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Arnold Denker

Full name Arnold Sheldon Denker
Country United States
Born February 20, 1914
New York City, USA
Title Grandmaster
Peak rating 2340 (July 1978)

Arnold Sheldon Denker (February 20, 1914 - January 2, 2005) was an American chess player, Grandmaster, and chess author. He was U.S. Chess Champion in 1945 and 1946.

In later years he served in various chess organizations, receiving recognition from the United States Chess Federation, including in 2004 the highest honor, "Dean of American Chess".

Rising star

Denker was born on February 20, 1914 in the Bronx, New York City, in an Orthodox Jewish family. According to Denker himself, he learned chess in 1923 watching his elder brothers play, but took up the game seriously only in his freshman year in Theodore Roosevelt High School, where his schoolmates played for a nickel a game in the cafeteria. After steadily losing his milk money for a long time, Denker discovered former world chess champion Emanuel Lasker's book "Common Sense in Chess" in the school library, studied the book, and soon "the nickels came pouring back with interest".

Denker was a promising boxer in his early years. He first gained attention in chess by winning the New York City individual interscholastic championship in 1929 at age 15. In the next decade he established himself as a leading rival to Samuel Reshevsky, Reuben Fine, and Isaac Kashdan as the strongest U.S. chess player.

In 1940 Denker won the first of his six Manhattan Chess Club championships. He became U.S. Champion in 1944, winning fourteen games (including one against Fine), drawing three, and losing none. (This 91 percent score was the best winning percentage in U.S. Championship history until Bobby Fischer scored 11-0 in 1963-64.) Denker successfully defended his U.S. title in a 1946 match against Herman Steiner, winning 6-4 at Los Angeles.

He became an International Master in 1950 (the year the title was first awarded by FIDE).

World War II years

During World War II Denker played exhibitions at army bases and aboard aircraft carriers. In 1945 he played on board one in the USA vs USSR radio match, losing both games to Mikhail Botvinnik, and in 1946 travelled to Moscow for the return match, losing both games against Vasily Smyslov. Also in 1946, he played at the very strong Groningen tournament, scoring 9½ out of 19 and securing draws against Botvinnik and Smyslov.

David Hooper and Ken Whyld note that Denker may have been unfortunate in that his best years came during World War II, when very little competitive chess was being played (Hooper & Whyld 1992).

In 1947 Denker produced an autobiographical game collection in his book: If You Must Play Chess.

Later life

In 1981 FIDE made Denker an honorary Grandmaster. In later years, he was an important chess organizer, serving on the boards of the American Chess Foundation, the United States Chess Federation (USCF), and the U.S. Chess Trust - the driving force behind the prestigious Denker Tournament of High School Champions (named in his honor). He also served as a FIDE official. Denker also continued to play chess, though at well below his earlier strength. (His last FIDE rating was 2293.) He wrote many chess articles and in 1995 the book: The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories (co-authored by Larry Parr; Hypermodern Press).

In 1992 Denker was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. He received America’s highest chess honor on June 11, 2004 when he became only the third person to be proclaimed "Dean of American Chess" by the USCF.

A graduate of New York University, he married the former Nina Simmons in 1936, a marriage lasting 57 years until her death in 1993. They had three children: Richard, Mitchell and Randie.

Denker died of brain cancer on January 2, 2005 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Sample game

Denker vs. Feit, 1929
a b c d e f g h
7 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1
a b c d e f g h
Final position after 23.Bg6-h7

The following is Denker's favorite game, a brilliancy he played at age 15:

Denker-Feit, New York 1929 Dutch Defense
1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.0-0 Nf6 6.c4 Be7 7.Nc3 d6 8.d5 e5 9.Ng5 Bc8 10.e4 0-0 11.f4 exf4 12.Bxf4 fxe4 13.Ncxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Bxg5 15.Qh5 Rxf4 16.Qxh7+ Kf7 17.Bg6+ Kf6 18.Rxf4+ Bxf4 19.Qh4+ Bg5 20.Qe4 Be3+ 21.Kh1 Bh3 22.Rf1+ Kg5 23.Bh7 1-0