On Chess: An ordinary set, an extraordinary rivalry | St. Louis Public Radio

On Chess: An ordinary set, an extraordinary rivalry

Sep 22, 2016

In August 1986, a game of quick chess was played at the U.S. Open in Somerset, N.J. The board was vinyl, the pieces were plastic, and a Jerger wooden chess clock sat next to the board. While the set may have been common, the players were most certainly not.

Playing with the white pieces was GM Reuben Fine.  GM Samuel Reshevsky played black. Both were legends, second only to Bobby Fischer in American chess history.

The timing for this specific game on this chess set was also notable: It was the first induction ceremony for the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. It is only fitting that the Hall of Fame was opened by a game between two of its most illustrious inductees.

Not only was Reuben Fine one of the world’s best players for nearly 20 years, he was also a doctor of psychology who wrote several books on that subject as well as on chess. Sammy Reshevsky was a child prodigy who was a strong contender for the World Championship from the 1930s through the ‘60s.

A chess set used in a game between GM Reuben Fine and GM Samuel Reshevsky
Credit Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Fine won the U.S. Open seven times to Reshevsky’s three (once tying with each other); but, Reshevsky had a tendency to beat Fine at the U.S. Championship, winning it eight times while Fine always seemed to come up just short. Stats like these make it clear the two had an excellent and well-matched rivalry, with Reshevsky coming out on top with four wins to Fine’s three and 12 games that were drawn.

Below are presented a few of their notable battles, including the game played at the opening of Hall of Fame. Fittingly, the 1986 U.S. Open was won by another American chess legend, GM Larry Christiansen.

1933

The first career game between the two champions took place at the Western Open in 1933. Just the year previous, Fine won the U.S. Open ahead of Reshevsky. In this game, however, it was Sammy who got the better of the duel with a fine exchange sac.

Reshevsky, Samuel - Fine, Reuben

Detroit, 1933

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Bxd2+ 5.Qxd2 b6 6.g3 Bb7 7.Bg2 0–0 8.Nc3 Qe7 9.0–0 d6 10.Qc2 c5 11.dxc5 bxc5 12.Rad1 Nc6 13.e4 Rfd8 14.Rd2 Ng4 15.Rfd1 Nge5 16.Nxe5 Nd4 17.Ng6 hxg6 18.Qd3 e5 19.Rf1 Bc6 20.f4 Rab8 21.f5 Qg5 22.f6 Rb7 23.Rdf2 gxf6 24.b3 f5 25.exf5 Bxg2 26.Kxg2 gxf5 27.Rxf5 Nxf5 28.Rxf5 Qh6 29.Qe4 Re7 30.Qg4+ Kf8 31.Rh5 Qg7 32.Qh4 Ke8 33.Nd5 f5 34.Nxe7

1–0

1938

The following game was a battle played out in their respective primes at the 1938 U.S. Championship. Reshevsky had the much better side of the draw, and later went on to win the event.

Fine, Reuben - Reshevsky, Samuel

1938 U.S. Championship, New York, 1938

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qb3 Nc6 5.Nf3 a5 6.a3 a4 7.Qc2 Bxc3+ 8.Qxc3 h6 9.d5 exd5 10.cxd5 Na5 11.d6 cxd6 12.Bf4 0–0 13.Rd1 Re8 14.e3 Ne4 15.Qc2 Nb3 16.Bc4 Qa5+ 17.Kf1 b6 18.Kg1 Ba6 19.Rd5 Nbc5 20.h3 Bxc4 21.Qxc4 b5 22.Qd4 Nb3 23.Qd3 Nbc5 24.Qe2 b4 25.axb4 Qxb4 26.Bxd6 Nxd6 27.Rxd6 Rab8 28.Rd2 Ne4 29.Rc2 Rec8 30.Kh2 Rxc2 31.Qxc2 d5

½–½

1986

Here is a faster game they played on the set that now resides in the World Chess Hall of Fame.  Both champions were in their 70s and hadn’t faced each other over the board in more than 30 years. Fine had excellent chances to convert a rook ending, but a few slips towards the end of the game allowed Reshevsky to escape with a draw.

(1) Fine,Reuben - Reshevsky,Samuel [E19]

Hall of Fame G/30, 1986

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Be7 6.Nc3 Ne4 7.Qc2 Nxc3 8.Qxc3 0–0 9.0–0 c5 10.Rd1 Bf6 11.Qc2 Nc6 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.Be3 Qe7 14.Rd2 Rfd8 15.Rad1 d6 16.h3 h6 17.Bf4 e5 18.Be3 Nd4 19.Bxd4 exd4 20.Ne1 Bxg2 21.Nxg2 Bg5 22.Rd3 h5 23.h4 Bh6 24.e3 dxe3 25.Nxe3 Bxe3 26.Rxe3 Qd7 27.Qe2 Qf5 28.Qf3 Qxf3 29.Rxf3 Rd7 30.Rf5 Re8 31.Kf1 Rde7 32.Rxd6 Re1+ 33.Kg2 R1e2 34.Rd7 f6 35.Rxa7 Rxb2 36.a4 Re5 37.Rxe5 fxe5 38.Rc7 Rb4 39.a5 Rxc4 40.a6 Ra4 41.a7 Kh7 42.Kf3 Kg6 43.Rxc5

½–½

Overall, a rivalry such as this makes a seemingly ordinary set one that must go down in history. Not only does it represent the game of chess at the highest level, it stands for the intensity of the sport that has and will capture the hearts of fans for generations.

If you would like to view this historic chess set, it is on display for the month of September at the World Chess Hall of Fame. The World Chess Hall of Fame will be honoring its five year anniversary with a celebration on Sept. 29  from 6-8 p.m. where attendees will be able to see three brand new exhibits, as well as the aforementioned chess set.

For more information about the featured chess set or upcoming exhibitions, please visit http://www.worldchesshof.org/exhibitions/.

GM Josh Friedel began playing chess at the age of three and entered his first tournament at just six years old. GM Friedel received the IM title at 18 and proceeded to earn the GM title at 22. He is a 3-time New Hampshire State Champion, as well as a 2-time California State Champion. GM Friedel has played in six U.S. Championships and won the U.S. Open Championship is 2013. The Saint Louis Chess Club welcomes GM Friedel as a regular grandmaster in residence.