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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The 1940s Produced a Vintage Crop of US Masters

     During the 1940s the US produced a crop of young masters, Larry Evans (1932 – 2010), Robert Byrne (1928-2013), Donald Byrne (1930-1976), George Kramer (1929), Eliot Hearst (1932-2018), James Sherwin (1933), William Lombardy (1937-2017), Walter Shipman (1929-2017) and Arthur Bisguier (1929-2017). All of them went on to become prominent players either internationally or at home and they all also became successful in fields outside of chess. 
     Of the crop, my favorite is Bisguier. In recent years I have purchased very few chess books, but when the two volumes of Bisguier's games came out I had to have them. Bisguier wasn't known for his literary efforts in chess, but for many years he was a contributor to Chess Review, one of the all time great chess magazines and for a brief time he was Managing Editor of Chess Life. The two books were: The Art of Bisguier, The Early Years (1945-1960) and The Art of Bisguier, Selected Games 1961-2003. American Chess Masters from Morphy to Fischer was co-written with Andy Soltis, but it appears that Bisguier actually had little to do with it. 
     The first book is a large size: 8.5 x 11; easy to read, large type for game moves and italic type for notes, many photographs which are washed out and are badly distorted. If you can get past the puns, jokes, anecdotes, trivia, chess history and sometimes bad analysis, the games are action packed affairs that are a lot of fun to play over. On mine the pages came loose very quickly. Fortunately, the second volume is much better produced and contains instructive, well-annotated games. 
     But, like I said, it's Bisguier's games that are the important thing. Known for his opening experiments and swashbuckling tactical style, Bisguier could also play solid positional chess and excellent endings...if he had too. For him, chess was a game, not a profession and during his heyday he worked full time for IBM, first as a programmer and later as a technical writer. He also enjoyed partying, the ladies, literature, bridge and (ugh!) checkers. For many years Bisguier also served on the board of directors for a local branch of Planned Parenthood. 
     The following game was played in the 1945 Manhattan Chess Club Junior Championship and attracted the attention of Reuben Fine who featured it in his Game of the Month column in Chess Review and later included it in one of his books. 
     Fine wrote, “Bisguier played from beginning to end with admirable imagination and precision.” Bisguier's analysis didn't add much to Fine's notes and at the end Fine confessed that in spite of his dubious play earlier, Byrne missed a chance to equalize, so the question was, where did Bisguier go wrong in conducting his attack? Fine wasn't sure. And, I'm not sure I was able to answer that question even with Stockfish because there's always the possibility that engines may find a hidden resource that the players missed. Just because there is one move hidden in a position that allows the defender to escape doesn't mean that the attacker did anything wrong. In fact, the attacker often deserves kudos for bringing about such a position that makes the defender's task so difficult! 

     What I liked about the game was the way, when he culdn't accomplish anything more on the K-side, Bisguier switched to the other side.  The resulting pressure on black's position was just too much.

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