Paul Morphy was probably the first documented Chess Prodigy as he came of age in the Mid 1800’s . Half a century later it was Jose Raul Capablanca and not so well known Richard Reti. Born, November 26th, 1911 near Poland, Samuel Reshevsky learned to play at age 4, and by the time he was eight, he was beating masters and giving simultaneous exhibitions. His parents moved to the United States in 1920 so they could exploit his skills and make a living off an child’s simultaneous exhibitions. This made him the first chess prodigy from the USA since the days of Paul Morphy.
It’s no surprise that he went on to win several U.S Championships ( 1936, 1938, 1940-42, 1946) before playing at Zurich. He was not considered a professional chess player as an adult since he temporarily gave it up to attend college at the University of Chicago with an Accounting degree. He support himself and his family by working as an accountant. He married Norma Mindick and had three children.
He was seeded into the Zurich 1953 Candidates Match. He finished in Third place during the World Championship match competition in 1948. He was invited to the Budapest Candidates match in 1950, but because of the Cold war, the US refused to send him.( rumored and in an interview in 1991, Reshevsky claims the decision was his, though other NATO country players like Euwe, didn’t play) He was titled GM in 1951. His previous status and new title gave him a seat in Zurich 1953.
Let’s look at some of his Zurich 1953 games. Round 4 has Szabo attempting the Grunfeld Gambit. The game starts down a safe line of the Grunfeld until Szabo attempts the Grunfeld gambit. Reshevsky declines the offer but Szabo pushes and sacrifices both center pawns to keep White's King side undeveloped. Black's threats are too tame given the material loss. This allows Reshevsky to defend rather well. Szabo misplays the middle game where he should have exchanged bishops and get a rook to c8. A combination in the end forces an exchange of queens. This leaves White with too much material for Black to defend.
In Round 5, Reshevsky plays Black against Euwe. Euwe initially missed playing e4 early in the game which would have given him an attack. This gave Reshevsky a chance to recoil with a strong attack on the a8-h1 diagonal with a Bishop and Queen battery. White dodges the strong mate threat but it costs him hanging pawns and misplaced minor pieces. Black breaks through on the c-file. White's last ditch effort attempts a run for queen but too much material was lost.
In round 6, on a streak, he is paired against Stahlberg in a relentless pursuit of the center. The game starts down the path of a Tarrasch Variation of the QGD. Taken a little further down the path of the Swedish Variation makes Black target a Queenside pawn majority. Reshevsky takes immediate aim on the center and Black's pawn chain. White is relentless on the attacks and makes a series of forcing moves while inching his d-pawn closer to the eighth rank. Black chokes and gives up one of the queen side pawns despite Reshevsky being under time pressure.
After winning three games in a row, he draws in round 7 against Bolesavsky but picks it back up again in round 8 with nail biter with seconds left on Reshevsky’s clock avoiding a swindle from Kotov. The game starts down an old Indian defense but quickly turns into a King’s Indian defense. Black supports and puts pressure on d5 while White focuses on e5. White then pushes b pawn, putting more pressure on the Black center. Reshevsky trades off the good bishop for Black's bad bishop. Doing so, he immobilizes Black's knight on c8. Now, under time pressure, Kotov slings a last ditch swindle effort But Reshevsky keeps his cool and snaps up a piece with check instead. A note about Reshevsky’s time pressures, in his own words:
"By playing slowly during the early phases of a game I am able to grasp the basic requirements of each position. Then, despite being in time pressure, I have no difficulty in finding the best continuation. Incidentally, it is an odd fact that more often than not it is my opponent who gets the jitters when I am compelled to make these hurried moves."
His streak stalls mid tournament with a string of draws coupled with a few losses. He comes back towards the later half in round 18 with Averbakh. Bronstein flames Averbakh for not playing an early c5 in the Nimzo-Indian. Instead, Averbakh choses a solid but passive line in the Nimzo-Inidan and gets a false sense of security with rote strategy. This allows Reshevsky to take his time to build a strong center and acheives d4 and e4. Then, he begins a king side attack by first weakening the pawns around it, followed by the battering ram on the h-file. Again, under time pressure. Bronstein felt that Averbakh could have at least created better complications later in the game with counter attacks on the queen side. Reshevsky felt that this was his best game of the tournament.
In round 22, against Boleslavsky’s King’s Indian defense, Reshevsky takes the more complicated Fianchetto variation and creates complications. Bronstein gets rather poetic with this game and states:
"Chess is a limitless game; to avoid losing his way in it, the chess player will use certain guideposts to orient himself in the evaluation of a position and the selection of a plan, such as weak pawns, open files, a lead in development, good and bad bishop, a poorly placed king, and so on." ( he goes on at length but to get to his point for this game Bronstein continues: ) "It is worth noting that one will not find in every game such guideposts as will allow one to compare a position's good and bad points and to choose a proper plan on that basis....In any event, one frequently finds the sort of game which must be played for quite some time on nothing more than gut feeling and calculation."
Again, Reshevsky was under tremendous time trouble, yet again, he takes on a complication that leaves him with a point.
Finally, in round 29, I will point to the game against Gligoric in which Gligoric gives Reshevsky a chance to regroup. He plays a Slav variation of the King's Indian and even plays an early c5 targeting the Reshevsky’s White pawn center before it has a chance to reach critical mass. Reshevsky plays cautiously and allows Gligoric to gain some space on the Queen's side. Playing to win d5 and getting a little impatient ( according to Bronstein), Gligoric hands Reshevsky the a1-h8 diagonal which he exploits rapidly. Again, under time pressure, Reshevsky missed a cleaner solution to the end. He still managed to win.
A little about the “self entitlement” persona given by the former Prodigy:
In the book, Bronstein comments about the Kotov game and the time pressure moments. Reshevsky blurts out “ How many moves do I have to go to make the first time control?” This is regarded as highly illegal under tournament rules and to top it off, a spectator responds. The event goes without any violations being claimed. It may have been because one of the games was played late at night to accommodate Reshevsky’s strict orthodox Jewish Observations about playing during the rise of the evening star. His Friday games had to be played during the day so as to finish before the rise of that star. Then, on Saturday, he started his games several hours after the other games after the rise of the evening star.
I hear anecdotal remarks about Reshevsky’s sharp sense of entitlement in the chess world. One has him asking a tournament official to disqualify Bent Larsen because he continued to play a game for a win after they agreed before the start to conclude with a draw.
I’m not sure of how many of these are true or embellishments. Having been a prodigy at such an early age, psychological studies on such prodigies reveals that there is a threshold they reach as adults once their peers “catch up”. After being the center of attention for so long, some can’t make the transition smoothly ( Fischer for one, Morphy may have been another). Add to that the notion that his parents moved to the USA when he was eight to pretty much put him on display like a freak. I don’t know, but that alone has got to mess up a kid. That’s my unsolicited opinion. My apologies to bring this into the essay for Reshevsky.
During his long chess career, Reshevsky played eleven of the first twelve World Champions, from Emanuel Lasker to Anatoly Karpov, the only player to do so (he met Garry Kasparov but never played him). He defeated seven World Champions: Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, and Bobby Fischer.
Besides playing is several U. S. Championships and the US team for the Chess Olympiads, following Zurich 1953, Reshevsky won some important tournament titles at events in New York 1956 (Lessing Rosenwald Trophy), Dallas 1957, Haifa/Tel Aviv 1958, Buenos Aires 1960, Netanya 1969, and the Reykjavík Open 1984 at age 72.
His legacy includes a few books: Reshevsky on Chess ( 1948), How Chess Games Are Won (1962), Great Chess Upsets (1976), and The Art of Positional Play (1978). He also wrote a book on the 1972 World Championship match between his great rival Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. He authored columns in chess magazines and The New York Times.
Reshevsky died at the age of 80 in New York on April 4, 1992