Reuben Fine and Herman Steiner contested this match in March 1944 at the The Washington Social Chess Divan, 1 Parkside Hotel, Washington D. C., 2 14th and I Sts (now demolished). Although the March edition of Chess Review states "last month", Hermann Helms reported on Games 1 and 2 on Thursday 23rd March 1944. 3 The exact dates of the match are as yet unconfirmed, but it seems most likely that it took place in the week commencing Sunday 19th March 1944, and was finished by the end of the same week.
Herman Steiner was the dominant Californian player of the time. He was also an important West Coast chess organizer, the contemporaneous Los Angeles Times chess columnist and had founded and run a chess club that was frequented by Hollywood stars. A strong master, he had previously lost a close match to Fine by 5½–4½ (New York 1932). He tied for first place with Daniel Abraham Yanofsky in the 43rd US Open (1942) in Dallas, and had come fifth in the 1942 US Championship. In 1943, he had dominated the California Open State Championship with the score of +17.
Steiner had an infectious and irresistible personality that complemented his good looks, and all this suited both his entrepreneurial chess ventures and the Hollywood scene. 4
Reuben Fine was the challenger to the supremacy over American Chess of Samuel Reshevsky. His greatest success came in the AVRO (1938) tournament in Holland. This event, comprising the top eight players in the world, was accepted as a contest to decide who had the best credentials to challenge Alexander Alekhine for the world championship. Fine shared first place with Paul Keres, ahead of four past, present and future world champions. 5
On the strength of that result, Fine later described himself as 'World Champion 1946-48' on the grounds that he had best claims to that title between Alekhine's death in 1946 and Mikhail Botvinnik 's accession to the throne in 1948. 5
Progress of the match
Steiner was White in the odd numbered games.
1 2 3 4
Fine 1 1 1 ½ 3½
Steiner 0 0 0 ½ ½
Fine's victories came from better calculation. Steiner twice went into variations that Fine refuted by seeing intermezzo moves (Games 2 and 3). In the first and in the final game, Steiner had promising attacks but he was unable to land the coup de grâce.
"The most exciting game of chess ever to be played in Washington between two master players was the first in the four-game match by Herman Steiner and Reuben Fine." 6 Steiner sacrificed his <g> pawn for an attack after an opening in which the opponents castled on opposite sides. He then gave up the exchange for an attack which was probably unsound. Fine did not find the best defence and a level game ensued, but then Steiner blundered and Fine did not squander his second chance.
Fine attacked on the K-side and kept the initiative for most of the game. Steiner defended well, but blundered late in the game and shed material.
Steiner miscalculated and appears to have thought that he was winning a pawn in an equal position. Fine had seen further and created a very powerful passed pawn which won the game. Fine's notes to Game 3 appears in Chess Review of March 1944 in the "Game of the Month" column.
This was the only <e> pawn opening of the match. Steiner as black developed a powerful attack and came very close to victory. Unfortunately for Steiner, he got his Queen trapped in a forced repetition and Fine saved the point.
Both players then took part in the 1944 US Championship in New York (ending 7th May). In the absence of Samuel Reshevsky, Fine was expected to take his first title but the exceptional form of Arnold Denker (+14 =3 -0) relegated him to second place (+13 =3 -1). Steiner tied with Israel Albert Horowitz for third, half a point behind Fine.
1 Chess Review, March 1944, p. 10: "Reuben Fine defeated California's Herman Steiner by 3½ to ½ in an exhibition match at the Washington Chess Divan last month. Steiner was the guest of the Divan for two weeks."
2 Chess Review, June-July 1944, p. 8.
3 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 23rd March 1944, p. 16.
4 NM Andrew Sacks, http://www.chessdryad.com/articles/....
5 IM William Hartston in The Independent, 1st April 1993, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/p....
6 Willard Mutchler in The Washington Post, 26th March 1944.
Original collection: Game Collection: Fine - H.Steiner by User: Chessical.