Hidden behind the communist wall of secrecy for many years, the Soviet development and interest as a propaganda tool found silence as the American chess superiority in various international team events saw the US squad notching one win after another. In the early days of Soviet governance, the ignorance of many to read, write, and survive the rigors of pre-industrial development of the vastness that is the Russian Empire saw a need for education and unification of people of many different values and stripes. For the new communist government, the immediate need was to wipe out the long history of Czarist Russia and redefine the social fabric of society. And here is where the game of chess entered the picture. The people took to chess like ducks take to water. Yet, while there was great effort to develop chess throughout the nation, little was really known about the number of players, the schooling efforts given many of the arts and sciences which included chess, music and ballet.
Famed chess masters were invited to Russia to participate in tournaments and give simultaneous exhibitions. News coming out of these encounters should have energized Americans and others to ramp up their own federations and to develop their talent which largely evolved out of a few major cities, local clubs and available literature. In a word, the idea of professionalism was still based entirely on independent study and amateur status which promoted wishful thinking as a chess power in international team play.
Thus, over September 1-4, 1945, this historic first meeting of top players representing both countries met in battle by radio as a means of transmittal. The result was a shocking defeat of the great American team which had dominated all adversaries. Not only did the Russians defeat the American team, it had propaganda issued that the Soviet system in almost all categories of human endeavor was superior to the idea of individualism that prevailed in what became the West. Chess was raised to a level of propaganda value not seen or witnessed before by any state.
THE AMERICAN TEAM………….POINTS……………….POINTS…………………. THE SOVIET UNION TEAM
Arnold Denker (1) 0 – 0 1 – 1 Mikhail Botvinnik
Samuel Reshevsky (2) 0 – 0 1 – 1 Vassily Smyslov
Reuben Fine (3) 1/2 – 0 1/2 – 1 Issac Boleslavsky
Al Horowitz (4) 0 – 1 1 – 0 Salo Flohr
Isaac Kashdan (5) 0 – 0 1 – 1 Alexander Kotov
Herman Steiner (6) 1 – 1/2 0 – 1 Igor Bondarevsky
Albert Pinkus (7) 1/2 – 1/2 1/2 – 1/2 Andrea Lilienthal
Herbert Seidman (8) 0 – 0 1 – 1 V. Ragozin
Abraham Kupchik (9) 0 – 1/2 1 – 1/2 V. Makogonov
Anthony E. Santasiere 0 – 0 1 – 1 David Bronstein
TEAM TOTALS 41/2 151/2
The two top boards show the lack of preparedness by the Americans. Both Denker and Reshevsky were completely outplayed. Part of this was likely due to the volume of chess in the new USSR compared to the USA. For example, Botvinnik won easily; Smyslov took less than 10-minutes for half the game while Reshevsky known for his slow play used most of his time for half the game with some questionable choices to boot. The Soviet machine was well oiled and prepared and deserved the slaughterhouse result that took place. Still, it was to benefit America because it served as a wake up call that our efforts and training were sorely needing revision. Herman Steiner was the only player to score a 1.5 score while Pinkus managed his usual skill to draw both games. Reuben Fine lost when he messed up a winning attack but drew the remaining game. Here are two games from the top boards that show clearly the quality of chess in America as opposed to the broad national approach and availability to meet top competition that makes for razor-sharp tooling on the 64 squares.
White: Denker USA vs. Botvinnik USSR
- d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 d:c4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. N:g5 h:g5 10. B:g5 Nbd7 11. e:f6?!
This move actually interferes with mobility of the White forces where Black gets to have open lines which creates a burden on White to find a suitable strategy.
11…Bb7 12. Be2 Qb6 13. O-O O-O-O 14. a4 b4 15. Ne4 c5 16. Qb1 Qc7 17. Ng3?
This leads to rapid deterioration of his position where his pieces lack leadership of purpose.
17… c:d4 18. B:c4 Qc6 19. f3 d3 20. Qc1 Be5+ 21. Kh1 Qd6! 22. Qf4 R:h2+! 23. K:h2 Rh8+ 24. Qh4 R:h4 25. B:h4 Qf4 (0-1).
White: V. Smyslov USSR vs. Black: S. Reshevsky Opening: Ruy Lopez
- e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O N:e4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. d:e5 Be6 9. c3 Bc5 10. Nbd2 O-O 11. Bc2 f5 12. Nb3 Bb6 13. Nfd4 N:d4 14. N:d4 B:d4 15. c:d4 f4 16. f3 N:g3 17. h:g3 f:g3 18. Qd3 Bf5 19. Q:f5 R:f5 20. B:f5 Qh4 21. Bh3 Q:d4+ 22. Kh1 Q:e5 23. Bd2 Q:b2 24. Bf4 c5 25. Be6+ Kh8 26. B:d5 Rd8 27. Rad1 c4 28. B:g3 c3 29. Be5 b4 30. Bb3 Rd2 31. f4 h5 32. Rb1 Rf2 33. Rfe1 Qd2 34. Rbd1 Qb2 35.Rd8+ Kh7 36. Bg8+ Kg6 37. Rd6+ Kf5 38. Be6+ Kg6 39. Bd5+ Kh7 40. Be4+ Kg8 41. Bg6 (1-0).
The following years have been met with high quality games by Bill Lombardy (11-0) World Junior; J. Tarjan, Charles Kalme, Ken Rogoff–just to name a few who emerged out of a rebirth of junior programs conducted by the US Chess Federation. The list is just too long to give here.
In 1956, Robert (Bobby) Fischer started his rise which led to the world championship title. During those turbulent years, he brought chess out of long poverty into making demands for better tournament conditions, not only for himself but for all the players. It was an era that fractured in America two divisions, (1) Vindictiveness over Fischer enormous results in money prize awards with lst place finishes or near the very top; (2) where many despised his being Christian–Jews who looked upon his religious betrayal. I played Bobby when he was 12 and he told me he had become a Christian despite some family turmoil over it. It was also an issue in the movie. Unfortunately, some in USCF were part of this. One can only conjecture just how much this played a part in Fischer’s life. Years later, he married and his wife buried him in Iceland, his adopted home. I recall reading something to the effect that Bobby had mellowed in his later days and before he passed away. I hope so. Stress and living a life to honor America and the world championship regressed into a morbid hatred of American policy and State Department attack on his professionalism and need to play where the crowds came because he was Fischer.