- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2020

It was a century ago that a remarkable American chess career was launched.

It was in late 1920 that a diminutive 8-year-old prodigy from Lodz, Poland, named Szmul Rzeszewski made the journey across the Atlantic with his parents.

Already well-known in Europe for his talent and a string of successful simultaneous exhibitions, the rechristened Sammy Reshevsky became a sensation in knee pants in the U.S., defeating challengers many times his age and getting his picture on the front page of The New York Times. It was the most famous American chess debut before the rise of Bobby Fischer more than three decades later.

Unlike many other prodigies, Reshevsky went on to justify the early hype, even though his professional career was always hampered by his need to make a living as an accountant. He won eight U.S. national titles — tied with Fischer for most ever — and was one of the world’s best players from the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s.

Although his mature style often favored positional play and grinding out wins, the youthful Reshevsky adopted a much more adventurous approach. Many of Reshevsky’s earliest exhibition games featured sharp openings and wildly speculative attacks, such as today’s game from a simul in Berlin in early 1920.



Cunningham’s Defense (3…Be7, threatening a disruptive check on h4) in the King’s Gambit is one of the sharpest responses to one of the sharpest openings, and things get messy fast here. After 11. Qh5 Rf8, White is already down three tripled h-pawns, but the youthful Reshevsky is ready to strike.

Thus: 12. Nxf7!? Qxe4+ (Rxf7 13. Nc3 b5 14. Bxf7+ Qxf7 15. Qxh6 Qg6 16. Qxg6+ hxg6 17. Rxf6) 13. Kxh2 Qxc2+? (tempting, but tougher was 13…Qh4+! 14. Qxh4 Bxh4 15. Nc3 d5 16. Nxd5 Rxf7 17. Rxf7 Kxf7 18. Nxc7+ Ke7 19. Rf1 Kd6 20. Nxa8 Nc6, and Black may survive), when it’s understandable White overlooks the startling 14. Nd2!! Qxd2+ 15. Kh1, and Black can’t organize a defense; e.g. 15…Qg5 16. Rae1+ Be7 17. Nd6+ Kd8 18. Rxf8+ Bxf8 19. Re8 mate.

Still, White’s 14. Kg3!? does the job after 14…Bh4+? (walking into disaster; White is still better on 14…Qg6+! [Rg8+ 15. Ng5+ Rg6 (Qg6 16. Bf7+!) 16. Na3 Qxb2 17. Rae1+ Kd8 18. Qxg6! Qxa3+ 19. Bb3 hxg6 20. Nf7 mate] 15. Qxg6 hxg6 16. Rxf6) 15. Qxh4 Qc4, and the White queen takes over her Black counterpart’s square to deliver 16. Qd8 mate.

“My center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking.”

We can’t say Pittsburgh GM Alexander Shabalov, a four-time U.S. champion himself, was channeling French World War I Gen. Ferdinand Foch in his recent game against Ukrainian GM Vitaliy Bernadskiy from the virtual World Online Open. But Shabalov’s attacking genius clearly bailed him out of a dire situation.

We pick it up from today’s diagram after 36. Re5-h5, with Shabalov as Black facing a grim prospect: He’s down two pawns, his pieces are scattered and, by the way, White threatens mate in one. But just over a dozen moves later, it’s Black’s attack that will crash through.

There followed: 36…f6 37. g5?! (a first glimmer of hope for Black, as the queen trade on 37. Bc7! Re8 38. Rh8+ Kf7 39. Rxe8 Rxe8 40. Qh5 turns the White d-pawn into a monster) Bxd5, when White could have stayed on top with 38. Be6+! Bxe6 (Kf8 39. Rh8+ Ke7 40. Rxd8 Rxd8 41. Bxd5) 39. Rxd8+ Rxd8 40. Rh8+ Kf7 41. Rxd8 Nxf4+ 42. Qxf4 Qxg5+ 43. Qxg5.

Instead, Black seizes the play after 38. Kg3? Kf7 39. Bc7 Ne5 40. Bxd8? (the last mistake; 40. Bxe5 was imperative) Ra3!, and White’s f3 weakness proves fatal.

The finale: 41. Rf4 (Bg4 Bxf3 42. Rd7+ [Bxf3 Rxf3+ 43. Kg2 Qc2+ with mate to follow] Nxd7 43. Bxf3 Ne5, and Black is better) Nxf3 42. Rxf6+ gxf6 43. Rh7+ (Bernadskiy comes within a whisker of mate, but Black can just barely cover up) Ke8 44. Rh8+ Bg8 45. Qb4 (miraculously, all the White queen’s checking squares are covered) Qxg5+ 46. Bg4 Qe5+ 47. Kg2 (Qf4 Ne1+ 48. Bf3 Rxf3+ 49. Kg4 Qxf4+ 50. Kh5 Qg5 mate) Nh4+! (a deadly diversion; White is lost) 48. Rxh4 Ra2+ 49. Kf1 (Kf3 Bd5+ 50. Qe4 Qxe4+ 51. Kg3 Qe3+ 52. Bxf3 Qxf3 mate) Bc4+! — a second neat diversion forcing resignation, as after 50. Qxc4 Qa1+, mate is unstoppable.

Reshevsky-Von Dory, simultaneous exhibition, Berlin, January 1920

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Bc4 Be7 4. Nf3 Bh4+ 5. g3 fxg3 6. O-O gxh2+ 7. Kh1 Nh6 8. d4 Qe7 9. Bxh6 gxh6 10. Ne5 Bf6 11. Qh5 Rf8 12. Nxf7 Qxe4+ 13. Kxh2 Qxc2+ 14. Kg3 Bh4+ 15. Qxh4 Qxc4 16. Qd8 mate.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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