Obituary: Reuben Fine

Reuben Fine, chess-player and psychoanalyst: born New York City 1914; married four times (one daughter); died New York City 26 March 1993.

WHEN Reuben Fine gave up competitive chess in 1951 in order to concentrate on his profession as a psychoanalyst, a fellow grandmaster wittily described his decision as 'a great loss to chess, and at best a draw for psychoanalysis'. He went on to become a leading writer, editor and finally elder statesman among American Freudians. How far he could have gone in chess will never be known, but he was certainly among the top half-dozen players in the world when he began to contemplate retirement.

After graduating from college at the age of 18, Reuben Fine decided to become a professional chess-player. He was already one of the most feared players in New York, and had achieved a draw in tournament play against the world champion, Alexander Alekhine. Travelling with the American team to Europe, he shared first prize in his first major international at Hastings in 1935-36. Over the next two years, he played in 13 tournaments, winning eight of them.

Fine's greatest success came in the Avro tournament in Holland in 1938. This event, comprising the top eight players in the world, was generally accepted as a contest to decide who had the best credentials to challenge Alekhine for the world championship. Fine shared first place with Paul Keres, ahead of four past, present or future world champions.

On the strength of that result, Fine later described himself as 'World Champion 1946-48' on the grounds that he had best claims to that title between Alekhine's death in 1946 and Botvinnik's accession to the throne in 1948.

When the war came in 1939, international chess effectively ceased and Fine resumed his studies, earning a doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California in 1941, which enabled him to set up in practice as a lay analyst. At the end of the war, he was faced with a difficult choice between his two careers. In 1948, he was invited to participate in a select six-man event for the world championship. Realising first that the Soviet players had improved greatly since the pre-war years, and secondly that a career in chess offered no financial security, Fine preferred to concentrate on his final examinations in psychoanalysis. After qualifying, he gave a final demonstration of his chess skill, winning a strong tournament in New York at the end of 1948. He came briefly out of obscurity in 1963 to play a series of speed games against Bobby Fischer, which he lost narrowly.

Apart from the Avro victory, Fine will be best remembered for writing one of the most useful books for aspiring players, The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings (1952), one of the most detailed and meticulously researched manuals, Basic Chess Endings (1941), and one of the most justly derided monographs on the personality of the game's practitioners, The Psychology of the Chess-Player (1956).

Drawing heavily on the earlier writings of Freud's biographer Ernest Jones, Fine supported the view that chess is an embodiment of the Oedipus Complex, with the father-figure King ('indispensable, all-important, irreplaceable, yet weak and requiring protection') and powerful mother- figure Queen providing the elements for the player to enact his parricidal fantasies. The pieces, according to Fine, are mostly phallic symbols.

His writings have been widely quoted to explain the dearth of strong women chess-players and the absence of homosexuals at the highest levels of the game.

Despite his Freudian beliefs, Fine was one of the most rational players of his time, combining a confident, attacking style with an ability to steer the game into positions uncongenial to any particular opponent. His death at the age of 78 deprives chess of one of its last links with the pre-war era.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before