World class tournament in New York about to start

by André Schulz
5/4/2020 – Finally! After many years, New York can look forward to a world class tournament. Current world champion José Raúl Capablanca will take part, Emanuel Lasker, world champion from 1894 to 1921, and Alexander Alekhine who many consider to be Capablanca's next challenger. Plus eight of the world's best players. The tournament will be played in the Hotel Alamac in Manhattan, ChessBase will transmit the games live and will report regularly.

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1924: New York, New York

New York is a remarkable city. The metropolis on the east coast of the USA is set to overtake London as the largest city in the world – in terms of inhabitants. According to estimates about six million people live currently in New York, almost as many as in London and three times as many as in Berlin. The constant and fast growth of the city is a sign of the economic power and the growing influence and importance of the USA in the world.

The overwhelming impression the city leaves on most visitors is mainly caused by its many skyscrapers. Most of these skyscrapers are built in Manhattan, the business center of New York. Until 1890, the 87 meters high tower of Trinity Church was the highest building in the city but then the World Building on Park Row was erected, stretching 106 meters into the sky. In 1910 the architect Cass Gilbert designed the Woolworth Building and three years later, in 1913, the building at 233 Broadway was finished. Towering 241 meters into the sky it is currently the highest building in the world.

The Woolworth Building

But architects and business people want to go even higher. Frank Winfield Woolworth, owner of a chain of department stores, ordered the building that carries his name. It cost him about $13.5 million which Woolworth paid in cash (!).

The whole of the United States, New York in particular, is now, six years after the Great War, in a tremendous economic upswing. US President Calvin Coolidge, originally a lawyer, believes in economic laissez-faire and those who have good ideas about how to make a profit are not hindered by politics.

After the motorization of the country had been neglected for a long time, this has now changed due to the experiences of the war. Masses of commercial vehicles and private cars are built. Since 1914 the Ford company has been producing cars with prefabricated parts and this line of production has made cars much more affordable. The price for a single car dropped significantly, from over 800 to 350 dollars, but all vehicles are black. Ford simply does not make colorful cars.

Most of the cars run on gasoline which is obtained by refining oil though there also attempts to power the cars with steam, gas and electricity. But it is hard to imagine that gasoline that is so difficult to extract from the earth will last for a long time if more and more people buy cars.

Cars also need proper roads and in 1916 the first continuous road that links the east coast and the west coast was built: the Lincoln Highway.

The film industry is also one of the expanding industries in the USA. Until 1910 New York was the center of this new industry but then director and producer D.W. Griffith of Birth of a Nation fame shot several films outdoors on the West Coast near Los Angeles. By now almost the entire film industry has moved from New York to Hollywood, a village near Los Angeles.

The studios wanted to flee from the demands of the New York Motion Picture Patents Company and also claim that the climate and the light on the West Coast are much better suited for filming.

In Hollywood historical films, dramas and romances are made. Also popular are the so-called slapstick films, in which stars like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton perform breakneck stunts - without breaking their necks.

These film comedies are silent films but the industry works hard to find methods to bring sound and spoken words to the screen. But for now viewers have to be content with the music that usually accompanies the films.

A strange thing is the Prohibition. In the middle of the last decade, the temperance movement gained great influence in the USA, and under the pressure of this movement the US government in 1919 passed a law that prohibited the trade and consumption of alcohol in all states. However, there are great difficulties in enforcing this law and illegal "speakeasys" sprang to life everywhere. In New York alone there are said to be about 20,000 of them.

The strictness of the prohibition stands in strange contrast to the joie de vivre, which the young people of New York radiate and that expresses itself in wild dances such as the Charleston.

The so-called shimmy dance is also popular, but in some places it is forbidden because it is considered to be indecent.

With F. Scott Fitzgerald, New York has a young, very talented and famous author. His novel "This Side of Paradise" is an absolute bestseller. Three years ago Scott Fitzgerald married Zelda and the two of them and their excessive lifestyle do not fail to provide the gossip columns with lots of material. Currently there are rumours that the couple wants to move to Paris and that Fitzgerald is working on a novel about New York, featuring a decadent and mysterious millionaire.

Another successful artist who likes the spirit of New York is Karl Gustav Vollmöller. He was born in Stuttgart and has tried his hand in numerous fields. In the course of his career, the 46-year-old has worked as an archaeologist, philologist, writer, poet and playwright, screenwriter, translator, racing driver, aircraft designer, and film pioneer, entrepreneur and at times even as a politician. Vollmöller comes from a wealthy family, is a cosmopolitan and dandy.

Karl Gustav Vollmöller

He mostly stays in Berlin, where he works a lot with the renowned director and founder of the Salzburg Festival, Max Reinhardt. Vollmöller's play "The Miracle" premiered in London in 1911, was filmed in 1912, and has been shown in New York on Broadway every day since the beginning of the year in the Century Theatre. Usually, it is sold out. The play has no spoken text but a lot of music and dance. The music is by Engelbert Humperdinck.

Vollmöller is also an active cultural manager and agent for artists and recently he discovered a chorus girl on Broadway in the surprise hit "Shuffle along" whom he now wants to send to Berlin and Paris. Her name is Josephine Baker but though her performance might be remarkable chances are high that she might soon be forgotten again. However, the name of Karl Gustav Vollmöller will certainly be remembered for a long time.

Josephine Bakes dancing Charleston

Another great artist of the city is the pianist and composer George Gershwin. He is 26 years old and the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His real name is Gershowitz and on February 24th his work "Rhapsody in Blue" was performed in New York at Aolian Hall. The work combines modern jazz with concertante symphonic music. The audience was rapt and the performance was celebrated as a once-in-a-century event.

But Manhattan has not only skyscrapers to offer, it is also host to the legendary Manhattan Chess Club, founded in 1877. From 1908 until last year, the club was based at the Sherman Square Hotel but now resides in the Beacon Hotel. The most famous member of the prestigious club might be José Raúl Capablanca from Cuba and World Chess Champion since 1921, who joined the Manhattan in 1905, at the age of 17.

The current World Champion: José Raúl Capablanca

The Russian grandmaster Alexander Alekhine is one player who wants to challenge Capablanca for the World Championship. In 1923 Alekhine visited the USA and on New Year's Eve 1923/24 Herrmann Helms, chess player and columnist of the New York Times, Norbert Lederer of the Manhattan Chess Club, Harry Latz, the owner of the Alamac Hotel and Alexander Alekhine met to discuss the possibilities of a Alekhine vs Capablanca match for the World Championship.

Alexander Alekhine - will he be Capablanca's next challenger?

Though they came to the conclusion that it would be too difficult to raise the money necessary for such a match they had the idea to organize a world-class tournament instead. Such a tournament would cost about 10,000 dollars, a sum that could probably be raised with the help of the dignitaries of the Marshall Chess Club. After that, everything happened very quickly.

Harry Latz immediately offered 2500 dollars and the hospitality of his hotel for all participants and for the tournament. Richard Hirschfeld & Co. in Berlin helped to invite the players from Europe. The champions, including the 55-year-old former World Champion Emanuel Lasker, who for some time lived in the USA but now stays in Berlin, accepted quickly. Under the direction of the president of the Manhattan Chess Club, Herbert Limburg, a committee was formed that started to collected donations.

Within two months the tournament took shape and became reality.

Emanuel Lasker, World Champion from 1894 to 1921

The European champions - Efim Bogoljubow, Geza Marozcy, Richard Reti, Savielly Tartakower and Emanuel Lasker - met on February 28 in Hamburg to embark on the SS Cleveland. The English mates Frederick Yates boarded at Southampton. Alekhine was still in the USA, busy playing simuls.

In New York the European masters met the other participants of the tournament: Capablanca, Frank Marshall, Dawid Janowsky and Edward Lasker. An illustrious tournament field! Of the world's best players only Akiba Rubinstein and Aron Nimzowitsch are missing.

For a long time, however, people were worried about Capablanca, who had recently fallen ill with a flu. But now he is back on his feet and ready to play. But flu or not, at the blitz tournament that the champions played with the amateurs of the Manhattan Chess Club before the start of the main event Capablanca showed good form and won convincingly. However, Lasker, Alekhine and Marshall did not play in the blitz but preferred to save their energy for the long and demanding tournament.

The tournament will be played in the Japanese Hall of the Alamac Hotel, 71st Street and Broadway. A special feature of the tournament is the fact that the drawing of lots takes place only 15 minutes before each round to reduce the impact of the ever-increasing opening preparations of the masters.

First prize is 1500 dollars, the second receives 1000 dollars, the third 750 dollars. Fourth prize is still 500 dollars and the winner of the fifth prize gets 250 dollars. 300 invited guests attended the magnificent opening banquet at the Hotel Alamac. New York will experience a great chess tournament that will be talked about for decades to come.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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