Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reuben Fine - A comprehensive record of an American Chess Career 1929-1951.

Reuben Fine - A comprehensive record of an American Chess Career 1929-1951. Author Aidan Woodger, 2004, 400 pages. Publisher McFarland
A book review by Davide Nastasio
Every book begins with a dream, and in this case the dream of the author is quite interesting. He began to study chess seriously around 1980, and the hero he chose for his chess journey was Reuben Fine.

Fine was quite an interesting character. I was curious about him, because of a book he wrote a long time ago on chess psychology, Morphy, and Fischer.

GM Fine was also a fine author, who wrote many chess books.

But the only way to really know more about GM Fine, was through the best publisher on the market, regarding chess biographies, which is McFarland. If I'd be rich, I'd probably buy McFarland, just for giving the chance to more authors like Aidan Woodger, to make their dreams come true. While at the same time enriching myself with this astounding historical research, which helps me to journey in the past. Let's say it, some of these books are like a time machine, they let us explore the past, without actually moving from our comfortable chairs.
This book has 882 games played by Fine, and meticulously researched by the author, also thanks to the Library of Congress. Yes, the United States of America is clearly the best also for saving our American heritage, and past history.
Of course, I don't want to appear too nationalistic, also if the United States does merit praise for having great libraries, and a great chess community, but obviously a masterpiece, like this book, is born only through the collaboration of many individuals, in this case the author uses one page of the book to thank all who contributed, and they are definitely a lot!
But let's make comparison, since as a reviewer I could be biased in favor of McFarland, and their author. I just bought the new Chessbase Megabase 2017, it is a professional database, with nearly 7 million games, a product which is used by professionals, and amateurs like me for preparing against other players, the cost is around 160$. Such database, which I do consider a really good product, has only 514 games played by Fine! Can you imagine at what length the author went to collect 368 more games?
I'd like to show also the thickness of the annotations to the games, because clearly this book was the product of deep research, and of the highest scholarship, since the author even quotes multiple commentators inside the annotated games.

The annotations are good for their verbosity, often in professional chess magazines we just read symbols to evaluate the position, here instead phrases are used to explain the evaluation.
The author has consulted game collections, magazines, articles, journals, tournament books, in 13 different languages to compile this book.
In the book I've noticed, used few times, an old chess time control: "transit-rapid chess" which I didn't know. We could think it relates to blitz, like 3 minutes per game, but after searching through different sources I understood it was a complete different kind of chess. It was based on an allotted time per move, it could be 10 seconds, or 30 seconds. Of course a game could last 1 hour if reached the 50 moves, but at the same time, if one of the two players would go over the time limit per move on move tenth, he would lose.
It seems Fine was a chess speed demon, because he won multiple tournaments with this time control.

But if we dig deep in the book, around page 331, games 828 onward, we discover that Fine also gave a simul, against four players using rapid-transit time control, 10 seconds for him, and 30 seconds for the players against him. What's special will you ask? It was a rapid transit blindfold simul!

The book begins with a brief biography on Reuben Fine. Clearly he must have had a tough life. He was born in October 1914, the Great War, World War I, began in July of that tragic year, and would destroys countless lives, as well as the hope for a better future for millions and millions of people all around the globe.
Fine was likely too young to understand the 4 years of that terrible war, but he was left by the father when he was 2, and his chess career, around 1932, began in another terrible historical moment: the Great Depression.
When I read a biography I generally pay attention to what that player did in order to become good. I also relate to what other players say they did. One common feature the master level players all agree is about reading some chess classics. Notice how lucky we are today because most of chess books are translated in English. Fine for reading the famous Dreihundert Schachpartien written by Tarrasch (Three Hundred Chess games) had to learn German!

 Why do I mention such book? Because it is one of the books Fischer also mentioned, that taught him the principles of chess! Fischer, who also lived a poor life, read it at the library!
But of course, not only that book was in German, also the famous Nimzowitsch "Mein System," and Reti's "des schachbretts" were in German language, and Fine studied them too!
Now, let me try to explain who Fine was, making a brief outline of his chess career. He became passionate about playing chess around 1929, when he was 15. And by 1936, seven years later, he was able to defeat the great Keres with the Black pieces in tournament. Keres was a GM level player, and in that period was going to become a world champion contender.
This is their game:
[Event "Zandvoort"] [Site "Zandvoort NED"] [Date "1936.07.22"] [EventDate "1936.07.18"] [Round "4"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Paul Keres"] [Black "Reuben Fine"] [ECO "A09"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "126"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e3 Nf6 4. Bxc4 e6 5. O-O c5 6. b3 Nc6 7. Bb2 a6 8. a4 Be7 9. Ne5 Na5 10. d4 Nxc4 11. Nxc4 O-O 12. Nbd2 Bd7 13. Ne5 Be8 14. Rc1 cxd4 15. Bxd4 Nd7 16. Nxd7 Bxd7 17. Nc4 Rc8 18. Qf3 b5 19. Qg3 f6 20. Bb6 Qe8 21. Nd6 Bxd6 22. Qxd6 bxa4 23. bxa4 Bxa4 24. Bc5 Rf7 25. Ba3 Rd8 26. Qb6 h6 27. Rc5 Bb5 28. Rfc1 Rfd7 29. h3 Rb8 30. Qxb8 Qxb8 31. Rc8+ Qxc8 32. Rxc8+ Kh7 33. Bb4 h5 34. h4 e5 35. Kh2 Kg6 36. Kg3 Bd3 37. Rc6 Rb7 38. Bc3 Bb5 39. Rc8 Kf7 40. f3 Bd7 41. Ra8 Bb5 42. Rc8 Rd7 43. Kf2 Rd1 44. Rc7+ Kg8 45. g4 Rf1+ 46. Kg2 e4 47. fxe4 hxg4 48. e5 Rf3 49. exf6 gxf6 50. Kg1 Bf1 51. Rc6 Kf7 52. e4 g3 53. e5 fxe5 54. Bxe5 Bh3 55. Rc1 a5 56. Kh1 a4 57. Bd4 a3 58. Rc2 Rb3 59. h5 Rb1+ 60. Bg1 Rb2 61. Rc7+ Ke6 62. Bd4 Rb1+ 63. Bg1 a2 0-1

In chess, during a world match, there are the "seconds." Those players who help the world champion to defend the title, or the challenger to defeat the champion. Can you guess who was Euwe's second for defending the world championship against Alekhine?
Yes, it was a rhetorical question, since clearly the subject of this review is: Fine.
So, can you imagine how brilliant must have been this young guy, that in just 7 years, passed from unknown in the chess world, to be a world class player?

 I find the brief biography quite excellent in enlightening Fine's competitive life, and the connections and battles he played against the other top players of the period. Clearly the top tournament one should read on is AVRO 1938.

 In that tournament just for a tie-break Keres became the official world champion challenger. Fine made the same score Keres did, and he could have been the challenger. But here is the tragic part, which continues to reflect on the lives of these players: Keres issued the challenge to Alekhine, but World War II begins, and obviously chess is forgotten, for a war which will obliterate million of young lives. What happens once the war ends, still change the course of Fine's chess destiny. A new tournament is organized in order to designate the world champion: The Hague-Moscow 1948, but Fine declines to participate... and Botvinnik's wins, beginning the Soviet Union Chess supremacy, until Fischer!
However, I don't want to spoil all the surprises from the brief biography.
The bulk of the book is made by the Career History and Collected games. This part is better than the brief biography in outlining Fine's chess life. The games are really high quality, and Fine, had world events been different, could have been a world champion, no doubt. From a brief look at many of his games I noticed that Fine was a universal player, who would open with 1.e4 or 1.d4, and have a great opening repertoire. This could be appealing to any kind of player who wants to learn an opening repertoire, from one of the best chess players in history.
The games are well annotated, and that is nice. Fine played against all the top players in the world, many times. This makes the collection of games particularly important, for the quality of the games played.
But I'd like to show you why Fine could have been considered a world champion. Watch how he chops Botvinnik in just 31 moves:
[Event "AVRO"] [Site "The Netherlands"] [Date "1938.11.06"] [EventDate "1938.11.06"] [Round "1"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Reuben Fine"] [Black "Mikhail Botvinnik"] [ECO "C17"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "61"] 1.e4 { Notes by Reuben Fine. *** Before this tournament I was known as a d4 player, hence my first move must have come as somewhat of a surprise to Botvinnik. } e6 {Botvinnik does not vary. Against e4 he almost invariably played the French, sometimes he tried the Sicilian.} 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.dxc5 {This is the prepared move. Unlike Euwe, I make it a rule not to anatlyze such lines too profoundly before the game because it is most essential to be able to meet whatever surprises come up over the board and not everything can be forseen.} Ne7 6.Nf3 Nbc6 7.Bd3 d4 {Accepts the complications. On 7...Bxc5 8.O-O, White's game is freer.} 8.a3 Ba5 9.b4 Nxb4 10.axb4 Bxb4 11.Bb5+ {Another possibility was O-O, but the move played was part of the prepared variation.} Nc6 {? The fatal error. Necessary was 11...Bd7} 12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.Ra4 Bxc3+ 14.Bd2 {Suddenly Black discovers that he is lost. The Bishop is hopelessly shut in, and it is only a question of time before White's superior development make itself felt.} f6 {Desperately trying to free the bishop.} 15.O-O O-O 16.Bxc3 dxc3 17.Qe1 a5 18.Qxc3 Ba6 19.Rfa1 Bb5 20.Rd4 {! Black was hoping for 20.Rxa5 which would bring some freedom to the Black pieces.} Qe7 21.Rd6 a4 {To tie the rook down.} 22.Qe3 {! Threatens to win a pawn, but not in an obvious way.} Ra7 23.Nd2 {! The point: the poor Bishop will be driven away.} a3 {The pawn goes anyhow.} 24.c4 Ba4 25.exf6 Qxf6 26.Rxa3 Re8 27.h3 {After this quiet move, Black might as well resign.} Raa8 28.Nf3 Qb2 29.Ne5 Qb1+ 30.Kh2 Qf5 31.Qg3 {Too many threats. Black can't guard the 7th rank.--Fine (Black does not have a single move, and Rf3 is threatened. A combination of a splendid strategic idea with tactical subtleties.--Botvinnik)} 1-0

Of course in the book there are many more games worth studying.
The book continues with Career results tables, and finish with appendices, and bibliography.
I love this book, and thanks to this author I learned to appreciate this great player. Nowadays he is unknown, forgotten, but he is the one who shaped the like of Fischer and many other champions. In fact Fischer played few games against him, in order to progress to the next level! We can find the games played by Fischer against Fine inside this wonderful book.
What I really appreciate is that in order to make this book a reality, fifty people around the globe have collaborated in finding games, consulting libraries, exchanging tons of letters, and I keep the final product of years of their work and passion in my palm!
I also love the paper on which this book is printed. Heavy paper, not white, slightly yellow, better for reading.
If a chess player wants to give quality over quantity to his own chess library, this is definitely a book one must have!

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