Arnold Denker, 1914–2005
Arnold Sheldon Denker, the "Dean of American Chess" and United States chess
champion from 1944 to 1946, died on Jan. 2, 2005 at his home in Fort Lauderdale
after a brief struggle with brain cancer. He was 90 years old.
More than half a century between the pictures
Arnold Denker was born in 1914 in New York City and graduated from New York
University. His playing career spanned nearly three quarters of a century from
1929 to 2002. Denker was renowned not only for tournament successes but also
for a tempestuous attacking style filled with risky sacrifices and slashing
assaults on the opponent’s king (he was also a prize boxer). Al Horowitz, a
former New York Times chess columnist, wrote of GM Denker’s play, "The attack
is both his strength and his weakness. He can handle an attack with a fertility
of ideas and a richness of imagination that are rare. Yet frequently he tries
to attack where defense is necessary or where the position does not warrant
aggressive tactics." To which GM Denker responded with his famed feistiness,
"I still like to attack. If this be treason, then make the most of it!"
Denker awarding a medal to the world's top woman player Susan Polgar
He first attracted attention by winning the New York City individual interscholastic
championship in 1929 at age 15; he considered those games some of his finest.
In 1940 he won the first of six championships of the Manhattan Chess Club,
which was then regarded as the strongest aggregation of chess players in the
world. He faced one of the strongest arrays of world-class players the U.S.
has ever produced: Reshevsky, Fine, Kashdan, Horowitz, Dake, and others who
were making America the top nation in the early Olympiads.
...and getting a medal himself
Denker set a world record by playing 100 opponents in 7.33 hours, beating
Capablanca’s record by one hour. During WW II, Denker gave simultaneous exhibitions
at military bases and even aboard aircraft carriers. He was also invited by
the US government to help crack enemy codes because of his chess prowess.
GMs Arnold Denker and Susan Polgar
In 1944 GM Denker won the U. S. Championship with the score of 15½:1½ (14
wins, 0 losses and 3 draws), a result of 91%, that is surpassed in U.S. title
history only by Bobby Fischer’s clean slate of 11-0 in the 1963-64 championship
tournament. In 1946 GM Denker successfully defended his title in a 10-game
"East vs. West" challenge against Herman Steiner of Los Angeles, scoring 6-4.
Group photo with Susan Polgar and ex world champion Anatoly Karpov
Business commitments prevented GM Denker from participating often in international
tournaments, and he never mounted a challenge for the world championship. However,
his tie for 10th – 12th at Groningen 1946, the first great tournament following
WW II, placed him in the elite two dozen of world chess. In tournament and
exhibition play, he drew with at least five world champions, including Bobby
Arnold (left) in his favourite role, as a mentor to budding young chess
Grandmaster Arnold Denker represented the United Sates in numerous international
competitions. He was a mentor of the World Chess Champion, Bobby Fischer. He
served as President of the North American Zone of the World Chess Federation
Internationale des Echecs (FIDE). Denker was on the Board of the American Chess
Foundation, the United States Chess Federation and the US Chess Trust. In 1992,
GM Denker was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.
Arthur Bisguier (76), Susan Polgar and Arnold Denker
Denker received virtually every honorary award the chess world had to offer.
He was designated a charter lifetime honorary member of the Board of Directors
of the Florida Chess Association. In 1999, he was only one of two Americans
whose names were entered into the World Chess Federation’s Gold Book at their
75th Anniversary celebrations in Paris, France. At a special awards banquet
held in Boca Raton, Florida on June 11, 2004, Denker received America’s highest
chess honor when he became only the third person to ever be proclaimed " Dean
of American Chess" of the United States Chess Federation.
With close friend and associate Barbara DeMaro, managing director of the
US Chess Trust (of which Denker was a member) and Susan Polgar
After retiring to Florida, Denker gave unstintingly of his time to teach chess
to young children. He helped create programs to bring chess into the school
curriculum. The children who played chess were found to perform better in all
academic areas. Teaching chess and passing the game to the next generation
was his great passion. Grandmaster Denker took special pride in first starting
(1984) and then sponsoring the national championship of high school state champions,
known affectionately as "The Denker". Each year college scholarships are awarded
to the top participants. Among his many other accomplishments are his books,
"If You Must Play Chess" and "The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories".
Arnold Denker married the former Nina Simmons in 1936 and was married for
57 years until her death in 1993. Survivors include his daughter, Randie, of
Tallahassee, Florida; and two sons Mitchell of Belleview, Florida, and Richard
of New York City, as well as his grandchildren Jana, Gaea and Dylan.
Arnold with his companion during the last two years of his life
The above information was provided by Richard Denker
Photos supplied by Paul Truong