Although the Depression of 1929 left many in shock and the next decade was ominous for all Americans, it was a triumph for US chess teams who dominated the Chess Olympics during the 1930s with a roster of chess talent probably not seen since. There was an array of stars that could have joined together at least three powerhouses: Weaver Adams, Sid Bernstein, Arthur Dake, Arnold Denker, Reuben Fine, Milton Hanover, Herman Helms, I. A. Horowitz, Isaac Kashdan, Al Kevitz, Edward Lasker, Frank Marshall, Harold Morton*, Al Pincus, Fred Reinfeld, Samuel Reshevsky, Les Samuels, Anthony Santasiere, George Shainswit, Al Simonson, Herman Steiner, E. Tholfsen, George Treysman, and Robert Willman. With the depression many of the chess talent in America settled on the west or east coast. New York was considered the center of chess power in America.
Play for the US Team in the Olympics was hampered by the cost and many could not participate by accepting an invitation. The general rule of the Day was to play for glory’s sake, not any financial reward which proved nil. So basically it was a love to compete at the highest possible level–if you could afford it!
American chess would’ve lost decades of prospective growth and talent had it not been for Israel Albert Horowitz’s vision ignoring the pundits who said his dream magazine was not practical. He enlisted the services of Isaac Kashdan in partnership and financial backing from his friend Fritz Brieger, managing to rent a loft at 60-10 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, NY, where the picture chess magazine of Al Horowitz’ dream was born.: Chess Review. Life was a hardship for Al Horowitz: he barnstormed across the country giving free lectures and simuls to anyone who subscribed to Chess Review, and had the favor of a number of magazine retail outlets that helped publicize chess. The picture magazine and excellent news coverage and articles drew many to it.
Tragedy struck down his friend Harold Morton* in a car crash and landed Horowitz in the hospital, and while surviving, lost the hearing in one ear.
He once roomed with Art Denker and shared many a meal of beans, bread and coffee. Their rent bill was called ‘a duebill’ which to Denker’s memory was never paid. Chessplayers hung out together in those days at the major NYC clubs where small bets often was all the money gained for a meager existence. Such small wagers on games helped many times to meet expenses. In those days, a friend was a true friend and the night manager at the Lincoln Hotel coined the word ‘duebill’ and Al or roommate never got charged.
One bright spot during this era was Mr. Brieger’s generosity of the 1936 Philadelphia US Open. Once again Mr. Brieger who was obviously a patron saint of chess made possible the first official US Championship which was held at the Astor Hotel in New York City. It was a greatly attended tournament with as many as 500 attending the rounds with newspaper coverage of every round and interviews. Still, after the event, chess once again bowed to a more popular sport menu. Another bright spot was the success of the Postal Chess Department in Chess Review.
I have mentioned elsewhere my own trips to the Manhattan Club on numerous weekend passes while at Fort Dix and personally meeting many of the masters of the day. Al Horowitz was often there as his usual routine where memories expressed his exuberant energies as burning the candle at both ends. He was a great storyteller, often slapping his leg in great laughter at funny stories he related. At times, he would come up with questions for listeners such as: “Did you ever see the tail of a south end of a horse running north?” He regularly would sit down at his favorite table at the Manhattan club and played with the a-pawn at a3 and Queen Knight in the box. He was a terrific attacking player and without the Knight blocking the a-Rook got rapid development and use of that heavy piece. His success was quite high because of this. But the twinkle in his eyes, and happy nature of such fast play was not so much trademark as a truly love affair with chess from his magazine to his game play and club friendships. There was a bit of humorous larceny in some of his positions. For example, one chap mentioned that he was about to move a piece and Al leaned over and whispered, “You know that we are playing touch move, don’t you?” Well, it unnerved the opponent who suspected the winning move actually was losing so would choose another, and Al would slap his knee after the win in joyful glee.
His life was all chess. He remained financially under some pressure until in later life he sold Chess Review to the United States Chess Federation. After a full day at Chess Review he would be seen popping in at the Marshall Chess Club around 7 pm or so after supper, and later seen at Bobby Fischer’s 42nd Street Emporium kibitzing on games in play, and later around 11 pm at the Manhattan Chess Club, giving Knight-odds to all until closing time. Even in more serious moods, when asked why he never took vacations, he responded: “Trying to kill me?”
Years of abuse– heavy smoking, lack of exercise, and being a workaholic became a death sentence. He was dying, and yet with tears in his eyes, he noted to Art Denker, is longtime friend, “We had some good times didn’t we.” He died on January 18th 1973 at the age of 65.
Israel Albert Horowitz followed his star–his dream, a man of rare courage at the board and in penning some great chess books: an unselfish workaholic for chess–The Royal Game!!!
He played in 8 US Championships over 3 decades and a half scoring some dazzling victories in the early rounds only to fall off at the end. More than likely, this was due to his enormous work in chess which was most important to him and keeping Chess Review top quality.