Rice's Gambit

| 13 | Chess Players

Isaac Leopold Rice


     I had, of course, heard about Prof. Isaac L. Rice and his gambit as well as  his famous Rice Gambit Tournaments. But my superficial impression over the years was that the gambit wasn't particularly good and that the tournaments were mostly a rich man's vanity.  I came across an issue the 1915  "American Chess Bulletin"  which was dedicated to Rice who had just died.  It was, to say the least, fascinating and an eye-opening reading that encouraged me to look elsewhere for more information on Rice, a most intriguing and intellectually versatile man. 


(this article will contain a large number of phots/pictures, all obtained from their original sources.   All links lead to my own pages containing textual facimiles of original articles)


     Issac Leopold Rice's bio, as presented by Hartwig Cassell and Hermann Helms, editors of the "American Chess Bulletin"  published in 1915

 Isaac Leopold Rice first saw the light of day at Wachenheim, in Bavaria, Germany, on February 22, 1850 — an American holiday. On another American holiday, Election Day, November 2, 1915, his spirit returned to its God, leaving behind a grief-stricken circle of blood relations and a larger family of chess devotees whose affections he had gained and who mourned him as a prince among men.  

See the full text here

Also, an even more indepth bio from The Historical Register







     From the New Orleans "Times-Picayune": 

   In the death of Professor Isaac L. Rice at the Hotel Ansonia, in New York, November 2 last, the chess world and the American Chess Fraternity especially has suffered an almost irreparable loss and his passing will be deeply regretted wherever the royal game is known.
                                                *  *  *
   It was during the eighties, while in the midst of some analysis with the late Wilhelm Steinitz, that Professor Rice suggested a line of play in the Kieseritzky Gambit. This novelty involved a sacrifice by White and out of it developed the now famous Rice Gambit, which has been productive of many chessic combinations as unique as they are beautiful, and all of them have been considered worthy of the attention and analysis of the leading chess experts of the world.
                                                *  *  *
   Besides taking an active interest in things chessic, Professor Rice was ever one of the most liberal and unceasing patrons of Caissa in a financial way and there has been for many years practically no limit to his donations toward the advancement of his favorite game.
                                                *  *  *
   Professor Rice is survived by his wife, who is widely known as the head of the Anti-Noise Society, and to her and his children is certainly extended the sincere sympathy of chess players everywhere, without regard to nationality or to any feelings engendered by the great European conflicts. 
                                                *  *  *















     From a letter-to-the-editor of the "American Chess Bulletin

Editor of the Chess Bulletin:
     The death of Prof. Isaac L. Rice aroused on the part of the press and public the most sincere tributes to a man whose versatile talents were noteworthy. Our prominent publications gave space to his record and achievements. It is indeed fitting that the only Chess Journal of America should devote a special issue to him. Professor Rice was a man of many parts and it would be difficult in the limits of a letter to do more than fringe them.
     Perhaps you will allow me to select for comment "The Rice Gambit," since his work on that invention illuminates many traits of his mind and character.  Those who did not know the late lamented Professor Rice may unwittingly believe that a man of wealth, who devoted years and money to the exploitation of a Chess Gambit may have followed, at best, an amiable folly. Some may even call it a weakness in an otherwise firm and well balanced nature. Such a view, to me, seems superficial, and an injustice to a man whose mental resourcefulness found large and useful expression in a game which contains more art than play.  Remember that Professor Rice had a rich emotional nature, that he was an excellent musician, and a man of wide and substantial culture. It is easily to be understood how a man so endowed would give of his surplus energies to a game which has engaged princely minds as well as princes.
     Philosophers, statesmen, scholars and writers have found intellectual and emotional delight in the royal game. Professor Rice but followed their example in his journeys in the realms of chess, which resulted in his great invention and an enrichment of the art of the game. Therefore, his gambit may be considered superior to a hobby, both because of its intellectual origin, and its aesthetic results in which chess players all over the world may share.
     A further comment. His faith and loyalty to his creation, the untiring efforts he gave to it, are evidence of a strength of will and character which left their mark in fields other than chess. For more than twenty years he found the time and energy to develop and analyze his gambit. Failures never discouraged him. When, as on several occasions, it seemed that the gambit was unsound, he did not give up hope. He never allowed the matter to rest; but was always ready to go at it again with fresh energy and renewed vigor. Those who had the privilege of watching him at work on the gambit, in consultation, will recall his genialty, his tolerance, his infinite patience and his kindliness. That his work was finally rewarded and the gambit proved sound and that he did live to see it, is indeed a cause for rejoicing.
     Professor Rice was a man of catholic taste and diversity of interests, but no matter what field of endeavor he engaged in, he left the impress of a powerful personality.
Sincerely yours, ABRAHAM SOLOMON.
New York, November 17, 1915.




























     from "New Era Illustrated Magazine" 1904

    . . . Among chess devotees active to-day should be named Baron Albert de Rothschild, of Vienna, and Professor Isaac L. Rice, of New York. It is perhaps not generally known outside of chess circles that the Rothschilds have been identified with the game. Anselm Meyer Rothschild, the founder of the house, was the strongest player in Frankfort-on-the-Main during his time. It was through his proficiency in the game that he became acquainted with the Prince of Hesse, who during the term of the great Napoleon instrusted Rothschild with his money. His grandson, Baron de Rothschild, born in 1844, is the present head of the Vienna house and the honorary president of the Vienna Chess Club. He is also a very strong player, and his support of the game is largely responsible for its popularity in the Austrian capital. There has hardly been an international tournament of late years that he has not endowed with the famous Rothschild brilliancy prizes. Among patrons of the game in America, Professor Isaac L. Rice of New York is facile princeps. A man of ample means, this ardent enthusiast has had the means to advance the cause as few others have been privileged to do. But his active interest in the game did not cease with the mere drawing of a check. On the contrary, himself a player of no mean ability, he has personally investigated certain variations of the well-known Kieseritsky gambit, one of the most forceful methods of development among the openings. The result was that one particular line of play, wherein an entire piece is sacrificed by the white forces, has been named after him, "the Rice Gambit," a distinction of which very few chess devotees now living can boast. Professor Rice was born in 1850, in the medieval town of Wachenheim, in the Rhenish Palatinate, Bavaria, but came to this country at an early age. His membership in the Association of the Bar of the City of New York dates back to 1883. Professor Rice was most active as a corporation lawyer and figured prominently in the reorganization of many important railroad properties. Later he became identified with electric and industrial enterprises and is at present interested in the development of submarine boats. Music and literature are other hobbies of this active man, who, in addition to many similar posts of responsibility, holds the position of president of the Forum Publishing Company.






















     Isaac L. Rice, a German-born American, was primarily a classically trained musician who both taught and composed music.  He also entered Columbia Law school where, after graduating with highest honors, he became an instructor and lecturer. He entered the field of railroad litigation which marked the beginnings of his financial successes. His multitudinous business enterprises, including, among others, the development of the storage battery, railroad refrigeration, electic automobiles and submarines, secured his financial and social position.

     His chess connections, beyond the discovery and development of the theory surrounding the opening named after himself (in which white sacs a knight in the opening moves in a variation of the Kieseritsky  line of the King's Gambit Accepted - 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 Nf6 6.Bc4 d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.O-O Bxe5), Rice was a true chess Mæcenas who helped support New York State Chess Association, chess clubs (including the Manhattan Chess Club, the Rice Chess Club, the Brooklyn Chess Club and the St. George's Chess Club of London) and collegiate chess (including Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Brown and Pennsylvania Universities, as well as serving as president of the Triangular College Chess League).

     From the 5th Edition of the "Rice Gambit." (by Dr. Emanuel Lasker.)

    Within fifteen years a splendid analytic work has been accomplished which 1 judge now to have come to a state of maturity in which it may claim to be presented to the chess world. This work has been carried through by Professor Isaac L. Rice with a magnificent perseverance and courage. Many minds have put together the raw material for this analysis, and Mr. Rice has directed their labors and collected their ideas and assisted them by a position judgment that became especially adapted to the task undertaken and proved itself to be wonderfully effective.
     It is quite natural that a chess master who competes for the prizes of a tournament or who attempts to defeat an opponent
in a match should choose the variations that he considers strongest and otherwise most suitable for his purpose; but chess by no means ends there. The entertainment and instruction and all the good we see in chess can be obtained only when all positions that may legitimately arise in the course of a game are treated with an equal degree of attention and sympathy. Let not him who plays the closed game or the opening considered to be strongest disparage the merits of a king's gambit; let not the lover of gambits frown upon what he considers monotonous lines of playing. The one opening as well as the other intimately belongs to chess, and the fine chess player can only be he who dominates the peculiar styles of both the correct and even and also the exciting and uneven position. For the beholder of a game, if his taste is varied enough, the two styles are likewise of equal merit, because he understands the objects, be they great or small, at which the masters aim; and he will enjoy the supreme force of the logic of the best manoeuvers under every circumstance and in whichever situation they
are executed.
     Let, therefore, the gambit again come into its own. Let us admit, which is most probably true, that the gambit will not yield
to the first player as high a percentage of wins as the Ruy Lopez or the Queen's Pawn; but let us therefore not sacrifice the beauty hidden in the gambit. It was in 1895 that Mr. Rice had the idea of sacrificing the Knight in that manner which brings about the gambit named after him, and ever since that time he has had a lively struggle against those who scorned that move. Within these fifteen years Mr. Rice has had to acknowledge defeat as often as Wilhelm von Oranje in his fight against the Spanish, but as often as that great prince has he collected his scattered forces and made an army of them and again given battle, and finally he has achieved the same triumph. The foe was driven, often after a hard and long struggle,
from each position that it had hoped to maintain, and the truth finally prevailed.
     White is not lost! Black must play exceedingly well not to fall into the numerous traps and to obtain a promising game. The
positions which arise in the Rice Gambit give difficult problems to both the first and second player and lend themselves therefore to as fine strategy as a chess player might wish to see. The Rice Gambit will ever be a valuable asset for the analyst, the player, and the student.

"Twenty Years of the Rice Gambit," published by his admirers after his death.




































     "Those who were privileged to enjoy the personal hospitality of this ardent devotee, will long remember the
famous chess room of the Villa Julia on Riverside Drive, hewn out of the solid rock in the basement and accessible by an automatic elevator, which communicated with the floors above. In the hallowed confines of this remarkable underground chamber, Professor Rice and his chess cronies were wont to foregather."
-"American Chess Bulletin"  1915



     The Rice mansion which he called the Villa Julia (after his wife) was, and still is, one of the few free-standing mansions in New York's Upper West-side. This remarkable residence was built in 1903 and Rice sold it in 1907.  During the time he lived there, it was the home for the Rice Gambit Tournaments.

     Besides the chess aspect, this mansion has it's own interesting history.

     The residence, located at 346 West 89th St. at Riverside Drive is now the home to Yeshiva Ketana of Manhattan, which is, of course, a Jewish elemntary school for boys. Designated as a historical landmark, a lot of controversy has arisen concerning the manner in which the school preserves the building, particularly with the funds for such exact work out of reach for the school and with the needs of the school not always in line with presevationists' desires. Some of the school is, in fact, in disrepair - especially the famous chess room - but none of the rooms that are actively used.

     In its time, the Villa Julia was highly thought of:
      "Herts & Tallant produced a typically individualistic design, mixing Beaux-Arts, Georgian and Renaissance elements.  Particularly distinctive are the deep overhanging eaves and the repetition of curves -- the porte cochere on the north side, the bay above it and the large marble arch above the main entrance. On the 89th Street side there is a sculpture panel of six young people. According to research by Joy Kestenbaum, who worked for the landmark designation, these represent the Rices' six children. In 1903 the Real Estate Record and Guide praised 'the rare combination of white marble and dark red brick' on a site that commanded ''the finest view up the Hudson that is obtainable on Manhattan island.'
     . . . Perhaps because of the panic of 1907, the Rices moved to the Ansonia apartment building at 73d Street and Broadway and sold their house to Solomon Schinasi, a tobacco merchant.''
- "A Fading Reminder of Turn-of-the-Century Elegance"  By Christopher Gray, August 24, 1997

     It also boasted "a reflecting pool and colonnaded garden along the south side of the lot."














     Rice, as mentioned, was a trained musician. He wrote a book entitled, "What is Music?"  which explored the nature of music. He also published a treatise entitled, "How the Geometrical Lines Have Their Counterpart in Music"

Rice also composed music.  Some remnants - 





















New Orleans native, Julia Rice, was nearly as famous as her husband. Also trained in music, Julia became a medical doctor. But she gained international renown for her successful fight against unnecessary city noise.



According to the New York Times Feb. 28, 1908 

 Fifty-Nine Hospitals with 18,000 Beds Now Represented in Its Directorate.

Mark Twain Runs Their Branch - Mrs. Rice, at St. Regis Meeting. Tells What Has Come of Small Beginning.

     The Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise held its first annual meeting last night at the Hotel St. Regis, Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street, and Mrs. Isaac L. Rice, its founder and President, reported the progress it had made.One of the newest moves was the organization, with the full consent and cooperation of the Board of Education, of a Children's Hospital Branch, to be composed of children pledged to make as little noise as possible in the neighborhood of hospitals. Mark Twain has agreed to be President of this. In accepting the office he wrote to Mrs. Rice:
"I have an abundance of sympathy for this movement. If I were 
     younger I would like to work for it. Now, I thank you for the 
     compliment you pay me, and shall be happy to have my name 
     used as President of the Children's Hospital Branch.
                                     Sincerely yours, MARK TWAIN."
     The Board of Education indorsed the movement for the organization of the Children's Hospital Branch last month, and the work has just got under way. Public School 69, in the West Fifty-fourth Street, has sent word that its 1,540 pupils have been organized. All the children of the Free Synagogue have also been enrolled.Children who take the anti-noise pledge receive buttons to wear, designed to job the memory of the wearer and impress upon him the responsibility of the pledge. The buttons are in black and white, and in the centre is the word, "Humanity."
Child Recruits Write.
     The membership of the Children's Hospital Branch is not to be confined to school children. The society wants to enroll every child in the city, and Mrs. Rice has started a card catalogue of the names of the volunteers in this army. The first recruit, signing himself James Gutman, wrote a letter to Mrs. Rice on his own account, saying:
  "I hereby pledge myself not to make any noise around a hospital."
The next recruit was his brother, and the third was Joseph Liebmann, who wrote:
   "I will not distub (sic) the sick people in the hospital."
Reviewing the short history of the society and the circumstances of its organization, Mrs. Rice, in a short address last night, said that about fifteen months before the society was born she tried to see what she could do toward abating the noise in the East River near the hospitals. Having gone to all sorts of Municipal Boards, to Albany, and to Washington, she found that no one had any authority in the matter. Later the bill was passed which put the power controlling indiscriminate whistling in the hands of the Supervising Inspectors of Steamboats.
Fifty-nine Hospitals Grateful.
     The society was organized about a year ago, and now has on its board the most distinguished men in the city. A few months ago, Mrs. Rice said, it had in its Directorate representatives from eighteen hospitals, containing 8,500 beds. Now fifty-nine hospitals, with 18,018 beds, are represented. The membership has grown to about 200, and the movement has attracted serious attention all over the world.
     Mrs. Rice spoke of a letter received recently from Dr. S. Weir itchell of Philadelphia, who called attention to the effect of the noises caused by flat wheels on surface and elevated cars. She said that where notices indicating "quiet zones" around hospitals had been posed the hospitals reported that the noise had very noticeably abated. She also recalled that last year, because of the orders of Commissioner Bingham, the thousands of sick in the hospitals had passed the easiest  Fourth of July known in New York for many a year.
The next work planned, Mrs. Rice said, was to have the hospital streets and the harbor patrolled by special policemen to abate unnecessary noise, and to do something with the flat wheel nuisance.
Getting to an Elegy Ideal.
Health Commissioner Darlington said he thought the society had accomplished wonders, and he believed it might well continue its work until New Yorkers lived up to the lines in Gray's Elegy:
               Along the cool sequestered vale of life
               They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Dr. William Hanna Thomson told how closely connected the heart is with the ear, and emphasized the importance of quiet in treating nervous diseases. The public could not appreciate, he said, how many lives have been lost because of unnecessary noise.
Cordial thanks were voted to Mark Twain and to Mrs. Rice. The latter must evidently have a dual personality, and some Mahatma accomplishments, for dispatches from Paris reported Marcel Prevost as having interviewed her there yesterday as the "Queen of Silence." 














































                          A detailed biography of Mrs. Isaac Leopold Rice from 
                          "The Part Taken by Women in American History" by Mary 
                          Cunningham Logan & John A. Logan can be read HERE.


     Issac L. Rice owned the very first automobile in New York City.  However, even more intriguing is this anecdote provided us by "Motorcycle Illustrated,"
published by Motorcycle Publishing Co., 1908:

               Miss Rice, daughter of the well-known chess expert, Isaac L. Rice, 
          was one of the first American girls to own a motorcycle. The 
          machine was not originally favored by Mr. Rice, and while 
          negotiations were pending, he sent his daughter, who happened 
          to be away from home, a clipping telling of a fatal motorcycle 
          accident. By the next mail a letter came back with a clipping headed: 
          "Man Dies in a Theatre." With it was the single query, "Do you intend 
          to keep me from going to the theatre because a man once died there ?"
          . . . And then Mr. Rice gave up.



The Rice Gambit







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