Person of day - 11 OCTOBER 2023
Many years have passed, but talks of the battle for the world chess crown circulate to this day. One of the main charades of the former epoch is the refusal of a great American called Reuben Fine to compete in the match-tournament for the world championship in 1948.
Reuben was born on 11th October in New York into a modest family of Polish emigres from the Russian Empire. Fine learned to play chess when he was 8 and he achieved his first major milestone when he was 17- he finished second at the New York state championship. In 1932, he played in his first major tournament in Pasadena, where he drew against world champion Alexandre Alekhine.
From a very young age, Fine became a devoted student of the game who studied the classical works of Tarrasch, Reti and Nimzowitch. He had an outstanding memory and made significant contributions to the openingtheory. Soon after, the young chess player won matches against not only Americans like Dake and Horowitz, but also the legendary Gideon Stahlberg. He also won several tournaments for Western masters and US championships.
A bitter contest developed between Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky for leadership in American chess, which largely finished with victory of the latter. Fine won seven gold medals in open US championships, but he never managed to win the national championship and lost to Reshevsky 3:4 from all their meetings.
Nonetheless, Reuben Fine enjoyed greater success on the international arena: he won several super-tournaments and led the US team to three Olympic victories, where he inevitably finished first on his board (once on third, second and first board). In 1937, the American won prestigious tournaments in Leningrad, Moscow and Stockholm, which confirmed his standing as one of the world’s greatest chess players. At the 1938 AVRO tournament, which was the unofficial candidates’ tournament against Alexandre Alekhine, he split 1st-2nd places with Paul Keres, although the Estonian grandmaster was recognized at the winner due to better additional criteria. Analysts noted an exceptionally subtle sense of position and sublime endgametechnique from one of the main heroes of the tournament.
While Europe was engulfed by World War II, Fine and Reshevsky continued their contest in multiple American tournaments and soon they were joined by Arnold Denker. Reuben Fine was also an analyst for ASWORG- a secret group of scientists for the American Navy. His responsibilities included studying defences against submarines and fighter planes. Since he could speak several languages, Fine also worked as a translator.
Shortly after the Allied victory, Alexandre Alekhine died in Portugal, and the chess world was left without a champion. While FIDE- headed by Rueb- defended the status of ex-world champion Max Euwe and negotiated with the Soviet chess federation about a match for the world championship, Soviet and American teams played two matches with each other. The winners of the pre-war Olympics met with the rising Red Machine. In a radio-match in 1945, Denker and Reshevsky demoted Fine to third place. He lost 0,5:1,5 to Isaac Boleslavsky, who at that time was completely unknown in the West. A year later, Reuben sat higher but lost to Paul Keres with the same score. Keres remained an unlucky opponent for Fine throughout his career.
Nonetheless, Fine, who had a positive score in matches against Lasker, Alekhine, Botvinnik and an equal score against Capablanca, was justly considered one of the favourites of the upcoming match-tournament. However, Reuben declined to play in the Hague and in Moscow. His formal reason was that he was unable to interrupt his doctor’s dissertation in psychology. Negotiations on the match-tournament stalled and the grandmaster was worried that he would waste time preparing for a competition that would never take place. In addition, Fine was unhappy with the formula of the match-tournament and the position of Western administrators, who made multiple concessions to the Soviet chess federation. In letters to friends, Reuben wrote that he didn’t want to see how “Russians would help each other for three months”.
In his book- titled The World’s Great Chess Games (1951)- Fine criticised the chess federations of the US and Holland, as well as FIDE, thought it was well-noted that his losses to Keres and especially Boleslavsky were great shocks to the ambitions and determination of the three-time Olympic champion. In any case, the grandmaster did not play in the match-tournament and his career soon began its descent.
In 1948, Reuben Fine won an international tournament in New York that was attended by Euwe, Denker and Najdorf and the latter invited Fine. He dominated the board, led +2 and had a few winning positions, but his optimistic opponent fought until the end and drew 4:4. However, greater disappointment lay in way for Reuben at the next two competitions. In the USA-Yugoslavia match, he could not beat rising star Vasja Pirc in two matches and at the Wertheim Memorial, he carelessly lost a figure to Euwe in the opening and was quickly beaten by Najdorf; in the end, he finished mid-table. This was the American’s last tournament.
Soon after, Reuben Fine became a psychoanalyst who wrote tens of books on the subject that became bestsellers in the US. Fine came up with a theory of eradicating homosexuality and engaged in vigorous debate with his opponents. Aside from that, he often wrote on chess, especially the successes of Robert Fischer, who was his friend and with whom he played a few friendly matches in 1963.
He has written multiple books, including Dr Lasker’s Chess Career, Modern Chess Openings, The World’s Great Chess Games, Bobby Fischer's Conquest of the World's Chess Championship, The Middlegame in Chess and Basic Chess Endings, which Mikhail Botvinnik valued and regularly brought to tournaments.
Reuben Fine died on 26th March 1993 in his native New York.