THE CALIFORNIA CHESS REPORTER (Vol. 5 No. 4) December, 1955


It is with deepest regret that we record the death on November 25, 1955, of international master Herman Steiner. Mr. Steiner had played his fifth-round game in the California State Championship in the afternoon and had postponed his evening game because he felt unwell. At about nine-thirty, while being examined by his physician, he was stricken by a massive coronary occlusion. Death was practically instantaneous.

Out of respect to Mr. Steiner's memory, and by unanimous agreement of the contestants, the State Championship was cancelled.

Mr. Steiner was 50.

It the following pages the editors of THE REPORTER have attempted to pay tribute to Mr. Steiner's memory and convey the sense of loss which we all feel.


Herman Steiner was born on April 15, 1905 in Dunajaska Freda, Czechoslavakia (then a part of Hungary). He came to New York at an early age and at 16 acquired knowledge of chess as a member of the Hungarian Chess Club and the Stuyvesant Chess Club.

For a time, too, he was active as a boxer and became proficient in the manly art of self defense.

Thanks to the opportunities offered in the Metropolitan area of New York City, his skill at chess developed rapidly and he was soon among those out front. During 1929 he tied for first place (with J. Bernstein) in the New York State championship tournament at Buffalo. The same year he was first in the Premier Reserves at Hastings, England. A year later, after serving with the American team at Hamburg and revisiting his native Hungary, he was runner-up to Isaac I. Kashdan at Gjor. In 1931, following the international congress at Prague, he finished second to Salo Flohr at Brun.

Leaving New York for the West, Steiner settled in Los Angeles in 1932, became chess editor of the Los Angeles Times that year and ever since has espoused the cause of chess in southern California. From that point of vantage he was in a good position to father two Pan-American tournaments - in 1945 and 1954 - both under the auspices of the Hollywood Chess Group, the clubhouse of which adjoined the Steiner residence. He carried his enthusiasm for the game to such and extent that, in spite of his many promotional duties, entered himself in the arena which drew contestants of the highest grade from far places.

Meanwhile Steiner had been a member of American teams sent abroad by the United States Chess Federation to compete for the international Hamilton-Russell trophy at The Hague, 1928, Hamburg, 1930, Prague, 1931; and later, as United States Champion, was captain of the American team of 1950 at Dubrovnic, Yugoslavia.

He had achieved the goal of his ambition at South Fallsburg, N.Y., in 1948, when he won the United States championship, ahead of Isaac I. Kashdan.

Other highlights of achievement for Steiner included a triple tie for first with Reuben Fine and Arthur W. Dake in Mexico City, second to Fine, U.S. Open, Dallas, 1940; second (again to Fine), U.S. Open, St. Louis, 1941; tie for first (with A. Yanofsky), U.S. Open, Dallas, 1942; third (with I.A. Horowitz), U.S. Championship, New York, 1944.

Memorable in the chess career of Herman Steiner was the prominent part he played in the 1945 match between American and Russian teams by radio (New York and Moscow). The Americans were badly beaten, at the top boards in particular. Steiner alone turned in a plus score of 1.5-.5 against Salo Flohr. The following year, in Moscow, over the board, it was Flohr's turn to win by 1.5-.5. Against the winning Soviet team in Moscow, 1955, he failed in both games.

Completely enamored of chess, an optimist never so content as when engaged in play, fearing no one as an opponent, and a never-say-die fighter, Herman Steiner was a picturesque and friendly personality in the realm of international chess. He will be missed in many circles, but mostly in California, where his unrelenting efforts over the years left a permanent mark.

(The biographical sketch above was written by Hermann Helms, "dean of American chess" immediately upon receipt of the news of Steiner's death. Mr. Helms, one of Steiner's oldest and closest friends, was modest about his literary effort and asked that it merely be credited to The THE CALIFORNIA CHESS REPORTER. In order to round out the biography, Herman's California record follows. - Ed.)

Herman Steiner's first California State tournament was in the Pasadena, 1932, international tournament. The California player having the highest score was the champion for the year. Harry Borochow won the title, 5.5-5.5, while Steiner, 6-5, was not yet considered a Californian (Alekhine won the tournament 8.5-2.5, followed by Kashdan, 7.5-3.5; Dake, Reshevsky and Steiner were tied at 6.5).

The next California championship was at Hollywood, 1939; the winner was P. Woliston, 7-1, with Steiner and Borochow next, 6-2. After a wartime gap, the San Francisco, 1945, tournament saw a tie between Steiner and A.J. Fink, 8-1. There was no play-off. Missing the 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952 state championships, chiefly because of his travels, Steiner took the 1953 championship, played at Hollywood, and the 1954 title, played at San Francisco, by identical 7.5-1.5 scores. He had a 4-1 score in 1955 when the tournament was cancelled.

In addition to numerous successes in local and regional tournaments, Steiner took third place, behind Gligoric and Pomar, in the Hollywood, 1952, international tournament. He also won the only two California Opens he participated in (Santa Barbara, 1954, and Fresno, 1955).

One of the most important things Herman did for chess in California was his support of and his playing in the North-South team match. Playing against such players as Dake, Koltanowski, Konig and Tippin, Steiner scored 9 wins and 5 draws out of 14 games played.

HERMAN IS GONE - by Irving Rivise

The sudden passing of our beloved Herman has created a void in the chess world which will be impossible to fill.

Herman Steiner, the chessmaster whose career spanned more than three decades, has bequeathed to us a legacy of wondrous brilliancies. Ever disdainful of taking the dull safe course, Herman was a worthy successor to the American tradition of Morphy, Pillsbury and Marshall. Indeed, had he wished to "play to the score" he would easily have achieved a higher statistical rating, but his creative genius demanded that he give to each and every game the best that was in him.

An extraordinary talent coupled with an intense devotion to the game he loved so well enabled him to ascend to remarkable heights. To cite but some of his more outstanding successes - N.Y. State Championship 1929 - 1st; Hastings Premier Reserves 1929 -1st; Gjor 1930 -2nd (behind Kashdan); Brunn 1931 - 2nd (behind Flohr); Berlin 1931 - 1st; Mexico City 1935 - 1st (equal with Fine and Dake); U.S. Open 1942 - 1st (equal with Yanofsky); London 1946 - 1st (ahead of O.S. Bernstein and Tartakower); U.S. Open 1946 - 1st. His crowning achievement was winning the coveted U.S. Championship in 1948. In the historic 1945 U.S.A.-U.S.S.R. radio match, Herman was the only American player on a team that included Fine, Reshevsky, Denker, and Kashdan (among others) to achieve a plus score against the Russians.

On the local scene, Herman won virtually every tournament he elected to enter. His most recent successes were the winning of the California State Championship in 1953 and 1954; the California Open Championship in 1954 and 1955. He played in the annual North-South Match 14 times on either first or second board without ever having lost a game - a remarkable average of 821%.

He died while busily engaged in defending his state championship title. We feel sure he would not have wanted it to happen any other way.

Unlike many other chess masters, his interests were not confined to his over-the board play but expanded into many other phases of chess activities.

He was one of this country's leading chess organizers, and it was mainly through his untiring efforts that the United States entered into international team competition. Herman played on the American team at The Hague 1928, Hamburg 1930, Prague 1931, and more recently at Dubrovnik in 1950. In the United States he alone was instrumental in organizing the 1945 Pan-American International Tournament and the Second Pan-American Chess Congress of 1954.

Herman believed the future of American chess was in the development of chess interest in the youth of this country. True to his beliefs, he spent countless hours at tournaments for junior players, instructing, encouraging, and in no small measure some of his bubbling enthusiasm for chess is reflected in the spirit and style of play of many of our young masters throughout the nation.

As a teacher he was extremely successful in imparting his accumulative knowledge to others. Over the years he had developed a system of instruction that was most effective. So much so that leading chess periodicals had eagerly availed themselves of the opportunity to publish portions of this text. Herman was busily engaged in arranging for publication of a book incorporating his teaching methods at the time of his death.

His contagious laughter and infectious good humor will be sorely missed.

Yes, Herman is gone, but wherever chess is played he will long be remembered. He will forever be in the hearts and minds of those who were privileged to know him.


My memories of Herman Steiner go back as far as 1931 when I first met him in Prague when our teams met in the Chess Olympics. A young, attractive man, full of life and full of fight! I watched him playing Pirc (Yugoslavia), who, in top form, defeated him. I was free that evening and when I walked around I saw him in the adjoining room reserved for analysis playing rapid chess. He was in buoyant spirits and if I had not seen him losing an hour ago I would not have known it. Another member of the U.S. team whispered to me: "This is the way he overcomes the effect of a loss."

My next meeting occurred 15 years later when he was playing in the 1946 London tournament. This he won ahead of grandmasters Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Tartakower, defeating the latter. It was quite a feat, for which he could have claim the title of grandmaster. I was surprised to find him rather placid, and only much later was I given an explanation of his failure to act more elated, when I heard him telling someone how sorry he had been feeling to have defeated Dr. Tartakower, who was such a nice man. Indeed, in our 25 years of friendship I have only seen him once to be angry with me - when in the U.S. Open, 1955, he was paired against his pupil Larry Remlinger in one of the last rounds and he had to defeat him. He thought that I, as referee, should not have allowed local players to be paired together.

Herman called himself a professional chess player, although everybody knew that he was losing money on chess. Perhaps he meant that chess was his vocation. It is very seldom that chessmasters admit this, and I know of only two chessmasters who were proud of their profession besides Herman: William Steinitz, who in his International Chess Magazine claimed that a chessmaster can be as proud of his profession as any other professional man; and Alexander Alekhine, who when middle-aged became a doctor at law at the Paris Sorbonne, yet remained true to himself as a chess player. Even Dr. Lasker, the greatest figure in chess, was proud of his achievements in philosophy and other fields, rather than of his prowess as a chess player.

In style Herman Steiner belonged to the romantic school, of which in this century only Spielman and Mieses were left. He recognized no laws over the chess board except those of the imagination. With a wealth of ideas, full of fight, he achieved comparatively great successes even when he was near 50 at Saltsjobaden, 1952; after a bad start he held his own against the Russian grandmasters and still scored 50%. Imagine the odds of a Robin Hood fighting with arrows against modern scientific weapons!

In the last years of his life he took part in every California tournament. Some think it "easy meat" for a master to play against amateurs; just think that when six or seven games are to be played one draw more or less can decide the issue. Herman had everything to lose and nothing to win. And he won.

So the last romantic player and personality disappears from the chess arena. But through his games his memory will be kept alive and fresh in the history of chess.

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