In 1943 the world was in the midst of the greatest war mankind had ever experienced. Two phoenix nations, allies with polar philosophies, would arise from the rubble of that war to become the first modern Super-Powers. Yet even in 1943, a time when interdependence and cooperation meant survival, these two nations, the USA and the USSR, were wary of each other.
In the November issue of Chess Review, a photo-based chess magazine owned by Al Horowitz, a suggestion was made that these two countries should engage in a chess match by radio. As innocent as this suggestion may seem now, it was a very radical one on many levels. While radio had been used on occasion to play chess, it was never attempted on the complex level that such a match as this one would require. While it was well known that the Soviets boasted many strong masters, they almost never played outside the USSR and seldom played foreign masters. Then, there was the small matter of the ongoing war...
Surprisingly, the Soviets eventually agreed to a match and it was scheduled for Sept. 1 -4, 1945. The USA, in the world team events, the Chess Olympiads, had been the recognized leader who won the gold in the last four Olympiads in which it participated. The Soviets were an unknown entity. With 10 players per team, playing 2 games per board, one with each color, the Americans felt they had a better than 50% chance of winning the match with assured victories on at least Reuben Fine's and Sammy Reshevsky's boards and probable victories on other top boards.
Everything about the match seemed to meet or exceed expectations. The public loved it and the media attention was unprecedented for a chess match. The USA team played at the Henry Hudson Hotel in N.Y.C. and the ballroom there was rented by the sponsors to follow the match on large demonstration boards to a sold out crowd, while the moves were relayed by radio from the balcony of the ballroom.
Likewise, in Moscow, the match was followed by millions of chess enthusiasts and the Mackay Radio operators relayed the moves to New York.
The Teams and Boards
Board #1 - Arnold Denker - Mikhail Botvinnik
Board #2 - Samuel Reshevsky - Vassily Smyslov
Board #3 - Reuben Fine - Isaac Boleslavsky
Board #4 - Isaac Kashdan - Alexander Kotov
Board #5 - Isreal Albert Horowitz - Salo Flohr
Board #6 - Herman Steiner - Igor Bondarevsky
Board #7 - Albert S. Pinkus - Andrea Lilienthal
Board #8 - Herbert Seidman - Vyacheslav Ragosin
Board #9 - Abraham Kupchik - Vladimir Makogonov
Board #10 - Anthony Santasiere - David Bronstein
Russian teletypists relaying the moves using a notation system called the Uedemann Code
It was clear in the first day of battle that the US team was in trouble and by the end of the match, they would be crushed by the Soviets with a final score of 15½ points to 4½ points. Only 2 Americans scored wins (one each) in the match with 13 loses and 5 draws. Herman Steiner (pictured right), who would become U.S. Champion in a closely contested 1948 tournament, had the only plus score (1.5 - .5) of any American player. Al Horowitz scored the only other win in a game that Botvinnik later mentioned as winning the best game prize offered by Chess in the USSR magazine.
Isreal Albert Horowitz
Botvinnik also wrote, " The Moscow newspapers reported that Mr. Maurice Wertheim, chairman of the Radio Match Committee, said in his speech at the closing ceremonies that both sides were gainers in the end because the match helped to strengthen friendship and cultural ties between the United States and the Soviet Union. I fully share that opinion."
While the Great Radio Match of 1945 didn't seem to create detente between the USA and the USSR, it did mark the beginning of the Soviets' long, and tightly held, chess hegemaony and was essentially the Soviet Union's Coming-Out Party.