TheFocus: From Mechanics Institute Newsletter #672
Abraham Kupchik – The Greatest Manhattan Chess Club Champion
Some might have been surprised by the induction of Abraham (Abe) Kupchik (1892-1970) into the US Hall of Fame this past May, but those well-versed in US chess history were not. IM Walter Shipman, one of the most knowledgeable people in the United States on chess played in this country from 1900-1950, believes that following the death of Henry Nelson Pillsbury in 1906 until the emergence of Isaac Kashdan in the late 1920s, a strong argument could be made that Kupchik was number two in the United States, after Frank Marshall (roughly 1913-1928).
Kupchik did not play much overseas excepting an outstanding result on board three for the gold-medal-winning US Olympiad team in 1935, but he dominated the Manhattan Chess Club Championship for several decades at a time, when that was one of the strongest events held in the United States.
The records for the winners of this event are surprisingly poor and online information is not to be trusted, nor is that in The Bobby Fischer I Knew by Arnold Denker and Larry Parr, where on page 62 they write that “Kupchik won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship nine times outright and once jointly.” Also wrong is the May 1949 issue of Chess Review (page 133), which notes that Kupchik “won the Manhattan Club Championship at least ten times!”
This two references, while not identical, are at least close, but now read the following. Chess Review August-September 1945 (page 5) quotes Kupchik himself, who says he won the Manhattan CC Championship “fifteen or sixteen times.” This is quite a discrepancy.
The great chess archivist Jeremy Gaige and his successor Gino Di Felice provide some help, but many crosstables for Manhattan Chess Club Championships are missing. Using books by these gentlemen, supplemented by the American Chess Bulletin and Chess Review (from 1933 forward) I was able to piece together the following, although a few questions remain.
What emerges is that between 1913–14 and 1936–37 Kupchik won 13 times, finished second or equal second 4 times, and fifth once in 18 tries—a truly remarkable record. Note there are a few years (1922–23 and 1930–31) that I was unable to determine whether Kupchik participated, but other people are listed as the winner.
According to Arnold Denker in The Bobby Fischer I Knew, Kupchik was shorter than Reshevsky—just a few inches over five feet—but that didn’t stop him from being a great player.
Denker also writes that Kupchik had a passive style and played as if he was afraid, but IM Shipman (who knew both men well) tells me “solid” is much more accurate description. He adds that Kupchik beat Denker in a very nice game in the 1936 US Championship, and had a lifelong plus score against him.
Abraham Kupchik–Arnold Denker
US Championship (11) 1936
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.g3 Nc6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0–0 0–0 9.Bf4 Bf5 10.dxc5 d4 11.Na4 Ne4 12.Rc1 g5 13.Nd2 Nxf2 14.Rxf2 gxf4 15.Rxf4 Bg6 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Nf3 Bf6 18.b3 Bg7 19.Rc4 Qe7 20.Nb2 Rfe8 21.Kf1 Rad8 22.Nd3 Qe3 23.Nh4 Bh5 24.Rc2 Rd5 25.Nf5 Rxf5 26.Rxf5 Qe4 27.Rf3 Bxf3 28.exf3 Qf5 29.Nf2 Re3 30.Kg2 Rc3 31.Ne4 Rxc2+ 32.Qxc2 Qd5 33.Nf2 Bf8 34.b4 f5 35.Nd3 Bh6 36.a4 Kf7 37.b5 cxb5 38.axb5 Ke7 39.Qa4 1–0
Abraham Kupchik’s record in Manhattan Chess Club Championships:
1913–14 Abraham Kupchik (1)
1914–15 Kupchik (2)
1915–16 Kupchik (3)
1916–17 Kupchik (4)
1917–18 Oscar Chajes (Kupchik did not play)
1918–19 Kupchik (5)
1919–20 Chajes and Kupchik (no playoff) (6)
1920–21 David Janowski, Roy T. Black (Kupchik did not play)
1921–22 Morris A. Schapiro (Kupchik did not play)
1922–23 Schapiro (I could not determine if Kupchik played)
1923–24 1. Chajes 2. Kupchik (7)
1924–25 Kupchik (8)
1925–26 Kupchik (9)
1926–27 1. Maroczy =2-3. Kupchik and Kashdan
1927–28 1. Kupchik (10) in a 5 player double round robin with Horowitz, Pinkus, Steiner and Kashdan
1928–29 1. Kevitz 2. Kupchik
1929–30 1.Kashdan 2. Kupchik
1930–31 Kupchik (11)
1931–32 Kashdan (I could not determine if Kupchik played)
1932–33 Kupchik (12) and Willman tied (Kupchik won the playoff)
1933–34 Willman (Kupchik did not play)
1934–35 Kupchik (13) and Kashdan tied (Kupchik won the playoff) 1935–36 Kevitz (Kupchik did not play)
1936–37 1. Kashdan =5.Kupchik
1937–38 Kashdan (Kupchik did not play)
1938–39 Moskowitz (Kupchik did not play)
1939–40 Denker (Kupchik did not play)
1940–41 Albert Pinkus (Kupchik did not play)
1941–42 Sydney Bernstein and Fred Reinfeld (Kupchik did not play)