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:
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.
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.
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.
So how about a little about Tony Santasiere?
"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
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.
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? -
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.
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:
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:
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.
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: