Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess




The United States won the gold in the fourth Chess Olympiad of 1931. They also won the gold in 1933, 1935 and 1937. The U.S. didn't participate in 1939 due to lack of adequate financing, but had every reason to believe they would have brought home the gold had they played. Before WWII, The USSR seldom, if ever, participated in events outside their nation and only rarely did a Soviet master play against a foreign master. It had been long known that the Soviets were avid chess players and produced many strong masters, but as it was hard to quantify the unknown, their actual strength was mostly a matter of conjecture.

Perversely, Germany had won the 1939 Olympiad in Buenos Aries during which Germany initiated WWII with its invasion of Poland. The suggestion of a USA-USSR match via radiotelegraph was extended as a good-natured reaction to the hesitant, though successful alliance between the two countries in that war against German aggression with the hope that their peacetime alliance would be equally successful. The US went into the match with the expectation that it would be a tightly contested battle, but one which they would eventually win. It seemed generally accepted that, at the very least, Fine and Reshevsky would come through with plus scores. The idea that the Soviets would literally crush the US team was one that few westerners entertained.

On so many levels this match was one of great historical significance and interest. It was as well publicized and well documented as it was well conducted. The match caught the attention not just of chess players, but of the general public and for the four days that it lasted, newspapers across the country (and likewise in the USSR) were filled with reports of its progress.

This article was published in the New York Times on the second day of the match -



(NY Times Sept. 2, 1945)

Soviet Makes Debut in World
Sports as Experts Compete
in Tourney by Radio

     Seated in hushed rooms 5,000 miles apart, the ten foremost chess players of the United States and of the Soviet Union yesterday morning flashed their opening moves between New York and Moscow by radio and began a four-day team match that marked the return of international sport competition.
     For weeks chess enthusiasts all over the world, from beginners to experts,   had been looking forward to the contests between American champions in the Henry Hudson Hotel and top-ranking players in the House of Culture of the Transport Workers in the Soviet capital.
     The interest in the match, aside from the fact that it brought an end to wartime "chess famine," was owing to a series of "firsts" that it wrote into the record books. It was the first time an official team match was conducted by radio, the first time that a Russian chess team met an American group and the first time that a championship Soviet team in any sport competed against a top foreign group.
     The United States chess team made a bad start. At the end of yesterday's play the Russians were leading by a score of two to nothing, and the games they won were those at the first and second boards, presided over by the United States champion, Arnold S. Denker, and Samuel Reshevsky, his predecessor, who won our title four successive times. Denker lost to Mikhail Botwinnik, the Soviet champion; Reshevsky to Vassily Smyslov.
     The outlook at the other boards also was not encouraging for the Americans. I. A. Horowitz and A. Kupchick had "bad games" at adjournment. The rest of the Americans had fairly even positions.
     The match has been hailed by chess experts as one of the most important in a decade and by diplomats as on of the pleasantest ways of furthering American-Russian good-feeling. It was sponsored by the United States Chess Federation, the Chess Review and the American Society for Russian Relief. Proceeds will be used to buy therapeutic equipment for American and Red Army wounded.
     The ten American players and their ten Russian opponents were ready to play at 10 A. M.  The opening ceremonies were held in an auditorium already packed with 200 impatient chess players. Mayor La Guardia, who arrived early to wish every one in sight good luck, made the first move on the No. 1 board.
     Before he opened the match, the Mayor explained his qualifications to the audience. "You know," he said, "I myself hold a chess record, one that's never been challenged. I am absolutely the worst chess player in the world; nobody approaches me."
     Mr. La Guardia said the he looked forward to the day when Russian and American teams would be competing in all sports and that chess was a good beginning "because there's not much talking and no arguing." The audience thought that was funny.
    "Of course," he went on, "the Russians will have to learn baseball. But by that time the Council of the United Nations will be in a position to act as referee.

Mayor is a Pawn for Denker
     With a fine show of spontaneity, Mr. La Guardia then walked slowly to a large chess board, fingered his chin and moved a pawn to queen 4, a classical and "unadventurous" opening.
     However, it was no secret that Mr. Denker had no intention of leaving the strategic first move to the Mayor's fancy and had coached him beforehand.  The Mayor obeyed instructions faithfully.
     As soon as Mr. La Guardia made his move, the Mackay Radio teletype machines in the mezzanine began clacking out the first play, coded as "FEFO." Within a matter of minutes, from Moscow, where Ambassador W. Averell Harriman opened the Russian end of the match, came Mr. Botwinnik's return, "RERO,"  which was the same as Mr. Denker's beginning, pawn to Queen 4.
     As he opened the Moscow end of the tournament, Mr. Harriman said that the radio match "makes us realize that we are nearly near neighbors, and that all the possibilities exist for this nearness to become a reality in all fields of activity and thought."
     With the Russian answer in, the ten American players filed upstairs to their breeze-swept room. For the first few minutes, the normally subdued chess tournament atmosphere was replaced by mild bedlam, with photographers' bulbs popping and questions being shouted and answered. But in a little while, all except the players, officials and messengers were ushered out to allow the match to proceed in traditional calm.

Elaborate Preparations Made
     The technical preparations for the match were elaborate and complete. Two of the fastest radio telegraph circuits were used by the Mackay operators for transmission of moves between New York and Moscow. Little more than a minute elapsed between the sending of a play in one city and its receipt in the other, though once during the day there was a fifteen-minute breakdown of the connection between the Moscow playing hall and the radio transmitter.
     One operator flashed moves to Moscow, the other was assigned to receive messages from the Soviet players. The rest of the set-up was similar in both cities.  A coordinator sat beside the teletype machines, recording incoming messages, which were sent by messengers to the players. At the same time, the move was telephoned to a demonstrator on the auditorium stage, who moved the chessmen on ten huge boards on the platform.  Outgoing moves were handled in the same way - player to messenger to recorder to operator, then across the world.
     While luckier chess fans were seated in the Moscow and New York auditoriums, preparations were being made in twenty service hospitals all over the United States to carry the results and play-by-play accounts to interested patients. With the cooperation of the American Red Cross, special wire facilities were set up in the Army and Navy hospitals. At the end of each day, summaries will be telegraphed to the institutions and volunteer experts will go over each play, analyzing and explaining. Among the patients following the match will be those at Dibble General Hospital, Menlo Park, Calif., an Army hospital for blind veterans.    
     In Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities local chess clubs and Russian Relief Committees have scheduled large public affairs to follow all plays, which will be sent by telegraph from New York.

     Each of the players will compete in two games. The winning team will receive a special trophy on Tuesday night.


The Challenge
Announcement of the Radio Match
Highlights of the Match
      - a summary by Kenneth Harkness
U.S. Team Members
USSR Team Members

The Mackay Radio
The Uedemann Code

A Photo Essay of the Match
U.S. Team Members Annotate Their Own Games
       Arnold Sheldon Denker
     Samuel Reshevsky
     Reuben Fine    
     Israel Albert Horowitz
     Isaac Kashdan
     Herman Steiner
     Albert S. Pinkus
     PFC Herbert Seidman
     Abraham Kupchik
     Anthony Edward Santasiere
Botvinnik and Boleslavsky Comment on the Match
All the Games in PGN format



Note: All the games in viewers had been transcribed from the original descriptive notation. The possibility of clerical errors always exists.
If such errors are found, please inform me at