- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

One hundred years ago this year, New York journalist Hermann Helms decided to expand a popular bulletin he had compiled for the great 1904 Cambridge Springs tournament into a regular publication.

Like almost everything else Helms did, the resulting American Chess Bulletin would go on to enjoy a lengthy, prosperous and influential run, only shutting down with Helms’ death in 1963 at 93.

Chess columnists are some of our favorite people, and Helms was the Cal Ripken of a profession that has included such ironmen as Israel Horowitz, Robert Byrne and Jack Peters. Helms began a chess column for the Brooklyn Eagle in 1893 and kept going until 1955.

He knew and played chess with Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official world champion, in the 1890s, and he was still on hand 60 years later to advise Bobby Fischer’s mother when she wrote him asking for help for her “little chess-playing boy” in 1950.

For his work as a journalist, organizer, instructor, arbiter and promoter of correspondence chess, Helms was dubbed the “first dean of American chess” and inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1988.

He was also a pretty fair player, twice winning the New York state championship. To honor the centennial of the founding of American Chess Bulletin, we offer here some examples of his play.

The victim in today’s first game is Albert Fox, a stalwart of the Washington chess scene and one of the country’s strongest players in the early 20th century. But in a very modern-looking QGD Tartakover, Helms gets an early stranglehold on the position and never lets go.

White picks up a pawn with 27. Rf6 Bb7 28. Rxb5, but it is his dominance of the f-file that seals Black’s fate. After 34. Qf3 Rf8 35. e6! Qxh4 36. Rxf7 Rexf7 37. exf7+ Kg7 38. Bd7! Qe7 39. Be8!, the nice bishop maneuver entombs both Black’s rook and bishop.

White’s invading rook finally runs the bishop to ground on 49. Rc7 Ba8 50. Ra7, and Fox’s desperate bid for counterplay is snuffed out on 50…d4 51. Rxa8 dxc3 52. Rc8, catching the passed pawn. Black resigned.

Helms actually preferred a much more romantic brand of chess, and his victory over New York rival Leonard Meyer from a 1908 tournament highlights his tactical alertness.

The doubled-edged Ruy Lopez Open Defense (5…Nxe4) was very much to Helms’ tastes. For Meyer, the loss of his light-squared bishop after 10. a5 Nc5 11. c3?! Nxb3 12. Qxb3 hurts both his hoped-for kingside attack and leaves critical light squares unguarded on the queenside.

It’s the weak c2-square that leads White to a fatal oversight: 21. Be5 Qh6 (threatening a rook invasion with 22…Rc2, but Meyer’s reply appears to forget the Black bishop tucked away on a7) 22. Rac1? Rxc1 23. Nxc1 Bxf2+!.

The White king, queen and rook all stand guard over f2, but none dare capture the offending bishop. If 24. Rxf2, the knight and the game are lost on 24…Qxc1+ 25. Rf1 Rxf1 mate. White resigned.

Helms was also a devotee of 10-second chess, the precursor to today’s blitz and rapid chess. One of his most famous games was played at the lightning pace, against veteran New York master Oscar Tenner. We pick up this Evans Gambit from the diagrammed position, where Tenner as Black has just played 11…Nd4, attacking the White queen.

With his bishops strafing the Black king, Helms wrapped up succinctly with 12. Nxd7+!! Nxe2 13. Nf6 mate.

Northern Virginia master Macon Shibut, in his book on the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, wrote of Helms:

“We need only consult the life of one man to find a nearly complete account of chess in the United States. Consider: Paul Morphy was alive when Hermann Helms learned to play the game; Steinitz was world champion when Helms first attained master strength; yet Helms lived to see Bobby Fischer win several U.S. championships!”

Brooklyn vs. Washington match, 1902


1. d4d527. Rf6Bb7

2. c4e628. Rxb5Rce7

3. Nc3Nf629. Rb1Qh5

4. Bg5Be730. Bg4Qh6

5. Nf3Nbd731. h4Qg7

6. e30-032. Bh3Qh6

7. Bd3b633. Rbf1Ba8

8. cxd5exd534. Qf3Rf8

9. Rc1c535. e6Qxh4

10. 0-0Bb736. Rxf7Rexf7

11. Bb1Ne437. exf7+Kg7

12. Bf4Ndf638. Bd7Qe7

13. Ne5Rc839. Be8Qe6

14. Qd3c440. Qf4Bb7

15. Qe2Nxc341. Qe5+Qxe5

16. bxc3b542. dxe5Rh8

17. Bf5Rc743. Rf6a6

18. Rb1Ba644. g4g5

19. Qb2g645. Kf2Rf8

20. Bh3Nh546. Rb6Bc8

21. Bh6Re847. Kg3h6

22. Qe2Bd648. Rc6Bb7

23. f4Bxe549. Rc7Ba8

24. fxe5Qh450. Ra7d4

25. Qf3Ng351. Rxa8dxc3

26. Qxg3Qxh652. Rc8Black


New York, 1904


1. e4e513. Bf40-0

2. Nf3Nc614. Nd4Nxd4

3. Bb5a615. cxd4c5

4. Ba4Nf616. dxc5Bxc5

5. 0-0Nxe417. Nd2Rc8

6. d4b518. Qg3f6

7. Bb3d519. Nb3Ba7

8. dxe5Be620. exf6Qxf6

9. a4b421. Be5Qh6

10. a5Nc522. Rac1Rxc1

11. c3Nxb323. Nxc1Bxf2+

12. Qxb3Be7White resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected] times.com.

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