Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fine's Description of Chess Masters

I found A Passion for Chess by Reuben Fine at a used book store. I've only played through a few games in it so far (I'm currently working on a collection of Alekhine's games), but I've really enjoyed them so far. I've never paid much attention to Fine or his writings in the past, although I noted while playing through the games of Nottingham 1936 that he shared joint second with 9.5/14 (Capablanca and Botvinnik won with 10/14; Alekhine was at 9/14).

He ultimately chose a professional career in psychology over chess. In one interesting passage, he categorizes the masters of the day into pure chess professionals and dabblers:

In the period from 1935 to 1938 I had come to know all the leading masters of the day personally. There were two types of master: one whose primary interest was in some other field, and who played chess chiefly as an intellectual exercise; the other the pure professional. Among the leading players the former type was more common; the pure professionals, surprisingly, were often second-raters. Lasker thought of himself primarily as a philosopher and a mathematician, though he did make a living at chess for a while. Capablanca was in the Cuban Diplomatic Service. Euwe was a mathematics instructor and assistand principal of a high school in Amsterdam. Vidmar was an eminent authority on electrical engineering; Botvinnik, who was in the same field, used to say admiringly that he would give up half of his chess skill to do what Vidmar had done in electrical engineering. Edward Lasker in this country is a well-known engineer; he invented the breast pump.

I was always struck by Edward Lasker's tournament photos. The expression was of someone daydreaming about something pleasant, with a gentle-yet-odd smile. Perhaps like many professionals he had a hard time getting work off his mind.

Fine continues:

The pure professionals, even in Europe where they got along better, were most uneasy about their status, and sometimes acted in a most offensive manner. Alekhine is perhaps the best example; he was a very sadistic individual, who became a Nazi sympathizer during the war. Bogoljubow had some of his rivals put in concentration camps by the Nazis when they arrived on the scene in Germany. But there were also many pure professionals who were quite attractive as personalities. Tartakower was a learned, witty, and amiable gentleman. The Englishman Winter was a most unusual and colorful man. Both of these could have done well in any number of other fields.

A famous quote of Bogoljubow's is: "When I am White, I win because I am White. When I am Black, I win because I am Bogoljubov." And then, there's the lesser known Option Three...