When I was a child touring Europe and then the USA as a chess prodigy, my performances were often met with curiosity as to how an 8-year old could beat experienced adult players and I was continually pestered for an explanation. All I can say is that chess was a natural function just as breathing is. Hence, when playing and viewing the chess positions I had in various simultaneous exhibitions, the correctness of my choices occurred spontaneously just like my breathing. I cannot really explain or do I have a better explanation.
Today, spectators feel another kind of astonishment. It is my practice to spend the majority of my time on the first 15-20 moves of a tournament game. Consequently I am forced to play rapidly to meet the time control to avoid forfeiture. This usually draws such questions as why I spend so much time on what appears book or obvious moves. That question I can answer.
To chess masters, there is no such thing as an “obvious” move. Experience and wide practice today has shown repeatedly that wins or draws are thrown away by brash or thoughtless play. Careful planning is the essence of chess strategy. Every move must be analyzed in the light of one’s plan under consideration. Nowhere, in my opinion, is waste of time more severly punished than in chess! Let me qualify that previous thought by saying that one should not take 20 minutes for one move but, rather, that those minutes are employed to making such analysis of moves once a plan is generalized to fit like a glove in the scheme of things. By playing slowly and with deliberation, I am able to grasp the basic requirements of each position. Then, despite being in time trouble, I have little trouble in finding the best continuation. Furthermore, I often find it is my opponent who gets jittery when I start moving quickly and is more prone to blunder. So, in a sense, I suppose it might also be a psychological consideration, although not intentional, to unnerve my opponent at the critical stage of play.
When did you arrive in America from Europe? Were you excited about coming to America?
Oh yes! Like all children I was very happy to cross the Atlantic and I arrived accompanied by my parents on November 3rd, 1920 in New York and was taken to the Marshall Chess Club where I met the famous American player and champion, Frank Marshall and Hodges who was a former champion.
Several exhibitions were arranged and I recall the newspapers were especially impressed with my 19 wins and 1 draw at the West Point Military Academy.
Then a long two-year tour across America visiting many cities for exhibition play was naturally quite exhausting. During that time I had not had any school education. I remember most the huge turnout in Philadelphia what was estimated to be over 3000 people to view my simultaneous.
Did you play in any chess tournaments during this period?
Actually I played in my first tournament with masters when returning to New York at the Chess Club International. The most thrilling moment in this event was defeating Janowski.
D. Janowski (White) Samuel Reshevsky (Black)
New York, 1922, Club Tournament
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.P-Q4 N-KB3 2.N-KB3 P-Q4 3.P-B4 P-K3 4.N-B3 QN-Q2 5.B-N5 B-K2 6.P-K3 P-B3 Timid. I would play 0-0 today. Now, white could have played 7.PxP, a move I have played myself on several occasions.
7.B-Q3 P-QR3 8.0-0 PxP 9.BxBP N-N3? My knowledge of openings was nil which can be explained why I made this clumsy maneuver instead of gaining space with P-QN4 and P-QR3 aiming for P-QB4.
10.B-Q3 KN-Q4 11.BxB QxB 12.Q-Q2 Either R-B1 or N-K4 seems to be stronger.
12…NxN 13.PxN P-QB4 14.QR-N1! N-Q2 15.P-QR4 0-0 16.Q-B2 P-R3 17.KR-K1 P-QN3 18.R-N2 Note how the master has achieved a free flowing opening to middlegame advantage and continues to build up his position and development prior to attacking.
18…R-N1 19.KR-N1 Q-Q3 20.Q-K2 P-QR4 21.B-N5 R-Q1 22.P-R3 Q-B2 23.P-K4 N-B1 24.Q-K3 B-Q2 25.N-K5 B-K1 26.BxB RxB 27.P-KB4 P-B3 This creates a target for white but leaving the Knight in such a commanding position required patience beyond my temperment.
28.N-B3 N-Q2 29.P-K5 P-KB4 Hardly avoidable but this pawn advance offers up the target needed to further his attack.
30.P-N4! P-N3 31.NPxP NPxP 32.P-Q5! White is throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the fray.
32…N-B1 33.R-N2ch K-R2 34.P-B4 Q-B2 35.K-R2 N-N3 36. QR-N1 R-N1 37.P-Q6 Q-QN2 Janowski has built up a tremendous attack on the black King position but now goes astray. Crushing is 38.N-N5ch PxN 39.RxP R-N2 40.Q-KN3 Q-KB2 41.R-R5ch K-N1 42.R-R6 NxKP 42.PxN RxQ 44.RxRch Q-N2 45.RxQch KxR 46.RxP, etc.
38.P-R4 Q-B3 39.P-R5? The Knight check should still win but now young Sammy to his credit finds a way out!
39…N-R1 40.N-N5ch PxN 41.PxP N-N3!! A splendid resource leading to complex and intricate play. It is an amazing tribute to the prodigy’s steadfast backbone and alert eye.
42.R-N3 Now Janowski realized that 42.Q-KR3 would be answered by R-KR1 so this must have knocked the wind out of him.
42…K-N2 43.R-KR3 R-KR1 The struggle for the h-file is finally resolved in black’s favor.
44.PxN RxRch 45.KxR ? Missing QxR R-KR1 46.Q-R6ch K-N1 47.P-N7 R-R2 48.K-N3 RxQ 49.PxR Q-K5 50.P-Q7 forcing a draw!
45…R-R1ch 46.K-N3 QxRP 47.Q-KB3 P-B5ch Taking over the initative and from now on young Sammy calls the tune.
48.K-N4 Q-B7 49.QxP Q-K7ch 50.K-N3 Q-Q6ch 51.K-N2 Q-K7ch 52.K-N3 Q-R7ch 53.K-B3 R-KB1 54.Q-B6ch K-N1! Nicely played as RxQch would again end in a draw after 55.NPxRch K-N1 56. P-Q7 Q-Q7 57.P-N7!
55.P-Q7 RxQch 56.NPxR?? This slip throws away white’s last breath for life and a draw. Correct was 56.KPxR!! Q-Q7 57.P-B7ch K-N2 58.R-KR1! Black must take perpetual check otherwise he loses. Do you see how after 58..QxQP??
56…Q-Q7 57.R-KR1 Q-Q6ch! Avoiding 57…QxQP ? 58.P-B7ch K-N2 59.R-R7ch winning. This check makes all the difference.
58.K-N2 QxPch 59.K-B2 Q-B4ch 60.K-N2 Q-N5ch 61.K-R2 Q-K7ch 62.K-R3 Q-Q6ch 63.K-R4 QxP 64.R-N1ch K-B1 65.K-N5 Q-Q5. (0-1)
Gosh, what an impressive game for one so young.
When did you start and finish your education?
At the age of twelve I went to school for the first time in my life. Private tutoring enabled me to advance in six months to high school. I studied accounting after graduation from high school at the University of Detroit and transferred to the University of Chicago where I obtained my degree in 1933. I did manage to play in some tournaments during this period of maturing. But I was no longer a child prodigy and that was kind of hard to erase entirely from the public’s mind.
You have gone on to represent the USA as its often times champion earning the Grandmaster title and considered to be the main threat to Botvinnik. You bested him in a team match; won the Western Hemisphere World Title by beating Miguel Najdorf and defending against matches with Gligoric and others successfully. When Fischer came on the scene, it was like a comet rise to almost instant stardom. You played a match with him and tied it 5-5. There was hard feelings about that. Still you never lost an organized match during your lifetime.
Yes, Fischer and I had sort of reconciled our differences. He is undoubtedly the best player in the world and maybe ever. He works on his game and still must improve areas of his play if he wants to become world champion. What makes it complicated is our players on this side of the Atlantic do not get the chance to compete regulary against the best in the world as do the players in the Soviet Union.
You were the first to accuse the Russians of cheating.
Well, their behavior was certainly suspect but of course they deny that. Since then, Fischer has likewise brought up that issue but I do not want to discuss that further.
Well, you will always be a great champion in my eyes and I thank you for sharing these moments with my readers.
(This interview never took place but should have.)