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Reuben Fine’s finest chess moves

Published: 
Thursday, February 16, 2017

To well-read chess players, Reuben Fine needs no introduction. Not only was he among the world’s best exponents from the mid thirties to the end of the second world war, but, even now, his influence in the sport remains meaningful through the more than 20 chess books he has authored.

DR, in fact, considers himself fortunate in having what must be one of Dr Fine’s best, The World’s Great Chess Games, published 34 years ago.

A blurb on the book’s back cover perhaps describes it best: “in concise illustrated annotations for each game, Dr Fine analyses the slashing attacks, brilliant combinations and occasional resounding blunders that will live forever in the annals of chess. Moreover, he has leavened his tale of master strokes and miscues with delightful anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories of the celebrated combatants, many of whom he knew personally and faced across the chessboard.

Fine’s book “offers not only expert analysis of scores of championship-caliber contests, but an engrossing insider’s view of an age-old game and its greatest players.”

According to Fine’s introductory sketch, chess was first played in India about the seventh or eighth century and for more than a thousand years it remained the pleasure of the elite. However, little is known about the early development of the game; “there are only scattered references here and there.”

“One story has it that in India players sometimes became so fanatically absorbed that they gave up wives, businesses, everything else, just to play. Some records of the Middle Ages tell us of the clerics’ being chided by their superiors for forgetting the ways of God and losing themselves over the chessboard. Such addiction to chess is familiar to everybody who has ever come close to the game.

“Usually, in my experience, people become violently attached to chess for a few years and then give it up. But with many, chess is like a delicious drug which offers such heavenly delights that they can never tear themselves away from it completely.”

“Some time during the Middle Ages chess was brought to Europe where for several centuries it remained an obscure pastime for a few. Perhaps it was the alteration of the rules which led to the beginning of greater popularization, for around the sixteenth century we find changes taking place that led to the present rules.”

Dr Fine recalled several amusing incidents of how many people played the game “in a manner most decidedly not according to Hoyle.” When he was in college, for example, a professor asked him to play a few games. Fine drew the white pieces and opened by advancing the queen pawn. His opponent protested vehemently, claiming that the only permissible opening move was the advance of the king’s pawn!

In a tournament in Hollywood, several movie stars came to watch the action. One invited Fine to a few games. After seven moves of the first, Fine found himself in check and interposed a pawn. “This is illegal,” he claimed, “the only legal way to meet a check was to move the King.” Fine eventually convinced him that interposition was permissible and proceeded to win the game. “His alibi was that I had won because I used my rules—if we had used his rules he would have won!”

In the AVRO tournament played in Holland in 1938, Fine, with the white pieces, defeated Salo Flohr in a game he considered the best of his career. Here is the game: P-K4, P-K3; P-Q4,P-Q4; N-QB3,B-N5; P-K5,P-QB4; B-Q2, N-K2; N-B3, N-B4?; PxP, BxP; B-Q3, N-R5; O-O, N-B3; R-K1, P-KR3 (To castle. On 10...O-O at once, BxPch wins.) N-R4! B-B1; RQB1, BQ2; k.