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 -
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
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
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
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
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
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