By Bill Wall
Samuel “Sammy” Herman Reshevsky was born Szmul (Schmul) Rzeszewski on November 26, 1911 in Ozorkow, Russian Empire (now near Lodz, Poland). His father, Jacob, was a well-to-do linen merchant. His mother was Shaindel (Eibeschitz). Samuel was the 6th child in a Jewish family.
In 1917, at the age of 5, Reshevsky, known as Schmulke, learned how to play chess from his father, a good amateur player.
In 1918, at the age of 6, Reshevsky made his first appearance in Vienna giving simultaneous exhibitions.
In 1919, he traveled throughout Poland giving simultaneous exhibitions against 20 or more players. He seldom lost in these displays. Later, in 1920, he staged his first grand tour of several European capitals., including London, Paris, the Hague, Warsaw, Berlin, and Brussels. He was known as the “boy wonder of chess.”
On November 3, 1920, his parents sailed into New York Harbor on the White Star liner R.M.S. Olympic and made their home in New York. On the last night of the crossing, Reshevsky played 12 passengers, winning all the games, including one game that he played blindfolded.
To make a living, they allowed Sammy to give simultaneous exhibitions in chess all over the country.
On November 9, 1920, his first American simultaneous exhibition was with 20 officers and cadets at the Military Academy at West Point. Reshevsky was dressed in a sailor suit. He won 19 games and drew one. There were over 500 spectators at the event. Overnight, he became the most famous chess player in the United States. He remained the most famous until Bobby Fischer came along.
Reshevsky was unable to speak English when he first arrived (his only words of English that he knew were “check” and “checkmate”). His parents never did learn English. However, Reshevsky was speaking fluent English within a year of arrival to the United States. He also mastered difficult texts and math problems on sight.
On November 19, 1920, Reshevsky met Frank Marshall, the reigning American champion, at the Marshall Chess Club in New York. Marshall showed Reshevsky three tough chess problems. Reshevsky solved them all in 3 minutes and 25 seconds, a record according to Marshall, who gave him a gold medal.
On December 7, 1920, Reshevsky played Morris Schapiro, a strong player from Columbia University, in a timed clock game and won. Schapiro went on to win the 1921 Manhattan Chess Club championship with 9 wins, 2 draws, and 0 losses.
In 1921, Reshevsky lost only 8 games out of some 1,500 games he played in other simultaneous exhibitions throughout the country arranged by his American manager, Max Rosenthal. In some exhibitions, Reshevsky played up to 75 people at the same time. On April 5, 1921, over 2,000 spectators greeted him in Philadelphia during his exhibition in that city.
In June 1921, Reshevsky gave a 20-board simul at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and met several Hollywood stars such as Charlie Chaplin (1899-1977) and 5-year-old Jackie Coogan (1914-1984) at the simul. Coogan and Reshevsky were wearing boxing gloves for a publicity photo when Coogan punched Reshevsky in the face, giving him a black eye. The only person to beat Reshevsky in the 20-board simul was Dr. Robert B. Griffith (1876-1937), a physician for the film industry in Hollywood.
Reshevsky later gave a 12-board simul at the Hamburger Department Store in Los Angeles, where he lost one game and burst out crying (because it was a boy who won rather than an adult).
Charlie Chaplin devoted two pages in his My Autobiography (1964) on chess and meeting Reshevsky in 1921 at his Hollywood studio while he was editing The Kid. A picture of Reshevsky playing Charlie Chaplin on a Drueke chess set appeared in the January 1922 issue of the American Chess Bulletin. Another picture was taken of Charlie Chaplin playing Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1833-1939) in a game of chess while Reshevsky watched. Charlie Chaplin offered Reshevsky a movie job, but Reshevsky’s advisors turned it down for religious reasons.
In April 1922, Reshevsky visited Washington, D.C. and played chess with several congressmen. He also met President Harding.
Rehsevsky wrote of his youth, “Wherever I went, great crowds turned out to see me play. For four years, I was on public view. People stared at me, poked at me, tried to hug me, asked me questions. Professors measured my cranium and psycho-analyzed me. Reporters interviewed me and wrote fanciful stories about my future. Photographers were forever aiming their cameras at me. It was, of course, an unnatural life for a child, but it had its compensations and I cannot truthfully say that I did not enjoy it. There was the thrill of travelling from city to city with my family, the excitement of playing hundreds of games of chess and winning most of them, the knowledge that there was something “special” about the way I played chess, although I didn’t know why.”
In October 1922, at the age of 10, he played in the New York Master tournament. He was perhaps the youngest chess player to have completed in a strong master tournament. He finished in a tie for 3rd-6th (1 win, 2 draws, 2 losses), and he defeated Dawid Janowski, a strong master and former French champion. Reshevsky won the brilliancy prize of the tournament for his victory. During the tournament, Reshevsky met with Eugene Morphy, Paul Morphy’s cousin.
In his youth, Reshevsky did not attend school. A late-night simultaneous exhibition in 1922 got him in trouble with child welfare officials. His parents were charged with improper guardianship in the District Court in Manhattan. However, it was demonstrated that Reshevsky was receiving religious education in a rabbinical school on East Broadway in New York, and the case was dismissed on November 15, 1922. Following a court recommendation, a sponsor outside the Reshevsky family was designated to report to the court periodically on his behalf.
Soon after, Julius Rosenwald, co-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, became Reshevsky’s benefactor. Rosenwald offered to finance Reshevsky’s education, provided that he would curtail his chess exhibitions.
In August-September 1924, the 25th Western Chess Association (US Open) was held in Detroit. Reshevsky, age 12, participated in the event, won by Carlos Torre. In the final round, a win would have given him clear 2nd place. A draw would have tied for 2nd with three other players. However, he lost and he took 5th place.
Reshevsky mostly gave up chess from 1925 to 1931 to complete his secondary education in Detroit, Michigan, where his family settled. He changed his name from Szmul Rzeszewski to Samuel Reshevsky because it was more easily pronounced. Reshevsky attended Northern High School in Detroit after being tutored for six months in private. He was a pitcher on the high school baseball team.
In 1925, Reshevsky became a naturalized American citizen.
In August-September 1927, Reshevsky played in the first National Chess Federation Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He tied for 3rd place, behind Norman Whitaker and Abraham Kupchik.
After graduating from high school in 1929, he first enrolled at the University of Detroit to study accounting. After two years, he transferred to the University of Chicago School of Business, graduating in 1933 with a degree in accounting. He later became an accountant for a Manhattan engineering and construction firm.
In October 1931, Reshevsky, age 19, won the 32nd U.S. Open (then known as the Western Chess Association Open) Chess Championship, held in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In February through April, 1932, Reshevsky tied for 3rd in a small round robin tournament in Chicago, behind Samuel Factor and Herman Hahlbohm.
In July-August 1932, Reshevsky took 2nd place, behind Reuben Fine, at the 33rd Western Chess Association championship (US Open), held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He then traveled to Pasadena where he tied for 3rd place, behind Alekhine and Kashdan at the Pasadena International.
In September 1933, Reshevsky took 2nd, behind Reuben Fine, at the 34th Western Chess Association (US Open) championship, held in Detroit.
In July-August 1934, Reshevsky tied with Reuben Fine in the 35th Western Chess Association (U.S. Open) championship, held in Chicago. He then traveled to Syracuse, New York and won the 56th New York State Chess Championship.
From 1935 to 1953, Reshevsky played in 14 tournaments, winning half of them. Only once did he place lower than 3rd place.
In March 1935, Reshevsky played for the Marshall Chess Club, defeating I.A. Horowitz in their annual match with the Manhattan Chess Club.
In April-May, 1935, Reshevsky took 1st place at Margate, England, where he beat the former world champion, Jose Capablanca. In July, he won at Yarmouth, England, with 10 out of 11. His only loss was to world woman champion, Vera Menchik.
In April 1936, Reshevsky won the U.S. Chess Championship, held in New York. He also won it in 1938, 1940, 1941 (defeating Israel Horowitz in a playoff match), 1942, 1946, and 1969. He also tied for 1st in the 1972 US Championship, but lost the playoff in 1973 to Robert Byrne, ahead of Kavalek.
In 1936, he shared 3rd place at Nottingham. He tied with Euwe and Fine, behind Botvinnik and Capablanca. He defeated Lasker and Alekhine in the event.
Between 1936 and 1942, he had a streak of 75 games without a loss in a U.S. chess championship competition.
In 1937, he shared 1st place at Kemeri, Latvia with Flohr and Petrov, ahead of Alekhine and Keres. Also in 1937, he tied for 3rd with Capablanca, behind Keres and Fine at Semmering-Baden.
In August 1937, he represented the USA at the Chess Olympiad in Stockholm, which won the gold medal. He competed 8 times for the USA – Stockholm 1937, Dubrovnik 1950, Helsinki 1952, Munich 1958, Tel Aviv 1964, Lugano 1968, Siegen 1970, and Nice 1974.
In 1937-38, he was the winner in the traditional Hastings Christmas Tournament.
In 1938, he shared 4th place at the AVRO tournament in the Netherlands.
In January 1939, Reshevsky took 2nd place at Leningrad-Moscow, behind Flohr.
On June 24, 1941, he married the former Norma Mindick. They had three children, Joel, Sylvia, and Malke.
In 1942, during the U.S. championship, Arnold Denker beat Reshevsky on time in the U.S. Championship. While spectators watched, the tournament director (Walter Stephens) mistakenly declared that Denker's time had expired. He was looking at the clock backwards and refused to change is decision, which ultimately gave Reshevsky the title.
In 1944, he won his 3rd U.S. Open, held at Boston. He did not compete in the U.S. chess championship that year because he was studying for his Certified Public Accountant (CPA) degree.
In 1945, he won the Pan-American Championship in Los Angeles.
In 1948, he tied for 3rd place with Paul Keres, behind Botvinnik and Smyslov in the World Championship match tournament in The Hague/Moscow.
Reshevsky was a devout Orthodox Jew and did not play on the Jewish sabbath. After 1948, he would not play chess between sunset of Friday and sunset on Saturday. He believed that his previously having played on the Jewish sabbath was a sin and that his father’s recent death was his punishment.
In 1950, he was invited to the Candidates’ Tournament in Budapest, but decided not to play. The U.S. State Department decreed that American citizens should not travel to Hungary. Reshevsky then conducted a national exhibition tour.
In 1950, Reshevsky was awarded the Grandmaster title by FIDE, the World Chess Federation, on its inaugural list.
In 1950, Reshevsky moved to 9 Hadassah Lane, Spring Valley, New York, where he lived the rest of his life. He had a winter home in Sunrise, Florida.
In November 1950, the United States Chess Federation (USCF) published its first rating list. Number one was Reuben Fine at 2817, followed by Reshevsky at 2770. He remained the highest rated player for the next 10 years.
In 1951, Reshevsky became the highest rated player in the United States, with a rating of 2747.
In 1952, he defeated Miguel Najdorf 11-7, in an informal match for “The Championship of the Free World.” The games were played in New York, Mexico City, and San Salvador.
In 1953, he tied for 2nd with David Bronstein and Paul Keres, behind Vasily Smyslov, in the Candidates tournament at Zurich.
In July 1955, Reshevsky played board 1 for the USA in their match with the USSR, held in Moscow. He defeated world champion Mikhail Botvinnik in one game and drew his three other games. After his victory against Botvinnik, he was mobbed by autograph seekers in Moscow and was presented to Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader. Khrushchev and Premier Nikolai Bulganin wanted to have their picture taken with Reshevsky. Reshevsky was quite uncomfortable with the entire encounter. Khrushchev, upon meeting Reshevsky, who was only five feet in height, said, “Such a little man, but so big in chess.”
In 1956, Reshevsky gave a 30-board simul in the Crown Room at Mike Romanoff’s Restaurant in Hollywood. One of his opponents was Humphrey Bogart. After two hours of play, the game was a draw. Mike Romanoff also played Reshevsky in the same simul and won his game.
In 1957, Reshevsky played Donald Byrne in a match in New York. In the first game of the match, Byrne’s flag had fallen, and Reshevsky offered a draw. Byrne accepted, and the draw stood, because Reshevsky did not claim a loss on time after the flag fell before the game ended. In the 2nd game, Byrne’s flag fell again, and again Reshevsky did not notice it. Then Reshevsky’s flag fell. Neither player noticed that both flags had fallen. However, Mrs. Reshvsky, sitting in the audience, remembering that is was important to claim a flag-fall, claimed it herself. Byrne pointed out that only the player on the move could claim a time forfeit. Since it was his move, he claimed the game himself. An appeals committee was organized to settle the dispute, which Byrne objected to. The committee declared that the game was drawn. Byrne then walked out of the match, but returned later. He lost the match 7-3.
In 1960, he came in equal first with Viktor Korchnoi at Buenos Aires.
In 1961, Reshevsky began a 16-game match with Bobby Fischer. After 11 games and a tie score, the match ended due to a scheduling dispute between Fischer and the match organizer, Jacqueline Piatigorsky. Reshevsky received the winner’s share of the prize fund.
In 1963, Reshevsky again defeated Najdorf 9.5-8.5 in a match held in Buenos Aires.
In 1964, he lost to Portisch in the Interzonal play-off.
In 1965, Reshevsky tied with Robert Byrne in the first National Open.
In 1967, Reshevsky qualified for the Candidates (tying for 6th place), but lost the subsequent quarterfinal match to Viktor Korchnoi in 1968.
In 1969, he wan in Netanya, Israel.
In 1981, at the age of 70, he tied for 3rd place in the U.S. Championship.
In 1984, at the age of 72, he took 1st place at the Reykjavik International Tournament.
In 1989, a poll in the British Chess Magazine showed that Karpov and Reshevsky were the world’s most boring chess players.
Reshevsky died of a heart attack on April 4, 1992 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York. He was 80 years old and lived in Spring Valley, New York. His funeral was held at Congregation Kehilath Israel in Spring Valley.
Reshevsky played in a record 21 U.S. Championships. He took one of the top 3 places in 15 of them. He played 269 games in US championships, a record. He won 127 games in US championships, a record.
Reshevsky played 11 of the first 13 World Champions. He played Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, and Karpov. He never played Garry Kasporv, the 13th world champion. He defeated 7 world champions (Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, and Fischer).
Reshevsky played more simultaneous exhibitions than any other player in the history of chess.
Reshevsky’s books include Reshevsky on Chess (1948, with Fred Reinfeld), How Chess Games Are Won (1962), Reshevsky on the Fischer-Spassky Games for the World Championship (1972), Great Chess Upsets (1976), and The Art of Positional Chess (1978).
Besides chess, Reshevsky enjoyed reading, ice skating, classical music, and singing.
Reshevsky – Salgado, Long Beach 1988
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 c5 7.O-O cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Be3 Bd7 10.Qd2 a6 11.f3 Qa5 12.Nb3 Qb4 13.Qd1 Na5 14.e5 1-0
Reshevsky - Denker, Syracuse 1934
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 Nxe5 6.f4 Ng4 7.Nf3 Nc6 8.O-O Bd7 9.Nc3 Be7 10.h3 Nf6 11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 Ng8 13.Be3 f6 14.Bd3 fxe5 15.Ng5 Nf6 16.Rxf6 Bxf6 17.Qh5+ g6 18.Bxg6+ hxg6 19.Qxg6+ (19...Ke7 20.Bc5 mate) 1-0