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Max Judd’s unlikely journey from Krakow to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame

March 19, 2019

For a prime example of how immigrants have enriched the American chess scene, look no further than the remarkable career of one Maximilian Judkiewicz, one of three inductees into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame this week.

Emigrating from his native Poland to the United States in 1862, the re-christened “Max Judd” would go on to become not just a successful businessman and diplomat but also one of the best American players of the post-Morphy era. Judd was also an organizer of some of the era’s biggest tournaments and founder of the St. Louis Chess, Checker and Whist Club, a host of the 1886 Steinitz-Zukertort world title match.

(We try to keep this space a politics-free zone, but it has to be admitted that immigrants have played a major role in the history and rising reputation of the American game, from 19th century stars like Judd and James Mason [Ireland] to 20th century greats such as Sammy Reshevsky [Poland] and Pal Benko [Hungary], to modern masters such as GMs Wesley So [Philippines] and Irina Krush [Ukraine]. Just saying...)

Judd acquitted himself well against some of the best players of the day, narrowly losing a U.S. title match to George Henry Mackenzie (an emigre from Scotland) in 1881 and defeating U.S. titleholder Jackson Showalter (7-3-0) in an apparently nontitle match nine years later. (Showalter would prevail in a title match two years later.) Judd also used his considerable fortune to help underwrite tournaments and assist players in need before his untimely death at the age of 54 in 1906.

A fine sample of the new inductee’s play was his relentless attacking win over fellow master James Hanham at the New York Chess Club in 1886. It’s a modern handling of the Classical French, where Judd ruthlessly exploits Black’s ill-advised weakening of his kingside.

Having won the opening, White wastes no time winning the middlegame as well: 13. Rc1 Rc8 14. Ng5 Bxg5?! (something has badly gone wrong if Black is giving up this bishop in this opening, but White also gets good pressure after 14...cxd4 15. cxd4 Nb4 16. Rxc8 Qxc8 17. Bb1 Qc4 18. f5!) 15. fxg5 b5 16. Nh5!, when 16...gxh5?? loses instantly to 17. Bxh7+! Kxh7 18. Qxh5+ Kg8 19. Rf3 Qe7 20. Rh3 f5 21. gxf6 Nxf6 22. Rg3+ and wins.

With 18. Rxc6!, Judd eliminates Black’s best defender, and Hanham has no answer to the White kingside blitzkrieg: 19. Nf6+ Kg7 (Nxf6 20. gxf6 Rc7 21. Qg4 Ra8 22. Qh4 Qb8 23. Rf3 h5 24. Rg3 Kf8 25. Bxg6! fxg6 26. Rxg6 Rh7 27. Qg5 and wins) 20. Qe1! Rh8 21. Qh4 Kf8 (h5 22. gxh6+ Kf8 23. Nxd7+ Bxd7 24. Rxf7+! Kxf7 25. Qf6+ Ke8 [Kg8 26. Qg7 mate] 26. Bg6 mate) 22. Nxd7+ Bxd7 23. Bxg6! (the sacrifices come naturally when the opponent’s defenders are so far from the scene) Be8 (Ke7 [hxg6 24. Qxh8+ Ke7 25. Qf6+ Ke8 26. Qxf7+ Kd8 27. Qxg6 and wins] 24. Bxf7 Kd8 25. g6+ Kc7 26. g7) 24. Bxf7! Bxf7 25. g6 Rc7 (on 25...Ke8, 26. Qf6 Rf8 27. gxh7 is devastating) 26. Qd8+, and Black resigns as 26...Kg7 27. Qf6+ Kg8 28. gxf7+ is hopeless.

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The year’s Hall of Fame class includes famed priest-grandmaster William Lombardy and another immigrant, Budapest-born GM Susan (nee Zsuzsanna) Polgar, one of the famed Polgar sisters, a former women’s world champion and coach of the college chess Webster University juggernaut. We have a fine example of Polgar’s tactical skills from a crazy game against Georgian ex-women’s world champ Maia Chiburdanidze at the 2004 Olympiad in Mallorca, Spain.

We pick it up from today’s diagram where Black has just played 13...g7-g6, allowing White a hard-to-spot tactical opportunity before her opponent can fully develop. There followed 14. Nxe5! (things are just equal on the placid 14. Bc2 Nd7) Nxe2?! (welcoming the crazy, since 14...dxe5?! 15. Qxe5 threatens mate on g7 and h8 as well as the knight on f4; best might be 14...Qe7 15. Be4! [Nc6?? Qxe2 mate] dxe5 16. Bxb7 Qxb7 17. Qxe5 f6 18. gxf6 Nd7 19. f7+ Kxf7 20. Qxf4+ with a fight still in store) 15. Nxf7! Nxc3 (Kxf7 16. Qg7+ Ke8 17. Bf6 Rxf6 18. gxf6 gxf5 19. f7+ Kd7 20. f8=Q+) 16. Nh6+! (the key move; 16. Nxd8? Rxd8 17. Be6+ Kf8 18. Bxc3 Re8 loses material for White) Kg7 17. Bxc3+ (Black now can’t save her queen) Rf6 18. Bxf6+ Qxf6 19. gxf6+ Kxh6 20. Be6 Nc6 21. Bd5.

The smoke is cleared, and White is a clear exchange to the good. Polgar would go on to win in 39 moves.

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Speaking of U.S. champions, two new ones will be crowned in the next two weeks as the U.S. Chess Champions and U.S. Women’s Championship kick off Wednesday in Judd’s hometown of St. Louis.

Surprise 2018 champ GM Samuel Shankland will be defending his crown against another stellar field that includes recent world championship challenger GM Fabiano Caruana, former U.S. champ GM Hikaru Nakamura and Cuban-born GM Leinier Dominguez Perez, making his debut in the event after switching his affiliation to the U.S. last year.

On the women’s side, top-seeded Krush will be looking for her eighth U.S. crown against a field that includes arch rival IM Anna Zatonskih and rising Virginia star FM Jennifer Yu.

Judd-Hanham, New York, 1886

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nce2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. f4 Be7 8. Nf3 b6 9. Ng3 g6 10. Be3 Bb7 11. Bd3 a6 12. O-O O-O 13. Rc1 Rc8 14. Ng5 Bxg5 15. fxg5 b5 16. Nh5 cxd4 17. cxd4 Qb6 18. Rxc6 Bxc6 19. Nf6+ Kg7 20. Qe1 Rh8 21. Qh4 Kf8 22. Nxd7+ Bxd7 23. Bxg6 Be8 24. Bxf7 Bxf7 25. g6 Rc7 26. Qd8+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.