certainly, has American chess had a backer as able, enthusiastic and solvent as
Maurice Kasper. The 12 masters who are meeting this week at the Manhattan Chess
Club to try to win the national chess championship of the United States away
from 15-year-old Bobby Fischer are a heady, temperamental, far-scattered and
generally impecunious group of wizards; it takes almost as much skill to get
them all in one place at one time as it does to corner their queens. Most of
them are filled with such obscure personal torments and such unpredictable
hostilities toward officials, spectators and each other that businessmen
generally find them baffling. Not Mr. Kasper.
himself played chess as a boy in Brunswick, Germany, where he was born 58 years
ago, then virtually forgot the game for the next 40 years. Building up Central
Knitware occupied all his energy, except for furtive efforts to get his golf
score at Fresh Meadows down to the low 90s. Then in 1945 Russia and the United
States played a radio chess match that turned into an American debacle. Kasper
happened to stop in at the Henry Hudson Hotel, where the moves were being
duplicated on big boards on the wall. "One look at the boards I took,"
he says, "and I said, 'What is this? It can't be that bad!'
"So I went
uptown and joined the Manhattan Chess Club," he said, an occasion which
made the oldtimers feel that Santa Claus had applied for membership. "I
played all those fellows—Reshevsky, Larry Evans—they all wiped up the floor
president, Kasper was astonished to find so many prominent New Yorkers
interested in chess. "Doctors!" he says. "I never found myself
surrounded by so many distinguished medical men. We have 50 to 60 doctors who
are members. Instead of keeping office hours, they keep chess club
attempt to put U.S. chess on a sound footing was made in concert with two other
New York financiers. The three reasoned that Champion Sammy Reshevsky's work as
an accountant kept him from playing up to his best, and started to set up a
trust fund to provide him with a small income during his life. One of the
trio—not Kasper—found a bargain in an Amsterdam Avenue apartment house, and
persuaded the others to put their money in that, Reshevsky to get the income.
However, one of the trio ran into business reverse— "reverses very
serious," as Kasper says, "since he went broke"—and the apartment
house was seized to pay his debts, leaving Sammy just where he started.
With the late
banker Maurice Wertheim and a few other chess enthusiasts, Kasper organized the
United States Chess Foundation, which has financed the recent American-Russian
matches and is currently trying to popularize chess in schools, industrial
leagues and the armed forces. He says, "The Russians use chess as a
weehickle to show their superiority intellectually. But we have the best chess
players in the world right here in the United States."
Tournament, started six years ago, was Kasper's attempt to create an annual
event that would pit these potential world-beaters against each other.
Unfortunately, not more than two or three top-ranking masters could ever be
brought together at the same time, and as a rule Manhattan Chess Club members
have made up most of the entries, the bulk of the audience and all the winners.
Last year, when the United States Chess Federation, governing body of American
chess, could not hold its tournament for financial reasons, it declared the
winner of the Rosenwald should be national champion, the basis of Fischer's
This year, in
addition to Fischer and Reshevsky, the entries include William Lombardy, the
world junior champion, who could beat the Russian champion Botvinnik, in
Kasper's opinion; also, Pal Benko, the former Hungarian champion, now a refugee
draftsman; also, Larry Evans and Arthur Bisguire, the former American
champions; also, Robert and Donald Byrne. Kasper has followed the career of the
Byrne brothers since he first heard of them years ago as two Brooklyn orphans
with a genius for chess. He helped them along—"and they're not Jewish
fellows either!" he says—as they won scholarships to Yale and began
teaching school. Now he says they would be among the world's most famous
players if their work as college professors gave them time enough to play
The Race to the
Yotham Muleya is
a quiet-voiced 19-year-old Rhodesian Negro who loves to run. He doesn't get
much competition to train against, though, because he is a member of that
branch of the human race that white Africans contemptuously refer to as
"kaffirs." Running barefooted, Muleya set an unofficial Rhodesian
record this year for the three-mile run: 14:59.7. It wasn't very good time (the
world record is 13:10.8), but it was Rhodesia's best, and recently it led the
organizers of a special track meet to invite Muleya to compete against a
distinguished visitor: Gordon Pirie of Great Britain. The Southern Rhodesian
Amateur Athletic and Cycling Union, however, refused to let him run. "We do
not count kaffirs' performances," said William Du Bois, chairman.