Fred Reinfeld

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  • Fred Reinfeld

    Fred Reinfeld

    When he died in 1964, I read his obituary in the July issue of Chess Review. Fifty years later, my strongest memory of that piece is of Jack Straley Battell, the Postal Games Editor of CR, counting the author cards in the library card index.

    Chess Review Obituary of Fred Reinfeld

    From CR July 1964 pp 193-4

    Fred Reinfeld
    1910 – 1964

    On May 29, Fred Reinfeld, a former Executive Editor of CHESS REVIEW died.

    It is some years since Fred worked actively in these offices, and his work has proliferated into many fields. So we are happy to accept an obituary offered by one of his many publishers, David A. Boehm of the Sterling Publishing Company:

    “Fred Reinfeld began to write in 1932 on chess and not only produced a great many books on chess but between 1950 and 1964 also became an expert on numismatics and wrote 14 books on coin collecting, all of which were extremely successful. He became the author of five popular science books on such subjects as geology, medicine and atomics and electronics, all chosen for listing by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    “Besides this, he wrote historical works and biographies, of which The Great Dissenters won a Thomas Alva Edison Foundation Award in 1959. In his ‘spare time,’ he participated in book discussions and gave talks on coins. To foster a love for chess among young people, he was always available for simultaneous exhibitions at local schools and was among the most popular visitors on these occasions.

    “He wrote articles for the World Book Encyclopedia and was author of a chess program in the form of a teaching machine for Encyclopedia Britannica. He was also a consultant for the Random House American College Dictionary.

    “Because of his phenomenal memory and writing ability, Reinfeld was able to write most of his manuscripts directly from rough notes instead of having to prepare a preliminary draft, and his editors seldom revised more than a few words.”

    Far from being a pedant, Fred was at his liveliest in the thick of things and of people. In that, the picture of him conducting the radio match between the USA and Yugoslavia in 1950 is typical. Yet, one and together, his memory and his writing ability were almost incredible. Often, when the writer studied a position and Fred happened in, he would call off the players, the tournament, the round number and the outcome at a glance – and discuss the merits of the play. And, just a couple of weeks before Fred died, Len Lyons’ column named him the most prolific of living authors, not of chess authors, but of all authors.

    Of Fred’s great output, the writer feels a few words need to be said. The New York Times in a moderately generous obituary said he wrote “more than 100 books.” This writer counted more than 250 titles under Reinfeld which curiosity prompted him to count them in the catalog of the Brooklyn Public Library in the ‘40s: these were all chess books and ones which, Fred said, brought him very little return.

    Those books served, however, at a time when there were few books to do so, to make chess intelligible to the average player and the beginner. And, from the ‘40s on, Fred pushed vigorously in this direction, and he was superbly competent in explaining elementary points to the novice. In short, Fred did a great deal toward making chess popular. He wrote these books for a profitable market, the beginner, but he gave the beginner tools by which to learn and thus to like chess.

    Nor were all Fred’s books elementary ones. His book on Keres, to cite one, is a very fine one, and his books in collaboration with Irving Chernev, Winning Chess and The Fireside Book of Chess, are each the finest of their types.

    As a player, Fred “retired” early. Before he did, however, he had amply made his mark. He became national collegiate champion in 1929 and, two years later, at 21, he won the New York State title. He won the state championship again in 1933 and, in 1935, the championship of the Marshall Chess Club and, in 1942, he tied with Sidney Bernstein for the title of the Manhattan Chess Club.

    He was also highly regarded as a teacher of chess at New York University.

    For those who knew him at CHESS REVIEW, Fred had a warm heart and a delightfully roguish sense of humor. A young assistant eyed him inquisitively when he was visiting the writer and accosted him as he was leaving: “You’re Reuben Fine?” Fred pursed his lips, rolled his eyes, then “First guess!” he replied as in pleased surprise and strode jauntily off.

    Fred’s favorite game is the following – at least, he published it the most of all his games.

    U.S. Championship Preliminaries 1940
    Queen’s Gambit Accepted
    Reinfeld, Fred – Battell, J.S.

    1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 c5 5.Bxc4 cxd4 6.exd4 Qc7 7.Qb3 Be6 8.Bxe6 Qxc1+ 9.Ke2 Qxh1 10.Bxf7+ Kd8 11.Qxb7 Qc1 12.Qxa8 Qxb2+ 13.Nbd2 Ne4 14.Qxe4 Qxa1 15.Qd5+ Kc7 16.Qc5+ Kd8 17.Be6 1-0


    See also:

    and for Reinfeld’s non-chess books:


    - A Fred Reinfeld chess book is like a dear old friend.

    - Fred never did get much respect, but in the '40s he was definitely among the top ten in the country. And while his books aren't necessarily all classics, he did bring more Americans into chess competition than anyone else except Bobby Fischer.

    It is hard to conceive of in these days of instant information and so many chess books you can spend your whole income, but in the '50s and '60s chess books just weren't available. USCF didn't offer much, and most people had never heard of it anyway. Bookstores rarely had any chess books beyond the most basic beginner tomes. But when they did, it was Reinfeld.

    Most of his books went quickly into affordable paperback form, which back then meant a quarter or fifty cents at most. Young players like myself, hungry to get better but without a clue how (tournaments were even rarer than books back then, and finding your local chess club, if any, was a true challenge most abandoned in frustration) gobbled them up.
    Last edited by Wayne Komer; Friday, 12th June, 2015, 04:04 PM.

  • #2
    Re: Fred Reinfeld

    Originally posted by Wayne Komer View Post
    Fred Reinfeld

    When he died in 1964, I read his obituary in the July issue of Chess Review. Fifty years later, my strongest memory of that piece is of Jack Straley Battell, the Postal Games Editor of CR, counting the author cards in the library card index.

    Chess Review Obituary of Fred Reinfeld

    From CR July 1964 pp 193-4
    Thank you for posting this, Wayne -- most interesting.

    I have occasionally wondered if Reinfeld ever visited Halifax, Nova Scotia -- say in the mid to late 1950s -- but have never found any evidence for it. I have vague recollections that he may have been to my home town.

    Another chess-playing Fred, Fred Wren, was in Halifax, but that was (I think) just in the 1940s. See for example this interesting article:

    John Cordes


    • #3
      Re: Fred Reinfeld

      Fred Reinfeld

      I thought that Fred Wren was the funniest chess writer going when I was a young man. Thank you for the reference to two of his stories.

      I wrote to him when he was in The American Chess Quarterly and he replied with a kind letter, which is somewhere among the mass of chess books and magazines I have accumulated since those days!


      • #4
        Re: Fred Reinfeld

        Well, what he wrote was not all good. There's a famous quote by Albert Einstein along the lines that the laws of physics should be made as simple as possible, but *not simpler*. Reinfeld has a tendancy to over simplify and hide the true complexity in a position. I remember Kevin Spraggett once saving that one of the hardest things he had to do to become a world class player was to unlearn many of the things about chess he had learned early on, from Reinfeld and others. Once you accept something as true it is difficult to reprogram the mind. Two things in particular I recall from my early days: Reinfeld saying that White shouldn't play Bd3 in the King's Indian (I think he gave one example where it was clearly bad); and again against the KID he proposed that White play a system with g3, Bg2, Nge2, O-O and kind of left it at that. Sure this type of development is playable but it is not terribly testing, and it gave me the impression that linking the Knights was somehow a good thing. Only years later did I read something by Timman that set me right--that ideally the Knights should not "link arms" since then they duplicate their options (a concept that good backgammon players understand well). So yes, he wrote a lot, and some of it was good and did fill a void, but like many a prolific writer (Ray Keene comes to mind), it wasn't all good.


        • #5
          Re: Fred Reinfeld

          No one else has mentioned it, but there is a wonderful tribute to Fred Reinfeld in Arnold Denker's book The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories (Hypermodern Press 1995). The title is "The Man of 100 Books."
          May I also say that my article on the best games of Fred Reinfeld will appear in an upcoming issue of The British Chess Magazine as part of the series "Forgotten Masters."


          • #6
            Re: Fred Reinfeld

            Originally posted by Gordon Taylor View Post
            Well, what he wrote was not all good.... So yes, he wrote a lot, and some of it was good and did fill a void, but like many a prolific writer (Ray Keene comes to mind), it wasn't all good.
            I am with Gordon on this. He churned out potboilers that, following Gresham's law, crowded out some of the better writers back in the day.


            • #7
              Re: Fred Reinfeld

              Originally posted by Gordon Ritchie View Post
              I am with Gordon on this. He churned out potboilers that, following Gresham's law, crowded out some of the better writers back in the day.
              Well, but it was the potboilers that earned him his money. He wrote some truly excellent books which made him virtually nothing while the quick and easy ones pulled in the dough. He got the message. I bet you or I would too, in his shoes.

              Actually I think many of these quick works are still great for the beginner, the guy or gal who plays the odd game with their neighbor and wants some hints.

              Heck even after 50 years of tournament chess I *still* win games because people violate simple opening maxims. Just last week I won a game in 12 moves against an opponent who brought his Queen out too early. He was rated in the 1900s, too, and this was a correspondance game at three days per move! Admittedly he missed a fairly simple tactical point, and resigned a little early, but still...

              Anyway, Reinfeld was a non GM who actually made a living writing about chess back in the 1940's. There aren't very many of those even today.


              • #8
                Fred Reinfeld

                May 30, 2019

                The new book about Reinfeld is out:

                Fred Reinfeld
                By Alex Dunne
                Paperback, 202 pages
                282 games, bibliography, indexes
                Published in 2019
                pISBN: 978-1-4766-7654-8

                Table of Contents

                Preface 1
                1. Beginnings 3
                2. Chess Master 16
                3. Championship Quality 29
                4. A Chess Author 49
                5. The Marshall Championship 58
                6. The Foremost Chess Book Author 65
                7. Competition and Books 68
                8. Improving Results 84
                9. Ventnor City 1 94
                10. Third United States Championship 107
                11. Ventnor City 2 118
                12. Retirement from Play 131
                13. The Book Factory 143
                14. Books and More Books 153
                15. Endgame 168
                Reinfeld’s Chess Books 175
                Reinfeld’s Non-Chess Books 181
                Index of Opponents (to game numbers) 183
                Index of Openings—Traditional Names (to game numbers) 185
                Index of Openings—ECO Codes (to game numbers) 186
                General Index (to page numbers) 188

                Publisher’s Blurb

                Fred Reinfeld — his name used to be known to almost every chess player in the United States. Not so well known are his accomplishments. One of the strongest players of his time, he ranked just below Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky (against whom he had a plus score). He was the accomplished author of some of the best chess books of the 1930s and 1940s, and a respected numismatist, recognized as a pioneer in the field. He was an editor or major contributor to almost every major chess magazine through the 1940s — Chess Review, Chess Correspondent and Chess Life.

                This first book on Renfield covers his remarkable contributions to the chess world, with many of his ideas and writings quoted in their original context and with many of his famous annotations preserved for the modern reader.

                Alex Dunne was able to reference almost all of Reinfeld’s chess books. He has found everything that one could find (so it seems) from Chess Review, Chess Correspondent and Chess Life.

                Even so, I would have liked to have seen reminiscences from friends and family. There are some from his son Don and wife, Beatrice in the last chapter Endgame– but the reader would like far more.

                He was a strong player, a prolific writer and he did much to popularize the game in the middle of the last century but I don’t think you get a good picture of Fred Reinfeld, the man.

                Edward Winter has given an early “review” in Chess Notes:


                See Chess Note No. 11310

                See also Bill Wall’s capsule biography:



                • #9
                  My first book I remember as Reinfeld's How to be a Winner at Chess. It was very helpful. He also wrote Tarrasch's Best Games and although most of the good notes were from Tarrasch, it was a great games collection. I believe this was a prize at Eric Malmsten's Sunday Junior Tournament at the Central Y in Toronto. Yes, I understand Reinfeld was too simplistic, but he was a great resource before the computer age.


                  • #10
                    Astonishing! The things I learn on chesstalk. Thanks for bringing Fred Reinfeld up again. (I hadnt read this thread before)


                    • #11
                      Is there a thread (on chesstalk) about Irving Chernev? To that I could contribute.


                      • #12
                        Fred Reinfeld's chess instruction level in his books was very well suited to players BELOW Master level, in my opinion -- that fits with GM Kevin Spraggett's observations! Clearly, as Kevin got stronger, much of Fred's material was becoming dated and refuted, as Master praxis expanded greatly with the Fischer boom, right around the time when Kevin was reaching Master strength himself. I read several of Fred's books when I was young and getting interested in chess, and benefited from that. He had an enormous role in popularizing chess, since his books were inexpensive and easy to read. I agree with an above thread that notes Arnold Denker's chapter about Reinfeld in his book. Denker and Reinfeld were contemporaries and friends, and Denker gets it right with Fred! Denker wrote that Reinfeld's chess was 'positional, precise, and poisonous'. Reinfeld also wrote many dozens of books on non-chess topics; he would typically write ten or more books in a year, for years in a row!! He made his living as a writer, and died young, at age 54, likely due to overwork. I am looking forward to reading the newly-released biography of him. He gave up most tournament play in his early 30s. He was probably at least IM strength at his peak, and defeated Samuel Reshevsky twice in the early 1930s; Reshevsky won the first modern U.S. Championship in 1936.