GM Samuel Reshevsky

Full name
Samuel Reshevsky
Life
Nov 26, 1911 - Apr 4, 1992 (age 80)‎
Place of birth
Ozorkow, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Federation
Poland

Bio

Samuel Reshevsky (1911-92) is one of the greatest American chess players in history. A seven-time U.S. champion, Reshevsky was one of five players in the 1948 World Championship tournament and nearly advanced to the championship match in the 1953 Candidates tournament. Reshevsky defeated seven different world champions, ranging chronologically from Emanuel Lasker to Bobby Fischer, a testament to his strength and durability as a chess player.

Early Life

Reshevsky first learned chess in Poland at the age of four. A prodigy, he was giving simultaneous exhibitions by age eight. His parents saw better chess opportunities for him in the United States and moved there in 1920.

Samuel Reshevsky
An eight-year-old Reshevsky performing a simultaneous exhibition in France. (The third gentleman from the right looks particularly shocked.) Image in public domain in United States.

However, Reshevsky spent most of the 1920s focusing on his education. He graduated from college in 1934 and soon began playing tournaments internationally as well as at home.

Early Career

The first world champion whom Reshevsky beat was Jose Capablanca at Margate, England in 1935. Reshevsky won the tournament by a half-point over Capablanca thanks to his victory in their game.

The next year Reshevsky played in and won the first U.S. Championship tournament by a half-point over Albert Simonson. Reshevsky also won the event in 1938, 1940, 1942 and 1946. In addition, he defeated Isaac Kashdan in a 1941 match.

An even stronger tournament than at Margate was held at Nottingham, England, in August 1936. There Reshevsky scored +7 -2 =5 (9.5/14) and tied for third with reigning world champion Max Euwe and fellow American Reuben Fine. Past and future world champions Capablanca and Mikhail Botvinnik, with 10/14 each, tied for first. Also participating were past champion Lasker (8.5/14) and the former and future champion Alexander Alekhine (9/14). 

Against the five world champions, Reshevsky scored an even +2 -2 =1, defeating Alekhine and Lasker but falling to Euwe and Capablanca while drawing Botvinnik. It was the only time he defeated Alekhine and the only time he played Lasker.

Then came the 1938 AVRO tournament, which on account of its strength would later form the basis of the 1948 tournament for the world championship. In the field of eight—Reshevsky, Euwe, Fine, Capablanca, Botvinnik, Alekhine, Paul Keres and Salomon Flohr—Reshevsky tied for fourth with a +3 -3 =8 score. (Fine and Keres tied for first.) It was here where Euwe was the fourth world champion whom Reshevsky defeated in his career.

The next year Reshevsky beat Vasily Smyslov, then 18 years old, in their first match. Smyslov would become world champion in 1957.

1948 World Championship

The outbreak of World War II dramatically interrupted the chess scene, and the sitting champion Alekhine died in 1946. With no match possible, a tournament was arranged instead, and Reshevsky was invited because he had been a participant in the AVRO tournament a decade prior.

1948 World Championship
Reshevsky (far right) with the other participants at the 1948 World Championship tournament. Wikipedia, CC0 (public domain equivalent).

Each participant except Euwe enjoyed a positive score, but Reshevsky’s +6 -5 =9 performance fell 3½ points shy of Botvinnik’s +10 -2 =8. One of Botvinnik’s two defeats, however, did come at Reshevsky’s hand. Now Reshevsky had beaten six players who were or would become world champion.

1953 Candidates Tournament

Reshevsky chose not to attend the 1950 Candidates tournament but received a spot in the 1953 tournament by virtue of his 1948 appearance. Of the 15 players, nine were Soviets and Reshevsky the only American. It has been rumored but never confirmed that, as the tournament neared completion, the Soviet players were instructed to give Smyslov easy draws so that he would win the tournament instead of Reshevsky.

In the double round-robin, Reshevsky performed admirably with eight wins, four losses, and 16 draws. His 16 points tied with Keres and David Bronstein, but Smyslov won the tournament with 18 points, and tiebreakers left Reshevsky in fourth. 

The Soviets were possibly correct to worry about a match between Botvinnik and Reshevsky. In a 1955 USSR vs. United States team match, the two faced each other four times. They drew three of the games—and Reshevsky claimed the fourth for a positive score against the reigning world champion.

Later Career

Reshevsky would never again come so close to a world championship match as he had in 1953. At a certain point after Bobby Fischer came along, Reshevsky was no longer the premier American chess player. (The two did not get along.) Reshevsky won their first encounter in 1956 when Fischer was 13. In 1961, the two played a match to a +2 -2 =7 draw before Fischer forfeited. At the age of 54, Reshevsky last defeated Fischer at the 1965 U.S. Championship. 

However, Reshevsky never won another game against Fischer, the seventh and final world champion whom Reshevsky beat during his career. 

By 1969, it had been 23 years since Reshevsky’s last U.S. Championship, but Fischer last played in the event in 1967, and Reshevsky was able to claim the U.S. title one more time.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Reshevsky continued to play regularly but not as much and no longer at the absolute highest levels of chess. In 1991, he participated in a “Veterans” tournament in Moscow against Smyslov and others. 

Samuel Reshevsky passed away the following year, 1992, on April 4.

Legacy

Reshevsky did have a propensity for time trouble out of the opening but made up for it with a strong positional sense and good tactical ability. Unfortunately, his shortcomings in the opening may have prevented him from becoming world champion.

However, as noted, Reshevsky won at least one game against seven world champions. Three of them—Alekhine, Euwe and Botvinnik—were at or near the top of the game when Reshevsky defeated them. Had World War II not occurred, it’s certainly conceivable that Alekhine and Reshevsky might have played a world championship match in the 1940s (although Botvinnik and Keres were at least as strong at the time).

This is how long Reshevsky’s career was and the type of competition he played against: Wilhelm Steinitz, who had died over a decade before Reshevsky was born, was the only official world champion before Magnus Carlsen, who was 17 months old when Reshevsky died, whom he could not even conceivably have played against.

Although he was never the world champion, Samuel Reshevsky's place in chess history is secure.

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