Review: Isaac Kashdan, American Chess Grandmaster, by Peter P. Lahde

360 Pages
Library binding
McFarland, 2009


By Davide Nastasio

Time and again chess gurus have advised players to learn the classics, because with the classics we actually improve our game. I believe chess history is where we should start. Our American chess history is particularly rich with a treasured past. Sadly, few of us are aware of this great tradition and the players who contributed to it. A major figure among them was Isaac Kashdan (1905-1985).




This book is his chess biography.  It is the result of patient and professional research that lasted over twenty years. The author visited Cleveland Public Library and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., among others. He also contacted experts and historians in order to find all the games played by Grandmaster Kashdan.

The book is divided into two parts: part one deals with the career of Isaac Kashdan, and part two offers all available games played by him. Kashdan was born in 1905 and began to play in 1923. He was first interested in solving chess problems and took part in several competitions. Here is one of his compositions:




In 1924, Alexander Alekhine gave a simultaneous display on 26 boards.  The future world champion was at the height of his form in that period. He won 16 games, drew 5, and lost only 5. Kashdan was one of the five who won against Alekhine, and he inflicted a sound defeat on him.

In 1928, he represented the United States at the Hague Olympiad, and there he scored a phenomenal 86.7% (12 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss).  This brings us to the rich collection of games in the book.  The Megabase has 439 Kashdan games; this work has 757!  Kashdan crossed swords with some of the greatest players in chess history. They included Lasker, Alekhine, Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch, Marshall, and Reshevsky among many others.

The following position is taken from the book:




White has just played Nf3-h4 attacking the Bg6…Black to play.  The winning sequence of moves is given at the end of the review as an entire game.  In the book the game is deeply annotated.

The following is game 221 in the book, at pages 141-142, and was annotated by Kashdan himself!



Kashdan was primarily a positional player. On occasion he could give a dazzling display of tactics.  Here is his “immortal” game:



This is an inspiring biography on the life and times of a great player. Kashdan came up in hard times that saw a depression at home and war abroad. He was a family man who did not neglect his responsibility even as he selflessly promoted the cause of chess. This book also recreates a whole era that was the golden age of chess in America. Either way it deserves to be read.

Note: For those who wish to see Kashdan “live,” here is rare footage from the television show You Bet Your Life, in 1956. Kashdan meets Groucho Marx.

Here is the entire game for those who want to see if they found the correct move/idea.  The game is well annotated at pages 130-131 of the book.



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