The Inauspicious Réti

The Inauspicious Réti

Oct 26, 2009, 9:53 PM |

When I studied the life of Richard Réti, I discovered that I have two things in common with him.  First, we both started our chess careers with an “inauspicious” beginning, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.  They were writing about Réti, not me, just in case there is some confusion on that point.  However, I am hopeful for my chess future because Réti traversed the abyss from “inauspicious” to “brilliant” in the space of four short years.  Since I already share that first stage of development with Réti, can the next be far behind?

This blog continues my series on the players who have graced the named openings with their surnames, and you can find links to all of these on my home blog page.  The Réti Opening draws its name from our famous chess master, who is variously referred to as Hungarian, Austro-Hungarian, Czech or just Jewish, as if the latter were a nationality. 

The opening itself is generally characterized by the moves:  1. Nf3 d5  2. c4, although sometimes just the move 1. Nf3 is enough to be called the Réti.  If so, then Réti used the Réti to sting World Champion Capablanca with his first defeat in eight years in the famous New York tournament of 1924, whereupon Réti was awarded the brilliancy prize.


Four years before this historic win, Réti was insulted by Tarrasch before the opening of a 1920 tournament in Göteborg, Sweden when the famous German master lodged a formal complaint that players such as Réti should not be admitted to the grandmaster tournament, but demoted to a tier for lesser masters.  The tournament committee conferred, and allowed Réti to be admitted to the top tier of the tournament.   In a grand display of moral justice, Réti won first place at this tournament and Tarrasch only tied for fourth.

Réti is famous not only for soundly defeating Capablanca by trapping his queen in the game just shown, but he is also regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Hypermodern school of play.  It is a fascinating fact in many fields of endeavor that intellectual advances arise in the form of rule breaking, and Réti wrote of Hypermodernism that the new generation was interested more in exceptions than rules.

 Réti was one of those rare people who was not only a superb chess player, but was also gifted at writing about chess.  (No, that is not the second thing that I was going to say I share with Réti, but I confess I’m sorely tempted.) 

In 1920 Réti began to focus on his chess writings, and it was during this time that he published his text on chess strategy, Die neuen Ideen im Schachspiel, that was published a year later in 1923 under the English title Modern Ideas in Chess.  This book is regarded as one of chess literature’s classics even though Réti was unaware that some of his positional ideas were previously known to Chigorin, Paulsen and Staunton. 

One of his chess puzzles was actually published when he was only 12 years old, but it was during his adult period of writing that Réti produced some magnificent positional studies.  One such study demonstrates how White actually stops Black’s pawn from queening, and saves the draw.  Try to solve it yourself before you look.

Réti studied mathematics at the University of Vienna until the outbreak of World War I, which interrupted not only the lives of millions but also his doctorate.  Ironically, it was the war, into which he was drafted, where he met several officers who encouraged his chess play, or the world of chess may never have known Richard Réti.  Due to the war, he continued his chess studies, and he put his considerable mental faculties to the test in Sao Paulo where he played 29 blindfold chess games in 1925, setting a world record at the time.  However, one must question the wisdom of a young man doing anything blindfolded so close to the beaches of Brazil.

Réti was born in May of 1889 and apparently first learned chess during or about the year of 1895 by watching his parents play at home.  In 1929 Réti contracted the painful illness of scarlet fever.  I too have suffered scarlet fever, but unlike Réti I was fortunate enough to have recovered.  Réti succumbed to the illness a week after his 40th birthday.  According to Réti’s brother Rudolph, Réti’s mother had often remarked that their sibling, Otto, who died in infancy, “would probably have fulfilled what in both of us was only promised”.  I can only presume that their dear mother did not live long enough to see her son Richard’s great accomplishments.

At the time of his death, he was working on a book that was published a year later under the German title of Die Meister des Schachbretts.  A somewhat abridged version was published in English three years later as Masters of the Chessboard.

Here is Réti playing and winning with 1. Nf3 in a game that GM Andrew Soltis describes as “perhaps the most celebrated and influential victory of the Hypermodern masters and helped demolish dogmatic views about the proper handling of the centre.”