A Century of Chess: Lake Hopatcong 1926

A Century of Chess: Lake Hopatcong 1926

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One thing about the history of American chess is that you find yourself reaching for the atlas looking up such unlikely locations as Cambridge Springs, PA, Lone Pine, CA — and also Lake Hopatcong. 

Lake Hopatcong turns out to be in sort of central New Jersey, not far from Morristown. Its main selling point was the Hotel Alamac, whose owner was a prominent chess organizer. 

The tournament was a cozy affair and served basically as an exhibition for Capablanca and a tune-up for his busy year in 1927. He won four out of his first five and then drew the rest of the way to coast to first place. His games were strategically impressive but a bit joyless — very much like Raymond Chandler’s description of him as playing "beautiful and remorseless chess, almost creepy in its silent implacability." You play over his games like you might play through some training video. 

Chess masters enjoying themselves

Probably his most impressive game of the tournament was the win over Kupchik in which he engaged in prophylactic play to stop Kupchik on the kingside and then seamlessly ground him down on the queenside. An intriguing match-up against Géza Maróczy was marred when Maroczy, in time trouble, declined a rook sacrifice that he should have accepted. In the tournament’s brilliancy prize game, he sacrificed a pawn out of the opening against Edward Lasker and then smoothly outplayed him. 

Probably not too much should be made of Abraham Kupchik’s second place finish. Kupchik was a decent positional player but he benefitted from uncharacteristically weak performances by Marshall and Maróczy, who both seemed to hit their decline at the same moment. The two of them, however, put together a fascinating contrast of styles in one of their last encounters. This was the game where Maróczy thought for 45 minutes on his third move — solely because he sensed that Marshall, normally a 1.d4 player, had some trick up his sleeve. Marshall did but Maróczy found a seamless refutation. 

Sources: Edward Winter discusses the Maróczy-Marshall game here. A new book on Maróczy, by László Jakobetz, covers Maróczy's participation. Miquel Sanchez covers the tournament from Capablanca's perspective. The 'masters enjoying themselves' photo is from here