Reuben Fine: Speed Demon

| 21 | Chess Players

     Today, especially on the Internet, fast games are probably more the rule than the exception.  Most of the fast games played fall under the "Blitz" and "Bullet" or "Lightning" heading. Time clocks, particularly automatic ones such as chess servers use, allow for speed chess played at a specific time, such as 5 minutes, per game.  Before the Internet, before clocks became the more-or-less rugged instruments we use today, Rapid Transit, a different kind of speed chess was most popular among speed chess enthusiasts.  In Rapid Transit a player is allotted so much time, usually 10 seconds, per move and if he exceeds that time, even on the third move, he loses.  Since different positions require more thinking than others, Rapid Transit is possibly the most difficult form of speed chess. 



     Reuben Fine, who gave up professional chess around 1951 to become a Freudian psychologist (he earned his PhD from USC in 1948), ending his amazing 20 year chess career, was possibly the greatest Rapid Transit player ever.

     I should add that Reuben Fine, for some quirky, intuitive reason, irks me and I doubt I would have liked him personally (although I've been wrong about such hunches before), but I can't deny or even downplay his phenomenal chess abilities.

     Fine cut his teeth on rapid transit in the weekly tournaments at the Marshall Club.  Soon he was the recognized club expert, although in 1934 Capablanca entered and won, leaving 20-year-old Fine, Reshesky and Hanauer tied for the next three positions (Fine had been playing master level chess since he was about 16). Since they had nearly a 30 year age difference, when Fine finally reached his peak, Capablanca had already passed his.

I'd like to examine just his speed chess successes.


     Reuben Fine was the US Speed Champion for 4 straight years, 1942 through 1945.  That's impressive enough but to add icing to the cake were his results:


     The U.S. Speed Chess Championship began in 1942 and attracted the best U.S. players of the day.




The following two games were played at the 1942 U.S. Speed Championship:




Reshevsky - Fine



The following four games were played at the 1943 U.S. Speed Championship:


     For winning the Championship 3 consecutive times, Fine took permanent possession of the Sturgis-Stephens Trophy.


The following two games were played at the 1944 U.S. Speed Championship:




     Fine won with 9 wins, 2 draws; Shainwit came in 2nd with 7 wins, 4 draws.

     Donald Byrne only scored 2 wins, 1 draw out of his 11 games.


The following game was played at the 1945 U.S. Speed Championship:



     Fine giving a 10 board blindfold simul.  For most this would be extraordinary, but for Fine a regular blindfold simul was almost too easy.


     Fine gave a blindfold rapid transit simul on September, 1945 at the conclusion of the USA-USSR Radio Match.  Fine played 4 boards at 10 sec./move.  His opponents could think until he reached their board, giving them essentialy time odds of 30 sec./move to his 10 secs./move.  Fine won all four games. The four games are given below.






Reuben Fine writing about Rapid Transit in the March 1945 issue of "Chess Review:"


     Reuben Fine effectively retired from competitive chess in 1951.  Time away from the pervasive chess scene took its toll.  According the William Harston's obituary of Reuben Fine in the Independent on April 1, 1993, "He came briefly out of obscurity in 1963 to play a series of speed games against Bobby Fischer, which he lost narrowly."
     Five of those games (mostly Fine's losses) are on, but in his book, "Bobby Fischer's Conquest of the World's Chess Championship,"   "My contacts with Bobby were rare and superficial. Once we met by accident in a chess club, and played some offhand games. To my surprise they were recorded by someone present, and Bobby even reprinted one in his book "My Sixty Memorable Games."  To record offhand games is unheard-of in modern times; the last one who did so, significantly, was Morphy."      Fine went on to say, "To the best of my memory the over-all score was slightly in his favor."


     According to the "NY Times," June 4, 1990 in an article by Robert McFadden called "Masters Mix Chess' Past and Fast Play," a group of masters gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
     The players included former members of the Manhattan Club and the Marshall Club faced off for 5 minunte blitz.  Of the Eight players on each side, the article singled out Pal Benko, Maxim Dlugy, Larry Christiansen and Arthur Bisquier who played for the Manhattan, and Michael Rohde, Andrew Soltis, Anatoly Lein and Reuben Fine who represented the Marshall.

     "Organizers of the match had expected the focus of the evening to fall on the 75-year-old Dr. Fine, who quit serious chess 39 years ago to pursue a career in psychology after becoming one of the world's top players in the 1930's and 40's.
     As it happened, however, Dr. Fine arrived late and missed the first round of play. Placed into the second round, he promptly lost his first game to Pal Benko.
     ''Oh, he blundered,'' someone whispered from behind the ropes.
   'There's Too Much Noise.'   Dr. Fine's eyebrows flared with annoyance as he folded the pieces together in the center of the board.
     ''I can't play under these conditions,'' he said. ''The lighting is bad. There's too much noise.'' Moments later, Dr. Fine, looking dejected, told the organizers he was withdrawing from the match. ''I'm not taking it too seriously,'' he said as he left.
     No one was supposed to take it very seriously, for even the best competitors are not necessarily expert at speed chess. But many top players have large and fragile egos, and while all the games ended with handshakes, a few losers mumbled cheerlessly -and one grandmaster was seen angrily hurling the pieces down on the board after a loss."

     For the record, out of the symbolic 64 games played, Manhattan scored 42 to Marshall's 22.

More from batgirl
Beth Harmon, the isoLanni?

Beth Harmon, the isoLanni?

Rook Players

Rook Players