Reuben Fine: Speed Demon

     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 seems like, perhaps, 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 1941), 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 sonce 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.


  • 4 years ago


    ive played 10 second a move chess games,without much succes,i find it the most difficult version of rapid chess.

  • 4 years ago

    NM GargleBlaster

    Fantastic research and article.

  • 4 years ago


    Some more FINE trivia: (maybe not so trivial after all, and from Edward Winter a very reliable chess historian)

    In 1942 Reuben Fine published his Chess The Easy Way. On page 23 is the following historically important section:

    “Since there are six different kinds of pieces it is necessary to set up a table of equivalents in order to be able to know whether an exchange is favorable or not. Again such a table is based partly on the elementary mates (R can mate, B or Kt cannot) and partly on practise. If we take the pawn as 1 we may set up a table such as this:

    pawn = 1
    bishop (or knight) = 3
    rook =5
    queen =9.”

    Fine goes on to say that his table is satisfactory for rough calculation but not as accurate as a set of equivalents for certain exchanges he gives on the next page. Nevertheless, Fine apparently popularized our modern scale and indeed may have invented it. Does any reader know of an earlier publication of the modern scale? Perhaps Fine then should be considered the true “point-count” man of chess.’


  • 4 years ago


    Very nice article. There are a few other reasons to vaguely dislike Fine beside his ego. To us chess historians, his tendency to make grand statements with no factual basis is irksome. In this article, he makes the historically ridiculous statement that the last person to significantly record offhand games was Morphy. In fact, every old chess magazine I know includes many offhand games. Another reason is his writings on psychology and chess. His statements on this subject strike me as often incorrect and grandiose generalizations, seeming to think that his status as a grandmaster and psychological training give any random thought he has about chess players the weight of scientific fact. Of course, many of us know the statement that Fine quitting chess for psychology was a great loss to chess and at best a draw for psychology; I agree fully and find more wit in that statement than in all of Fine's writing on chess psychology.

  • 4 years ago


    Yes, Frank, the Russians were fixing the tournaments.  At the candidates match in Zurich, 9 Soviet Grandmasters prearranged several results in games amongst themselves to successfully prevent the overall victory by Reshevsky.

    As for Fine's ego - I see that in most all the Top Chess players and even on the Internet sites, there are many grandiose egos, anger management issues, and the like, with all different types of players of all different ratings.

  • 4 years ago


    Respect to speed demon. Thanks for the games. 

  • 4 years ago


    Excellent reading.

    V interesting to hear about your aversion to Mr. Fine, Batgirl, backed up by evidence of his rather outsized ego. OTOH, it was his "Ideas Behind Chess Openings" that switched on the lights for me, and the reason I am on  this site, enjoying your articles:)

  • 4 years ago


    " It still amazes me that Reshevsky was second to Fine in speed chess.  Most of the time Sammy would take 'forever' in his openings and often run into time trouble."

    From "Chess Review" 1947 -



  • 4 years ago


    Much appreciation for your article on Reuben Fine.  The book mentioned above is worth a chess read.  Recomended for beginners. Thanks batgirl!

  • 4 years ago


    Fine also wanted to make sure he wouldn't end up dying in poverty like Steinitz and Lasker, to name a few famous (infamous?) examples, so he became a psychologist. Botvinnik became an electrical engineer to also insure he wouldn't have to depend on chess as his sole source of income. It's also possible Fine may have had doubts about his ability to go all the way even if the Russians didn't cheat, which they apparently did.

  • 4 years ago


    Fine gave up professional chess because because he believed the Russians were "fixing"  the international chess tournaments, the same accusation that Bobby Fischer made and Kasparov also made the same accusation.

  • 4 years ago


    Fine's "Basic Chess Endings" is one of my favorite chess books.  It still amazes me that Reshevsky was second to Fine in speed chess.  Most of the time Sammy would take 'forever' in his openings and often run into time trouble.

  • 4 years ago


    Very good read... Thank you for posting this.

  • 4 years ago


    How can i forget the "Ideas behind chess openings" by reuben fine.

  • 4 years ago


    Enjoyed reading it till the end.. Not a classic but a GOOD ONE..

  • 4 years ago


    A Fine article! (pun intended)

    In addition to his amazing speed chess prowess, Fine's classic work "Basic Chess Endings" was considered the "chess-players Bible" (at least for endgames) for decades after its initial publication in 1941. It's still a very good one vol endgame encyclopedia.

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