Reuben Fine: Speed Demon

  • batgirl
  • | Jul 15, 2013

     Today, especially on the Internet, fast games are probably more the rule than the exception.  Most of the fast games played fall under the "Blitz" and "Bullet" or "Lightning" heading. Time clocks, particularly automatic ones such as chess servers use, allow for speed chess played at a specific time, such as 5 minutes, per game.  Before the Internet, before clocks became the more-or-less rugged instruments we use today, Rapid Transit, a different kind of speed chess was most popular among speed chess enthusiasts.  In Rapid Transit a player is allotted so much time, usually 10 seconds, per move and if he exceeds that time, even on the third move, he loses.  Since different positions require more thinking than others, Rapid Transit seems like, perhaps, the most difficult form of speed chess. 


     Reuben Fine, who gave up professional chess around 1951 to become a Freudian psychologist (he earned his PhD from USC in 1948), ending his amazing 20 year chess career, was possibly the greatest Rapid Transit player ever.

     I should add that Reuben Fine, for some quirky, intuitive reason, irks me and I doubt I would have liked him personally (although I've been wrong about such hunches before), but I can't deny or even downplay his phenomenal chess abilities.

     Fine cut his teeth on rapid transit in the weekly tournaments at the Marshall Club.  Soon he was the recognized club expert, although in 1934 Capablanca entered and won, leaving 20-year-old Fine, Reshesky and Hanauer tied for the next three positions (Fine had been playing master level chess since he was about 16). Since they had nearly a 30 year age difference, when Fine finally reached his peak, Capablanca had already passed his.

I'd like to examine just his speed chess successes.

     Reuben Fine was the US Speed Champion for 4 straight years, 1942 through 1945.  That's impressive enough but to add icing to the cake were his results:


     The U.S. Speed Chess Championship began in 1942 and attracted the best U.S. players of the day.



The following two games were played at the 1942 U.S. Speed Championship:




Reshevsky - Fine


The following four games were played at the 1943 U.S. Speed Championship:


     For winning the Championship 3 consecutive times, Fine took permanent possession of the Sturgis-Stephens Trophy.


The following two games were played at the 1944 U.S. Speed Championship:



     Fine won with 9 wins, 2 draws; Shainwit came in 2nd with 7 wins, 4 draws.

     Donald Byrne only scored 2 wins, 1 draw out of his 11 games.


The following game was played at the 1945 U.S. Speed Championship:



     Fine giving a 10 board blindfold simul.  For most this would be extraordinary, but for Fine a regular blindfold simul was almost too easy.

     Fine gave a blindfold rapid transit simul on September, 1945 at the conclusion of the USA-USSR Radio Match.  Fine played 4 boards at 10 sec./move.  His opponents could think until he reached their board, giving them essentialy time odds of 30 sec./move to his 10 secs./move.  Fine won all four games. The four games are given below.



Reuben Fine writing about Rapid Transit in the March 1945 issue of "Chess Review:"


     Reuben Fine effectively retired from competitive chess in 1951.  Time away from the pervasive chess scene took its toll.  According the William Harston's obituary of Reuben Fine in the Independent on April 1, 1993, "He came briefly out of obscurity in 1963 to play a series of speed games against Bobby Fischer, which he lost narrowly."
     Five of those games (mostly Fine's losses) are on, but in his book, "Bobby Fischer's Conquest of the World's Chess Championship,"   "My contacts with Bobby were rare and superficial. Once we met by accident in a chess club, and played some offhand games. To my surprise they were recorded by someone present, and Bobby even reprinted one in his book "My Sixty Memorable Games."  To record offhand games is unheard-of in modern times; the last one who did so, significantly, was Morphy."      Fine went on to say, "To the best of my memory the over-all score was slightly in his favor."


     According to the "NY Times," June 4, 1990 in an article by Robert McFadden called "Masters Mix Chess' Past and Fast Play," a group of masters gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
     The players included former members of the Manhattan Club and the Marshall Club faced off for 5 minunte blitz.  Of the Eight players on each side, the article singled out Pal Benko, Maxim Dlugy, Larry Christiansen and Arthur Bisquier who played for the Manhattan, and Michael Rohde, Andrew Soltis, Anatoly Lein and Reuben Fine who represented the Marshall.

     "Organizers of the match had expected the focus of the evening to fall on the 75-year-old Dr. Fine, who quit serious chess 39 years ago to pursue a career in psychology after becoming one of the world's top players in the 1930's and 40's.
     As it happened, however, Dr. Fine arrived late and missed the first round of play. Placed into the second round, he promptly lost his first game to Pal Benko.
     ''Oh, he blundered,'' someone whispered from behind the ropes.
   'There's Too Much Noise.'   Dr. Fine's eyebrows flared with annoyance as he folded the pieces together in the center of the board.
     ''I can't play under these conditions,'' he said. ''The lighting is bad. There's too much noise.'' Moments later, Dr. Fine, looking dejected, told the organizers he was withdrawing from the match. ''I'm not taking it too seriously,'' he said as he left.
     No one was supposed to take it very seriously, for even the best competitors are not necessarily expert at speed chess. But many top players have large and fragile egos, and while all the games ended with handshakes, a few losers mumbled cheerlessly -and one grandmaster was seen angrily hurling the pieces down on the board after a loss."

     For the record, out of the symbolic 64 games played, Manhattan scored 42 to Marshall's 22.


  • 12 months ago


    Thanks Pawnslinger1, I'll look into it.

  • 12 months ago


    Casey Bush wrote an excellent book on Dake. It's hard to get these days bunt wonderful if Dake interests you.

  • 12 months ago


    Up until 1933 Capa won every speed chess tournament he played in. In the 1940s Fine was by far the leading rapid transit player. In the 1930s there were several strong and active speed players including Dake of course, Reshevshy, Horowitz and Kashdan.  I can't find any crosstable for 1935.  Do you have it?

    Dake more or less retired from chess after the US Championship in 1938 (I think he came in 6th, at any rate he didn't win) but once in a while would take part in a tournament. Then after almost a 3 decade absence, he just  showed up at Lone Pine in 1975 and actually didn't do too bad.  He had remarkable talent.

  • 12 months ago


    Fine was the best American fast player of the 1940s, but probably not of the 1930s, when he had his best international results. That was apparently Arthur Dake, who crushed Fine and the rest of America's top masters 12-0 in a September 1935 speed tournament. Dake was forced to give up competitive chess for economic reasons shortly afterward. 

  • 12 months ago


    Fine was the best American fast player of the 1940s, but probably not of the 1930s, when he had his best international results. That was apparently Arthur Dake, who crushed Fine and the rest of America's top masters 12-0 in a September 1935 speed tournament. Dake was forced to give up competitive chess for economic reasons shortly afterward. 

  • 18 months ago


    Great article. Thanks for the link given to this article in your Post / comment to this week's (2015 May) Speed chess article which enabled me to discover batgirl as a great chess history buff and contributor of many fine articles on chess history!

  • 20 months ago


    Thanks Batgirl (may i call u "Barbara"?).  Reuben was a great player & one of my fav authors.  Interesting story of him & the young Bobby Fischer too.

  • 3 years ago


    Didn't Fine himself say that neither he, nor anyone could touch Capablanca at speed chess, he was vitually unbeatable?  I seem to remember reading that somewhere.  

  • 3 years ago


    No, from books, magazines and newspapers mostly.

  • 3 years ago


    Great article! Thanks.Do you get most of your historical material from specific internet sites? If so,can you divulge these sites?

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks everyone who commented (including IM Silman, [nearly] everyone's favorite chess author). 

    Thanks especially Pawnslinger1 for bringing my attention to Dr. Brady monumental work on Fischer (which every chess player should buy and read)

    I'll quote a brief passage on Dr. Brady's take on the Fischer-Fine relation:

         Regina arranged for Dr. Fine to telephone Bobby and invite him to his home just for an evening of chess. Bobby was well aware of Fine’s chess reputation, having played over his games; he also owned and had read several of his chess books. Bobby was suspicious, however. He didn’t want psychological probing. Fine assured him that he just wanted to play a few games with him.

    ...With Bobby, Fine wanted to first gain the boy’s trust and respect by playing chess, and then begin classical Freudian analysis, in tandem with the group process.

       So that Bobby wouldn’t think he was being psychoanalyzed, Fine avoided bringing the boy into his analysis room at first, instead inviting him to the home wing of the apartment. Bobby met Fine’s wife Marcia
    and their children, and then he and Fine played speed chess for an hour
    or two. The psychoanalyst was then one of the fastest players in the
    country, perhaps even stronger than Bobby had anticipated. Fine would
    later write that Bobby “was not yet strong opposition. My family
    remembers how furious he was after each encounter, muttering that I
    was ‘lucky.’ ”
       After about six weekly sessions of chess, at the point when Fine
    believed Bobby had bonded with him, the psychoanalyst nonchalantly
    started a conversation about what Bobby was doing in school. Bobby
    was on his feet in seconds, recognizing that he’d been duped. “You’ve
    tricked me,” he blurted out, and stalked out of the apartment, never to
    go back. Fine later remarked that whenever the two saw each other
    after that, at a chess club or a tournament, Bobby would give him an
    after that, at a chess club or a tournament, Bobby would give him an
    angry look “as though I had done him some immeasurable harm by
    trying to get a little closer to him.”

  • 3 years ago


    Wonderful article. Thank you for writing it. I will add one thing. Fine was misleading in his account of his meetings with Fischer. According to Frank Brady in "Endgame" Fischer and Fine met several times with Fine's ultimate goal being to psychoanalyze Bobby.  (Fischer's mother  arranged the meetings)He used chess as an attempt to break the ice. When Fischer realized what was going on he flew into a rage and left. They were never on good terms again and Fine said that Fischer would always give him a dirty look when they met

    Offhand game or not, the Fischer vs. Fine Evan's Gambit is a fine game and worthy of inclusion in the book.  There is a note at the critical juncture that includes a queen sac that is worth the price of admission.

    I think that if you make allowances for their different opening choices Fischer and Fine had very similar styles. 

    1. Positionally sound

    2. Tactially sharp

    3. Very clear and logical. "Simple Chess" if you will

    4. Very fast players.

    Note: my original comment had some serious inaccuracies which I have corrected on edit. I apologize. 

    Very enjoyable article.

  • 3 years ago


             Always great batgirl!

  • 3 years ago


    "Fortunately grandmaster Reuben Fine's proper chess books are less phallocentric and, probably as a consequence, less ridiculous." 
                                                                                   -Nigel Short, The Telegraph 9-12-2004

    In 1956 Fine published an article entitled, "Psychoanalytic Observations on Chess and Chess Masters" in the professional journal "Psychoanalysis" which, in turn,  was later published in booklet form in 1967 under the title, "The Psychology of the Chess Player."  One of the players Fine discussed and analyzed was Paul Morphy.

    That article alond with some corrspondence with Freud's protegee, Ernest Jones, can be read


    In 1956 Fine also published  a short article called "The Psychology of the Chess Player."  The text to that article is below:

         Chess is a contest between two men in which there is considerable ego-involvement. In some way it certainly touches upon the conflicts surrounding aggression, homosexuality, masturbation and narcissism which become particularly prominent in the anal-phallic phases of development. From the standpoint of id psychology, Jones' observations can therefore be confirmed, even enlarged upon. Genetically, chess is more often than not taught to the boy by his father, or a father-substitute, and thus becomes a means of working out the son-father rivalry.

         The symbolism of chess lends itself to this rivalry in a most unusual way. Central to it is the figure of the King. [In chess literature it is customary to capitalize the names of the pieces, and I shall adhere to this practice.] The King occupies a crucial role in the game in all respects. It is the piece which gives the game its name; for, chess is derived from the Persian shah meaning King, and is more or less the same in all languages. In fact, the three universal words in chess are chess, check, and King, all of which derive from shah. All other pieces have varying designations in different languages. Thus, Queen in Russian is Fyerz, which has nothing to do with woman; Bishop is Fou or jester in French, Laufer or runner in German.

         Except for the King chess is a simple logical construction on the board. There is one piece which moves along diagonals (the Bishop), one which moves along ranks and files (the Rook), one piece which moves only forward (the Pawn), and when it can no longer move forward turns into another piece which allows it mobility (promotion), one piece which moves any number of squares in any straight-line direction (the Queen), one piece which moves one square in any direction (the King), and a piece which combines the vertical-diagonal movement L-with the power to jump over other pieces (the Knight). It would be possible to devise new pieces, or to divide their powers, and this has been done from time to time; for example, a piece combining the movement of Knight and Queen has been suggested. Or one could have two kinds of Rooks, similar to the two kinds of Bishops, one that moves along ranks, and another that moves along files. All of these alterations would be direct extensions of the rules we now have; they would not alter the basic character of the game.

         Board games essentially consist of placing the pieces on a board in such a way that one can capture the enemy's men, as in checkers, or get one's men to a predetermined position, as in chinese checkers. Once this is accomplished the game is won. Here the unique feature of chess comes in: the goal is to checkmate the King. A completely new set of rules is drawn up, governing the manner in which this checkmate may or may not be effected, and these rules are the ones that give chess its distinctive cast. Of course, the capture of the enemy's men is still there, but unlike other games one can capture almost all the enemy's men and still lose.

         The King is thus indispensable and all-important. It is also irreplaceable. Theoretically it is possible to have nine Queens, ten Rooks, ten Knights or ten Bishops, as a result of Pawn promotion, but only one King.

         All these qualities of indispensability, all-importance and irreplaceability make one think of the supreme rulers of the Orient. Here, however, enters a vital difference: the King as a piece is weak. Its powers are greatly limited. Approximate equivalents can be set up for the other pieces; for example, three Pawns are worth a piece, two pieces are worth a Rook and a Pawn, etc. Because of the nature of the King it has no real equivalents. Roughly, however, the King is a little stronger than a Pawn, but not as strong as any of the pieces. As a result the King must hide (castling) during most of the game. He can sally forth only when many exchanges have take place, particularly when the Queens are gone. Despite the fact that he is all-important, the other pieces have to protect him not he the others.

         As far as I have been able to ascertain, no other board game has a piece which so radically alters its entire nature. In checkers, for example, the King is simply an extension of the powers of the men, and can be captured just like the others. It is the King which makes chess literally unique.  Consequently, the King becomes the central figure in the symbolism of the game. To recapitulate briefly: the King is indispensable, all-important, irreplaceable, yet weak and requiring protection. These qualities lead to the over-determination of its symbolic meaning. First of all, it stands for the boy's penis in the phallic stage, and hence re-arouses the castration anxiety characteristic of that period. Second, it describes certain essential characteristics of a self-image, and hence would appeal to those men who have a picture of themselves as indispensable, all-important and irreplaceable. In this way it affords an additional opportunity for the player to work out conflicts centering around narcissism. Third, it is the father pulled down to the boy's size. Unconsciously it gives the boy a chance to say to the father: To the outside world you maybe big and strong, but when we get right down to it you're just as weak as I am and you need protection just as much as I do.

         Games inherently involve a leveling-off process; on the track, on the baseball diamond, on the chessboard all men are equal. In chess, however, there is an additional factor which differentiates it from other games: there is a piece which is different in value from all the others and around which the game revolves. The existence of the King allows an identification process which goes far beyond that permitted in other games. [Dr. Theodor Reik has pointed out that the rules surrounding the chess King are strikingly similar to many of the special taboos surrounding primitive chieftains.

         In this way chess allows for a strong assertion of game individuality. Rook, Bishop, Knight and Pawn also frequently symbolize the penis. In addition they may have other meanings. To one player the Bishop was libidinized as a superego figure-the name was taken literally. The Knight may symbolize a horse, which it is also sometimes called.The Pawns symbolize children, particularly little boys. They can grow up (promote) when they reach the eighth rank, but it is again significant that they may not become "King." Symbolically, this restriction on Pawn promotion means that the destructive aspect of the rivalry with the father is emphasized, while the constructive side, which would allow the boy to become like the father, is discouraged. We would, therefore, anticipate on the one hand a very critical attitude towards authority in the chess player, and on the other an inability or unwillingness to follow in the same direction as his father [It has been my observation that very few chess experts have sons who are also strong chess players; unconsciously the father does not permit the identification to take place.]

         The contrast between the mighty King and the lowly Pawn again comes to symbolize the ambivalence inherent in the chess player's self-image, an ambivalence which is also apparent in the figure of the King himself.The Queen will, as might be expected, stand for the woman, or the mother-figure. It was not until the introduction of chess into Europe in the thirteenth century that the Queen became the powerful figure she is today. This is evidently a direct reflection of the differing attitudes towards women in east and west. Jones comments that psychoanalysts will not be surprised to learn that in the attack on the King (father), the most powerful support is provided by the Queen.

         Put together, the chess board as a whole may readily symbolize the family situation. This would explain the fascination of the game. Lost in thought, the player can work out in fantasy what he has never been able to do in reality.

         If we turn now to the ego of the chess player, we note to begin with that he uses primarily intellectual defenses. In chess, thought replaces action. As contrasted with other sports such as boxing, there is no physical contact whatsoever. There is not even the intermediate form of contact found in tennis or handball, in which both men hit the same object. The chess player is permitted to touch his opponent's pieces only for purposes of a capture, when, according to the rules, the piece must be removed from the board. As the players become more expert, the taboo on touching becomes even stronger. In master chess the rule of "touch-move" is observed. If a player touches a piece he must move it. If he touches it by accident he must say "j'adoube", which means "I adjust" in French. Those who play by the rules are required to say this in French.

         In one form of the game, known as correspondence chess, the distance between the two men is carried even further, in that the opponents never see one another. Tle entire game is played by mail. Here it is permissible to touch the pieces, but of course the players never meet.In view of the profuse phallic symbolism of the game, the taboo on touching has unconsciously two meanings, or, put another way, the ego wards off two threats. One is masturbation (do not touch your penis; do not touch your pieces, and if you do, have an excuse ready). The other threat is homosexuality, or bodily contact between the two men, especially mutual masturbation.


  • 3 years ago


    How nice to get a comment for Jermy Silman! Awesome!

    Nice article BG

  • 3 years ago


    @beerpatzer I don't think he would say something so idiotic and moronic. Having a penis has nothing to do with how well you succeed in chess. If you transformed Carlsen into a eunuch, I'm sure it wouldn't affect his chess playing abilities.

  • 3 years ago


    the first game is great,thanks for the article batgirl

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    Another great article from Batgirl.

  • 3 years ago


    "My interest is the history of and the culture surrounding chess. I am not here to play chess."

    In my opinion this is indeed the most interesting aspect of chess--the history of it. I also enjoy playing chess a lot, but I think as time goes on I'll play much less and yet still continue enjoying learning about the history of chess. Chess history makes chess the best game in the world in my opinion.

  • 3 years ago


    Thank you Batgirl. This is a fantastic article. I'm sure you put a lot of time into it.

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