollegiate was quite small, but some of the best college players in the country played in the 7-player, double round event. The winner received a gold medal for his prize.  Quite different from today's prizes. The final standings were: 

1) Abraham Kussman (+8 -2 =2) 9.0-3.0 
2) D.G. Weiner (+8 -3 =1) 8.5-3.5 
3-5) T. Beyer (+5 -5 =2) 6.0-6.0 
3-5) D. Bronstein (+5 -5 =2) 6.0-6.0 
3-5) P. Schlesinger (+4 -4 =4) 6.0-6.0 
6) A.N. Towsen (+3 -8 =1) 3.5-8.5 
7) L. Ault (+2 -8 =2) 3.0-9.0 

   Leslie Ault was to later become a US Intercollegiate Champion and authored a couple of chess books. He was also the father of masters Leslie and Robin Ault. Graham Clayton gives a good account of Ault's career HERE
     Kussman's losses were to Weiner and Bronstein. Second place was taken by D.G. Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania who came within a whisker of winning except for a setback in the semi-final round. 
     With the exception of Kussman and Ault the other players faded into chess obscuity. Theodore Breyer of Columbia University class of 1931 was a recent high school graduate. For some time it seemed that he was destined to easily finish third, but then lost two games in a row (two games per day were played). A.N. Towsen of Albright College class of 1928 and Leslie Ault of Rutgers class of 1929 both lacked experience, but both helped themselves to a point and a half from Schlesinger who had won both of his games from Weiner. 
     Kussman died at the age of 67 on March 13, 1975. 

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