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Richard Reti: Founder of Hypermodern Chess

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The past year’s pandemic and quarantine have left us all looking for at-home entertainment, be it in the form of games or television. Imagine the delight of chess enthusiasts with the recent release of the television series The Queen’s Gambit. The series, about a fictional woman chess prodigy, has sparked a serious surge in interest in the game, along with chess sales. It seems fitting to highlight chess-related material in the Music Division’s special collections, namely in the Rudolph and Richard Reti Collection. Bill Harvey, Reader Services Technician and today’s guest writer, has an expert rating in chess and has archived 25,000 chess puzzles online

Photograph of 28 player simultaneous exhibition (Richard Reti standing in the center). Rudolph and Richard Reti Collection, Music Division.
Photograph of 28 player simultaneous exhibition (Richard Reti standing in the center). Rudolph and Richard Reti Collection, Music Division.

The Rudolph and Richard Reti Collection was given to the Library of Congress by Lucy Forbes Shevenell and Katharine Forbes Lindow in 1975. Composer, pianist, and musicologist Rudolph Reti (1885-1957) was married to pianist and teacher Jean Sahlmark Reti until his death; Jean later married into the Forbes family, and died in 1972. Lucy was her daughter. The bulk of the collection contains Rudolph’s papers, but there are five boxes related to Richard’s chess career.

Richard Réti (1889-1929), Rudolph’s younger brother was a chess prodigy and the founder of the hypermodern school of chess.  Instead of controlling the center with pawns, a player could maintain control from either side of the board, leading to a much more dynamic and innovative game.  The Réti Opening begins the game with development on both sides of the board and became more popular over time.  Réti defeated World Champion José Raúl Capablanca in the New York 1924 tournament using his opening style – it was Capablanca’s first defeat in eight years.

Photograph of Richard Reti playing White in a tournament c. 1925. Rudolph and Richard Reti Collection, Music Division.
Photograph of Richard Reti playing White in a tournament c. 1925. Rudolph and Richard Reti Collection, Music Division.

Réti achieved his highest rating in 1920-21 as the fifth best chess player in the world.  In 1925 Réti set a world record for blindfold chess with 29 games played simultaneously. He won 21, drew 6, and lost 2.  The Reti Collection holds two tournament postcards, one from Semmering, Austria in 1926 and the other from Bad Kissingen, Germany in 1928; the postcards feature a group photograph of all the participants in each tournament with their autographs on the verso. These were grand affairs played at resorts.  Semmering was an 18-player round robin event (all-play-all) held at the Grand Hotel Panhas in the Semmering Pass south of Vienna from March 7-29, 1926 and attended by the strongest masters of the day:  World Champion Alexander Alekhine as well as Rudolph Spielmann and Milan Vidmar finished on top.  Twelve of the best masters of the world came to the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen for a round robin tournament held August 12-28, 1928.  The roster included former World Champion José Capablanca, the soon to be crowned Max Euwe as well as the US Champion Frank Marshall. Réti finished in the top half of both elite tournaments.

Réti wrote two books which are still regarded as cornerstones of chess theory:  Modern Ideas in Chess (1923) and Masters of the Chessboard (1933).  The Reti collection contains first editions of both titles in German, Russian and English.  Also noteworthy in the collection is a 20-page typewritten and heavily annotated biography of Richard written by Rudolph. Additionally, there are a hundred chess columns from newspapers and magazines containing his analysis of his games, photos from his tournaments, simuls, and of Réti relaxing between games at the resorts, as well as a hundred obituaries from the media marking his passing.

Comments (3)

  1. What a fantastic article! Fascinating details and obviously well researched. The writer is quite an asset for The Library!

  2. I have a good working knowledge of Rudolph Reti’s accomplishments as a music theorist but never knew all the details regarding his brother’s portion of this collection until now. Thanks, Bill, for such a valuable and timely piece. Well done!

  3. Excelente ¡¡

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