My Favorite U.S. Chess Magazines: Part 1
CHESS LIFE AND REVIEW
I was recently thinking about the best U.S. chess magazines ever. There were quite a lot. Two favorites are Joel Benjamin’s magazine, Chess Chow (1991 to 1994), which was hilarious, and Inside Chess, Yasser Seirawan’s excellent magazine. However, the oldies but goodies rule the roost.
Chess Life has been around forever (it started in 1946 as a bi-weekly 8-to-12 page newspaper). Chess Review (from 1933 to late 1969) was, without any doubt, the best U.S. chess magazine until, in 1961, it ran into a remarkably improved Chess Life. Both tried to beat the other (interest exploded due to the advent of Tal and, of course, Bobby Fischer), though I think the new Chess Life was a bit better from 1961 to 1965.
Al Horowitz, who was with Chess Review from the beginning, worked day and night for decades until he retired. This led to the merger of both magazines, and Chess Life and Review was born (late 1969 until, in 1980, it changed the name back to Chess Life). Chess Life and Review was not only the best chess magazine in the U.S., it was one of the best (if not the best) chess magazines in the world.
I will look at all three magazines in what seems like a backward progression. Why did I do this? Who knows! As the writer, I just felt like doing it this way.
All three articles were handled in the same manner: I picked one of the three magazines (I chose Chess Life and Review first), and I picked a random year (1975). Then I went over various articles and details that I felt would be interesting to the readers. I really loved looking over all the issues for that year. I hope you enjoy it too.
Why did I pick Chess Life and Review first? Two words answer that question: INCREDIBLE CONTENT. Aside from the “FIDE International Rating List,” it discusses various tournaments and matches all over the U.S. and the rest of the world (often with tournament tables), a column called “Reader’s Showcase,” another column that discusses “postal chess,” “book reviews” (Frank Brady), a “Chess Quiz” page, “For The Record” by Ed Edmondson, Larry Christiansen discussing his victory in the U.S. Junior, the “Editor’s Page: News & Views,” discussions about major U.S. tournaments (like the US Open and American Open), material by Jerome Hanken (alas, I was the last chess player to see him alive…I had hoped that more players would have visited him), “Benko’s Bafflers,” a column for inexperienced players called “Back to Basics” by Walter Meiden and Norman Cotter, news about tournaments in the “Armed Forces,” and on and on it went.
You might think that this is enough, but the real meat only starts now.
What I really love are the columns by famous players, and each and every one gives it their all.
The writers and columns: Grandmaster Edmar Mednis (great effort, he discusses “international tournaments” and also has a column about “endgames”), Grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric in “Game of the Month” (his deep analysis covers many pages), International Master Kenneth Rogoff, Grandmaster Lubosh Kavalek (offers a huge amount of material), Grandmaster “Larry Evans on Chess,” “What’s the Best Move” by Larry Evans, Grandmaster Walter Browne (who was extremely passionate about what he wrote), “In the Arena" by Grandmaster Pal Benko, “The Art of Positional Play” by Grandmaster Sammy Reshevsky, Grandmaster Bent Larsen (a fantastic writer and, of course, one of the top players in the world), annotations by Grandmaster Robert Huebner, Grandmaster Laszlo Szabo (lots of interesting stuff), Grandmaster Paul Keres with a column named “Keres Annotates,” “Lombardy’s Column” by Grandmaster William Lombardy, and International Master John Grefe.
Sadly, most of these players are no longer alive.
No wonder this overwhelming amount of material left me transfixed for a full week. The stuff here is, to me, magical.
He Saw Everything, Except…
Chess, especially at the higher levels, is a very tough game. You play brilliantly, you dominate your opponent, you analyze deeply, and then you suddenly notice a “little” something that destroys your confidence. Your opponent’s eyes light up, and you (and your opponent) realize you botched it. However, it’s not so. It’s a will-o'-the-wisp! But it’s too late since you have already swallowed a huge glass of psychological poison. This is exactly what happened to poor Mednis.
Grandmaster Edmar Mednis put a lot (when I say “a lot” I mean a LOT!) of energy into his excellent columns. And, when he showed one of his own games in his column, he might offer one of his wins or defeats. Not all grandmasters would do that.
Mednis was sure that his position was completely lost. However, that’s not true. Can you find Black’s way to salvation?
Rogoff Shows His Stuff
A Surprise Treat
The late Grandmaster Larry Evans had a long running column called “Larry Evans on Chess.” In January 1975 Larry got a question from none other than Robert Fischer! Fischer started with: “I’m sure I’m wrong, but in Karpov vs. Pritchett, Nice Olympiad 1974, this position was reached.”
Fischer continued: “By the time this is published my analysis may have appeared elsewhere under a different name, because I’ve shown it to a few people. Please show me what I’ve overlooked here. Regards, Bobby.”
Of course, Evans knew Fischer didn’t do anything wrong. So, all Evans could say was, “Thanks again for writing. Good to know you’re alive and well!”
My dear friend Dennis Waterman won the American Open brilliancy prize. See if you can do what he did.
Grefe needed to win this game to tie for first. Black looked to be dead, but Biyiasas was extremely tricky. Sure enough, Grefe fell into his opponent’s trick.
WALTER BROWNE GOES ON THE WARPATH
As I pondered (I do a lot of pondering) about the ridiculous drug testing in chess, chess bullies, chess cheating and god knows what else, I looked for Walter Browne’s articles (in the February 1975 issue of Chess Life and Review) to create a more genteel energy. Okay, that’s a joke since gentility and Browne never went together (I shared a room with my old, now sadly deceased friend, for several days, so I knew better). Anyway, he didn’t let me down. The man was energy personified, and his missive about wrongdoing at the 1974 Nice Olympiad was just what I was looking for!
Many people think that international chess events run smoothly, with players making friends while unicorns carry the contenders to the venue. Well, unicorns really do carry players here and there, but making friends is, for the most part, a fantasy. When it comes to chess battle, it’s every man and woman for themselves! Olympiads in particular have and always will share this do-or-die mentality.
Browne complained about the oldie but goodie practice of “combination draws” (i.e., the coaches arrange two or more games that will all be agreed to a draw). Well, Olympiads are teams (several games sort of bound together for the greater good... think BORG) so I can understand why this was/is used. However, sometimes a coach would do what he thinks is best for the team, while a player in the team might not like it at all. This is what happened with Browne. The match we’re talking about was between the USA and Hungary. Browne complained that a combination draw arose with Bilek vs. Kavalek and Byrne vs. Csom, even though the American players had higher ratings.
The coach (Benko) didn’t tell Browne, but I can understand that since Browne was still playing (Ribli vs. Browne, which was an exciting fight, while Reshevsky had a superior position). In this situation Benko was a very experienced coach while another friend, Browne (sadly deceased), liked his position and wanted to be the hero by winning the match. I can understand both stances (especially since the Americans were behind on the clocks).
In any case, another “combination draw” was called and that was the end of the match (tied). Browne howled his displeasure, created a kerfuffle, and started asking his friends and teammates what they felt.
This whole ruckus was the fault of the following position, which Browne thought was better for him.
The next day Browne called Fischer, and Bobby preferred Browne’s position. He analyzed it with Gheorghiu and Andersson (they also liked Browne’s position). Kavalek and Robert Byrne thought that Benko did the right thing (Browne said that, “Byrne had the audacity to claim that I was lacking in team spirit”). At this point I was expecting hundreds of GMs and IMs to start a massive cowboy-like fistfight!
In any case, Browne offered the position in his article and wrote: “The evaluation of this position separates grandmasters!”
A typical Browne comment. He could never be called a shrinking violet. And, though the Black position is easier to play than White’s, the game offers chances for both sides.
- Black already has two pawns for the piece and a sustaining attack.
- Black dominated the light-squares due to lack of the white bishop (after Black chops it off by …Nxg2).
- White’s pawns are all weak and potential targets.
- Black has the two bishops, which are bearing down on White’s semi-naked king.
- White’s pieces are misplaced, especially the white knight on b3.
Can you find Black’s best continuation?
Browne won the Pan-American Championship by the amazing score of 12 wins, three draws, and zero losses. Though I played him quite often, I never managed to win a game (five draws, six losses, no wins. Sometimes a guy has your number!). In his prime he was one impressive dude.
Since Browne was upset with Benko, I felt like giving a puzzle from the great Pal Benko.
Playing in Poland, Tal ate the competition alive with a 12.5-2.5 record. He was three points ahead of second place.
Let’s finish with a lovely combination I found by Mikhail Tal:
I could have gone on and on since every page was filled with riches and chess legends. If possible, pick up these incredible magazines. Keres was solid gold. Tons of forgotten games will thrill you. Browne set fire to every board he played with. Lots of fantastic photos. Bent Larsen telling us stories and beating down the best. Gligoric overwhelming us with his analytical skills. And there was much, much more!
My recommendation: get these magazines, set up your chessboard, lock yourself in a room for a week or two (ignore the screams of your wife/husband or parents), make sure you have an abundance of coffee and sugary junk food, and then (as the sugar lights you up) go through every page. If you survive, you’ll be happy you did it.
I’m hyperventilating! Hyperventilating! Eyes closing. SO...see you next time for the wonders of Chess Life and whether it’s equal to or better than Chess Life & Review.