Chess from the Fire:
The Making of A. J. Fink

by Neil Brennen

The fate of the minor master has traditionally been historical oblivion. The injunction "minor master, minor work" acts as a deterrent to potential researchers. Yet there are many such minor figures worth exploring, and much interesting material, both chess and non-chess in nature, may emerge. One such neglected figure is A. J. Fink, an internationally-known chess problem composer and a landmark figure in California chess. The following brief account of Fink's youth as a chessplayer is designed to whet the appetite for any prospective researchers.

Adolph J. Fink was born July 19, 1890 in San Francisco. According to an autobiography published in the chess column of the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times on June 11, 1916, Fink became "interested in checkers and chess a few months before the earthquake and conflagration that played havoc with the Western metropolis. After the 'quake we (my folks and I) sought refuge on the hills and camped as thousands did. It was during this time that the study of both games commenced, but chess proved the more fascinating, perhaps on account of its intricate movements..."

When San Francisco began the task of rebuilding itself after the fire, the teenage Adolph Fink likewise began to build his game. Fink wrote that he "learned the openings, etc., and improved my play by joining the Mechanics' Institute, where I have since won several prizes, the foremost being first in the 1913 tournament." Fink included two games in his biographical sketch, but didn't mention where or when they were played. The name of the well-known San Francisco master Walter Lovegrove as an opponent implies they were both played in the Bay area, perhaps in the Mechanics' Institute tournament Fink won. Regardless of the lack of information on their province, we should be grateful for more historical material on chess in the Bay area.

Walter Lovegrove - A. J. Fink [A85]
Notes by A J Fink
1.d4 f5 2.c4 [2.e4 is considered stronger.] 2...e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.e3 b6 7.Bd3 Bb7 8.Rc1 Kh8 9.Bf4 A lost move. 9...Nh5 10.0-0 Nxf4 11.exf4 g5 12.fxg5 Bxg5 13.Nxg5 Qxg5 14.f3 Nc6 15.f4 Qf6 16.d5 Ne7 17.Be2 Rg8 18.Kh1 Rg7 19.Bf3 Rag8 20.Ne2 exd5 21.cxd5

21...Nxd5 Questionable if sound. 22.Bxd5 Just as Black had planned. 22...Rxg2 23.Bxg2 Rxg2 0-1
Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, June 11 1916

S. Rubenstein - A. J. Fink [C59]
Notes by A J Fink
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Bd6 11.f4 Qc7 12.d4 0-0 13.0-0 c5 14.c3 Rb8 A trap, providing for Nb5. 15.Na3 cxd4 16.Nb5 Rxb5 17.Bxb5 Qb6 18.c4 Probably best. 18...d3+ 19.Kh1 Bxe5 20.fxe5 Ng4 21.b4 Nb7 22.a4 Nf2+ 23.Rxf2 Qxf2

24.Qg1 White's game now seems preferable. 24...Qh4 25.Bb2 Rd8 26.a5 d2 27.a6 e3 28.c5 Nxc5 29.bxc5 Qf2 30.Be2 Qxe2 31.Rd1 Qxd1 32.Qxd1 Bxa6 0-1
Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, June 11 1916

But it wasn't just in tournament play that Fink forged his game. In the Gazette-Times piece, he described himself as "fairly successful in the telegraph matches with Los Angeles, and masters I have met include Capablanca, Marshall, and Kostic, a draw from each in simultaneous play."

In the case of the draw with Capablanca, Fink had to survive the Cuban's version of the classic "Greek gift" Bishop sacrifice on h7.

Jose Raul Capablanca - A. J. Fink [D07]
Simultaneous, Mechanics Institute, San Francisco, April 11, 1916

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 Nf6 6.e3 a6 7.Rc1 0-0 8.Bd3 dxc4 9.Bxc4 Na5 10.Bd3 c5 11.dxc5 Bxc5 12.0-0 Nc6 13.Ne4 Be7 14.Qc2 Nb4

15.Nxf6+ gxf6 16.Bxh7+ Kg7 17.Qb1 f5 18.Rfd1 Qe8 19.Bxf5 exf5 20.Nd4 Nd5 21.Nxf5+ Bxf5 22.Qxf5 Nxf4 23.Qxf4 Rh8 24.Rc7 Rd8 25.Rxd8 Qxd8 26.Qg4+ Bg5 27.Rxb7 Rh4 28.Qf3 Be7 29.b3 Rh6 30.g3 Qd6 31.h4 Rf6 32.Qg4+ Rg6 33.Qf4 Qd1+ 34.Kg2 Bxh4 35.Qf3 Qxf3+ 36.Kxf3 Bf6 37.Rb6 Bc3 38.Rxg6+ Kxg6 39.Kg4 Kf6 40.f4 Ke6 41.e4 f6 42.Kf3 a5 43.Ke3 Be1 44.g4 Kd6 45.g5 fxg5 46.fxg5 Ke5 47.g6 1/2-1/2

While Fink was learning the trade of a chess master through the fire of competitive play, he was also developing his interest in chess problem composition. "The art of composing", Fink wrote in his Pittsburgh Gazette-Times autobiography, "took place about the year 1908. My first effort.... has two pure mates and a changed mate, and I knew nothing of problem terms then." The key to the problem, the "first effort" Fink wrote of, is at the end of this article.

A. J. Fink - Mate in 2

Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, June 11, 1916; first published St. Paul Dispatch, 1908

Fink stated he had composed "to date about 180" problems, but he "never kept a complete file, only recording 75, which I took to be my better work." The problemist added that he had won "about 20" prizes for composition, mainly from the American Chess Bulletin, the Good Companion Chess Club of Philadelphia, and the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times. He gave the following two move mate as an example of his favorite style of chess problem, what he described as a "complex two-mover". This problem was dedicated by Fink to "the P. G. T. family", the term "family" being Gazette-Times chess editor Howard Dolde's description of the regular problem solvers and composers who submitted material to his column.

A. J. Fink - Mate in 2

Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, June 11, 1916

As we have seen, there is ample scope for a fuller treatment of A. J. Fink, should someone take up the task of research. Then, perhaps, we shall enjoy a detailed study of the chessmaster forged from the Fire.

Keys to problems:

Key: 1.Nd3 1-0

Key: 1.Qe4 1-0

© 2002 Neil Brennen.
All rights reserved.

This article first appeared, in abbreviated form, in the November-December 2002 issue of California Chess Journal.

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