Santasiere's Folly

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Anthony Edward Santasiere -

This name evokes images of the New York chess scene during the 1920, 30s and 40s:  Frank Marshall, Edward Lasker, Albert Pinkus, Fred Reinfeld, Sammy Reshevsky, Abe Kupchik, Isaac Kashdan, I.A. Horowitz, Herbert Seidman, Arnold Denker and others.  It feels to me that chess in the Big Apple was more exciting and vibrant than that on the International Stage.  Lasker was an engineer; Reshevsky and Kupchik were accountants.  Pinkus was a stockbroker; Kashdan, an insurance salesman; Horowitz and Reinfeld were  writers, editors, publishers; Denker worked for and eventually bought out a meat packing company. Of the above only Frank Marshall was a true chess professional in that era.

Tony Santasiere was an elementary school math teacher (primarily at the Angelo Patri Middle School on Webster Avenue in the Bronx). 

 

Tony Santasiere was a man of many passions.  He loved playing the piano, painting abstracts, cooking, writing, bridge and, of course, chess.


The earliest mention of Satasiere that I could find was in the 1921 American Chess Bulletin when he was 16, going on 17:
B. Forsberg received a medal as club champion; Marcel Duchamp was presented with the second prize and F.E. Parker, the former champion, with the third.  A special prize was given to the club's "boy wonder," A. Santasiere, who won all his games in the Metropolitan League matches.

Santasiere ended up writing for the American Chess Bulletin for over 30 years, his unique style of writing and annotating praised by many, criticized by others.


Upon his winning the Marshall Chess Club championship for the 4th time in 1943, Chess Review did a layout dedicated to Santasiere.  Below are some of the photos and text from the article.


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     Last month, Anthony Edward Santasiere added to his reputation as a chessmaster by winning the championship of New York's Marshall Chess Club for the fourth time.  He first won the title in 1922 when he was only 17 years old.  New York State champion in 1928 and 1930.  "Tony" Santasiere is proudest of his record in the Metropolitan League matches in which he has played on the Marshall Club team for 23 consecutive years.
     To many-sided Santasiere, chess is just one of several outlets he has found to express his artistic emotions; others are painting, music and writing.  As an artist, he leans toward abstracts and pictures "with a message," although he harks back, every now and them, to the classical school and does a straight-forward painting of a house or a boat.  Some samples of his work appear in the photographs on these pages.  As a musician, Santasiere is an accomplished pianist.  As a writer, he has a steady following among the readers of the American Chess Bulletin, who enjoy his unusual style of annotating chess games.

     Santasiere's attitude towards chess is a reflectin of his artistic leanings.  He would rather lose a beautiful game of chess than wn a stodgy one.  He is an ardent admirer of the style of Frank J. Marshall, Paul Morphy and others who have perpetuated brilliancy in chess.  He prefers open, attacking game and is the sponsor of the "Orang-Outang" opening in which anything can happen.

 


      His friends will testify that Santasiere's talents as a host and chef are not the least of his accomplishments.  The pictures on these pages were taken last month when he entertained some members of Chess Review's staff in his bachelor's apartment.  After his day's work (he is a teacher in one of Manhattan's public schools)  there is nothing he enjoys better than going home to this little retreat in the Bronx.  Here, surrounded by his paintings, his books, his piano, his typewriter and his chessmen,  Tony Santasiere lives in a world of his own creation, fashioned from his boyhood dreams.

 

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So how about a little about Tony Santasiere?


Fortunately, his book (actually a 43 page pamphlet), "The Futuristic Chess Opening: Santasiere's Folly" gives us a brief bio:
      Anthony E. Santasiere was born in New York, New York on December 9, 1904, the twelfth of thirteen children of Italian and French ancestry.  The family lived in extreme poverty.  He received a Master of Arts degree from the College of the City of New York and became a teacher in the elementary schools in New York City.  In January of 1961 he retired after thirty-four years as a teacher.  He has not married and (as of this time) lived in Florida.In his youth he studied the literature of the piano, especially at the Julliard Foundation.  He is considered a capable non-professional pianist.


     The love of color attracted him to painting as a hobby.  After more than thirty years he has created more than four hundred oil paintings - abstracts, still lives, landscapes.
     His chess career goes back more than forty years.  He is the most well-known and well-liked among the USA Masters.
     The highlights of his career are:
1.  Captain of the C.C.N.Y. team for four years 1922-1926
2.  Champion of the Marshall Chess Club of New York, 1922, 1926, 1936, 1946 (tie), 1953 (tie).
3.  United States Open Champion, 1945
4.  New York State Champion, 1928, 1930, 1946, 1956
5.  New England Champion, 1943
6.  First Prize - International Tournament - Milano, Italy - 1953
7.  Represented the U.S.A. in the Radio Match vs. the U.S.S.R. - 1945

     He was critic for the American Chess Bulletin for more than thirty years.  Among his many manuscripts (none of them published at the present time) are: three volumes of poetry; one volume of essays, "Materialism Moribund"; a long story
for children, "Zig-Zag" ; a novel; three chess books, "Romantic Chess in America," "The King's Gambit," and The Futuristic Chess Opening."
     The great players he admires most ate Tschigorin, Alekhine and, among the Americans, Marshall, Morphy and Adams.
     His basic philosophy for chess and life is - trust in God and in love; fight and love your opponent; trust the heart, distrust the mind.  The one truth for living is - freedom on a background of love, or, as Henry Adams said, "Conservative Christian Anarchy.


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"Reshevsky was never a dreamer. He was a scientist and fighter. His play is courageous and very often correct. But the poet's play is full of twilight, soft with weakness; and his strengths are full of charm, and refreshing to the weary traveler. -- And one final word --- Reshevsky as a writer, an author, a chess lover for posterity, is indicted for laziness and stinginess. His near-zero efforts as a critic and teacher are well known." - Tony Santasiere

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     He has been called the most popular chess personage of that era, but he has also been roundly criticized for his sometimes harsh, sometimes just over-the-top comments in the "American Chess Bulletin."  His views on chess were at odds with most masters and many took him to task. He seemed to have had an ongoing verbal war with both Reshevsky and Evans and it seemed also that the Chess Review published his name only begrudgedly.  I found close to 900 newspaper articles mentioning his name, but just a  dozen or so mentions in the copies of  "Chess Review"  I have available. It might simply be attributable to the fact that he wrote for a rival periodical, but it's worth noting nonetheless.
     Santasiere really despised openings that were overly analyzed and lead to few unknown trails, such as the Queen's Gambit and the Ruy Lopez and wrote harshly about those openings as well as those who employed them.  About the Queen's Gambit he wrote: "
The Queen's Gambit is neither a gambit nor an honor to any Queen. It is like a piece of dead flesh kept overlong on ice...more the tool of a coward than an adventurer."    and  "In my pioneering days, with regard to the decadent, fear-ridden Queen's Gambit, I often spoke of the 'murder of the middle game.' So far had chess fallen from the brave, bright dream of an artist, that in game after game (with an occasional exception) we observed the correct, super-refined memorized opening followed by a grand effort in cooperation in liquidating the major forces, so as to arrive at an endgame which was ofter conducted with superb finesse and great virtuosity."
     Larry Evans, after severely criticizing Santasiere wrote: "Where are the glorious games which qualify Santasiere as the darling spokesman of romanticism?” which seems a bit of misdirection since Santasiere clearly had a Romantic streak:

Concerning his 'patented' opening, 1.Nf3 d5 2.b4, Santasiere wrote in "The Futuristic Chess Opening" :
 
     With this book I am, at last, formally introducing to the chess world a (my) new opening.  That it is an opening is certain; that it is new is doubtful, for, really, nothing can be new - we can only meditate anew on the old.  And, this is what I have done.  Now I am ready to pass on to you the story (down to its present-day chapter), of the opening which, post-dating Reti's system, must be termed the most "modern."  The story will, of course, cover both theory and practice.
     The history of this curious opening must almost entirely revolve around my many years' experience with it.  Alekhin[e] once opened a game with it.   Tartakower at New York 1924 played 1. b4  vs. Maroczy and jocularly referred to it as the Orang-Outan Opening."  The joke may be good, but the title is poor, for chess, like love, is serious.  However 1. b4, which allows the immediate 1 . . .e5, is not really "my" opening, since I prefer to force Black [to] exert some effort to attain 1 . . .e5.
     Is my system a "good" opening?  That depends on what we mean by "good."  Can it win games against masters?  Certainly.  You will find the proof here later.  But, much more important than such a material consideration is the clear fact that it is rich spiritually by which I mean that it constitutes a challenge to the middle game abilities of both players; and further that it is romantic, by which I mean it leaves far behind the "safe and sound" chains of chess for the clean, laughing freedom of daredevil adventure.
     To be reduced to the more prosaic mechanics of the mind, just what are the ideas behind this opening?  For let no one imagine that it is the product of a disordered mind wedded to insanity.  On the contrary, there are often deep waters where all seems shallow and stagnant.
     First, the opening invites the exchange of White's QNP for Black's QBP, then White will be left with a majority of pawns in the center; and it it my theory that such a majority is an advantage in the middle game.
     Second, the opening invites the challenge  . . .a5, to which White replies b5, with the result that Black's Queen is denied the c6 square, and Black's QNP and QRP are often weak; though White's pawns, too, are compromised!  Just some fun!

Reuben Fine, one of the greatest chess players America ever produced, seemed to take great umbrage with Santasiere's chess ideas, particularly the opening he himself named "Santasiere's Folly."  While admitting that Santasiere had great success with this opening, Fine expressed his disdain for it, by making a huge deal of a loss Santasiere had to Louis Levy, in his "Game of the Month" series for "Chess Review" of January, 1942.  All of Fine's notes are contained in the game below:

Who knows? Perhaps Reuben Fine had an ulterior axe to grind? -

 




Santasiere was no stranger to special awards -

The following two games were candidates for Brilliancy Prizes:




The game above was played in the always strong strong Ventnor City tournament.  Santasiere was a frequent contestant there.

Below are several photos from various Ventnor City tournaments:




Santasiere playing Weaver Adams




Santasiere wrote several unpublished books/pamphlets.  In the intro to "The Romantic King's Gambit," released by Ken Smith and his "Chess Digest" publishing company:
     Upon Tony Santasiere's death, the probate attorney informed me that I was willed some manuscripts.  This is one of them.  The only thing I have added is "current analysis" which is clearly marked - Ken Smith.

     Dedicated to Ken Smith, a lover of Gambits, and my good friend - Tony Santasiere.

     Author's note:  The enclosed took 30 years of study and invention.  You'll find it the most comprehensive collection of King's Gambit theory in the whole world.  More than a few (original by me) variations deserve to make the MCO, but please don't show it to Larry Evans! (his materialism dogma might be shaken with the beauty). However, you may show anything to Bobby Fischer. - A.E. (Tony) Santasiere, 1974.

Other manuscripts of Santasiere published by Ken Smith include:








Tony Santasiere retired to Florida in the early 1960s.  According to Daren Dillinger, who, as editor of the "Florida Chess News," got to know Santasiere,  Tony wrote over 1000 poems.  In researching the web, I found several instances where Santasiere's verse is held up to ridicule (by persons no more qualified than myself to judge such things).  Dillinger published the following verse in "Florida Chess News" in its original form in 1974. Later, in 1999 it was revised and published in the "Jacksonville Chess News" in the form below:

                      To Conquer  A - Loving
                      By  A. E. Santasiere

                      Life can give us bombs atomic.
                      Chess gives us gambits queenly.

                      Thought is often sharp, demonic,
                      Where self-love reigns supremely.

                      Can a master of chess be a king of kings . . .
                      Or is his mind a slave to cowardice?
                      Will his soul be a dream that sings,
                      As he flees Lifes shadows of prejudice?

                      Some say that the world is cold,
                      Most people wicked, grasping . . .
                      And cynics scoff at those who hold
                      That life is everlasting.

                      For their god’s like a game of skill.
                      On one side dwells illusion.
                      Whose king defeated, can but fulfill
                      The darkness of disillusion.

                      O’ gentle starlight born on high.
                      Your dreams are like an angel’s tear.
                      Your silver gate is in the sky.
                      Your love is strong – you have no fear.

                      You seek no reward for the warmth you give.
                      Your game is played for love.
                      You’re like the heroes and martyrs who live . . .
                      For Him Who dwells above.

                      And here on earth, there’s much to praise . . .
                      Loveliness, holiness, service unasking.
                      And as Evil persists in its many ways,
                      There are hosts of angels who’ll conquer a–loving.



Random Photos:

 

Santasiere posing on the right, standing beside Abe Kupchik and behind Isaac Kashdan and Al Horowitz during the ill-fated 1945 USA-USSR Radio Match in which Santasiere lost two games to a young, relatively unknown, David Bronstein.


             Martin Stark on the left, Santasiere on the right.
             The spectator in the black suit is Philadelphia's Atillio DiCamillo!
(Martin Charles Stark died in 2011 at age 98. An engineer, he was also a life master and champion of Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.)


 


at the NY State Championship



(Dr. Erich W. Marchand, a NY state champion -1960,69,70- was a mathematician from Rochester, NY who worked in optics for Eastman Kodak Research.  The one-time columnist for "Chess Life," who long held the title for the most active player in the US,  died in 1999 at age 85.)

 

 . . and three final games:








December 9, 1904  -  January 13, 1977

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