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Samuel Reshevsky vs Arnold Denker
USA-ch (1942), New York, NY USA, rd 6, Apr-17
Nimzo-Indian Defense: Saemisch Variation (E26)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
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Sep-07-11  Petrosianic: I was actually in a similar position once, that illustrates why Reshevsky couldn't have been forfeited. Years back, I was black in a game. White made the last move of the time control and punched the clock. His flag was up, but teetering. I made my next move and pushed the clock. The act of pushing it knocked his flag down, with zero extra time elapsed. The result: No forfeit. His flag was up when it counted.

Similarly, it would have been impossible for Stephens to forfeit Reshevsky. Unless the rules were very different in 1942, he was deliberately out of position at the only time that he could have called a Reshevsky forfeit. Even if he had recognized thta Reshevsky's flag was the one down, there would be no way to prove that it hadn't fallen when Denker hit the clock.

I know Stephens was a USCF VP, and a lot of accounts describe him as pompous and stupid. But I haven't heard anyone else question his honesty, his loyalties, or even his competence. But he was deliberately out of position when a Reshevsky forfeit could have been called. Incompetent is the kindest thing we can say about that.

Sep-28-11  crawfb5: A little digging in the NY Times archives pulled up a few relevant facts:

1) Stephens was a high school teacher for many years in New York. He had been a minister for two years before taking up teaching. He was a Princeton, not Harvard, grad. (obituary: 2 Oct 1948, p. 15 NY Times)

2) He did direct the 1944 championship. For those of you without easy access to old <Chess Review> issues (if you wanted to see the brief mention <TheFocus> cited a few posts back), the NY Times article for 8 May 1944 (p. 23) has a photo of him with Denker and Gresser (the women's champion) and their trophies.

3) Kenneth Harkness directed the 1946 championship. In announcing the dates and other details of the upcoming tournament, Harkness is named "executive tournament director." (NY Times 31 Jul 1946, p. 32). The Jan 1947 issue of <Chess Review> also named him as director (p. 7 in summary of contributions to tournament fund).

Dec-30-11  Petrosianic: In the absence of anything specific, I'm going to assume that nobody ever questioned Stephen's honesty, only his intelligence. But then the big question is WHY did nobody question his honesty? If a director makes a mistake that just happens to benefit the best player in the country, and sticks to it even after it's shown to be an error, then his honesty is the most natural thing in the world to question. Probably it was never questioned because of whatever connections he had.
Premium Chessgames Member
  TheFocus: The one thing I want to know is why NO-ONE, not even Denker, withdrew over this, or made a big protest.

I guess each person was out for himself.

It seems that only thieves have honor among themselves.

This incident is only one of several reasons why I personally detest Reshevsky.

Dec-30-11  Petrosianic: Here are too little details about this game that almost NEVER gets mentioned when the story is told. From Chess Review, April 1942, page 86 (emphasis is mine):

"Denker filed a protest as <Reshevsky was not keeping his own score and the players were using a battered old mechanical clock with no flag indicators>."

Was anybody aware of that? <There were no flags on the clock!> We only have Stephen's worthless judgment that time was an issue at all.

The article goes on to say "His protest was disallowed", but it doesn't say who determined that. Was there a tournament committee that upheld Stephen's decision, and if so, who were they? Or did Stephens himself disallow the protest?

This story has been told and retold hundreds of times over they years, but they never address questions like that. All the retellings just repeat the same bare bones information over and over again.

A major factor in evaluating Stephens' honesty is the question of whether he would have called a Reshevsky forfeit if he hadn't "accidentally" gotten the clocks mixed up. I've argued that he could not have called a Reshevsky forfeit, since Reshevsky was thinking about his first move AFTER the time control, when it's okay for your flag to be down.

On the other hand, so much about this game is screwy that who knows what he could have done? A player is supposed to have an accurate scoresheet to be able to claim a forfeit, but Reshevsky didn't have one. A player is supposed to call the forfeit himself, not have it called for him, but this didn't happen either. Were the rules different then? Why does nobody ever deal with this stuff? Were there special rules for dealing with clocks that didn't have flags equipped?

In the Reshevsky-Donald Byrne match, there was an incident in which both flags were down, and Reshevsky's wife tried to call the forfeit (since neither player saw it). Byrne countered that the rules said that only the player on the move could call a forfeit, and since it was his move that HE was claiming it (since Sammy's wife had so kindly pointed it out). In the end it went to the appeals committee, who ruled it a draw.

Premium Chessgames Member
  TheFocus: <Petrosianic> Nicely done post. Thank you.
Premium Chessgames Member
  HeMateMe: <Byrne countered that the rules said that only the player on the move could call a forfeit, >

Is that true? If my opponent flags, but he is on move, I can't run over to the TD and have him forfeited? Seems odd.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Pawn and Two: <Petrosianic> Here is some additional information from Chess Review regarding the points you mentioned.

From Chess Review, February 1942, page 27, it states the U.S. Chess Federation reversed their earlier decision, and officially announced that the 1942 U.S. Chess Championship tournament would be held in April.

This Chess Review article included the naming of the tournament executive committee:

<The management and direction of both tournaments will be in the hands of the following executive committee, named by George Sturgis, President of the U.S. Chess Federation:

L. Walter Stephens, Chairman - Vice-Pres. of the U.S. Chess Federation.

Kenneth Harkness, Managing Editor of Chess Review.

Hermann Helms, Editor of the American Chess Bulletin.

Milton L. Hanauer, Representative of the Players.

George Sturgis is an ex-officio member of the committee and Mrs. Maude M. Stephens, Secretary to the Committee, is a member without vote.>

In Denker's account, (see my earlier postings), of Reshevsky overstepping the time limit, Denker indicates there were many spectators who witnessed that Sammy's flag had fallen.

However, if the April 1942, page 86, Chess Review article (Horowitz?) is correct, the clock in question had no flag indicators.

After Director L. Walter Stephens ruled Denker forfeited on time, Denker stated that he first appealed to Sammy, who would only say that he was not the tournament director, and then along with several other spectators, an appeal was made to Stephens, who replied by making his infamous statement, <"Does Kenesaw Mountain Landis ever reverse himself?">

In addition to Denker's account of other witnesses, page 86 of the April 1942 Chess Review article (Horowitz?) states: <When Tournament Director Stephens forfeited Denker for overstepping the time limit in the following game from the sixth round, the crowd demonstated its disapproval with boos and jeers.>

In Chess Review, May 1942, page 110, Kashdan commented on the Denker forfeit, the reaction of the spectators, and on the subsequent ruling by the committee: <Round 6: Here is the first big break of the tournament. Reshevsky beats Denker in a drawn position when Denker oversteps the time limit. This causes commotion and a near-riot. The spectators and officials all get a look at the clock, which is carried about and handled by all and sundry. There is a wide divergence of opinion, but the referee has ruled, and is later upheld by the tournament committee. I beat Altman and leave early, only learning of the excitement the next day. From now on Reshevsky and I are the only ones in the running for premier honors.>

Dec-31-11  Petrosianic: <This Chess Review article included the naming of the tournament executive committee:>

So, can we assume that these people, or a majority of them at least, upheld Stephens' decision after the fact? I'd like to know their reasoning. I'd also like to know why Denker stayed in the tournament. Personally, I don't see any point in staying in a tournament whose director claims the right to take a point from you whenever it suits him, whether you've really lost the game or not.

I'd still like to know exactly what rules were in place in this game. I'm assuming that it was somehow okay for the director rather than one of the players to call the forfeit, and even if the players didn't have an accurate scoresheet. You know, Mednis and Hearst were double-forfeited by a different director 14 years later for that very thing. Did the rules vary from tournament to tournament, from year to year, or what?

<However, if the April 1942, page 86, Chess Review article (Horowitz?) is correct, the clock in question had no flag indicators.>

There's no name on the article, so I'd assume it's by Horowitz. Even if it's not, he had to clear it as editor.

<In Denker's account, (see my earlier postings), of Reshevsky overstepping the time limit, Denker indicates there were many spectators who witnessed that Sammy's flag had fallen.

However, if the April 1942, page 86, Chess Review article (Horowitz?) is correct, the clock in question had no flag indicators.>

Sometimes people tend to simplify a story to avoid having to explain little details over and over. Like, when Patrick McGoohan was pitching The Prisoner to Lew Grade, I saw him tell the story that he gave the outlines to Grade, and Grade said something like "You know I can't read." McGoohan had to then explain that that was one of his little jokes, and it meant that he preferred to have a series pitched verbally. I saw McGoohan tell the same story in print years later, but this time he quoted Grade as saying "You know I hate to read such things." I guess telling it that way was easier than having to explain the joke, and that Grade really could read even though he said he couldn't.

Maybe something similar happened here. Maybe Denker changed the story to people seeing the flag fall, because it was easier than explaining how there used to be chess clocks without flags. Or maybe Chess Review was wrong, and there was a flag fall after all.

Has Ed Winter weighed in on this?

Premium Chessgames Member
  Pawn and Two: <Petrosianic: So, can we assume that these people, or a majority of them at least, upheld Stephens' decision after the fact?>

According to Kashdan in his Chess Review article of May 1942, (see my last post), the tournament committee did uphold Stephens' ruling.

Unfortunately, we have no information regarding their reasons, or how they arrived at their decision. Apparently, only Stephens' opinion mattered.

I wonder how on earth Stephens could explain the forfeit to the committee in a way that would even come close to resembling logic. His explanation would certainly make for some interesting reading!

Dec-31-11  Petrosianic: As I say, I'm always amazed that we have so little information about such a famous story. I assume that that's because they couldn't explain it in any reasonable way, and so just covered for one of their own. (If that's not fair to them, they had plenty of chance to set the record straight).

Speaking of baseball and Landis, I always assumed that "Kenesaw Mountain" was a nickname, but no. That was the man's real name. (and you thought Whos on first, What's on second, and Idon'tknow's on third was bad).

But I don't understand the bit about reversing himself. Landis was comissioner of baseball, but he was never a field umpire. So, why invoke his name?

There may be some field umpires who never reverse themselves, but most do when presented with physical evidence of an error. The most common reversals I've seen are when someone is tagged out, then it's seen that the ball wasn't in his glove. I've also seen umpires reverse themselves when slide marks show that the runner missed the plate, or something like that.

I even remember a Pete Rose commercial when I was a kid, on the same subject. This was back when Rose played 2B. A runner tries to steal second. The umpire calls him out. Rose argues, the umpire says he missed the tag. Rose shows him his glove with the runner's hair oil on it, and the umpire reverses the call. The commercial ends with one of the runner's teammates giving him a plug for the sponsor's hair tonic, which didn't leave that oily residue. I hadn't thought about that in years. I just looked for it on YouTube, but couldn't find it.

I just checked Wikipedia, and don't see anything about Landis being famous for never reversing a decision, so I'm wondering what that means. Is it a reference to the Black Sox players remaining banned? Or something else?

Incidentally, Stephens died in 1948. I saw his obit in Chess Review once when I was looking for info on the 1948 world championship.

Jan-01-12  Petrosianic: Another odd thing. I don't see a single letter in Chess Review about this incident, one way or the other.

There is, however, a letter by Stephens himself in the June/July issue, which may give more insight into what kind of guy he was. It's not about this incident (he apparently didn't consider it worth trying to justify that). His letter is about the 1941 NY State Championship, and tries to put his own 2 cents worth into a dispute between Ed Lasker and the tournament organizer. Stephen's letter is long and rambling, and says very little other than generic praise for the tournament. But he gets to his point in the final paragraph:

<It has been known in only a few instances that chess experts will attempt to alibi the loss of a Queen in a regular game by blaming it on the management. When the player who wrote the article in your last issue entered that tournament he accepted all the conditions which the Committee was obliged to put into effect. He was not forced to enter the tournament. The exceptionally brilliant chess of our young Chess Masters and their scintillating skill was enough to make any one have dizzy spells.>

What's he talking about here? Well, the "article" he mentions was actually a <letter> by Ed Lasker. A couple of letters actually, between Lasker and the tournament organizer, going back to December 1941. Lasker had criticized the NY State Championship for what he called an absurd playing schedule. He said that the schedule had not been drawn up according to the wishes of the masters, as the organizer had claimed, but that it should have been. According to Lasker:

<Kashdan, Santasiere, Reshevsky and several younger players were victims of the excessive strain before long. I had a dizzy spell on the third day and had to withdraw altogether.>

Stephens wrote a long reply to this, which said nothing more than that nothing is the management's fault, and if people don't like it, they can lump it. I'd already gotten that impression about him from the Denker-Reshevsky game, but he reinforces it here.

The "loss of a queen" business that Stephens mentions never actually happened. In the first letter, Lasker had written:

<I might close my argument with a example from the game I played with Denker and which, together with the ominous pressure in my head which I remembered too well from twenty years ago, caused me to withdraw from the tournament. Denker had a winning ending against me but overlooked the right move due to fatigue and time-pressure. Fine pointed out the move after the game. I had seen the move and told Denker what I intended replying. This reply of mine, which I had carefully analyzed while Denker was thinking, left my Queen en prise.>

So, Stephens not only mangled the details of the incident, he made fun of a player's health problems at the same time. Kind of funny that the man who personifies poor management should jump in to defend alleged poor management in a tournament that he wasn't even involved in.

Jan-01-12  Petrosianic: <Kind of funny that the man who personifies poor management should jump in to defend alleged poor management in a tournament that he wasn't even involved in.>

Oops, my mistake. Stephens was involved. He had nothing to do with setting the schedule, but he directed the tournament, and played in the Expert Section (scoring +0-9=0!).

Violinist Louis Persinger, who actually played in the 1948 US Championship won the Class B section (!!).

Jan-01-12  Petrosianic: Interesting. This 1941 NY State Championship featured <another> disputed game between Denker and Reshevsky, in which Stephens was again involved.

<As usual, Reshevsky was frequently in time-trouble. Exciting to the spectators was his game with Denker in which both players had 17 moves to play in about 2 minutes! While they were making rapid-transit moves and checking their score-sheets to save time, Director Stephens broke in, insisted that they write down their actual moves. Reshevsky protested loudly, took up valuable time arguing with Stephens. The clocks were stopped and the players wrote down their moves. Obviously upset by this interruption, the two men resumed play with about one minute to go on each clock. They achieved the apparently impossible - made the required number of moves, wrote down their scores, punched the clock between each move and finished within the time limit.

Reshevsky complained that the interruption had affected his play, might cost him the point. However he won the game after adjournment.>

Interesting. I wonder what effect this incident might have had on the 1942 game. Stephens didn't handle both incidents the same way, and didn't stop the clocks to make them write down their moves in the second game.

Jan-01-12  Petrosianic: That earlier game isn't in the database, but as it seems an interesting corollary to the 1942 incident, here it is:

[Event "NY State Championship"]
[Site "Hamilton, NY"]
[Date "1941.08.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Denker"]
[Black "Reshevsky"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D95"]
[PlyCount "104"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. Qb3 c6 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd2 dxc4 8. Bxc4 Nbd7 9. O-O Nb6 10. Be2 Bf5 11. a4 a5 12. Ne5 Be6 13. Qc2 Nbd5 14. Nxd5 Bxd5 15. Rfd1 Qc7 16. Bc3 c5 17. dxc5 Qxc5 18. Nd3 Qc7 19. Nf4 Bc6 20. Bxf6 Bxf6 21. Nd5 Qe5 22. Nxf6+ Qxf6 23. Rd4 Rfd8 24. Rad1 e5 25. Rxd8+ Rxd8 26. Qc5 Rxd1+ 27. Bxd1 Qd8 28. Bb3 Qg5 29. Bd5 Qg4 30. f3 Qxa4 31. Bxc6 Qa1+ 32. Kf2 Qxb2+ 33. Kg3 bxc6 34. Qxc6 Kg7 35. h4 h5 36. Kh3 Qb8 37. g4 hxg4+ 38. fxg4 Qb3 39. Qc5 a4 40. Qxe5+ Kh7 41. h5 Qb7 42. hxg6+ fxg6 43. Qa5 Qf3+ 44. Kh4 Qf2+ 45. Kg5 Qxe3+ 46. Kh4 a3 47. Qc7+ Kh6 48. Qd6 Qe1+ 49. Kh3 Qc3+ 50. Kh4 a2 51. g5+ Kh7 52. Qd1 a1=Q 0-1

Aug-23-12  Helios727: <Petrosianic> Why don't you add that one to the database?
Premium Chessgames Member
  Phony Benoni: Just ran across a photo in "Chess Review" (November 1938, p. 259) from a match between Kashdan and Horowitz. The caption includes this statement:

<"Mr. L. Walter Stephens, Referee of the Match, is standing dirctly behind the chess clock.">

I had to laugh.

May-19-14  porcospino289: That is a nice addendum to this whole
thread, bookman! Do we know what the "L" in L. Walter Stephens stood for? Guesses: Loser, Laughable, Lunkhead.
Premium Chessgames Member
  PhilFeeley: I'm surprised there were chess clocks that didn't have flags. How were they supposed to determine who ran out of time. Eyeball it?
Apr-07-15  Tiggler: I think Reshevsky's conduct was beyond reproach. Even according to Denker's account, all he did was to say nothing except "I am not the t.d."

The story definitely gives the impression that Denker was illegally trying to claim a time forfeit. Otherwise why would he say that 40 to 50 spectators saw Reshevsky's flag drop?

Probably poetic justice if Denker was forfeited, or so Sammy may have thought.

Apr-07-15  Petrosianic: Nobody tried to claim a forfeit except Stephens, who picked up the clock and turned it around after the time control (conveniently one move too late to have called a Reshevsky forfeit even if there had been one). That's why, although no one has suggested it, I wonder if Stephens might have been less stupid than biased. He seems to have made a LOT of mistakes in the course of a few seconds.
Apr-07-15  Tiggler: <Petrosianic: Nobody tried to claim a forfeit except Stephens>

Well, do we know that? As you said yourself:

<On the other hand, so much about this game is screwy that who knows what he could have done?>

Apr-07-15  RookFile: The entire story doesn't make sense to me. If Reshevsky's flag fell, Denker lost any rights to a flag claim as soon as he played Rb4 on the board. When he did that, both players would have entered the second time control. And what would motivate a TD to turn the clock around, I could never guess.
May-14-20  Granny O Doul: Denker's opting to stay in the tournament reminds me of the 1972 USA Olympic basketball team's decision to come out for a second do-over at the end of the USSR game.
Premium Chessgames Member
  fredthebear: <GOD> No doubt, the USA got screwed in that ballgame. The Russkies in charge hit the re-set button and stole the gold medal from the USA. The Cold War was raging.

To this day, the American players refuse the silver medals from '72. The USA was 63-0 in Olympic play prior to this debacle, having won the 7 previous gold medals.

On the flip side, Bobby Fischer became the 11th world chess champion on September 1, 1972.

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