When Szmul Rzeszewski (1911-1992) was five years old, his father showed him how to play chess. Three years later, the boy was a recognized child prodigy who gained acclaim giving simultaneous chess exhibitions against multiple opponents. That same year, his family moved from Poland to America.

Young Sammy began touring the county playing exhibition games in places such as West Point Military Academy, Hollywood (playing against Charlie Chaplain) and even Washington, D.C. In November 1922, however, the grand tour came to an end when a late-night exhibition drew the attention of child welfare authorities, who were not at all pleased that Reshevsky (as he later Americanized his name) was not attending school. Julius Rosenwald, co-owner of Sears, agreed to be his benefactor if Reshevsky agreed to complete his education. Reshevsky went on to graduate from the University of Chicago School of Business with a degree in accounting, the profession by which he would later support himself and his family while still competing in chess.

When Reshevsky returned to competitive chess, he immediately began placing in the top tier of international chess players. In 1936, he won the U.S. Chess Championship, which he also did in ‘38, ‘40, ‘41, ‘42, ‘46 and ‘69 (and tied in ‘72!). In 1948, Reshevsky was one of five hand-picked competitors to replace the late World Champion, Alexander Alekhine. Although he did not win, it was a special distinction to even compete for the title. Reshevsky never succeeded in attaining an international title, but was continually recognized as one of the world’s most talented players.

In the history of chess there have been many outstanding Jewish players (including his later great rival, Bobby Fischer). Reshevsky, however, was unique. Devout in his observance, Reshevsky never once competed on Shabbat.

Samuel Reshevsky, who was also known for his chess writing (column and books) competed far later than many other chess grandmasters. His last competition was in 1988, four years before he passed away at age 80.

Today, July 20th, is International Chess Day.

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