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Arnold Denker

Arnold Sheldon Denker (February 20, 1914January 2, 2005) was an American chess player.

He was born in New York City, and was a promising boxer in his early years. Denker 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 and Reuben Fine as strongest U.S. chess player. In 1940 Denker won the first of his six Marshall Chess Club championships. He became US Champion in 1944, winning 14 games (including one against Fine), drawing 3 and losing none. This 91% score was the best winning percentage in U.S. Championship history until Bobby Fischer scored 11–0 in 1963–1964. Denker successfully defended his US title in a 1946 match against Herman Steiner. During World War II Denker played exhibitions at army bases and aboard aircraft carriers. In 1945 he played on board one in a US vs USSR radio match, losing both games to Mikhail Botvinnik, and in 1946 travelled to Moscow to lose both games against Vasily Smyslov in the return match. Also in 1946 he played at the very strong Groningen tournament, scoring 9.5/19 and securing draws against Botvinnik and Smyslov. Ken Whyld and David Hooper, writing in the Oxford Companion to Chess, note that Denker may have been unfortunate in that his best years came during World War II, when very little chess was being played.

Denker became an International Master in 1950 (the year the title was first awarded), and in 1981 FIDE made him an honorary Grandmaster. In later years, he was an important chess organiser, serving on the Board of the American Chess Foundation, the United States Chess Federation, and the U.S. Chess Trust, the driving force behind the Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions (held alongside the U.S. Open), and a FIDE official. He was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1992. Denker also continued to play chess, though at well below his earlier strength. His last FIDE Elo rating was 2293.

Denker wrote a number of chess articles and books, including The Bobby Fischer I Knew, and Other Stories (co-authored with Larry Parr, Hypermodern Press).

Denker 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 United States Chess Federation. A graduate of New York University, he married the former Nina Simmons in 1936 and was married for 57 years until her death in 1993. Denker died in 2005 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a brief illness.

Here is Denker's favorite game, a brilliancy he played at age 15, written in algebraic chess notation:

Denker-Feit, 1929 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.O-O Nf6 6.c4 Be7 7.Nc3 d6 8.d5 e5 9.Ng5 Bc8 10.e4 O-O 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


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