By Edward Winter
The cutting below comes from the front page of the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde of 13 November 1988:
It is a good photograph but, contrary to the claim in the caption, it shows not Capablanca but Reshevsky. Another picture of the latter, similarly attired, was presented by Richard Benjamin (Marietta, GA, USA) in C.N. 4212:
A picture of Capablanca is given below, from page 22 of an edition of his Ultimas Lecciones published in Havana in 1962:
In C.N. 6048 Christopher Lenard (Bendigo, Victoria, Australia) raised certain points regarding chess prodigies, a subject which has received surprisingly little treatment in chess literature. We commented that, for an historical sweep, only two books come to mind – Great Games by Chess Prodigies by Fred Reinfeld (New York, 1967) and Los niños prodigio del ajedrez by Pablo Morán (Barcelona, 1973) – but neither adopted a scientific or academic approach. What is required is a volume dealing in depth with the biographical, psychological and social aspects of prodigies, perhaps along the same lines as Blindfold Chess by Eliot Hearst and John Knott (Jefferson, 2009).
The great prodigies (such as, from yesteryear, Morphy, Capablanca, Reshevsky and Pomar) certainly merit far more detailed coverage than they have received so far, but a little attention might also be paid to those forgotten youngsters who enjoyed a thin slice of limelight, however fleetingly and, in some cases, however unjustifiably. From our lengthy Chess Prodigies article, which goes up to about 1950, a number of shadowy juveniles are listed below. More information on them will be welcome.
Born circa 1882, Jacob Billikopf was featured on page 335 of the November 1897 American Chess Magazine, which praised him highly. As reported on page 130 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves, he was described as ‘an apt and brilliant player, who bids fair to develop into a phenomenal chessplayer’ and who might ‘some day rival his fellow-countryman Chigorin’. No games or results were supplied by the American Chess Magazine.
From page 453 of the November 1934 BCM:
‘Yugoslavia. A new infant chess prodigy has been discovered at Belgrade, Molorad Božić, the six-year-old son of an innkeeper in that city. Though he is already known as “little Alekhine”, it is perhaps best to await developments. Not all Samuel Rechevskis make good as he has done.’
From the American Chess Bulletin, May-June 1927, page 111:
‘In the diminutive person of Cedric Dawson of Lyndhurst, NJ another chess prodigy, 14 years of age, is coming to the front. At any rate, he has been making a distinct impression upon the chess circles of that state and created quite a sensation when, as one of 13 opponents, he was the only one to win a game from Charles Jaffe in a simultaneous exhibition arranged by the Passaic Chess Club at the YMCA of that place on 17 May. A drawn game was scored by Dr William H. Preuss, who, as “Rookookoo”, is conducting a very lively chess department in the Saturday issue of the Passaic Daily News.’
Eichholz, Elliot Franklin
A problem (mate in two) composed by Elliot Franklin Eichholz at the age of five was published on page 132 of the May-June 1917 American Chess Bulletin. It was given in C.N. 2184 (see page 234 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves) and is reproduced below:
Page 356 of the November 1885 Deutsche Schachzeitung gave a game Max Elsner won against his mother in Klein Wanzleben on 13 November 1885 when he was six and three-quarters, although, in an unresolved discrepancy, the magazine also stated that he was born on 10 February 1871. See pages 129-130 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves.
Dolo Falk from Stanisławów was born on 17 January 1898. Some information from Tomasz Lissowski (Warsaw) was given in C.N. 4623.
Fleischman, Simon and Blanca
Pages 52-53 of Chess Explorations quoted from La Estrategia Mexicana, October 1876 a reference to ‘Miss Blanca Fleischmann [sic], the celebrated and distinguished girl from Buffalo in the United States’, a problemist and player. As noted in C.N. 3402, the chess column by Sam Loyd in Scientific American Supplement, 19 January 1878 (page 1708) gave a problem by Simon Fleischman and reported that both he and his sister had ‘developed a remarkable aptitude for chess and have published many excellent problems’.
Griffith, William H.
Born on 18 January 1927, a prodigy from Memphis who was able to set up the 32 chess pieces correctly at the age of two and a half, according to a report in the Commercial Appeal of 9 March 1930 which was reproduced on page 84 of the April 1930 American Chess Bulletin. See pages 130-131 of Chess Explorations.
As a 12-year-old he drew against Janowsky in a simultaneous exhibition in Paris (BCM, March 1894, page 89). As mentioned on page 130 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves, it remains to be established whether he was the same player who drew against Emanuel Lasker in Paris in 1909.
Johnson, Craig Adams
Page 35 of the American Chess Bulletin, February 1919 stated that at the age of six Craig Adams Johnson of Utica drew his game against Frank Marshall in a simultaneous exhibition.
Born in Manchester on 30 October 1902. A biographical note and game were given on pages 119-120 of the March 1912 BCM. See page 54 of Chess Explorations.
La Stratégie, 15 August 1885 (page 247) reported that Iberie Mikeladze was an eight-year-old prodigy, the son of Prince Mikeladze. A game of his against Bakradze in Kutais, 1886 was given. See page 76 of A Chess Omnibus.
In its report on the Hastings, 1930-31 congress, pages 63-64 of the February 1931 BCM stated that ‘S. Nadel, the 16-year-old boy from Berlin, gave a simultaneous blindfold display against eight players. Most of the games had to be adjudicated, the final figures being: 2 wins, 4 draws and 2 losses. The players who scored wins against him were Mrs Wheelwright and D.A. Breach.’ Page 60 of the same issue recorded that Nadel had finished last in the Major A tournament in Hastings, but: ‘He is only 16 years of age and has been playing chess for only two years. To be a blindfold exponent on such short experience is really remarkable.’
Page 171 of the American Chess Bulletin, September-October 1921 reported that Celia Neimark, aged seven, had defeated the Ohio State Champion, Irving Spero. The score was reproduced on pages 79-80 of A Chess Omnibus. The photograph of her below in Cleveland (with an inverted board) was published on page 206 of the December 1921 issue of the Bulletin:
C.N. 3818 asked for information about a youngster referred to by Nikolai Grekov in his reminiscences quoted (from where?) by J. du Mont on pages 14-16 of Capablanca’s Hundred Best Games by H. Golombek (London, 1947):
‘The following curious episode took place during the 1936 Moscow tournament. In the interval a 13-year-old schoolboy, Pavel Pomoschnikov, approached Capablanca and in fluent French challenged the ex-champion to a game. Not wanting to distress the boy, Capablanca consented. Having lost three games in succession, Pavel Pomoschnikov demanded a handicap of a queen. Capablanca replied that a queen was too much. The boy then solemnly declared that in ten years he would play against Capablanca as an equal and with better success. The Cuban champion advised the young champion to prepare well for the coming match and presented him with an autographed copy of his book on chess.’
A six-and-a-half-year-old prodigy from Philadelphia, according to a report on page 275 of the August 1916 BCM, taken from L’Eco degli Scacchi. See page 54 of Chess Explorations.
Born in Minsk on 23 December 1892 and emigrated to the USA circa 1897. An account of his chess play from the St Louis Globe-Democrat was published on pages 15-16 of the November-December 1906 issue of Lasker’s Chess Magazine. He was active in the San Antonio Chess Club in Texas.
A prodigy solver from Plymouth, England who was discussed on page 142 of the March 1902 BCM. See page 54 of Chess Explorations.
An account was published on page 177 of La Stratégie, 15 June 1895. See C.N. 3145, which is available on-line in Memory Feats of Chess Masters.
Viesca, Andrés Ludovico
Andrés Ludovico Viesca was a Mexican prodigy born in Parras de la Fuente on 8 April 1869. A win against José Martí was published in El Fígaro of 8 October 1893. See pages 52-53 of Chess Explorations.
At the age of 14 David Wahrburg of Stuyvesant High School drew against Capablanca in a simultaneous display at the Manhattan Chess Club, as reported on page 42 of the March 1922 American Chess Bulletin.
White, Robert C.
According to pages 73-75 of the April 1917 American Chess Bulletin, at the age of 12 Robert C. White held Frank Marshall to a draw in a 144-board simultaneous exhibition in Buffalo on 8 March 1917. See page 130 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves.
Woolf, George William
Born in South Hackney, London on 22 October 1893, and the subject of a feature, including a game, on pages 414-415 of the October 1901 BCM. See page 53 of Chess Explorations.
George William Woolf
Further information on prodigies (including the youngest subject of a chess book and the youngest chess author) can be found by using our Factfinder. There are also these feature articles:
Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, about 6,170 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).
Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.